Thursday, December 08, 2022

Just Keep Praying

[From my journal for today, December 8, 2022.]

One of the great mysteries from Genesis 18 is: What would have happened if Abraham had prayed to God, "Suppose there are no righteous people in Sodom. Will you still destroy it?"

Sodom deserved to be destroyed for its evil rejection of God and all the sin that followed. (Just as we all deserve death.) But Abraham was allowed, by virtue of God's covenant with him, to pray on behalf of others. He already had, like a bargain-hunter in an ancient marketplace, gained promises from God not to destroy Sodom for the sake of 50, then 45, 40, 30, 20, and 10 inhabitants of the city.

But Abraham stopped at that.

Did he think, "There are certainly ten righteous people left in the town where my kinsman Lot and his family live"?

Or, did he lose his nerve after so much intercession for others? Did he, as I often do, lose interest in what he was praying for?

We can't know the answers to those questions for now.

But this incident in which Abraham stopped his praying for Sodom followed by Sodom being destroyed, tells me that when I'm praying and so, have God "on the line" anyway, I can pray boldly and exorbitantly in Jesus' name, trusting God to separate "the wheat from the chaff," the holy from the unholy, the good from the bad, the will of God from the nonsensical, the necessary from the harmful.

This little chart (done by a non-artist, it should be pointed out) is how I picture what happens when believers in Jesus pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus, God the Son. (Check further: Ephesians 3:20.)

Lord, teach me to pray with faith to ask you for anything boldly and through Jesus, to do so trusting in Your will to always be superior to mine. Amen

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

The Old Testament Book of Daniel, Part 19

Truth at the Jordan: The Message of John the Baptist

[Below is the message from this past Sunday's worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Matthew 3:1-12
This past week, a colleague of mine posted a picture on Facebook that probably expresses what we all secretly think on hearing about John the Baptist as we get ready for Christmas. Here it is:

Now, it’s true that we can call John the Baptist the last of the Old Testament prophets. We can also say that he called those who made a show of repenting for their sins and did other religious acts “a brood of vipers.”

But John also proclaimed the Gospel, the good news about God acting in the crucified and risen Jesus to save us from sin and from death and to give us life with God.

John proclaims both God’s Law, God’s commands that we love God and love neighbor, and God’s Gospel, the good news that God makes innocent any sinner who, by the power of God’s Word, trusts in Jesus as Lord and God!

We see how John proclaims these two elements of God’s message to all people especially in two verses of today’s Gospel lesson, verses 2 and 12. Let’s unpack each verse to see how John the Baptist shouldn’t be seen as the party pooper of our Advent and Christmas gatherings and, more importantly, how in his words, he gives us the Gospel, and in fact, gives us Christ Himself.

In  verse 2, John says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The word translated here as repent is, in the Greek in which Matthew writes his gospel, metanoiete. It literally means change of mind. But even that doesn’t fully convey what repentance is.

Looking at the Bible’s teaching on this subject, our Lutheran confessions tell us that, “repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is [listen to this] terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. [This isn’t terror at the propspect of being punished for our sin, but terror at the thought of being separated from God, the giver of every good and perfect blessing. The confessions go on to say that…] The other part [of repentance] is faith, which is born of the Gospel…[this faith] believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven. [Repentance then] comforts the conscience and delivers it from terror.” (Augsburg Confession, Part XII)

Repentance then is both sorrow for sin and, by faith, reconciliation with God Who, through Jesus, saves us from the eternal consequences of our sin!

So, in verse 2 of our lesson, John is telling us that, in Jesus Christ, God’s kingdom, His reign, the enveloping grace of God has come to us. We don’t have to do anything or be anything for this to be so. Before we ever gave God a thought, God decided to act and then acted decisively in Christ to come to us and save us from ourselves.

This word of good news from God tells us that we can turn from our self-absorbed, self-involved ways–turn from sin–and live under God’s loving reign now and always: forgiven, free, filled with hope!

Repentance assures those who confess their sin and their need of Jesus that we will be changed from God’s enemies to God’s friends, now and eternally!

In verse 12, John says of Jesus, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

At His second coming, His second advent, Jesus will “judge the living and the dead.”

Those who have harbored the fantasy that no God created the universe in which we live and those who have entertained the equally false fantasy hat they are good enough on their own to earn being part of the kingdom of heaven, will all be eternally condemned. Jesus says His angels will throw those who have refused to believe in Him “into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42)

This is not what God desires. Otherwise He wouldn’t have bothered coming to be our Savior. The Bible tells us that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth…” (1 Timothy 2:4)

But, just as you can’t blame the death of the man who decided to keep sitting on the roof of his house on the helicopter pilot who lowered a rope to save him from the flood, we can’t blame God when people who have refused Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and new life are condemned.

As Jesus says elsewhere: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath [God’s condemnation of the sin into which we all were born]  remains on them.” (John 3:36)

But to those who have had their minds changed and their thinking clarified by God’s Word and have so, trusted in Christ instead of themselves, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)

John the Baptist was sent by God in these last days of this universe’s life to tell us to turn to Jesus with our sins and regrets.

We can do that because Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, has already turned to us with His forgiveness and grace, working to not only change our minds, but our whole lives, to make us God’s people, to usher us into God’s kingdom.

The promise is true: “...if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Friends: Because Jesus has already come near to you and comes to you again today, you can turn in daily repentance and faith to Christ and know you belong to God forever. Amen