Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study, The Biblical Background of The Small Catechism, Part 7

 On Wednesday night, we looked at the Seventh and Eighth Commandments.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study, The Biblical Background of The Small Catechism, Part 6


Only Nobodies Are Somebodies in Jesus' Kingdom (TEXT)

[This message was shared during online worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, on September 6, 2020.]

Matthew 18:1-20
Occasionally, there are stories in the news about people getting lost in the mountains out west. Confident in their sense of direction, these people will head off a path and, whether by their own errors or their errant faith in faulty navigation devices, become lost. 

Experts tell those who hike that if they get lost, they should just stop. Don’t move. Do nothing. Keep still and wait to be found

Many ignore the experts’ advice every year, consuming hours, even days, of effort by park rangers, EMTs, and police. Some of these lost people die. All because they think they can save themselves. The fact is that those who admit that they’re lost and do nothing about it are more likely to be found than those who deny that they’re lost (or that lost) and think that if they try enough, think enough, believe enough, do enough, they can find their way to safety.

Martin Luther, the inadvertent founder of the Reformation Movement of which Living Water is a part, said that there are really only two kinds of theology in the world. 

The most popular theology, even--sadly--among those who call themselves Christians, is the theology of glory

Instead of believing that human beings are completely dependent on God for all that they need, theologians of glory claim that God helps those who help themselves. 

Instead of believing that human beings are lost in sin and death, theologians of glory effectively brag of their piety and goodness by saying that they have decided to follow Jesus. 

Theologians of glory love to lie at funeral visitations, saying that the deceased was such a good person that they must be in heaven. 

But if any human being was capable of being good enough, righteous enough, to gain entry into the Kingdom of God, then the perfect, righteous, sinless Son of God, Jesus, would not have had to go to the cross. He would not have needed to endure the capital punishment for sin that each one of us deserves from our conception. 

When we look at the Ten Commandments, God’s succinct statement of His moral law, we know that any theology of glory that tells us that we who are lost can be found if only we try enough, think enough, believe in ourselves enough, or do enough is a lie that can only lead to death. 

We cannot save ourselves. 

So, how can lost people be found, dead people raised to life, or sinners be made righteous?

In the first four verses of today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 18:1-20, Jesus addresses this question. There, the disciples ask Jesus, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1)

To answer, Jesus gives the disciples an object lesson. He calls a child to Him and then puts the child in the midst of the disciples. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4) Notice that Jesus starts out by simply addressing how a person enters that kingdom. 

Jesus is effectively telling the disciples, “You lunkheads are asking about getting to the head of the class when you should be wondering how you can even get enrolled in the first place!”

It may be difficult for us to understand how absolutely scandalous Jesus’ answer would have been to the disciples. One commentator says, “ first-century Judaism, children were...regarded as inferior, without status or rights, treated more as property than as persons, and never held up as a model for anything.” 

What power or status did children have then? None

What could they do to gain status, power, or respect? Nothing

Children were, apart from whatever love or regard their parents chose to give them, seen by that culture as nobodies, nothings.

The only people who can get into the kingdom of heaven, Jesus is saying, are nothings and nobodies

The greatest aren’t those who deny they’re lost in sin and death or think they can find God by setting out on a quest for God, or believe that God is bound to save them because they’re such nice people who do such wonderful things

The only ones who enter the kingdom of God recognize that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves worthy of being part of God’s kingdom, who see that, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). They understand that “There is no one righteous, not even one... there is no one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11; Psalm 14:1; Psalm 53:1-3) 

Jesus says that our human theologies of glory simply will not cut it if we want to be part of the kingdom of heaven.

Entry into Jesus’ kingdom can only be given to us, by a different theology that has nothing to do with our efforts, decisions, goodness, or good deeds. It happens by the theology of the cross

This is what Jesus means when, elsewhere, He says, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38) 

People saved by God in the theology of the cross know that there is nothing we lost people can do to find ourselves. 

When God’s Law makes us aware of how lost we are--of how we don’t always worship God alone or gladly hear and learn His Word, or love our neighbor as we love ourselves--and when we become aware that we could climb every spiritual ladder the sinful mind of humanity has invented and still be lost in sin, death, and condemnation, we must stop. I must stop!

Just like someone lost in the mountains out west, I must stop. 

In my helplessness and lost-ness, I must learn to do nothing but cry out to the God I know in Jesus, owning my powerlessness and my sin. 

I must become a child. 

As the American Lutheran theologian of the last century, Gerhard Forde puts it, “...the theologian of the cross knows that there is nothing to do now but wait upon grace, to recognize that when all the supports have been cut away we can only throw ourselves on the mercy of God in Christ.”

Even entry into God’s kingdom is not something we can gain by our own effort. It’s a gift to those who understand the theology of the cross, to those who sit patiently as God teaches them to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10), to those who heed God’s call, to “wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14) 

The way of the cross is the way of honestly confessing our sin and powerlessness to the Father in Jesus’ name and trusting that Jesus will send His Spirit to cover us in His cross-borne righteousness. 

The way of the cross is the faith that there is nothing I must do and nothing I can do to make myself part of God’s kingdom. Jesus has done it all

The way of the cross begins in humiliation, in the recognition that there is no way I can make myself good enough for God.

It culminates in joy and resurrection as, freed from the pressure of proving ourselves, the Holy Spirit teaches us that Jesus is all we need or ever will need for all eternity.

By pointing to a child as a model for getting into the kingdom of heaven, Jesus is telling us what His earthly brother, James, would later write in his New Testament letter: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10) 

May we humble ourselves before the God we know in Jesus each day so that He--and He alone--can lift us up to whatever place in His kingdom He has in mind for us. 

May we follow not the way of pride, the theology of the glory and the path of separation from God, but the way of the cross, each day. 

May we throw aside our pride and delusions of self-sufficiency so that the crucified and risen Jesus can find us and like the child He used as an object lesson, set us in the midst of His eternal kingdom. Amen,

Monday, September 07, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study, The Biblical Background of The Small Catechism, Part 5

 Tonight, after I got my act together, we looked at the Fifth Commandment, "You shall not murder." These are two renderings of the same session, the first from Facebook and the second from YouTube. Subscribe to my long-neglected YouTube Channel, to which I'll be adding more content.