Saturday, October 30, 2010

Romans 3.19-28 - Sermon for 10/31/10 - The Gospel, the Genuine Article

I had an interesting conversation not too long ago. Two ladies representing a non-Christian religion came to my door and wondered if I wanted to talk with them. I explained that I didn't have a great deal of time at the moment but could spend a few minutes with them. They wanted to tell me about a biblical hope they had, a hope that people who believe like they do can work diligently at their faith and eventually inherit the earth.  I did what probably a lot of us never do. I listened to them politely for a moment. Then I asked them a question which I thought was pretty non-threatening. I asked them what, in their view, the Gospel was. The first answer I received was that that is a name for the first four books of the New Testament, which talk about Jesus' life. I focused the question a little more and asked them to explain to me what the good news of their religion was. What promise does their faith hold out? Sadly, but as I had predicted, the best they could do was say that by obeying God and going to tell people about him they would be doing God's will and would therefore be pleasing to him. I explained briefly that according to the biblical faith which I follow this was not good news. It required them to earn their salvation. I explained that the Bible said that salvation is only by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who, being the true God, came to earth and lived, a true man, but a sinless one, living a perfect life on our behalf then giving himself to die on our behalf for our sins. Salvation is not by our works, I explained, but entirely based on Christ's work for us.

After a moment more, in which I urged my visitors to read the book of Galatians to see the Bible's view about what happens when people depend on their own obedience, and a few minutes in which my visitors told me several times they weren't depending on their obedience but that their hope was that they could do what was pleasing to God by telling others about him, we cordially ended the conversation. I pray that I planted some seeds of thought in the minds of those two Jehovah's Witness members who are trying to build an eternal hope on their own works.

Our commemoration of Reformation Day is very much like that situation, though, isn't it? In the early sixteenth century, European Christianity had fallen on hard times. Many of the Christian scholars of the time were experts in what others had said about spirituality and life, but had never read and understood the Scripture. Christian leaders were using their positions of leadership for dishonest gain. The church heirarchy was hungry for power, including political power, seeking to unify the resources of Europe and the culturally Christian parts of Africa and the Middle East for their own ends, partially of bringing Christian faith to the world, partially of running a society according to their view of Christian truth. A few people, like Wycliffe in England and Hus, the Czech, had made some radical statements and tried to emphasize a reliance on what the Bible says rather than on sometimes contradictory statements from the Church.  Yet their movements were put down. They were not successful, at least not in their own generations.

So on this day in 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin, named after St. Martin of Tours, bothered by the practice of the day of rationing forgiveness, selling it rather than giving it out freely,  decided to post some topics for open debate. Actually, he probably didn't decide to do it on this day. If you've read his 95 theses you can imagine they didn't just come to him in the morning resulting in his tacking them to the bulletin board in the afternoon. We don't know when he decided to make this move, but we do know that All Saints' Day, November 1, was a prime opportunity for debates and discussions. So it made perfect sense to post a list of topics on the church door, which was the equivalent of our public bulletin board, on the Eve of All Saints. That's what brother Martin proceeded to do.

Over the following thirteen years prior to the Diet of Augsburg, where the Augsburg Confession was adopted, Martin Luther was condemned as a heretic, released from his vows as an Augustinian monk, put under house arrest, and elevated by his followers as a genuine leader of Christ's Church. His foundational emphasis on salvation by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone, revealed by Scripture alone, with all glory going to God alone has been recognized as the battle cry of nearly 500 years of Christians

To this day we stand and boldly proclaim what we read in Romans 3. We are justified by faith apart from the works of the law. It seems so simple. Yet it is tremendously difficult for us to grasp. Just like the ladies I was talking with, if you had this conversation with just about anyone in our society, we uniformly seem to think that God's favor is gained by our obedience, that we do good things and maybe God will accept them, that we trust and then spend a long time obeying so that maybe God will grant us forgiveness. Just look around. Our world is full of a false gospel, a  gospel that isn't a gospel at all (Galatians 1). We have this crazy idea, even within the Church, sadly even within some Lutheran churches, that the Bible is God's list of what we should do to be good and that if we do it well enough God might save us.  This is no gospel at all! Yet it is the false gospel held by Luther's society and it is the false gospel held by our society.

