Sunday, May 30, 2021
Saturday, May 29, 2021
What Happens When We Die?
Many people have spent a lot of energy and thought in trying to answer that question. The simple truth is that the Bible does not speak of death or the nature of death with any precision. It is the lack of clear, concise and explanatory statements that lead people to make up all sorts of things and claim that their vision of death is valid and legitimate and true. Most of them are not.
The physical nature of death is what it is, that is what we witness. The body stops functioning and begins to decay. From dust you were taken and to dust you shall return. Most modern people try to slow or stop that decay by embalming. There are places and religions that do not embalm. Usually they bury the body quickly (or cremate it) to avoid observing the process of decay.
The cause of death is always sin. God may occasion the departure from this life by accident, illness, or "natural causes," but death is built in to us by sin - Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death," and Romans 5:12, Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned-" and Romans 8:10, ". . . though the body is dead because of sin. . .."
Christians speak of death as the separation of body and soul. The body returns to the dust and the soul returns to God who created it, according to Scriptures. Many people believe that the soul continues to inhabit the body in a sleeping state until the resurrection. That idea is not Scriptural. Scripture teaches us that death is the separation of body and soul, although it does not treat it topically, but illustrates it in Luke 12:20, and in connection with Jesus in Matt. 27:50 and John 19:30. The "sleep of the soul" is contradicted by passages such as Phil. 1:23 or Luke 23:43, where Jesus tells the thief on the cross that he would be with Him in paradise "today."
It is important to note that the Bible says that believers who die go to be with God, or in His hands. Unbelievers, false believers, and pagans of all sorts go, in the interim between death and the resurrection, to await the resurrection in prison, mentioned in 1 Peter 3:19-20, which is also apparently a place of suffering.
Pagans and those who do not pay close attention to what the Bible says often imagine that those who die become angels. It is not unusual to hear people answer the question of why someone died by saying, "God needed another angel." But we are ourselves in the presence of God, not angels. Becoming an angel is a step down for a child of God, 1 Cor. 6:3 says we shall judge angels, and Hebrew 2:16 says, For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham.
The Bible also does not say or suggest that the people who have gone to be with the Lord are aware of us, here in time, or watching over us. Isaiah 63:16, For Thou art our Father, though Abraham does not know us, And Israel does not recognize us. Thou, O LORD, art our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Thy name. Ask yourself, how could it be heaven if our loved ones had to watch us sin and struggle down here below?
We know the believers are with the Lord, and the Apostle Paul reminds us (Phil. 1:23) that being with Christ "is far better." So we can rejoice in their blessedness and comfort ourselves as to their condition and the hope of the reunion with them when it our time to go to be with the Lord. That is part of "the Christian hope."
Other ideas about the dead, such as ghosts and haunting, are also not taught in Scriptures. Seeing things we cannot explain often gives rise to fanciful - or spooky - ideas, but we look to the Word of God for answers and when God provide none, we need to school ourselves to avoid making up stories to "answer" our questions and uncertainties. As the people of God, we follow Him, not our fevered imaginings.
On that day we will be happy to discover that zombies and mummies and the walking dead are silly stories intended to generate a little fear where God has always instructed us to "fear not."
When my mother's mother died many years ago, several of our relatives reported seeing her out and about - but it was always just a passing glimpse at a distance, never a clear sighting and never up close. I have always understood that when someone we love dies, it is natural for us to expect to see them in the old, familiar places. We really want to see them as well, and in our grief we may interpret what we are catching a glimpse of as the person we so badly want to see alive. But our loved ones would surely not tease us and torture us with "I just missed him (or her). If they wanted to comfort us, and could, they would give us a good look, and would speak more than just a passing word.
The sorrow that accompanies the death of the ones we love is part of the reason death is so feared and referred to as "the enemy" in the Bible. It is visceral and ugly. I personally hope God has better things in store in eternal life than making brief, surprise appearances to discomfort my friends when I am gone.
I find the thought that I will go immediately to the presence of our Lord, and enjoy a reunion with those who also have loved Him to be a comfort in the face of the thought of death. I look forward to seeing and speaking with my parents and grandparents, my close friends who have already gone to be with the Lord, and even people like CFW Walther or Martin Luther. Perhaps the Lord will permit us to continue to learn and question one another in everlasting life. We could ask the Apostles what they think about our current theological issues, or sit at the feet of Jesus along with Mary, of Mary and Martha fame, and learn the answers to the why's and the what's we have been puzzled by throughout life.
