Thursday, June 06, 2024

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Revelation, Part 12

Here's the latest episode of my podcast, Route 66: A Journey Through the Bible. Would you please consider liking and/or subscribing to the podcast? Thank you.

Revelation, Part 12 by Mark

The Church: Attacked by Satan, Saved by Christ

Read on Substack

Friday, May 03, 2024

The Good Deposit

[This sermon was shared during the opening of worship of The Ohio Mission Region, North American Lutheran Church convocation earlier today.]

2 Timothy 1:8-14

The book or letter we call Second Timothy, a verse of which provides the theme for our weekend together, has been described as both an “official” and deeply “personal" letter.

The writer, of course, is the apostle Paul, then sitting in a prison in about 65 to 67 AD. All of Paul’s appeals that might save him from execution have been exhausted. 

Paul wants to see his protege Timothy; he has fatherly feelings for the young pastor. That’s the personal part. 

But he also wants to see Timothy in order to impart a kind of official “last will and testament” to him, so that he can plead that Timothy will stay true to the pure Gospel Word that we are saved by God’s grace through the faith in Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit gives through God’s Word, including the Gospel Word of forgiveness and new life we receive in the sacraments. Paul wants to remind Timothy to, paraphrasing the apostle’s words in Romans, not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, “...for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17)

But Paul knows that he might die at any time and that, for the Christian, there is no time like the present to share Christ and His Gospel with others, whether those others are Christians or unbelievers

There is no time like the present to share Christ with Christians because, as Martin Luther said, We need to hear the gospel every day because we forget it every day.” We easily forget that we are sinners in need of a Savior and we forget just as easily that in Jesus Christ, we have a Savior and that in Him–listen, friends–all your sins are already completely and totally forgiven and so you can trust in Him, you can take refuge in Him, right now.

And, of course, unbelievers need to hear the Gospel for their reconciliation with God and their eternal salvation. Without Christ, we remain dead in our sin and separated from God. The apostles knew all of this when they said, “...there is salvation [salvation, that is, from sin, death, and condemnation] in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among [people] by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

In the opening verses of his letter to Timothy, Paul has a three-part message. First, he tells Timothy to rekindle the gift of God within him and so, second, by the power of the Holy Spirit Who lives in believers, display the power, love, and self-control that God manifests in those who trust in Christ. We rekindle the Gospel within us when, as repentant sinners, we return again and again to partake of the means of God’s grace in Word and Sacrament. Finally, Paul tells Timothy to be ready to share in suffering for the Gospel. Many people in our world are antinomians–that is, anything goers, who think that God doesn’t care what we do as long as we enjoy ourselves. Others are rigid legalists who are weighed under by or want to weigh others under by the idea that God will only love us if we’re perfect. Good luck with that.

The world, the Church, our individual congregations, and our neighbors then, need to know Jesus. We, as the Church, need to hear Paul’s inspired word for us today: “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:14)  At our Baptism, a good deposit was given to each and every one of us. That deposit is the good news, the gospel. We guard or keep the Gospel, the verb in the original Greek is phylaxon, not when we hide it under a bushel–NO!, but when we let the others see that, imperfect though we are, sinners though we are, vulnerable we are, through Jesus Christ, we have everlasting life with God that can never be taken from us. And our neighbors can have that same life with God!

I spent roughly the first eight-and-a-half years of my life living on Thomas Avenue, just a few miles up the Three C Highway from here in the Bottoms of Columbus. My great-grandmother lived across the street from us. Her door was always open to me, no matter the time of day. Often, I would sit with her as she read her Bible and waited for her to tell me what she had read. One day, we sat in her living room when spring rain fell. After the rain had stopped, we went out to inspect her flowers. I remember her pointing to the sky over Jet Stadium on Mound Street, where there was a rainbow. She told me about Noah and his ark and how God puts the rainbow in the sky as a sign of His promise to never destroy the world by flood, a promise God made despite humanity being just as sinful after the flood as before, a promise born of grace. My great-grandmother died when I was just eight. In the succeeding years, I would be an atheist but God and His gospel promise would find me. (I kept dating Lutheran women and ended up marrying one of them!) When I heard the Gospel at the now-deceased Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Columbus, I recognized it. I knew Jesus and His Gospel because my great-grandmother, Elva Henry, among others, had guarded the good deposit entrusted to her and knew that it wasn’t for hoarding but for investing…in our families, our communities, our world.

Sisters and brothers in Christ: Jesus Christ has set you free from sin, death, and condemnation. This is the good deposit He has placed in your life. I urge you to keep it by gladly hearing, learning, and receiving it and then, giving it away

Amen

Revelation, Part 10

In part 10 of my podcast study of Revelation, I delve into Revelation 9:13-10:11.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Stick with Jesus

[Below is the text prepared for my sermon delivered this past Sunday, April 28, during worship with the people and guests of Emma Anderson Memorial Chapel in Topsail, North Carolina. The chapel is a nondenominational ministry. Here is its website. And here is a link to the entire service from this past Sunday.]