What is that true Gospel? What is the genuine article? That's what the Reformation is all about. It's about a recovery of the proclamation of the true Gospel. And here is that Gospel. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, died for the sins of the world, for your sins and for my sins, and not only for our individual acts of sin, but also for our sinful condition, the sinful nature we inherited from our father Adam. Jesus, being the perfect man, was able to give his life as a perfect sinless offering on our behalf. He was acceptable in the eyes of God because he himself was God. He rose from the dead as the firstfruits of the bodily resurrection. He lives as a promise that by faith in his finished work we too will live and will rise to be with him. He, the just one, gave himself for us, the unjust ones. By our own work with our mixed motives we are only condemned, but we are freely justfied by the work of God. We are saved by the merit of Jesus Christ, working righteousness in us. This shows God's righteousness, because it demonstrates that God and God alone can create righteousness in sinful hearts, that which he does through the means of grace, proclamation of the Word, baptism, and communion, all things that God does in us.

So there we have it. That's the genuine article. That's the Gospel. It's short, sweet and simple. It's so simple that we easily overlook and reject it. But it's priceless. It's what we need. It is our only hope in this world and in eternity. We are saved by grace alone, appropriated by faith alone, with Jesus Christ alone as the object, revealed fully sufficiently by Scripture, to the glory of God alone. Yes, we are people of the Reformation. We are people of the Gospel.

Without any further ado, then, let us rise and confess this common faith we have received in the words of the Apostles' Creed.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Monday, October 25, 2010

Time for a research paper! redux

 10/20/2010 – notes from legal pad


Biblical roles of leadership in the NT Church based on exegesis of relevant passages.

Draw key words to study: Office of apostles, prophets, pastors & teachers, evangelists, elders, deacons (Eph. 4 as center)

Romans 12

1 Corinthians 12

Compare other passages containing those key words.

In the primitive Church how are elders considered?

Who appoints people to tasks?

What, if any, distinction is there between a gift and an office?

What kind of qualifications are prescribed?

Is there a distinction between prescription and description?

How does this seem to correlate with the idea of the "priesthood of all believers"?

Is a distinction between nouns/adjectives and verbs useful to us?

What are the implications of this 1st century pattern when applied to modern ecclesiastical paradigms?

Based on this information, do an analysis of Augustana 14.

10/25/10 -further look-ups

(source citation)

The Greek New Testament 4th Revised Edition, edited by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martine, and Bruce M. Metzger in cooperation with the Institute for New Testament Textual Research, Munster/Westphalia. Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft – United Bible Societies (c) 2001. Printed in Germany by C.Η. Beck, Nordlingen.

Ephesians 4.11-12 is a passage of primary importance whenever we consider the "offices" of the Church. 11 καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, 12 πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν τῶν ἁγίων εἰς ἔργον διακονίας, εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοὺ σώματος τοὺ Χριστοὺ . . .

From this passage, then, we derive ἀπόστολος, προφήτης, εὐαγγελιστής, ποιμήν, and διδάσκαλος.

