From the Word

  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man also has come the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”  1 Corinthians 15:20-22
    The world scoffs at the first sentence of this text.  How can Paul claim that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact?  Facts are supposed to be verifiable.  How dare Christians claim that articles of faith are facts?
    For Paul the answer is simple; he saw the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus.  What is an article of faith for us was an observed fact for Paul.  The same is true for the other apostles as well.  What we believe by faith, they saw.
    Many in Christianity tell us that it isn’t important that we believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus, as long as there is some sort of spiritual renewal in us.  Paul slams the door on such a notion in this text.  The resurrection of Jesus was the sign Jesus gave over and over again to confirm that He is who He said He is and to validate His promises.  If He didn’t rise, then He is not who He said He is and His promises are not true. This is the reason for Paul’s discussion of the futility of the Christian message apart from the resurrection of Jesus.
    What has His resurrection confirmed?  Our sins are forgiven and we are children of God by grace through faith.  As such we are heirs of the grace He gives us each day to confront the challenges of that day.  We are also heirs of eternal life in heaven with Him.  He has promised to be with us all the days, even to the end of this world’s age, and has confirmed it by rising from the dead.  He has promised that no challenge will be too great, and has confirmed it by his resurrection.  The list could go on and on and his resurrection confirms it all. 
    What does it mean to be an Easter Christian?  It means that the promises in which we live are confirmed facts.  They are confirmed by His resurrection, which is a fact witnessed by the Holy Spirit through those who saw Him, heard Him, and touched Him.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 

From the Word

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” 
Isaiah 53:4-5
    The words of Isaiah were written nearly 800 years before the death of Jesus.  They remain the most explicit discussion of what Jesus accomplished by his death on the cross, Old Testament or New.  God foretold the time and event that would transform history.  To hear these words as we view the crucifixion is to see the Old Testament mystery of salvation become clear, and to have the death of the Son of God put into a context that makes sense of an otherwise senseless act.
    As we behold this timeless message, we wonder how to tell this message to a changing American society.  Present day America puts the process of dying away from us so that we can escape as much of its’ sting as we can.  We either dress up the bodies, or don’t look at them at all.  This is not necessarily bad, unless we are using it as a means of insolating ourselves from the reality we all must face. 
    To a society running from death, we present the death of Jesus, God incarnate.  His death seems foolish to natural man.  Why would God do such a thing, if indeed God even exists?  With the death of Jesus, we are forced to deal with the reality that brought it about; sin.  Our society doesn’t want to talk about that, but must for the sake of their souls.  Instead of running from what is clearly visible among us, we call those around us to behold the problem in light of the solution. 
    We do not simply apply the Law and leave people in their guilt and despair (contrary to what seems to be popular culture opinion).  With the discussion of the problem of sin comes the message of Isaiah about how the Suffering Servant came to take our sins away.  He came as a substitute, to bear our hell, so that we might live in his grace here, and in the glory of heaven when we die.  Amid the hopelessness of our present age we proclaim Jesus’ death on the cross as God’s timeless solution to the problems we cause in each time of history.  Into the ever changing world views that seek to explain away the problem of sin and death, we proclaim the unchanging message of God swallowing up death that we might live.

 

From the Word 

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from infancy you have known the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”  2 Timothy 3:14-15 

    Times have changed.  To what extent do we change with them?  Do we bury our heads in the sand and try to pretend change has not come?  No.  The issue of change is; what changes and what does not.
    God’s Word remains forever.  That is taught various places in Scripture, including the Isaiah 40 verses in our memory verses for this month.  The Law remains the same no matter the degree to which it is practiced.  We cannot deny or abolish the 6th Commandment simply because our society has elevated sexual sins to acceptable or preferable status.  We must apply the Law to ourselves and our world no less than generations before.
    The Gospel of Jesus is the only teaching by which people are forgiven, brought into right relationship with God, and made heirs of heaven.  The Gospel does not change because society wants to embrace the nonsense of relative truth, meaning all ways are good.  Our society’s rejection of the Gospel must not deter us from sharing it, lest we leave our fellow citizens lost for eternity.  Our society’s call for love and compassion can only be truly accomplished by our proclamation of the truth for the sake of those to whom we proclaim it.
    Does anything about it change?  Clearly how we reach people with the message of Law and Gospel has changed in the past and will continue to do so.  A generation ago Christians most easily reached people by phone and U.S. mail.  Now it is difficult to truly reach many in our society these ways because they don’t place as a great value on these means of communication as they once did.  Many now spend their meaningful efforts at communication on other media that now becomes our mission field to those who “live” there. 
    Another change that we encounter today concerns the assumption of what people already know about the Bible.  In generations past simple biblical knowledge was common even among those not currently attending worship.  We cannot assume that those to whom we witness know anything at all about the Bible.  We need to ascertain what they know, or what they think they know, in order to explain our faith in a way that will impact them.  We will continue to discuss this vital issue.  We will react to the changes we are presently faced with in proclaiming the unchanging truth God has blessed us with in His Word.  We will apply Law/Gospel to ourselves and our families, and look for the open doors to proclaim it to others.

