Posts tagged Jesus
[Note: Mondays in chapel at the International Center we work through a Biblical book in small sections. Right now we are in Colossians. Yesterday, I had the privilege of preaching on Colossians 2:16-23. Blessings! + Herbert Mueller]
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Dear People Redeemed by Christ: I have a confession to make…
There was a time when I was enamored with the charismatic movement. This may date me a bit, but as a student at Concordia, Ann Arbor in the early 70′s I regularly attended a charismatic prayer meeting.
I desperately wanted one of the impressive charismatic gifts that others seemed to have. The one I really wanted was the gift of prophecy – knowing the future. I thought that’d be really COOL.
One of those who seemed to be a leader of the group gave suggestions for spiritual exercises I might do to make way for the Spirit, to invite the Spirit, to make myself ready for the Spirit, etc.
Then when it didn’t seem to work, the intimation was that there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t doing it right. I had some unrepented sin I had to find that was blocking the Spirit…
Well, we grew past that, eventually, and I came to see that I was falling into the same spiritual trap that the people in Colossae were tempted with.
That’s the trap of thinking that somehow having Jesus, trusting Jesus, well, it isn’t quite enough. There’s got to be Jesus – AND. Jesus AND these spiritual exercises designed to pull in the Holy Spirit. Or, in Colossae, Jesus AND – making sure you follow the Old Testament regulations concerning food and drink. Jesus AND making sure you observe the proper festivals.
Jesus AND – some kind of asceticism or worship of angels – whatever!
All these, Paul tells us,
“Have indeed the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value…”
What about now?
How might WE be saying – Jesus AND… something else?
Think of the things you hear. What is the next latest and greatest plan for saving the church?
What is the next thing the church just HAS TO do or it will fade and become irrelevant? What’s the thing people are saying is the thing you must do, or you are not missional? Or you are not doing it right?
Now I’m all for excellence, and for being faithful to the mission of the church, and faithful to the Scriptures and our confessions. That’s our calling!
But if we think the future of the church depends on US getting it right, we’ve got things all turned upside down. The Church has a future because Jesus promised –
“On this rock I WILL BUILD my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
The New Moon and Sabbath festivals and all that Paul mentioned, they are a shadow of things to come, but the substance, literally, the body, belongs to Christ.
When you are reading a mystery novel, you may not catch all the clues along the way. But after you read the ending and know how it all turns out, you go back and re-read earlier chapters to find all the clues that were there all along.
That’s how Paul reads the Old Testament. Everything points to Christ, but it’s often only in Christ, and knowing Christ crucified and raised from the dead that we look back and see everything that was revealed in the Old Testament, we look back and see it was ALL about Christ.
So, for us, WE are called, in everything,
“to hold fast to the Head, to Christ, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”
In Christ, by our Baptism, we have died to the elemental spirits of the world… have died to everything that pulls us away from God, including our own sinful flesh.
Just BEFORE this section, Paul wrote that all our sins are nailed to the cross with Christ, to be buried in His grave forever. He took the indictment that was against us with its legal demands and REMOVED it forever. And just AFTER this, Paul will assure us that our REAL LIFE is hid with Christ in God.
So there is no such thing as Jesus AND – something else.
But our life, the forgiveness of our sins and our resurrection depend on JESUS ONLY.
Jesus ONLY – in His Word.
Jesus ONLY – in whom we are baptized into His death and resurrection.
Jesus ONLY – who feeds us with His body and blood.
Jesus ONLY – who fills us with His Spirit that we might grow into Him who is our Head.
Jesus ONLY – who will call us to Himself and raise us to life everlasting.
In the name of Jesus – Only.
Jesus said, “Surely, I am coming soon!”
And the Church responds, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
These words, found in the closing verses of the Book of Revelation, and echoed even in our “common table prayer,” form the believer’s response to the message of Advent.
Our Lord Christ has come. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). In this blessed, holy season of Advent we prepare for the celebration at Christmas of our Lord’s incarnation, His coming into our flesh.