Another passage of note in discussing spiritual gifts and offices is Romans 12.3-8. 3 Λέγω γὰρ διὰ τῆς χάριτος τῆς δοθείσης μοι παντὶ τῷ ὄντι ἐν ὑμῖν μὴ ὑπερφρονεῖν παρ' ὂ δεῖ φρονεῖν ἀλλὰ φρονεῖν εἰς τὸ σωφρονεὶν, ἑκάστῳ ὡς, ὁ θεὸς ἔμέρισεν μέτρον πίστεως. 4 καθάπερ γὰρ ἐν ἑνὶ σώματι πολλὰ μέλη ἔχομεν, τὰ δὲ μέλη πάντα οὐ τὴν αὐτὴν ἔχει πρᾶξιν, 5 οὕτως οἱ πολλοὶ ἒν σῶμά ἐσμεν ἐν Χριστῷ, τὸ δὲ καθ' εἷς ἀλλήλων μέλη. 6 ἔχοντες δὲ χαρίσματα κατὰ τὴν χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσαν ἡμῖν διάφορα, εἴτε προφητείαν κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως, 7 εἴτε διακονίαν ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ, εἴτε ὁ διδάσκων ἐν τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ, 8 εἴτε ὁ παρακαλῶν ἐν τῇ παρακλήσει· ὁ μεταδιδοὺς ἔν ἀπλότητι, ὁ προιστάμενος ἐν σπουδῇ, ὁ ἐλεῶν ἐν ἱλαρότητι.

This passage provides us with several additional words which bear study: προφητεία, διακονία, διδασκαλία, παρακλήσις, then three participles: μεταδιδούς, προιστάμενος, ἐλεών. Another issue which arises from Romans 12 is that of a distinction between a gift and an office. From both Ephesians 4 and Romans 12 it is clear that the work engaged in by the believer is a gift from God. However, while Ephesians 4 seems to point to some sort of an office that belongs to a person, Romans 12 tends to focus on the functional gift, rather than the individual exercising the gift.

A third critical passage, one that seems more akin to Romans 12 than to Ephesians 4, is found in 1 Corinthians 12.8-10. 8 ᾧ μὲν γὰρ διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος δίδοται λόγος σοφίας, ἄλλῳ δὲ λόγος γνώσεως κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα, 9 ἑτέρῳ πίστις ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ πνεύματι, ἄλλῷ δὲ χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων ἐν τῷ ἑνὶ πνεύματι, 10 ἄλλῳ δὲ ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων, ἄλλῳ [δὲ] προφητεία, ἄλλῳ [δὲ] διακρίσεις πνευμάτων, ἑτέρῳ γένη γλωσσῶν, ἄλλῳ δὲ ἑρμηνεία γλωσσῶν·

This passage in 1 Corinthians 12 seems more akin to the one in Romans than the one in Ephesians because the apparent concept of the gifts is one of function. In fact, if anything, this passage distances the gifts even farther from the individual exercising them. It is clear that there is one spirit giving the gifts. At the same time, it appears the gifts are given for the moment of use, quite possibly without forethought on the part of the gifted person. For the purposes of our study, we draw λόγος σοφίας, λόγος γνώσεως, πίστις, χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων, ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων, προφητεία, διακρίσεις πνευμάτων, γένη γλωσσῶν, and ἑρμηνεία γλωσσῶν.

Another summary of words of interest . . .

Eph. 4






Rom. 12








1 Cor. 12

λόγος σοφίας

λόγος γνώσεως


χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων

ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων


διακρίσεις πνευμάτων

γένη γλωσσῶν

ἑρμηνεία γλωσσῶν

Let's pull back to the paper topic and see what we've got going.

Ecclesiastical Offices and Structure: What are the appropriate and necessary offices of the Church? Examine biblical leadership titles, functions, and authority.

What I see at the moment is that the Ephesians passage seems that it will be more fruitful in terms of identifying "appropriate and necessary offices." The passages in Romans and especially 1 Corinthians don't seem to discuss permanent types of gifts, at least not on the surface. My next step in development will be to run a concordance type search, probably in Perseus, looking for all of the basic root elements in the various gifts. This should allow me to draw a fairly comprehensive list of noun, adjective, and verb forms of the words I've identified in the "gift" passages. I'll also see what kind of comparisons show up in BADG and see if I can lay my hands on a copy of Kittel in order to see what related words and topics might be listed.

After that step, the exegesis of specific passages begins, asking the kind of questions I've referenced above.