 

From the Word 

“No one has ever seen God.  The only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.”  John 1:18 

    In the beginning there was God.  He did not have to make Himself known to His perfect creation, because they walked with Him in perfect harmony.  But since the fall into sin, people have been wrong about God, or not known Him at all.  The problem has never been God, since He has not changed.  The problem is sinful people.
    Since God has not changed, some would assume that explaining Him has not changed either.  That is not the case.  In various generations there was a general agreement that there is a god, so teaching people about Him was simply building on what they already knew.  Most people in various eras of history saw the wonder of creation and assumed there was a god who made it all.  Christians in those generations simply had to introduce them to the one true God, of whom they had natural knowledge.  That introduction was God’s self-revelation in Jesus.
    God is no different in our generation, but the challenge of presenting Him to those around us is.  People in our generation have made a concerted effort to deny any knowledge of God, including the natural assumption that there is one.  Nature has become an end to itself, becoming the explanation for all things, even though that explanation defies the complexity of what we see.  Natural knowledge of God is shot down by so-called scientific knowledge.  These voices who scream for us Christians to be tolerant of their viewpoints are unwilling to listen to dissent, let alone tolerate it.
    Even though God has not changed, we are called to change how we witness of Him.  We are no longer explaining one of whom they have some prior knowledge.  We are now introducing a new idea.  Thankfully, the key to explaining God without prior knowledge leads us to the same source; Jesus. 
    God cannot be truly known apart from His self-revelation.  That revelation comes in His Word, centered on God incarnate, who was promised, came, and dwells with us.  This is Jesus.  We cannot understand God apart from Jesus, He is simply too mysterious.  What we know about God, we know because of Jesus.  So our task is to introduce the idea, and reality, of God in Jesus.  We will tell them, and teach them, about Jesus; the unchanging God in a changing world.

 

From the Word 

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  Isaiah 60:1 

  I greatly appreciate the symbolism of Christmas decorations.  I also think we should use them as a witness to our community of how they point us to Jesus, because, as I have said on many occasions, they are putting our stuff up all over town.  However, this article is not about all those symbols, but one of them.
  Of all the Christmas symbols, my favorite from an aesthetic point of view is light.  It can be lights on the tree, candles on the Advent wreath, or any of the other lights we routinely display at Christmas.  I enjoy looking at them.  I enjoy the glow effect of the Christmas tree in our home, and the candles we light in our Christmas Eve worship.
  The very first thing God created was light (see Genesis 1).  The new creation was ushered in by the arrival of the light of God’s grace, Jesus Christ.  John 1 says, “In him was life and the life was the light of men.  The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.”  One has to be impressed by the inability of darkness to dim even a small light from a candle or a match.  How much more is the darkness of sin unable to dim the light of God’s grace to us in Jesus.
  The gift of faith embraces the light of Jesus just as we experience the warmth and comfort of Christmas lights.  But in this season, we cannot simply bask in that light, but shine it to our neighbors and friends.  They too need to know the comfort of God’s grace and mercy that has lit up our lives in our Savior.  Jesus called us to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
  Many people will sit in their homes, possibly amid the glow of Christmas lights, but will be engulfed in the darkness of sin.  The lights in homes this Christmas may not be an indication of the Light in the hearts of the homeowners.  Our prayer is that, as people put up their lights, that the “Light that lightens every man” (John 1) may come to glow in them by faith.  Part of that prayer is our commitment to tell them about the Light, or to bring them to God’s house this Christmas to hear God declare to them as He has to His people for millennial generations, “Arise, shine, for your Light has come.”