In this the Son of God has placed on each of us infinite value, showing how God Himself gives us our worth, for God Himself becomes one of us to give Himself on the cross for us. “You were bought with a price…” (1 Corinthians 6:20). “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Jesus’ coming in the flesh is the heart of our proclamation and the central fact that gives our lives meaning and purpose. In Him is life. Without Him there is no life, no reason even to be.
Therefore, we rehearse the promises: “A virgin shall conceive and shall bear a son, and they will call his name ‘Immanuel’” (Isaiah 7:14). We pause in wonder: “Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). On His day we sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).
Yet even in our singing the Advent hymns and Christmas carols, we look beyond this tired and fallen world to the time when we join the multitude of heaven and sing: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God… Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns…” (Revelation 19:1b, 6b). For the Christ who has come is coming again – visibly, in glory, to take us home.
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Who ever is thirsty, let him come; and who ever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17). Therefore “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” is our prayer, as we sing: “The King shall come when morning dawns, And light and beauty brings. Hail! Christ the Lord, your people pray: Come quickly, King of Kings!” (LSB 348, st. 5).
But oh, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, you know there is even more. For in the midst of all the busyness of this season, Christ comes to us right now, full of grace and truth!
Yes, here He is, in the down to earth, mundane, but clear Word of God (wasn’t His first coming in swaddling clothes?). You don’t have to climb a high mountain, or plumb the depths of the ocean to find Him. You don’t have to make pilgrimage to exotic places. He is here, here in the Word of Scripture.
He reveals Himself in the words we preach and teach from His Word. He shows Himself under the splash of water and Word in Holy Baptism. In and with the forms of bread and wine, by His Word of promise, He gives His body and blood.
For that reason we take heart, my friends, and know that in the Lord our labor is never in vain. For He comes. And so we also pray, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
My Dear Brother Pastors!
Our Lord’s Apostle writes,
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart!” (2 Corinthians 4:1).
Many issues can cause us to lose heart in the pastoral ministry, even (perhaps especially!) in this holy season. The devil seeks to divide us from one another in hopes he can divide some from Christ. Our sinful flesh in its pride seeks the place of honor at the expense of Christ. Brothers fail us, sometimes miserably. Our people won’t listen to us. The world doesn’t care about the Gospel. The culture is going to you know where in a you know what. The list of complaints can be as long as your arm! And they all involve sin.
Where are you right now? What are the burdens of your heart? How is Satan tempting you to lose heart? Where does your ministry tend to go off track? What are your secret sins? What do you see when you quietly and privately examine yourself?
One subtle deception common to every preacher is the impulse, when things are not going well, to go the way of the law. When people are not measuring up or things are not getting done, we are tempted to go back to the rules. We’ve got to find more principles to follow, guidelines for living the Christian life, instruction to take to heart, etc. – these are the watch words of this way of thinking.
But what does the law always do? Without fail? It will always accuse you, always show you your sin. No matter how you think you are using the law, it always shines the light of God’s perfection into the darkness of our sin. This, by the way, may be one of the reasons we are tempted to lose heart!
But Paul says we have this ministry by the mercy of God. It is not our doing, not our performance, but His mercy. As he writes, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us… We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7, 10).
What does that mean? You are not the center. Christ is. You are not the driving force. Christ is. The Gospel’s power does not come from your cleverness, but from Christ. Without Him we are dead. Only in Him are we alive.
Let me simply encourage you, my brothers, in your preaching and teaching. Go over your sermons, your lessons. How many of them walk in the way of the law? How clearly do you bring your people the gifts of God in Christ? Preaching the law in a general sort of way is easy. Everyone does it. But preaching the law so as to kill that God can make alive in Christ – that’s difficult. And even more difficult is preaching the Gospel clearly so that it’s fresh, good news for your people. That’s because the Gospel is unlike anything else in the world.
God gives! It’s not our doing, but Christ. All our sins are laid on Him. All the issues that cause us to lose heart? He carried them to the cross. They drove Him into death for us. Killed Him so that we might live. And when God raised Him from the dead, He removed our sins from us, as far as the east is from the west. Jesus lives to say to you and me, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent Me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:21). It’s all gift, His gift to us and His gift to our people through us.