I think this may prove to be an interesting paper.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Genesis 4.1-15 - Sermon for 10/24/10 - Looking for a Sign

Our Lord, open my heart to speak from Your Word faithfully. Open our hearts to hear and receive your promises. Amen.

Everything was looking pretty good for the human family. Even after the fall they were raising children, raising crops and livestock, living their lives. We don't know how old Cain and Abel were, but they seemed pretty grown up by the end of verse 2. We have reason to believe that Adam and Eve raised their children to know what is right and wrong. They are bringing offerings and they clearly know what to do. Is this their first ever offering? There's no information about that. We really don't know. But things are going all right. The family is settled in, the farm seems productive, and they are making their offering in thanks to the Lord.

So what goes wrong here? I've heard several reasons, or alleged reasons, why Cain's offering was not acceptable. Some people say it is because Cain didn't offer an animal. But in the Bible there are lots of types of offerings that don't involve animals. So we can't say that. Some people say it is because Cain didn't offer the first of his increase. It does say that Abel brought from the firstborn, but this doesn't mean Cain's offering wasn't from the first of what he harvested. Again we don't have much information. Where can we turn for help? Hebrews 11.4 tells us that Abel made his offering by faith and Cain did not. The offering that was by faith was acceptable to God. That which was not by faith was not pleasing to God. And that's the end of the story. For whatever reason, Cain did not make his offering by faith.

Let's go down this pathway for a moment. You do something that you know is right. You are doing it because you know it is right, not particularly because you want to do it. Ever been there? I know you have if you are over two years old. You know what you are supposed to do and so you do it. Not that you necessarily wanted to do it.

Now imagine. Something goes wrong. Has this happened to any of you in the last week? I bet it has, though I hope it hasn't gone as dreadfully wrong as what happened with Cain. So you did what you knew you were supposed to do and something went wrong. Your heart wasn't really in what you were doing. Yet you are disappointed. It should have gone better. After all, you didn't have to do it in the first place. Why didn't it work out? I tried to be nice to that, that person, and he just about snapped my head off. Not that I wanted to be nice about it. And I really didn't enjoy the experience.

What's the next step down the path? Our tempers flare up. We start defending ourselves. We didn't like the situation we were in and now we really don't like it. Things begin to become ugly. Can you imagine it?  I was actually on the receiving end of some of this in a really clear way once. Let me tell you about it. This was several years ago. You'll know that from one of the details.

I went to the grocery store late one evening in winter. We really did need a package of diapers and a gallon of milk. It was a cold winter evening. There had been a little rain and snow earlier, so the parking lot was a little slippery. I came out of the store with my very threatening looking bag of diapers and bottle of milk. As I approached the parking lot, a guy in a pickup truck was trying to drive toward the lot exit across a nice level piece of ice. His wheels were going a lot faster than his truck was. Not wanting to pressure him, I just stood there and watched him creep across the ice.  He leaned out of his window and asked me what I was looking at. I told him I was just waiting as he got across the ice. He began yelling at me and calling me quite a few things I won't mention here. I walked around behind the truck, hoping he couldn't accelerate in reverse too fast. I got into my car and he was standing there at the window yelling at me. I cracked my window open slightly. I couldn't leave the parking space because of his truck. After a moment I told him that I really was just waiting as he made his way across the ice. He took off his jacket and told me to get out of the car. I closed the window and started the engine. He stood behind the car and told me to get out. I put the car into reverse. He kicked the car. The altercation continued until I distracted him long enough to dart my car into a different part of the parking lot as he was out of his truck getting a piece of lumber.  I watched him leave the parking lot, gave him some time, and drove home by a roundabout way, watching for anyone to be following me.

The person I had a run-in with that night went down the path Cain did. He probably didn't go out that evening intending to do anything other than buy something at the store. He probably didn't intend to try to break his foot on someone else's taillight. He probably didn't put a two by four into the bed of his truck with the intention of trying to ram it through someone's car window. The fact is, he may have been very embarrassed by the encounter by the time he got home.  Oh, I should ask. It wasn't any one of you, was it? I hope not. But if it was, I won't embarrass you. Like Cain, this man went down a path of anger and frustration. It could have resulted in serious injury to him, to me, or to both of us. And it happens to all of us, in bigger or smaller ways, all the time.

