Name Calling

Acts 2:22–36 (ESV):

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Seeing in Christ

God sees things differently. Those who see with the Spirit of God see as He sees, and that vision reflects His viewpoint.

Look at how God calls things that are not as though they are… Look how God teaches Peter to see things differently than our eyes would normally see.

The staggering phrase is in verse 30, “Being therefore a prophet…” This verse is referring to David. King David. We know him as many things, but calling him a prophet doesn’t fit. He was an adulterer and a murderer. He failed. He was anointed King because he was a man after God’s own heart. But that didn’t work out so well. He took his neighbor’s wife, then killed that neighbor and tried to hide the whole thing so that people wouldn’t find out.

We know that men with these kinds of sins are not qualified to lead God’s people. We do not listen to murderers when they teach morality. We do not seek adulterers to proclaim the realities of God’s Kingdom.

But Peter, speaking by the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit calls David a prophet. And tells all of Israel that they must read and listen to his words as those of God. David’s words are true. An adulterous murdering king is called a “prophet” by God. Surely not.

But it gets worse. David is not the only one given a title he surely doesn’t deserve. At the very end of this section, a man who died as a criminal is called both Master and Messiah. The Romans didn’t crucify people in order to honor them. The Jews didn’t hand their Messiah over to Rome to provide the sacrifice for sins required in the Old Testament. The death of Jesus was the seal of one plain and public proclamation: Jesus has failed. He is not who he claimed to be. He is not from God and is not our anointed King. He is not the Son of David (ironic, no?).

Peter, once again, by the Holy Spirit, sees things differently. He does not see a dead and defeated false Messiah. He does not see a treacherous traitor subverting a nation. He does not see a Sabbath-breaking anti-Mosaic threat to the Temple and the sequestered peace of the Jewish nation. Peter sees what God sees.

In the death of Jesus, God sees the Messiah. In the death of Jesus, God sees the defeat of all of His enemies. In the death of Jesus, God sees sin and righteousness coming together not in conflict, but in a one-sided victory with no detractors.

God sees things as they truly are. We see things through eyes contaminated by sin. God sees things according to His will and plan and good pleasure. We view things through our desired dominance and fears.

We are tempted to join God in His vision of us in a way that seems right in our eyes. We don’t want to see ourselves in light of our sin and failures, so we learn to love ourselves and put a positive spin on things. We seek to avoid hatred of self or loathing of ourselves, and so we turn to self-love and the esteem of self. The solution to our problem is us. This solution, however, does not mitigate the problem. Instead, this only exacerbates the issue. Our vision is still not His.

Incarnate Eyes

God sees the way He sees through the incarnate eyes of His Son. From the cross, Jesus saw sinners and called for forgiveness. Jesus saw evil and responded in prayer. Jesus saw punishment and promised paradise. Jesus saw the absence of the Father and called upon Him. Jesus saw the world and was God’s love for it. Jesus saw the world and all the sin, Jesus saw the hatred and all the brokenness. And He pronounced it worthy of His life and His love. Jesus died and was laid in a tomb, but saw the door of resurrection.

Through these eyes, God sees David as a prophet and the man after His own heart. Through these eyes, God hears the complaints in the Psalms as prayers in faith. Through these eyes, God sees those who killed His Son as the people for whom He died.

And now, through His resurrection, we learn to see.

First, we learn to see Jesus as Lord and Christ (Messiah). We learn to see clearly that Jesus is our salvation and hope. We learn to see clearly that all of our fear, love, and trust find their object and goal in Jesus alone. We learn to see the destiny of this life in the death and resurrection of the one whom God raised. We learn to see our life in His and His life in ours. We learn to see His second coming as the progress for which we yearn.

Then, we learn to see people as He sees them. No longer marked by their sin and failures, we see people as those for whom the Messiah came and died. We learn to see people in God’s Kingdom and living according to His will and design. We learn to see people not for their failures, but for whom God has called them to be.

We learn to see in love. Not generic love or impotent love, but love that loves in a way that sinners are saved. We learn to see through the love of the one who is Lord and Christ.

If Peter (a betrayer of Jesus), speaking through the Holy Spirit, can call David not an adulterer and murderer, but a prophet, what does that mean for you?

Listen to the words of God Himself. He knows your sin. He knows your failures. He knows your thoughts. And He calls you to the cross of Christ. He calls you to the empty tomb and the resurrection. And there, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, He calls you to repent. He calls you to trust in Jesus for salvation. And He calls you His own.

He sees you through the promises of His Word. He sees you through the promises of your Baptism. He sees you at the table of His Supper. He sees you in His promises kept. He sees you in Christ. And Jesus is the Lord and Messiah. And Jesus is your advocate before the Father.

