Saturday, February 24, 2024

You are the Christ: A Meditation on Mark 8 for the 2nd Sunday in Lent


 And Jesus went out, and his disciples,

into the towns of Caesarea Philippi:

and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them,

Whom do men say that I am?

And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias;

 and others, One of the prophets.

 And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.

 

I do not think that Jesus’ question to His disciples was merely rhetorical, nor exploratory of the public mood.  Rather, in knowing who He is and the hearts of all men who were created through Him, Jesus knew that how people understood Him would have a direct impact on their lives.  If the Pharisees thought He was a rebel preacher that jeopardized their religious hold on power, they would work to discredit and eventually kill Him.  If Herod was losing his grasp on reality in consequence of his guilty conscience for having killed John the Baptist, thinking Jesus was John’s accusing ghost, then he might find all kinds of erratic ways to avoid encountering Jesus directly.  If the mob thought Jesus was one of the old prophets, such as Elijah, who was thought to come before the end of the world and the restoration of the Jewish empire to prominence, they might try to make Jesus their earthly king.  But if His disciples understood Him to be who He really is, then they would confess Him as the Christ—the Messiah, Savior of the World, only begotten Son of the Father, fully God and fully man—and that truth would lead them to follow Him even unto Calvary.  To know Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is to know Him as the source and summit of all life—the Eternal Word by which they were created, redeemed, sanctified, and preserved forever in His grace.

 

What people know and believe has real consequences in their lives.  For example, people who work for a living know the terms of their working contract with their employer, and believe that their employer will be faithful to compensate them according to their agreement.  People who drive cars in busy downtown areas know the rules of traffic lights and cross walks, and trust that others will respect red or green lights the same way they do.  But beyond the superficialities of life, the way people live reveals what they really believe about who they are, why they are in this world, what they value, and what they think happens when they die.  The hedonist might seek pleasure and leisure above all else, while the materialist might seek manipulation of the material universe for power and prestige.  The fatalist and atheist might seek to allay their doldrums over believing their life has no transcendent or enduring meaning, pondering the obliteration of their consciousness at bodily death.  Those who follow dark gods of pagan antiquity might live in the pursuit of power and sex and magic, hoping to climb into the echelons of demi-gods or heroic men of renown in the afterlife.  And others might live with the knowledge that the only true God is the Creator and Judge of all things, before whom they will one day stand to give an account of how they lived with the resources they were given.

 

Any way it’s analyzed, the lives of people reveal what they really believe, because we are rational creatures for whom mind and will inform action.  A mind surrendered to passion and sentimentality will reveal a life ordered to the conviction that passions and sentiments are of higher value and priority than truth and discipline and duty.  Thus when Jesus probes His disciples about who they say He is, Jesus is getting at the heart of where faith and conviction are rooted, and thus the place within them from which the actions of their lives would flow.  The disciple who knows Jesus is the Christ, knows that Jesus is God and they are not; that the terms of life are set by the Author of Life, and that the Word of God outweighs the words of men.  This is why Jesus could then explain to His disciples that a life secure in Him by faith would look like picking up their respective crosses of duty and following Him even unto death.  As Jesus would demonstrate on that first Easter, death could not hold Him, and His victory over sin, death, hell, and the devil would be a victory He gave by grace through faith to His disciples.  The Lord of Life submitted to death, even death on a Cross, so that His life might be given as a ransom for all who would abide in Him.  That knowledge and conviction has consequences in the lives of those who possess it, not by their own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit given to them which enlightens their minds and empowers their bodies, even as He restores their souls.

 

In this season of Lent, it is a good time to pause and examine what our lives declare about what we really believe.  In reality, our lives often reveal false motives and dark desires, many times at odds with the Author of Life to whom we know we are accountable.  Where our minds have become lazy, our convictions weak, and our behavior has followed suit; where our lives have not embraced the duty of our vocations, the love of God above all things and the love of neighbor as ourselves; where we find ourselves embracing deceptions rather than truth, and chasing valueless baubles rather than the treasures of virtue; in these things we find opportunity for repentance.  Lent reminds the Christian that while we are yet in this world, we struggle as those with two wills, two minds:  the fallen and condemned flesh which lives at enmity with God by attempting to deify itself, and the Mind of Christ which is being fashioned in us every day by the power of the Spirit working through the Word.  We are simultaneously sinners and saints, daily called to drown the inclinations of our selfish corruption, and rise up in the baptismal grace and righteousness given to us by Jesus.  What we learn in the lessons of Lent is not solely a seasonal exercise, but a daily demand—to examine what we know and what we really believe, and how our lives correspond to our convictions.  No fig tree should bring forth thorns, nor fresh springs poisonous waters, and neither should the Christian bring forth a life out of harmony with the Lord of Life.