John 15:1-8

Jesus tells us today, “I am the true vine…” (John 15:1)

But what does this mean?

In the Old Testament, God’s people, the descendants of Abraham, ancient Israel, are sometimes referred to as “the vine” or “vineyard.” The prophet Isaiah sings about God and His vineyard Israel: “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes…” (Isaiah 5:1-2)

God called His Old Testament people into being so that a people saved by God’s undeserved grace would “bear fruit.”

They would be counted righteous by God NOT on the basis of anything they did, but solely because they trusted in and remained connected to the God Who chose them to be HIS.

And as God’s people, they would bear fruit: God’s life would spring from them for all the world to see. “I am the Lord,” God tells Abraham’s descendants in Isaiah 42:6,  “I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations…”

Ancient Israel was to be God’s vine or vineyard in the world and through it, others would encounter and know the God of the universe who gives new and everlasting life to all who repent and believe in Him


But the Old Testament tells us how God’s people rebelled against God, falling into idolatry, the lie of self-sufficiency, and inevitably, treating others with injustice. These are the things that happen when people sever their connections to God.

But, unlike ancient Israel, Jesus is the true vine. Jesus is Israel as Israel was meant to be.

Jesus obeys God’s Law perfectly as ancient Israel was meant to do.

Jesus loves God and loves neighbors, as ancient Israel was meant to do.

Jesus is the light to the nations, as ancient Israel was meant to be.

Because He is the true vine, the true Israel, in Jesus, Who is truly God and truly man, the whole world can see, know, receive faith in, and be connected with God. As Jesus told the apostle Philip, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7)


Now, after identifying Himself as the true vine–the faithful Israel, Jesus tells us: “Every branch in me [that is, everyone who believes in Jesus and draws life from Him. Every branch in me] that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes [literally, the word Jesus uses here is cleanses], that it may bear more fruit. [And then He speaks this Gospel promise TO YOU…] Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” (John 15:2-3)


There’s been a lot of mischief done with the words of Jesus in today’s lesson. Preachers–and I’ve been guilty of this too–read this passage and ask their congregations, “Are you bearing good fruit?” Then they’ll ask things like: “How many people have you shared the Gospel with in the past week?” “How many poor people have you helped?” “Have you been kind to everyone?” Then the preachers will tell their churches, “Bear good fruit! Amen.”

Those are all good and important things, of course. But none of it is what Jesus is talking about in today’s lesson. Let’s see what He actually does say.

But first, let’s stipulate that we all can confess with King David: “I have been evil from the day I was born; from the time I was conceived, I have been sinful.” (Psalm 51:5, GNT) We’re born sinners, unworthy of life with God.

The good news is that if, by the power of Jesus’ Word given to you through the work of the Holy Spirit, you and I are able to confess the truth that we are sinners AND our faith in Jesus Who died for our sins, then we know that we have passed ALREADY from death into life with God that cannot be taken from us.

If, because of His Gospel Word, you can confess Jesus is your Lord, you can know that you are already made clean by God.

Your death sentence has been commuted and you walk as a free child of God!

Saving faith in Jesus is made possible by the power of the Word from Jesus that He has given to His Church to declare to all the world. And this is the summary of that Word: Jesus Christ has already destroyed the power of sin and death over your life. He did that at the cross and as He did it for the whole world, He did it for you.

In Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven.

Fully.

Completely.

This is the Word that cleanses you, that cleans away the impurities of your life, that purges death, that makes you a branch heavy with fruit from Jesus.

In Jesus Christ, you can trust that you are forgiven and free.

Amen?


So, what is Jesus telling you today? Just this. You are not saved by the fruit you bear. But those who are saved will bear fruit.

Jesus doesn’t call you into some holy self-help program in which you bear good fruit to prove yourself righteous and holy. In your own power, you and I could never produce good fruit. Not even moderately OK fruit will sprout from dead branches disconnected from the true vine. Jesus says, “Without Me, you can do nothing.”

The imperative Jesus gives us in today’s lesson is not, “bear fruit,” but, “Abide in me…” Abide in Me.

In the Greek in which John wrote his gospel, the word translated as abide is menein. It means to stick to, hold onto, grasp hold of, never let go.

Jesus promises that if we will hold onto Him, He will flood us with forgiveness, grace, life, and peace, both in the days of this imperfect and fallen world in which bad things happen and in eternity, where we will live in the new heaven and the new earth that Jesus has set aside for all who believe in Him.

And, as we abide in Him, His life and His gospel will flow out from us into the world. We will do the good works He has created for us to do in our everyday lives as parents, grandparents, children, friends, bosses, employees, neighbors.