God can call David a prophet. And David was a terrible sinner. God can call Jesus the Lord and Messiah. And Jesus was dead.

But now Jesus is risen. He is Lord and Christ.

Imagine what God can call you – maybe even “saint.” In Christ the Lord it is so. Amen.

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How did I get here?

Psalm 23 (ESV):

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

 

We all know the Psalm. It sounds like a funeral. It smells of memories and tastes like a food we have eaten too many times. The version in our head is the one we heard when we first reckoned with the familiarity of the text. The words string together as though  this sequence was given from on high at the very beginning. It’s hard to image a world in which these phrases don’t join together.

This Psalm is such a prominent text for the Church that we have all heard sermons and classes on it. Pastors, scholars, teachers, and armchair theologians have spent hours seeking out how to describe sheep. Many sermons and lessons have pointed people to stupid animals who can’t care for themselves. Clever-minded proclaimers have determined that people need to hear more about sheep in order to find their place in the metaphor.

But I miss the shepherd. I need leading and guiding and promises and provision. I want, and wonder how someone can believe enough to say they have none. I return every day, but never to the place where God lives, for I have never been there. I miss the shepherd because I know that I am a sheep more than I know Him.

And I wonder how I got here. David said it plainly. The Lord leads in paths of righteousness. So how did I get here?

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” How did I get here? It is clear that this is not the path of righteousness. Far from the righteous path, far from the right way, far from paths that lead to righteousness, this is a valley. Shadows and death define this depressed land. And here I am.

There are no green pastures. There is no quiet waters. There are no righteous paths. There is death. And darkness and shadows and plenteous need.

I know not where I am, but I know that He did not lead me here. He was leading in paths of righteousness, and that path led to green pastures and water and a table and a shepherd. And in that path and in that righteousness there is no want or need, for He is there leading.

But I am here, where I fear every movement. I am here where I need more than I want and want more than I need. I am here where the water drowns and the pastures are a wasteland. I am in a valley without food and without a table for feasting. I am where the shepherd did not guide me.

I know that sheep are too stupid to find their own way. I know that sheep do not have any sense. But that is not the point of this Psalm. David did not write this for people to perseverate on the nature of sheep. David wrote this Psalm about the shepherd. The shepherd is so good that He leads only into pleasant places and into righteous paths. The shepherd is so good that His being removes need and want. He feeds and anoints and prepares a feast. He even has a house. And you are always welcome to return there.

And I’ve heard of one who claims to be the Good Shepherd. I’ve read of one who claimed to be the shepherd who leads and guides and removes all want. I know one who prepares a feast for those who belong to Him.

Jesus made the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders mad. He confused them and drove them insane. He shook them to the very core with His teaching, which seemed so right and yet so wrong. He broke the Law of Moses with intent, and yet told them that He was not breaking it, but fulfilling it. And they simply couldn’t argue.

Is it possible for a man to heal a man born blind without God’s help? And if God is with Him, then what about His teaching? And if God is with Him, what about His words? And so they followed Him, seeking a way to trap Him in His words, seeking a chink in His armor.

And they found it. He claimed to be YHWH. And that is blasphemy. The Name is not to be spoken for fear of breaking the commandment against the misusing the Holy Name. And blasphemy deserves death. There is no question about that, no room for maneuvering. You claim to be God, we kill you.

So Jesus stood in front of them with this audacious claim: I am the good shepherd. Every Jewish person knew, as does every Christian today, that the LORD is the shepherd, as Psalm 23 says. Jesus has the guts to say that HE is the good shepherd. Who does He think He is?

He is exactly who He claimed to be. Jesus is YHWH in the flesh.

Blasphemy deserves death, and so they killed Him. They crucified this “Messiah” for His blasphemous claims and actions. They displayed Him as the failed Messiah so that no one would follow His folly.

The one who created all life and inspires all with His Spirit finally breathed out His Spirit and died. He died the death of a sinner. He died the death of a failure. He died the death of a blasphemer. He died the death of suffering and shame. He died in darkness and the shadow of death. He died.

But before He died, He promised a home. The house of His Father, the house of the Lord for those who follow Him in the paths of righteousness. And He will prepare a place, and His own will live there forever when He returns.

And on that third day He returned as the good shepherd, as YHWH in the flesh, as the one who conquers death and the grave. He returned to comfort those who mourn with the promise of life.

And I know one day I will wonder, how did I get here? This is the house of the Lord. I did not earn a place here. I do not deserve entrance. I am certainly unworthy to be a member of this household. Yet I dwell in the house of the Lord. Forever.

How did I get here?