 

Like faith and good works, faith and repentance are never really found separate in this world.  That we feel the sorrow for our sins, for lives that do not honor the Eternal Word who sought and saved us, reveals in us a living faith which by the power of God still strives to pick up our cross and follow our Savior.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the people of God who strive and seek and suffer under the curse of the Law, so that we might always find the refreshment of forgiveness, life, and salvation when we return to the Lord our God in faith.  For faith alone clings to the promises of God, that eternal life is given to all who will repent and believe in Him.  Be of good cheer, dear Christian, for the Captain of the Heavenly Host who has met you in your battles against the darkness of our age, both within and outside us, has done all things necessary to secure your victory and your life in Him forever.  Hear Him, abide in Him—repent, believe, and live.  Amen.

 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Faithful Servants: A Meditation on Matthew 25, for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost


For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country,

who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one;

to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same,

and made them other five talents.

And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.

But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.

 

After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying,

 Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents:

behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant:

thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things:

enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

He also that had received two talents came and said,

Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents:

behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant;

thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things:

 enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Then he which had received the one talent came and said,

Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown,

and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth:

lo, there thou hast that is thine.

His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant,

 thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers,

and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance:

but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness:

 there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

In Matthew 25, Jesus continued to teach His disciples about the reckoning at the end of the world which He declared to them in chapter 24.  The first imagery He used was with the 10 Virgins, and the importance of faithful endurance in waiting for His return.  The second is this parable of the stewards, and the importance of working faithfully with the gifts He has given them in the course of their lives.  Each steward or servant of God is given life, and into that life is poured many blessings and abilities which can be used either to His glory or wasted elsewhere.  When the Lord returns to review accounts with His disciples, each person will return to God what they have been given and what they accomplished with those gifts.  To those who worked faithfully and multiplied the positive investment of God in their lives, they will be rewarded with greater gifts in the world to come.  But to those who squander their lives and their gifts from God in selfish and slothful unbelief, even their lives will be taken from them as they are cast into hell at the final judgment.

 

In terms of Jesus preaching the Law, this is a terrifying image of accountability that no one can escape.  The Lord of Glory gives each person life, and each person is accountable to God for how they use the life they are given.  But lest pride and narrow vision blunt the impact of Jesus’ admonition, we must not lose sight of how many minutes, hours, and days we have been given by God, and how many of those we may spend in sloth, selfishness, and unbelief.  Who can look on their own life, and honestly conclude that not a moment was wasted or poorly used?  Who can take an honest inventory of their powers of mind and body, and declare that every power given to them has been properly used according to God’s design and direction?  Who can measure every resource ever poured out into their lives, of money and material and care from others, and account for every penny, every tool, every property, every kindness they ever received as used righteously?  The Law of Sinai and the Law of Love dictate that we should be always and everywhere loving God above and beyond all things, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, in accordance with His Word and Spirit which enliven, guide, and sustain all creation.  And yet, there is no person who can rightly claim to have used every power and every resource they are given virtuously, in even one particular day, let alone a lifetime.

 

In truth, there is no way for any servant of God to claim for himself the mantle of good and faithful, nor be self-justified in the reward to enter into the joy of thy Lord.  What Jesus is describing at the final judgment is not a salvation by works to be accomplished by those who follow Him, but a salvation by grace received with a faith that cannot help but work actively in love.  St. Paul and St. James would later agree that faith as some kind of empty intellectual exercise or boastful acclamation is nothing before God, but that a living faith which cannot help but be at work in accomplishing the will of God is the saving faith which receives saving grace.  The first two stewards in the parable above are not saved because they doubled their Lord’s investment, but because they trusted in their Lord to live and strive in His service, surprised at what the Lord was able to accomplish through them.  Likewise, the last servant is not damned because he made a poor return on his Lord’s investment, but because he did not trust his Lord, and rather repudiated the One from whom he had received everything… including his own life and intellect, free to embrace the insanity of rejecting his own Creator.  The parable of the stewards is not about the relative worthiness of the stewards, but of the gratuitous grace of God.

 

As we near the end of the church year, Jesus’ words ring out to remind us that every person is a beneficiary of grace just by being alive.  To live and move and have our being in this world is not a reward for our worthiness, but an act of creative and sustaining love that gives to every person the dignity and opportunity to exist and work in the Creator’s universe.  That grace alone is marvelous, but added to that wonderful reality is the grace which calls all people to live in Him by faith and thus to abide with Him forever.  The grace of existence is magnified by the grace of salvation from sin, death, hell, and the devil—from the final judgment of our own unworthiness before the intractable Law of God—through the satisfaction made for us in the Cross of Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, our lost moments, days, and years are absolved, and we are given faith to believe and work and accomplish His will in the moments, days, and years yet ahead.  In Jesus, our squandered resources are forgiven, and we are given faith to use the resources of each new day to His glory and the care of His people.  In Jesus, our due condemnation as unfaithful and lazy servants is transformed into His good and faithful service, that by faith in Him we might enter in the joy of our Master, united to His life, death, and resurrection.  In Jesus, our tepid and empty faith is born from above into a faith that works in the power of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish all the good works He has ordained for His servants to do from the before the foundation of the world.