Now go preach that! It’s God’s call and your privilege. Go give away the gifts of God to your people. The law accuses and lays burdens. Jesus has come to absorb the accusations and lift the burdens. You are His agents, His servants.
Make sure the heart and soul of every sermon is the life of God in Jesus Christ. “What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” Let the people see and hear Jesus through you – not only Jesus the example, but most of all, Jesus the Savior. Jesus the Life Giver. Jesus our Peace. Jesus our Joy!
Know also that Jesus carries you. It doesn’t depend on you. It all hangs on Him. Now “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit…” (2 Corinthians 4:14-15a). He will provide you with everything you need to bring His Good News clearly. It’s all here in His Word.
That’s why, Paul says, “we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16, 18). You handle the unseen, eternal things when you proclaim life in Jesus’ name, when you forgive sins, when you give away His body and blood.
All the stuff that goes the way of the law is temporary. What is eternal is the unseen work of God in the hearts and minds of believers when they hear the Good News of Jesus from your lips. What is eternal is the change that only God’s Spirit works to bring life by the Word of Jesus, the Word you bring.
So we end where we began. “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart!” (2 Corinthians 4:1). Go preach it, my brothers! Preach Life in Jesus’ name – with passion and with joy! And remember, it’s for YOU, too!
You fellow preacher of the Living Christ!
First Vice President – LCMS
In the issue of Newsweek commemorating the September 11 attacks on America, in an article entitled, “How Should We Think About Islam?” (Newsweek, Dec. 31, 2001/Jan. 7, 2002, pp. 102-103), Kenneth L. Woodward wrote the following:
… even the acceptance of other religions as valid paths to God is insufficient. What theologians from various traditions are beginning to realize is that we cannot truly understand the uniqueness of our own religion unless we also develop a deep understanding and appreciation of at least one other religion. What committed Christians and Jews and Muslims must do is find within their own traditions sound theological reasons for valuing other faiths without compromising the integrity of their own. (pp. 102-103)
He goes on from there to applaud the fact that some Catholic theologians are now asking how “the Holy Spirit might be at work within non-Christian religions” (p. 103). Of course, he also tells us that some Muslim scholars are using the Quran to make the point that Allah blesses religions pluralism, too, and then opines, “Clearly, this will be the most important theological agenda of the new millennium” (p. 103).
I am sorry, Mr. Woodward, I beg to differ. As an American citizen, of course, I am called to tolerate other religions. We have religious freedom – a great blessing because it means I am free to live my faith and so is my Muslim neighbor. As a Christian, one baptized into Jesus Christ, I am called to love my neighbor, no matter what his religion (or lack thereof). Religious differences are never an excuse for hatred. However, tolerance, freedom and love do not mean giving up the uniqueness of Jesus as the one and only Savior of the world.
What Mr. Woodward does not understand (or has rejected) is that if I grant that another faith has value before God or if I accept another religion as a “valid path to God” then I have already compromised the integrity of my faith in Jesus. There is a fundamental, radical difference between Christianity and religion. Every manmade religion claims to be a “path to God.” Christianity, however, is not a path we make to God, but is God coming to us in the One who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Christianity is not at heart a religion (a set of rules to follow), but Christianity is at heart God’s rule, God’s reign, in the person of Jesus Christ.
In Jesus, God has come to us. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14). “In him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). His desire is to bring us under His sway, fully and completely. And He brooks no rivals.
This Jesus, God in our flesh, still comes to us in His Word, in the water of Baptism and in His body and blood. Christian faith is receiving Jesus, receiving Him where He has promised to be present for us. “There is no other name…” (Acts 4:12).
So despite the pressure of “the most important theological agenda of the new millennium,” we cannot give up the uniqueness of Jesus. Why not? There is no comfort anywhere else. When you are at the grave side, every other religion (and unfortunately some Christians) will point you to the good things that the dead person has done, to the efforts he made to follow the path to God. In the face of death, we who believe in Jesus know we cannot trust anything we have done, but we cling to everything Jesus has done for us.