It is the work of the shepherd. The good shepherd who leads only in paths of righteousness. And He found me where He did not lead. And I pray that He will find me there again and again and perhaps even again. Until the day when there are no paths save the righteous one in which He walks and leads. Every path that is not the path of His presence is death and shadow and want and need and fear of evil.

Jesus is the good shepherd. He walked in death, even though he leads in righteousness. He walked in death because I left the path in which He leads me. I do not want His righteousness because I desire my own sin. But He leads me to the house of the Lord, and there I will dwell forever. Forever with my Lord. Forever with the shepherd. Forever there, because of the shepherd. His love for sinners is stronger than their love for their own sin. And this love means His death is stronger than death and His life engenders eternal life to all who belong to Him.

And I know that yet again today I will wander into a dark valley into which He did not lead. And there will be death and shadow and need and pain. And He will meet me there not because He belongs there, but because He is a good shepherd, who rescues His sheep. He knows the valley because He died and He knows the shadow because it cannot overcome Him. And He leads me where I don’t want to go. But He leads me to where life is. And by His Spirit, He teaches me to long for the places He leads.

Forgive me, O shepherd, for I wandered from the path in which you lead. I sought death instead of life. I love myself too much. Forgive me, for I deserve death and shadows and being alone.

Be the shepherd of this sheep, and lead me, even when it is against my will. Lead me, please lead me. And inspire my will to delight in Your will and walk in Your paths of righteousness.

How did I get here? In the valley … because I chose to wander. In the house of the Lord because the shepherd guides me in paths of righteousness forever. And where He leads is life.

Today means something

Today means something because God loves you.

Romans 1:16–17:

Οὐ γὰρ ἐπαισχύνομαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν παντὶ τῷ πιστεύοντι, Ἰουδαίῳ τε πρῶτον καὶ Ἕλληνι. δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, καθὼς γέγραπται· ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται.

Today means something because God loves you.

I admit that it is a little strange to be a Lutheran today.

 

Today means something because God loves you.

I feel like today is a day for confession. I admit that I’m Lutheran for one very simple reason: Jesus.

One reason. Jesus. That’s it. Whether I am a good or Confessional Lutheran, I’m not always sure. But I know and trust in one simple thing. Jesus.

He is my hope. He is my life. He is my everything.

 

Jesus Christ is God. I believe that.

Jesus Christ is the eternal Word made flesh. I believe that.

Jesus Christ is true man. I believe that.

Jesus Christ lived a perfect life. I believe that.

Jesus Christ died on a cross. I believe that.

Jesus Christ paid for my sins. I believe that.

Jesus Christ paid for the sins of the whole world. I believe that.

Jesus Christ suffered God’s wrath. I believe that.

Jesus Christ rested in the tomb. I believe that.

Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead. I believe that.

Jesus Christ conquered death itself. I believe that.

Jesus Christ will return as judge. I believe that.

Jesus Christ will grant eternal life to all believers in Him. I believe that.

Jesus Christ will welcome me into His eternal Kingdom. I believe that.

Jesus Christ is God’s love enfleshed. I believe that.

Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I believe that.

 

Today means something because God loves you.

I am totally sinful

I love sinning

I deserve God’s wrath

I deserve death

I deserve eternal punishment

I deserve scorn ridicule and hatred from everyone

I deserve nothing good

I deserve hatred and evil

I do not love God above all

I do not love anyone as I ought

I cannot stop sinning

I cannot believe any of these truths about Jesus

I cannot believe that God exists

I cannot believe

 

Today means something because God loves you.

The Good News is that God loves you. He knows every single sin. He knows the evil of your heart. He knows your lack of faith. He knows your lack of repentance. He knows you would rather sin than follow His will. He knows you are selfish. He knows.

And He loves you.

He loves you in Jesus. He loves you because of Jesus. He loves you without any requirements. He loves you.

He gave His only Son. For you.

He works repentance in you through the hearing of His Law.

He announces His gracious promise through His Gospel.

He gives faith to you by His Spirit — when you hear His Word, when He washed you in Holy Baptism, when He feeds you with the very body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine.

He keeps you in this faith, with the whole Body of Christ.

Read it all again.

Grace. Faith. Gospel. All God’s doing.

You get what He desires for you to have — His love, His forgiveness, His mercy, His peace … His eternal life.

God in Christ. For you.

Today means something. God loves you. In Jesus.

And it will all be true again tomorrow.

Remember your Baptism

It’s what the cool kids say. Whenever you talk to a pious Lutheran for long, you will hear this phrase. Luther said we should, so we say we should. And it’s easy to say. Remember your Baptism.

When you wash your hands, remember that water was applied to your head in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. When you shower, remember that you were drowned into the death of Christ. When the rain falls from the heavens, remember that you have been raised with Christ.