 

Hear the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ today, that His Spirit might breathe into you an honest repentance for all the squandered gifts you have been given by His unfathomable grace, and raise you up in the joy of His Gospel to live in love and service as He has made you to live.  Let go the vanities of this modern selfish age, and believe again in the God from whom all good gifts flow, and to whom all will one day give account.  Trust the only God who showed His inestimable love and compassion for you through the Cross of His Son, and be raised up in His resurrection that holds no fear of death nor judgment.  And by the power of His Holy Spirit, go forth into the darkness of this world in a living faith that casts down every artifice of evil, to reveal the Savior who seeks and saves the lost.  Soli Deo Gloria!  Amen.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

The Everlasting Gospel: A Meditation on Revelation 14 for Reformation Sunday


And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven,

having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth,

and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,

Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him;

for the hour of his judgment is come:

and worship him that made heaven, and earth,

and the sea, and the fountains of waters.

 

The Apocalypse of St. John, or the Revelation given to St. John directly by Jesus while exiled on the Island of Patmos for his testimony of Jesus, is intended to be a message of encouragement and comfort.  While it has certainly been misused as an instrument of terror or manipulation into heresy (the Church of the first few centuries AD even considered not including it in the public cannon, given how many people even then misused it,) it remains an important message of God to mankind regarding how He has, is, and will interact with the world.  The True God has never been the absent watchmaker of the Deist imagination, nor the reflection of a present zeitgeist in any corner of the world.  Instead, God sends His Word into His World to address His people so that all might find reconciliation and eternal life in Him.  His Law is written into Creation and the very being of all His creatures, in addition to the Word spoken to Moses and the Prophets.  And while the Law is holy, good, and righteous as it reflects the holiness, goodness, and righteousness of God, it is overshadowed and fulfilled by the Everlasting Gospel He has spoken to the world through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  Where the Law could not save sinners but only demand justice for our depravity, the Vicarious Atonement of Jesus for the sins of the whole world won for all people the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation in Him alone, by His grace alone, through faith in Him alone.

 

This Everlasting Gospel is what the Church has carried forth in every generation since the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, even as she preaches the Law which shows the Gospel a necessity for every soul’s redemption.  This Everlasting Gospel was hidden in the earliest ages of mankind’s history, spoken first to Eve at her fall in the Garden with Adam, and prophesied down through the ages by Hebrew Prophets moved to testify by the Holy Spirit of God.  In all those ancient centuries where the People of God were tormented and oppressed, attacked and martyred, invaded and enslaved, the Everlasting Gospel continued.  When only Noah and his family were left in the world believing the Word of God and the deluge swept all others away, the Everlasting Gospel remained.  When the Tower of Babel was destroyed by God to dilute the evil imaginations of mankind and to confuse their languages and cooperation, the Everlasting Gospel endured.  When Abraham received the covenant, when Joseph was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers, when the Hebrews were enslaved by Pharoah for 400 years, when Moses led the Hebrews into the wilderness for 40 years, when Joshua lead the conquest of Canaan, throughout the tumultuous centuries of the Judges, through the reign of the Kings of a united Israel, through the civil war that split Israel into north and south, through the onslaughts of Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans, the Everlasting Gospel continued until it was made manifest in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

 

With Jesus’ Great Commission after His resurrection from the dead and His Ascension into heaven, the Apostles carried that Everlasting Gospel out into the pagan world, turning it upside down.  Through the persecution of Jewish and Roman authorities, the Everlasting Gospel remained.  Through the Fall of Rome and into the Dark Ages, the Everlasting Gospel continued.  Into the High Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation, the Age of Exploration and colonization of distant lands, the Everlasting Gospel was preached.  Into the rise and fall of new empires, new governments, new world wars and new technologies that split the atom and sent men into space, the Everlasting Gospel remained. When large swathes of people embraced the Eternal Gospel, it remained as unchanged as when it was widely disregarded.  Faithful preachers of that Everlasting Gospel have added nothing to it, and heretical apostates have taken nothing from it, for the Word of the Lord endures forever irrespective of those who abide in or revile it.  From the dawn of time, through centuries of turmoil and stability, plague and health, war and peace, social unrest and social cohesion, the Everlasting Gospel of Justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, known most assuredly by His Word alone, has endured.