Then again, when we stand with the Lord all of those questions may just fade into the background to be forgotten in the joy of heaven.
Yours in the Lord,
Monday, May 24, 2021
Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. You heard that I said to you, I go away, and I will come to you.' If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it comes to pass, that when it comes to pass, you may believe."
Sermon for Pentecost Sunday 05/23/21
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
All you need is love, or at least that is what John Lennon said. Many Christians talk a lot about loving God and loving Jesus, and by that, they each seem to mean specific things, or they mean to use the concept to induce people to engage in certain courses of action or behavior. They turn loving Jesus into a law and use the desire of the believer to manipulate them and shape their behavior. Certainly, every child of God wants to love Jesus. We have been treated to a lifetime of exhortations to do just that.
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus talks about what it means to love Him, and what effect it has. It turns out that loving Jesus is not the same as what so many preach. This morning we will take advantage of the words of Jesus, and see what it means to love Him, according to His definition, and what follows upon that love. Our theme is "Loving Jesus."
First of all, Jesus describes loving Him, He doesn't command how to do it. In this, Jesus is speaking as He did in the Ten Commandments. Jesus does not say, "If you love me, then you must do this and do that." He says, "The one who loves me is the one who is keeping my Word", just as in the Ten Commandments God does not say, "Don't Murder!", or "Don't steal!", but "My people are the sort who simply will not take the life of another, or the personal property of another, or the wife (or husband) of another, and so forth". In other words, Jesus is describing, not commanding. I know that because Jesus knows, as the Scriptures clearly teach, that none of us is capable of obeying the Law by nature, and so commanding us to behave in a certain way is unfruitful. Jesus describes instead.
Loving Jesus means keeping His Word. It doesn't mean that we love Him by keeping His commands, but that we keep His Word as part of loving Him. Now, we can turn it around, and measure our sincerity by looking at our faithfulness to His Word - and even use these words as a motivation of sorts to do what is good and right, but we have to remember that this is not a command, in the sense that we can do it on our own, but as revealing what God would work in us, and help us to understand which way the Lord would lead us. So we need to consider what it means to Keep Jesus' Word.
Keeping His Word, for example, means knowing it. Let's face it, it is difficult to be faithful to something if we do not know what it is. This is the knowledge part of faith - what theologians like to call the "fides quae creditur". You have to possess substance to your faith - the stuff that you believe.
Keeping His Word also means believing it. Once you know what His Word is and what it contains, you must actually believe it - this "believing-ness" is what theologians have called the "fides qua creditur", that is, the faith with which you believe. Luther called this "fiducium cordis", that is, the trust in the heart - the trust that all that you accept as true is true and that all that it means and offers applies to you and that you may depend upon it and act upon it.
It almost goes without saying, then, that Keeping His Word means sound doctrine. You cannot be faithful to Jesus or His Word, His teachings, without being faithful to what He teaches, holding fast to what He said, and what it really means. When you do not care what the truth is you are not keeping His Word. When it is more important to "get along" than confess the faith, you are not keeping His Word. The appeals to the brotherhood of man, and love for another, and uncertainty in the face of the variety of opinions promulgated by the various church groups, for you to be more patient with other doctrines, or for you to be less than clear and assertive with your confession are appeals to you to surrender the Word of Christ, rather than keep it.
Keeping His Word also means living out what it teaches. This is the trust in the heart working its way out in real life. So, Jesus died for your sins, did He? So what!? What does His death mean to your life? What does His love mean to your dealing with other people? What does the forgiveness of your sins mean to how you live, and how you deal with others? What does the gift of eternal life mean - that is, how does it influence your thinking, and your choices, and your approach to life and dangers and sickness, and such things?
You see, if God loves you as deeply as you confess that He does - and you actually believe it - it has to mean something to what you think, and how you respond to life and its pressures. The temptation that the devil wants to stumble you with is the temptation to forget the love of God and fear stuff and worry about what is happening around you, and pull in your horns, so to speak, so as not to draw any attention to yourself or your confession. We confess that God is intimately aware of us - the very hairs on your head are all numbered - and genuinely concerned for our well-being. We are, after all, His chosen and beloved - right?