Remember your Baptism. Each day is a dying day. And a rising day. Each hour is a death and resurrection hour. All of our thoughts, actions, and words echo a war waged by our old Adam and the New man within us.

Remember your Baptism. We say this phrase with all the theological freight barely clinging to the statement, as though these words carry universal understanding.

Remember your Baptism. Odd for a Church body that teaches and encourages infant Baptism to encourage her members to remember something they cannot recall. Remember your Baptism. I have no recollection of the event. At all. I trust it happened. I’ve seen the date written down. My parents told me. But I don’t have any personal memory to call to my mind. I have no ability to recollect.

So how do I remember my Baptism? How do you remember your Baptism? Why do we say such a thing?

You cannot decide to follow Jesus, but each day you choose the read His Word. You cannot do good works without His grace, yet every action is that for which you are held accountable. You cannot eat to gain the Kingdom of heaven, yet He invites you to a feast and bids you take and eat. You cannot believe, and yet only those with faith are those who inherit what is promised.

So abandon all hope. Forsake all faith. Cast them all upon the blood and the cross. Bring your doubts and your questions to the empty tomb and expel them into the cavern. Embrace the foolishness of the uselessness of your intellect.

Welcome to the reality of having nothing. All depends on Christ. As it should be, as it shall be. Christ is all in all, and by grace I am nothing.

I don’t remember a thing. The Holy Spirit works faith in my heart and draws me again into the well from which Jesus grants me living water. Daily I die (something I don’t want to do) and rise (something I am unable to do) by His grace and mercy. I die to me (crucified with Jesus, it is no longer I who live), and rise with Jesus (since, then you have been raised with Christ…). The life I live today, I live by faith, by the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Just as I cannot see the cross or Jesus, yet I fix my eyes thus, I cannot recall my Baptism, but I treasure the memory thereof.

Wash me, O Lord, in the healing waters of death and resurrection, until that day when I shall drink living water from the river that flows from the very throne of God, when Resurrection will be my eternal reality and all dying will be dead, so that life is all that remains. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

 

Not Seeing: Life in Christ in the World

In a world that is increasingly marked by conflict and strife, Jesus reminds His disciples to “Take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This is not an escapism or a denial of the brokenness of this world. This is the perspective of the Creator of the universe who has redeemed His creation. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God reclaimed all of creation for Himself. The planets, the stars, the oceans, the islands, the nations, and every single person have been redeemed — bought back from sin, death and the power of the devil.

Faith trusts in the action of God in Christ Jesus to deliver from all that destroys. Death no longer has mastery because Jesus has been raised from the dead. Sin no longer condemns because Jesus has won forgiveness of every sin through the offering of Himself as payment. The devil has been stripped of His power as evil has been defeated by the King of kings and the Lord of Lords. Faith trusts that this was all done for you. Given to you as a free gift flowing from the gracious favor of God our Father.

It is into this redemption that His children are washed in the waters of Holy Baptism. Redeemed creation is employed to deliver God’s work of salvation to the people whom He calls. In the water with the Word, sins are washed away and faith is delivered through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He has overcome the world in which we continue to dwell. Baptized into His death and resurrection, we are marked as those who have a share in His victory. This world is not what defines us, but His death and resurrection mark us. We walk by faith and not by sight.

And we eat and drink His salvation as He gives to us His body and blood as heavenly food. Yet even here, it is through the stuff of this world that He comes. Bread and wine as redeemed elements. Set apart not just for divine use, but for divine Grace. Gluttony and drunkenness removed from this consumption and drinking, and in their stead life and salvation. Body and blood with bread and wine. The world overcome by one greater; the one who created it thus, and who recreates it for His use.

And so we learn the rhythm and the reality of our lives in Christ. He has overcome the world. No matter how much or little this world proffers opposition against its creator, no matter how virulent the hatred of the citizens of this planet toward their God or one another, He has redeemed this world. And those who have received faith through His Word, those who have been washed, those who eat His food, they trust and hope in His promises that this world belongs to Him. And daily, that hope also points to a day when the redemption and the restoration will be complete in the resurrection of all flesh, even this world.

Faith and hope in Christ does not teach us to pretend the world doesn’t exist and its struggles are not real. But life in Christ is not one marked by the changes and whims of each issue that causes consternation to those who belong to this world. We love. We serve. But we do not spend our time consumed with the things that this world props up as important or newsworthy.

We love our neighbor and therefore serve him. But we do not live as she lives. We do not share their priorities or their fears. We know the One who has conquered this world, and we believe that He is true no matter what may happen in this conquered world.

His love is the true reality of this world. Mankind finds its identity in the justifying grace of God in Jesus Christ. And we learn to love our neighbor accordingly.