 

It may be tempting to think that our particular modernity is better or worse than those which came before us, or those which are to come—and to convince ourselves that our generation will either be the cause of sustaining the Gospel or contributing to its fall.  But the hubris of modernity, no matter in which age or geography it arises, cannot by work of creatures add to or overthrow the Word and Will of the Creator.  We may be living in a time and place where many people abandon the Word of God, or in one where many embrace it, but the unfaithfulness of men is just as inept at making God unfaithful to His Word, as the faithfulness of men can add to His glory.  The West may be experiencing a massive apostasy to the Word, chasing the ghosts of pride and greed into the fiery calamity reserved for all who reject God, preferring the deceptive and destructive words of fallen men to the life-giving Word of God, but it is men who come and go while the King of Glory abides forever.  The ridiculousness of man’s pride is shown forth in his grave, and the greed of his empires laid bare in their ruin.  And yet the Everlasting Gospel remains as a light in the darkness of man’s self-absorbed pursuits, never faltering or failing regardless of how far men might run from it.  If man seeks to escape it by running across land and sea, the Word of the Lord is there; if he runs from God into the depths of the ocean, God is there; if he flees to the moon and stars, God is there; in life or in death, the Word of the Lord remains.

 

Do not be shaken or dismayed, dear Christian, by the fiery trial that may lay before us, for the Everlasting Gospel cannot be overthrown, nor the grace of your salvation be taken from you by those who reject or ignore it.  To you has been given the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, with victory over sin, death, hell, and the power of the devil, all through the Victory of Jesus Christ.  Just as you are not the creator of your own soul, you are not the author of your own salvation, and thus you need not lean upon your own understanding, your own powers, and your own meritorious good works to save you.  Rather, put your trust in the Everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ, abide in Him, and His grace will save you by faith in Him, that you will abide forever with Him, just as His Word abides forever.  Soli Deo Gloria!  Amen.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Love, Truth, and Duty: A Meditation on Ezekiel 33 for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost


So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel;

therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.

 

When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die;

if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way,

that wicked man shall die in his iniquity;

 but his blood will I require at thine hand.

 

Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it;

if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity;

but thou hast delivered thy soul.

 

The 6th century BC Prophet Ezekiel bore the duties of his office not only prior to the Babylonian Captivity of Judah, but as one of the exiles carried away to Babylon after the conquest.  The Lord came to him with His Word of both warning and hope, of Law and Gospel, that he might bear witness to the people.  The Word of the Lord revealed His will, and the people had the choice to either abide in it or abandon it, with consequences related to either path.  If the people disregarded the Word and Will of God, judgment would come upon them, and in fact it did with the conquering and enslavement of the Hebrews by the pagan Babylonians.  But if the people would turn again from their folly and embrace the Lord of Life by abiding in His Word and His Will, God would become again their Savior and Deliverer.  And there was an added revelation and obligation placed upon the Prophet Ezekiel, to whom the Word of the Lord had come:  faithfulness in his witness to that Word would be life to him, but unfaithfulness to that Word would be death.  Not only did the people have a duty with consequences before the Word of the Lord, but so did the messengers of God.

 

While it is important to recognize the singular situation of Ezekiel and the Hebrews during the Babylonian Captivity (i.e., we are not Ezekiel, nor is modern America an analog for ancient Israel,) it is also important to identify the principles which endure regardless of times, places, and peoples.  There is only one God, creator of heaven and earth, to whom all creation must give account in the day of judgment.  That one God has revealed His Will both in the Natural Law written into the created universe, and the Word He has spoken to His Prophets and Apostles which they wrote down for posterity.  The ultimate revelation of God’s Word and Will are revealed through the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ—to whom, by whom, and through whom all the revelations of Nature and Scripture testify.  In the ages building up to the time of Jesus’ Incarnation, the Prophets pointed forward to the Messiah, calling for all people to live in faith and repentance as they looked forward to that New Day.  In the ages after Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, the Apostles pointed back to Jesus as the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, until that Last Day when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  The message to all people has not really changed:  the Word and Will of God still call everyone to faith and repentance, so that everyone might avoid the path which leads to eternal death, and live forever in grace, peace, and forgiveness.

 

What also has not changed is the obligation of the messengers of God.  The love of God and the truth of God, create for His people a duty toward God and their neighbors.  Those to whom the Word and Will of God have come, have a duty born of love to speak the truth to every soul, so that every soul might avoid the calamity of evil and flourish in the redemption of the good.  The messengers of God are sent out in the Spirit of God to declare the testimonies of the Prophets and the Apostles, to bear witness to the Eternal Word in Jesus Christ, and to administer His gifts to others as freely as they have received them.  The messengers of God have a duty to love God above all things, and to love their neighbors as themselves, which produces their witness as Watchmen on the wall of the civilizations into which they are placed.  Such messengers know the calamity which awaits every soul if they enter eternity under the judgment of God for their embrace of evil, and if they do not warn the evil to turn from their wickedness, the wicked will die in their sins—but God will demand justice for the blood of the wicked on their hands.  Likewise, if the messenger is faithful in their witness to God’s Word and Will, they will have preserved their own soul, whether the people heed their witness or not.  There is no one left unaccountable before the Word and Will of God, most especially the messengers God sends to bear witness to all, of the paths of eternal life and death.