By the power of Christ’s Gospel Word living in us, we will be a light to the nations.

We will bear His fruit. 


But how do we abide in Jesus and so bear fruit? We abide in Jesus when we show up any time He says, “Come and get my Grace!”

We abide in Jesus when we receive His Word, worship with His people, receive His forgiveness as we confess our sins, and receive His body and blood.

We abide in Jesus when we hold onto Him in hard times and, what may be more difficult, in easy times.

As we receive Jesus’ gifts of Himself, of forgiveness and of new life, we bear fruit. We bear fruit because of Jesus, not because of us. 


How does Jesus’ Word cause good fruit in us? Let me give you an example.

In 2017, a friend of mine, a journalist, gave my name and contact information to another journalist in Washington. The journalist was doing a story and wanted to talk with a cross-section of pastors from around the country. I was nervous during and after the interview and was sure that I had rambled incoherently. But the journalist and I have maintained contact in the succeeding years. Recently, the journalist published a book and I’ve been reading it. In the book, the journalist tells about a past decision made after praying about it, getting good advice, and reading God’s Word, but still not being sure of what to do. The journalist concluded that under such circumstances, if we’re not out to glorify ourselves or harm others or sin in some other way, and if we’re clinging to Him, God will still claim us as His own. After reading that, I wrote a note to say how impressed I was with that statement. The journalist wrote back, Thank you, Mark! It’s something I think about a lot and I think we talked about it when I interviewed you: not substituting my will for God’s will.”

Friends, I don’t remember saying anything about that in the interview done with me seven years ago, although I know that the journalist kept notes to prove I did. I’m glad that in my basically unconscious state, God caused me to say something helpful.

The point is that, before that interview, I did just what I do whenever I prepare to preach, teach, lead worship, visit a hospital or nursing home, or…talk to a journalist. I connect–I stick to–Jesus and I pray, “Lord, take over. Grant that in all I say and I do and am You will be honored and glorified and that I will do nothing to bring dishonor to Your name.”

Remain in Jesus, friends.

Remain in the true vine Who forgives your sins and has opened life with God and life from God to you.

And if you remain in Jesus, the true vine,…if you hold onto Him, no matter what, you needn’t worry about whether you’re bearing good fruit. Jesus will lead you to where you need to be and to what you need to do.

Hold onto Jesus, turning to Him daily as your God and Savior, and, because of Him, you will bear good fruit. Amen


 

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Hateful Politics Isn't Christian

 The hatred and vitriol I hear from people who confess Christ as Lord is appalling.

Do you want to know why so many people in America today claim no faith? One big explanation is “Christians.”
Fellow Christians: Jesus has given us a great commission, proclaiming the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to save sinners like us for life with God, today in this imperfect world and eternally in the resurrection. “Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people,” He says, {because] whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 17:15-16)
Jesus hasn’t told us to insult, dehumanize, or be cruel to others.
He hasn’t told us to vie for power. In fact, we follow a Savior Who said HIS kingdom is not of this world. The apostle Peter picks up on this when he tells Christians: “I appeal to you, my friends, as strangers and refugees in this world! Do not give in to bodily passions, which are always at war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:12, GNT) Venting your spleen about this or that political topic may make you feel good momentarily, but it’s really just worldly self-indulgence.
Be good neighbors. That includes being good citizens.
Be informed.
Serve others.
Pay your taxes.
Participate in the political arena in whatever ways you are called to.

Pray for those in power.
(These are all things the Bible calls us to do as His people.)
But remember that the philosophies of the world, including political philosophies, will never help people face life or death with peace, confidence, or hope.
Only Christ can do that. Your neighbor needs to hear that from you and see that in you way more than they need your angry denouncements or enthusiastic endorsements.
Just like you, your neighbor needs Christ. Our call is to get out of Christ’s way, letting others see Him.

Revelation, Part 4

Here's the latest installment of my podcast. It's the fourth part of a look at the New Testament book of Revelation.

Thematic Arrangement of the Seven Revelation Letters, per Johnson

 Thematic Arrangement of the Seven Letters

(Revelation 2:1-3:22)
Dennis E. Johnson. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation

According to Johnson: “The letters are grouped in two triads, with the longest of the seven, Thyatira, serving as the hinge between the triads.”

First Triad (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum)

Here “the summons to hear precedes the promise to the victor”

Central Letter: Thyatira

Second Triad (Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea)
In all of the last four letters, the order is reversed: promise to the victor precedes the summons to hear.

Within each of the two triads, “the center letter (Smyrna, Philadelphia) contains commendation without rebuke, reference to opposition from those who falsely claim to be Jews, and the promise of a crown.

“The opening and closing letters of the second triad (Sardis, Laodicea) are those in which the dominant tone is rebuke.” (All quotes from Johsnon)