Here’s the real difference between our faith in Jesus and every other religion. The initiator of every other religion is still dead and buried. Jesus’ grave is empty. And it’s not because his body was stolen, but because He is alive, bodily raised from the dead. By His resurrection He forgives our sins. Because He lives, we shall live also. “You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).
My sisters and brothers in Christ: I know there are many pressures (often subtle but still very real) to “fudge” on the uniqueness of Jesus. Even many of our people have bought the “spirit” of this age that, no matter what the religion, “we are all praying to the same god anyway.” That’s why God is calling you and me to renewed faithfulness and trust in Christ, who “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins,” and “sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12).
We are in the midst of the season when we examine over and over again the reason for the uniqueness of Jesus – His cross and His resurrection. His victory there over our last enemy, death itself, is what fuels our confidence and joy. It is as the great Easter hymn has it:
They who sorrow here and moan
There in gladness shall be reigning;
Earthly here the seed is sown,
There immortal life attaining.
Here our sinful bodies die,
Glorified to dwell on high.
Then take comfort and rejoice,
For His members Christ will cherish.
Fear not, they will hear His voice;
Dying, they shall never perish;
For the very grave is stirred
When the trumpet’s blast is heard.
Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave
And at death no longer tremble;
He, the Lord, who came to save
Will at last His own assemble.
They will go their Lord to meet,
Treading death beneath their feet. (TLH #206, st. 7-9)
And that’s what we are doing already this Easter Season, by our preaching and teaching, by our joy and gladness even now: “treading death beneath (our) feet.”
Yours in the living One!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS
What do you think of that statement? There is only one life. In some ways it sounds wrong. Is this all there is? Is our present life on this earth the only life we get?
Many naturalists and secularists would agree. Our natural, physical life here and now is all we know. You are born, you live and you die. Hopefully you can give your life some meaning and purpose by what you do, but don’t look for anything more. This is all you get. There is only one life.
What’s the matter? Have I lost my faith? No, not at all. But I still say, there really is only one life. You may be thinking that I am referring to a distinction between physical life and spiritual life. Yes, but not entirely.
You see, there is only one life, and that is the life God gives. When you were conceived in your mother, your life was worked by God (Psalm 139:14f). Every breath you take is a breath God gives you. You are alive because of God.
Yet we still die – life ends. “Sin pays off in death,” the Scripture says (Romans 6:23). Death contradicts God’s work of life. It even seems to have the last word, for we all die. No one is excepted.
In the face of this reality, the Scripture says of Jesus Christ:
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).
There is one life death could not destroy. Oh, death thought it had Him (if we can speak of death thinking) when Christ was dead and buried. But death could not hold the one who is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26). God’s gift of life cannot be extinguished, for Jesus lives, and lives forever.
Now Jesus promises,
“This is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3).
There is only one life – this life, the life of Jesus Christ. Knowing Him you have His life. Anyone who does not have Jesus has no life (1 John 5:12).
“The thief,” Jesus says, “comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).
So, you see, there is only one life, the life God gives, the life that is ours in Jesus. It begins now but continues forever.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24).
Eternal life is a present possession for the believer in Christ. And when Christ returns, this eternal life will be revealed in the resurrection of the body.
One more thing. You probably already know that Jesus gives this life wherever people come together to hear His Word and to receive His body and blood. But do you know anyone else who does not know or trust in Jesus? Who is not close to Him? Without Jesus, they have no life.
You have this life. Did you know you can give it away? Tell them about it. Tell them what you have. Bring them into the worship of the Triune God where life is given. For there is only one life. His name is Jesus.
Did you know that your congregation is a mission outpost? A place where Jesus gives His life for you and for others? You also are sent by God to bring life, to invite people you know to receive life in Jesus. As Jesus promised,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).
So it’s true. There is only one life – eternal life in Jesus.
+Herbert C. Mueller
First Vice President