 

While this should be a chilling reality for all who have been entrusted with the Word and Will of Almighty God, it should also be a tremendous comfort.  For it is not the word and the will of the messengers nor of the hearers which seeks and saves the lost, but the Word and Spirit of the Living God.  If the souls of the world hinged upon the faithfulness of people and the charisma of messengers, there would no one be saved—but thanks be to God that the Word of the Lord endures forever, and accomplishes what He sends it out to do!  Man did not bring forth the cosmos, but rather God did by His Word and His Will; man did not restore himself to God after his fall into sin, but God did the work of man’s restoration through His Word and Will on Calvary; man could not keep himself in true faith and repentance, but God did the preserving work through His Word and Spirit; man could not by his own power pass from death to eternal life and be resurrected on the Last Day, but God sealed that mighty work until the Great Day by His Word and Will.  Everything man needed but could not accomplish, God has done by His Word and His Will, so that no one who clings to Him by faith will fall out of his saving grace.  Jesus, the Word and Will of God made flesh, has accomplished all that we needed to be restored to God, to be saved from judgement, and to abide in blessed life forever.

 

This is the Word to which we are called, the Word in which we live, and the Word we are sent to bear witness of before a lost and dying world.  The consequences of abiding in or rejecting that Word are written clearly for all to see, and it is the will of God that not one soul would be lost to perdition, which is why He has done all things necessary to seek and to save every soul He has created.  It is our duty born of His love and His truth, to share His saving Word and Will with everyone to whom we are sent, knowing that our salvation is always found by abiding in the Word and Will of Jesus Christ alone.  Soli Deo Gloria!

 

Saturday, September 2, 2023

In Exchange for your Soul: a Meditation on Matthew 16 for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost


Then said Jesus unto his disciples,

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself,

and take up his cross, and follow me.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it:

and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

 

For what is a man profited,

if he shall gain the whole world,

and lose his own soul?

or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels;

and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here,

which shall not taste of death,

till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

 

After having given St. Peter great encouragement earlier in this same chapter for being blessed to confess Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, he is then admonished in the strongest terms for trying to persuade Jesus away from the Cross.  Peter’s two statements stand in stark contrast, one receiving blessing from God having come from the Spirit of God, the other condemned as coming from the evil one.  Jesus went on to explain to His disciples how important this distinction was by clearly laying out the stakes, noting that eternal life was of infinitely higher value than this short temporal life.  Since the soul of a person is created to live forever, temporary pleasures or pursuits are of far lesser value than eternal destiny, and the relation of one’s eternal soul with their eternal Creator is always judged on God’s terms alone.  Peter’s faulty motivation to spare Jesus from abuse and murder by the Pharisees and Sadducees upon a Roman cross was focused on this short lifetime, and not on the victory Jesus would win for the whole world through His Vicarious Atonement.  The work of God was to accomplish the means of salvation for every eternal soul of every human being who would ever live, not to provide temporary comfort for one person in one short earthly lifetime.

 

This is the distinction between focus on the things of men versus the things of God, and Jesus made it clear that a pursuit to save one’s life in this world is meaningless if it sacrifices an eternal life in fellowship with God.  What bauble will one offer to God on that fearful day of judgement, when all souls must step from this world into eternity?  Every work of one’s hands, every plan or plot or proclivity, every tool or toy or treasure, will be left behind when the soul ascends to meet its Maker.  If one’s life in this world was only oriented here, what an infinite calamity awaits when all this world’s trifles are stripped away by death, and one’s soul stands fully exposed before the King of the Universe!  On that day, what will one offer to God in exchange for their soul, as if to placate or bribe the God of Eternity for rejection of Him, His Word, and His Will?  Once the self-absorbed narcissist is laid bare before his Maker, having sought his own life and prosperity by his own will and works, what will he have left before God if he has not His friendship?  It is God alone who judges the world, and He alone that establishes the value and virtues of life, since He alone is the Author and Sustainer of all things.  Our material possessions, accolades, academic degrees, monuments and honors exchanged between mortal men are not what God has established as eternal in merit, but rather that one abide by faith in His Truth and Love, His Mercy and Grace.