So what difference does that make in life, in your choices and values, in what you will dare to do and what you will refuse to do? Remember, all of life is theological, and your life between the end of our service and, perhaps, Bible Study, this morning, and the beginning of our service next Sunday, is your worship. No moment in your life is insignificant or dismissible. No decision, however daily and secular' it seems to you is excluded from your life in Christ. Keeping His Word means not just putting a Bible on the coffee table or bedstand, but living all of your life, even the little parts that no one sees, as though you are God's, chosen and precious, forgiven and blessed with everlasting life, and protected by the Creator of all that exists because, as Jesus says, He loves you.
When you love Jesus the way Jesus talks about our loving Him, and not the warm and squishy, feelings' oriented kind of love, certain things will be true. I struggle with how to describe them. First I wanted to say "results", but that makes it seem like quid pro quo - as something we cause to happen, which is not true. I then chose the word "consequence". But the dictionary says that this refers to cause and effect, which is not where I want to go either. What I want to talk about is connected to our loving Jesus, and contemporaneous, but not caused by us or our behavior, since God makes us believe. So I chose the word "accompany" - there are circumstances that Jesus tells us attach to us when we love Him and keep His Word.
The keeping of His Word is accompanied by the love of God for you. Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him." It isn't that God doesn't love anyhow, since God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, but when we love Him, He loves us personally, not just in general. He claims us as His own and counts us as special and precious and privileged. His promise to hear our prays and answer each one is an example of this special and personal relationship.
The keeping of His Word is also accompanied by God both the Father and the Son being with you, blessing you, guiding and keeping you (living with you). Jesus says, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; . . . and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him" Wherever Jesus is, there must be all of His blessings and help. We are literally in heaven - except that our sinful flesh cannot perceive it or enjoy it as it should. It is also the will of God that we walk, for a time, by faith and not by experience or sense data. God has a purpose for our time and life here, not the least of which is to confess Him before men and share the hope that is in us. So He tells us what we cannot perceive, namely that He is with us, and not just aware of us, but making His dwelling-place with us and in us.
So, when we love Jesus, we have everything we need. We don't necessarily have everything we might want - but that is also because of our sinful flesh, which desires that which is not good for us, and which lusts after evil - and is incapable of sensing the riches of God which lie about us at every side. So Jesus tells us of His love, of His presence, of our full and free forgiveness because of His cross and suffering. He tells us that we have only to awaken from our graves, on that good day, and we shall live before Him in glory, and not the humility of the flesh which we have today.
And so, the keeping of His Word is also accompanied by peace - "the peace of God which passes all comprehension" - not just human comprehension. This peace comes with faith. It is peace in circumstances that don't warrant peace. It is a peace that comes by the gift of God, not as the result of human reason, or observation. It is the peace of God which God gives, for Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." We have the gift and the promise of peace, so Jesus tells us not to allow our flesh to be troubled or cause us to be fearful. No, instead we cling to the peace which is our gift by virtue of keeping the Word of Jesus.
The keeping of His Word is also accompanied by rejoicing. How could we not rejoice, if we really and truly believe? Your sins are forgiven. You will live forever. Even the grave cannot change the will of God for you, the plan of God for you, or the love of God for you - you will rise from your tomb fully alive! While you live here, you are promised everything you need, and blessing, and guidance. How could you not rejoice? The only way would be if you did not keep the Word of Jesus.
The one who does not keep the Word of Jesus does not love Him. He or she is, by definition, an unbeliever. Whether they reject the Gospel outright, or try to change it by changing the Word and denying this or that while pretending to hold to the core - they do not believe. If they cannot take Jesus as He presents Himself to us in His Word, they cannot do it because they do not know Him or love Him. If they deny His gifts, they do it because they do not love Jesus. You cannot have Jesus without His Word, just as you cannot have the Father without the Son. The one who does not keep the Word of Jesus does not love Him, and, vice-versa, the one who does not love Jesus cannot keep His Word.
The long and the sort of it is, Loving Jesus means being a Christian - the sort of Christian that is saved by grace through faith, not just the sort that wears the title like a disguise. Some like the name but hate the substance. Some want the sense of religion without having to deal with the reality of it. You can see that in some of the churches that reach for feelings and experiences in their worship, rather than for the Word of Christ, and the confession of the faith. But only in Jesus Christ, in His crucifixion and resurrection, is there salvation. Only in the Word of Jesus is the truth. And only in keeping that Word is it possible to know and love Jesus.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, May 09, 2021
Sunday, May 02, 2021