 

This is one of the great mysteries of life in every age, but particularly in ours:  to deny one’s self and one’s selfish ambitions to pursue a life abiding in God, is to secure life in Him forever; but to deny God for the sake of earthly pleasures and the satisfaction of selfish lusts is to lose one’s soul to the eternal fires of hell.  And knowing that fallen man was incapable of denying himself and following His Maker into the perfection of His Truth and Virtue, God bridged the gap between our fallen depravity and His immaculate divinity through His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  In Christ alone was our debt paid, and in His work alone could man trust to withstand the judgment of the Last Day.  Only through Jesus’ denial of earthly prosperity for the pursuit of God’s redeeming will upon Calvary could the hope of men be restored, and only through the Author of Life could the Word of Life be established forever.  The rebuke of Peter for focusing on the flourishing of earthly life at the expense of the saving work of God is an admonition that rings in the ears of every person who will hear it, that while no human pursuit of life will accomplish what it seeks, God’s work of securing eternal life is made open to all through the work and merit of Jesus Christ alone.  Trying to find our lives by our own will and power will leave us in death, but receiving eternal life by the will and power of Almighty God will secure it forever.

 

This should be a great comfort to all people, for the work which men strive vainly to accomplish through their fallen and corrupted powers, the Father has made perfect in His Son and distributed lavishly by His Spirit.  We know that our lives in this world are short, but that life endures forever in the company of the One who is Life.  Every life in this world will know trial and tribulation, as well as joy and beauty, for however many years it is given to dwell upon this good earth.  We are the beneficiaries of life, given our existence in a world created good by the One who is all goodness and truth, even if we’ve marred that creation with our own evil and corruption.  Life is still good, and the Lord of Glory has done all things necessary to secure the lives of His people unto ages of ages without end.  Even the earth itself and the whole created cosmos will be redeemed, resurrected and purged from evil in the New Creation, so that all who abide in God’s love and mercy will do so forever.  This is the immeasurable gift and work of Jesus on our behalf—the love of God made present and active in all creation.  This is the good which overcomes evil, the hope that overcomes despair:  for in Jesus there is now no condemnation for those who abide in His grace, walking by faith in the power of His Holy Spirit, and leaving behind the idolatrous life and mind focused only on a fleeting, carnal life.

 

By the work of Jesus upon His Cross, the perfect love of God casts out the fear of His people, that they might live forgiven and free in Him forever.  Let go the fascinations and trepidations that come from worldly pursuits of self-aggrandizement, that your mind and heart might be lifted up to the Word of Life which comes to you across all eternity for your salvation.  For indeed, while there is nothing you could give in exchange for your soul, your Lord Jesus Christ has already given His full measure for you, that your sins be forgiven you, and your life be restored in Him.  Just as the disciples saw Jesus come in the fullness of His resurrected glory, bringing to them His Eternal Kingdom by His grace, so the Lord of Glory comes to you with healing in His wings, and welcome into His fellowship.  Hear the Word of the Lord as it comes to you this day, and receive the eternal life He has won for you, that you may proclaim His saving Gospel to the world.  Soli Deo Gloria!  Amen.

 

 

Saturday, July 29, 2023

None Can Defeat God: A Meditation on Romans 8 for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost


Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?

It is God that justifieth.  Who is he that condemneth?

It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again,

who is even at the right hand of God,

who also maketh intercession for us.

 

 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution,

or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long;

we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors

 through him that loved us.

 

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life,

nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers,

nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,

shall be able to separate us from the love of God,

which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Several great theological principles emerge in St. Paul’s 8th chapter to the Christians at Rome, but two help frame this structure of his encouragement to Christians of all times and places:  God is omnipotent in power, and His grace is inexhaustible.  Paul began by describing the power of God to call and sanctify and save all those who will come to Him, and through the work of His Son on Calvary, His overwhelming grace to pardon sin.  This is complimentary to the Gospel reading for today in Matthew 13, where the Kingdom of God is likened to a great drag net cast by God into the whole of world, and according to His power and compassion, all the souls caught up in the final judgment will be sorted by the Holy Angels according to their kind.  It is always and only God who judges, and the whole creation is subject to the Creator.  Yet it is always and only God who accomplishes the work of salvation for all people, by uniting in Jesus Christ the satisfaction of the Law through His Cross, and the grace of redemption through faith in Him.  There is no one more powerful or more good than God, so that when Jesus says that if the Son has made you free, you are free indeed—unassailable by any power of heaven, earth, or hell.

 

To be sure, there have been plenty of persecutions of Christians across the ages, and that persecution continues in our own time.  Some regions experience it more brutally, such as in parts of India, China, Africa, and the Middle East.  And some experience it in a more subtle way in Europe or the Americas, where prejudice against biblical Christianity emerges in slander, libel, social media deplatforming, loss of livelihood, or in some cases even jail.  Even so, what can the persecutions of man accomplish in separating man from God?  If God reads Facebook or Twitter, I doubt He is persuaded by either vitriol or calumny, nor affected by shadow bans and censure.  The world might look like its run by tech titans or politicians, but in reality, the King of the Universe is not stymied or overthrown.  The devil and his minions make much hay in our fallen world, getting people to turn on each other and devour each other through intrigue, crime, and war, but God is not diminished by the perturbations of this little blue marble coasting around our sun.  His Kingdom comes and His will is done even by those who rebel against Him, because only God can ensure that truth and justice prevail in eternity, and the evil fruits of wicked people are served up to those who produce them.

 

Yet just as God is eternal and omnipotent, He is also all gracious and loving.  It is by His own work that the Gospel is made present to a fallen humanity, that the Law is satisfied in the life, death, and resurrection of His Only Begotten Son, and that everyone who repents and believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.  Who else could make such a promise but God alone?  The devil cannot promise eternity to anyone apart from the fires of hell destined for him and his unholy horde.  Politicians cannot promise eternity beyond the scope of their few years of rule, be it with wisdom or folly.  Criminals and malefactors might gather their ill-gotten gain for a few years, relishing in the suffering of their victims for a time, but none can escape the dragnet cast over the whole world.  Indeed, even in places where Christians are lined up like lambs for slaughter, where Islamists parade them out to behead them in gory spectacle, or Marxists ship them off to slave camps where their organs may be harvested and sold from their living bodies, or Hindu mobs gang-rape and murder nuns, or drug cartels butcher priests who dare speak out against human trafficking, the people of God are more than conquerors because their lives are hidden for eternity in Jesus Christ.  There is no persecution of God’s people that extends beyond the bounds of this brief time we are given to bear witness to Him in this world, as none of that evil which hounds Christians here will escape an eternity in hell.  God alone is the Author of Life, and the Keeper of all those who abide in Him.  Thus St. Paul can say that in spite of all these things, we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

So if nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, a third inexorable theological maxim emerges:  all those who are saved unto eternal life, are saved only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  No man is the arbiter of his own fate, as no man ultimately is able even to judge himself.  But every man to whom the Word of the Lord has come, by the omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit working through that omnipotent Word, is given the opportunity to accept or reject the saving faith which comes through them—for as St. Paul declares elsewhere, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.  There is nothing outside of a man that can separate him from the love and life of God, because nothing outside of a man is powerful enough to overthrow God’s Judgment and Grace.  But inside a man lies the will to either abide by faith in the Word which comes to save him, or abide in the judgment of the Word which he rejects.  God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the Truth which sets them free, but God coerces faith and love in no man, for faith and love cannot exist as products of coercion.  There is no power in all of creation that can separate a man from a blessed eternity in communion with his Maker for all time, except his own will to reject the love of God and embrace instead the darkness of eternal perdition.

 

Be of good cheer, dear Christian, for you live by grace through faith in Christ alone, and your life is kept guarded and sure in the power of your omnipotent God and King.  Those who go to perdition, who seek to destroy you and defame the God who seeks to save all people, go their way by their own choice, and will not be able to trouble you for long.  For you are the elect of Almighty God, washed in the Blood of His Son, empowered by His Holy Spirit, alive by His Eternal Word.  You have nothing to fear even if the world were to give way, the nations rage, and people imagine vain things—for despite everything the devil and his followers cast at you, you are still more than conquerors through Jesus Christ who saves you.  Soli Deo Gloria!  Amen.

 

 

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Wheat and Tares: A Meditation on Matthew 13 for the 8th Sunday in Pentecost


Another parable put he forth unto them, saying,

The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man

which sowed good seed in his field:

 But while men slept, his enemy came

 and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.

But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit,

then appeared the tares also.

So the servants of the householder came and said unto him,

Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field?

from whence then hath it tares?

He said unto them, An enemy hath done this.

The servants said unto him,

Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares,

ye root up also the wheat with them.

Let both grow together until the harvest:

and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers,

Gather ye together first the tares,

and bind them in bundles to burn them:

but gather the wheat into my barn.

 

Jesus gave His disciples several parables regarding the Kingdom of God, and this is another where St. Matthew recorded Jesus’ explanation.  Lest the lesson be lost on His people and to successive generations, Jesus revealed that it is He who spreads the good seed of His Word and Spirit in the world to raise up people who will live in Him by grace through faith.  The people of the world who reject Him and live in evil are the work of the devil who sows his own lies, deceits, violence, and treachery, so that he might have his own diabolical disciples in the world.  God could have chosen to rip out the evil of the world early on, but it would have jeopardized the people He was raising up by faith and repentance, so He directed His Holy Angels to let them grow together until the Last Day.  But on that final day of the world, the Lord would send His Holy Angels to gather up every soul devoted to evil, bind them and throw them into the fires of hell for all eternity.  Then those same Holy Angels would gather together His people into His own Kingdom where they would shine forth like the sun forevermore.  It is an image of final judgement and restoration, and a hope for those who suffer from the evils of a fallen world.  Anecdotally, it’s also a good reminder to regard the Holy Angels as the righteous and powerful servants of God that they are, and not as they are often scandalously portrayed in art or cinema.

 

When viewed rightly, Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares is a comfort to His people in their suffering, and what later theologians might describe as a Theology of the Cross.  The fact that the world is populated with both good and evil people causes tremendous suffering, as conflict and persecution are bound to arise between them.  Evil people will do evil things, because the conviction of their hearts and minds is in the word of the evil one, who succors them the think themselves gods, to satisfy their own lusts, and to subjugate their fellow people.  Evil is not just an abstraction of thought, but a bad idea put into action by the people who embrace it.  As human beings composed of both soul and body, of mind and will, we are able to take a bad idea and run with it through whatever created powers we have been given.  Thus we find real murderers in the world, and real fraudsters; real tyrants and real traitors; real sex traffickers and real thieves; real witches and real satanists.  Evil is not just found in books, though evil ideas can certainly be found there.  On the contrary, given our incarnate nature in a material universe, human beings are capable of not only being evil in thoughts, but bringing forth evil fruit in their words and actions.  The evil brought forth by people who embrace the lies of the evil one are real and tangible, and they cause real pain and suffering in a very real world.

 

In that context, it is not hard to understand why the Holy Angels would ask the Lord if they should just go down and rip out the evil which the devil had sown in the world, and God would have been entirely just in giving that order.  God knew even better than the Angels did, that the word of the devil had corrupted not only the hearts of those who brought forth rampant evil, but also the hearts of those who struggled to remain faithful to Him.  Every human heart, through the fall into sin and death, was now infected with evil tares, and to rip them out of the world would leave all mankind destined to an eternity in hell with the devil and demons who led them there.  Yet the Lord offered compassion and grace so that mankind might survive their mortal peril, and that men might find salvation in Him alone, though the path back to eternal life would be one of suffering, sacrifice, and death.  The good and the evil would be allowed to live together, generation after generation, with God sowing the good seed of His Word and the devil sowing his lies, until that Last Day when all would be sorted out.  To make this path viable, He would send His Only Begotten Son to live as a man, to suffer as a man, to die as a man, and to rise again as a man who would never taste death again.  Jesus, fully divine and fully man, satisfied the just demands of the Law against evil in the world and in every human heart, nailing our evil to the Cross in His own body, and burying it in His tomb.

 

Thus for those who abide in the Word and Spirit of the Living God, alive by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, there is no condemnation, because the Son has set them free.  They will live side by side with evil, suffering temporal slights and mistreatments, but they know the Word which has saved them.  This same Word of grace and forgiveness, of life and redemption, is what sustains their soul not only against the evils of the world outside them, but from the evils which try daily to rise within them.  Each day their Baptism drowns the tares of demonic lies and corrupted passions, leading them to trust in the Word of God alone as their hope and life.  Each day they rise in the hope of the Gospel and the rigors of the Law, and each night they rest in that same hope and rigor.  Life in the Spirit, as St. Paul would describe it in his letter to the Romans, is not one of tranquility and ease in this world, but a life of divine strength so powerful that it can endure every trial and temptation of the evil one.  This life of the Cross is a life which persists even through death, when the individual harvest of one’s soul is made complete, all the tares and lies of the evil one ripped out, so that the holy perfection of that ransomed soul might shine forth like the sun unto all eternity.  As our Lord has taught us and shown us by His own example, the Way of the Cross is the path to Resurrection and eternal life, first for the individual soul which trusts in Him, and also for the entirety of the saints who will trust Him in every generation down to that Last and glorious Day of His return.  When every soul destined for the Kingdom of God has been brought forth and sealed with the Gospel of salvation, then the end will come—but until then, the Way of the Cross remains the only path of life for all people.

 

Be of good cheer, dear Christian, and do not be dismayed by the evil in the world.  It is the Lord who will keep you and guard you, deliver and preserve you, by the same omnipotent power of His Word and Spirit which saved you from the evils within your own heart.  And as one marked by the sign of His Cross, so to do you bear the Word and Spirit of your Savior, with the Medicine of Immortality upon your lips.  Every soul needs what you have been given in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and every day the Way of the Cross leads all people to that Last Day.  May the Word and Spirit of Jesus which has enlivened and saved you, raise you up and send you to bear witness of the same, that others with you might repent, believe, and live forever.  Soli Deo Gloria— Amen.