Where did Cain go with his anger? He first had an encounter with God. Notice as early as verse 6 God came and talked with Cain. He pointed out that Cain was being tempted to sin. His offering had not been accepted. He knew that. But it didn't sever Cain's relationship with the Lord. No, our Lord comes to sinners in their sin. He reminds us that he knows our sin even better than we do. And in these last days we are reminded that God has paid the penalty for our sin in the person and work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Are we downcast because of our sin? Our Lord Jesus Christ understands and has come to rescue us by his death given so we may have life.  God comes to Cain and tells him to rule over the sin that is threatening him. Turn to God with a faithful offering. Go ahead and be accepted. Cain, like Abel, can make his offering in faith and be a delight to God.

You know how it is. We don't do what we know is right and good. We seem wired to do anything but what is best. This seems to be part of the result of the fall. God says what we should do and be. As soon as we know that we start looking for some other answer. That's exactly what Cain does. The anger continues. The words become heated. And finally Cain kills his brother.

This is where it gets really good, isn't it? Our Lord isn't going to leave Cain alone. Does Cain come to God? No, not at all. God comes to Cain. And like he did with Adam, God asks Cain a question that he doesn't need to ask. But Cain needs it asked. "What's up with your brother?" When Cain tries to evade the issue, our Lord presses the issue. After a little while it's clear that Cain knows how bad his actions have been. Far from dealing with the problem of his unacceptable offering, he has made matters worse. Cain starts dealing with hopelessness.

Maybe you've been there. Your sin has separated you from God. You know that the penalty of sin is greater than you can bear. You have tried all that you can think of and it has done no good at all. You have only separated yourself farther from God in your sin. Like Cain, you confess that it is more than you can bear.

As I said, things are getting really good now. I know, I know, it seems backwards. But don't worry! Cain is desperate. We are desperate. None of us knows what to do. We can't reconcile ourselves to God. Yes, this is when things are really really good. Because this is when we realize that we, the sinful fallen people, the poor miserable sinners, have no goodness in ourselves, that we cannot do anything that will redeem us, that we are without a hope in this world except for our Lord Jesus Christ.

What does God do for Cain?  He puts a mark on Cain. Now we're back to the beginning of the sermon with something we can't explain. What kind of a mark is this? We don't know. But it was clearly something visible. It was clear that people would know Cain was someone who was protected by God. And that's where we start to see the theme that led to the title of this sermon, "Looking for a Sign."  God put his sign on Cain. He claimed him as his specially protected person. And nobody was allowed to harm Cain. Our Lord took the murderer and prevented anyone from murdering him. Our Lord took the guilty one and kept him from harm. Does this seem like a familiar theme? I hope it does.

Our Lord has worked through history with visible signs. Here are just a few that come to mind. I'm sure there are others. You can think of them throughout the week. How about the sign of circumcision? People enter into the covenant of God by the sign of circumcision, which is symbolic of a baring of the heart. How about the sign of the blood on the doorposts in the Passover? By this physical sign God shows Israel that they are partakers of his supernatural protection. What about the sign of the Sabbath as God's time to protect his people by giving them rest and providing for their physical needs even though they didn't work to gain food on that day? Our Lord still gives us our daily bread. What about the sign of baptism that God has given, in which He uses a physical element to wash from sin, something that appears to be waterproof outside of God's command? What about the sign of the bread and wine, body and blood, in the Sacrament? God uses a simple substance, something we might consider a sign, but he dwells in it truly and physically, in accordance with his promise. God gives us signs of his provision and protection throughout the Scripture. And these signs, with their sheer physicality, with the presence of blood, with the symbols of death ever present, all point to Jesus Christ, who gave himself as an atonement for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Jesus' blood and righteousness are sufficient for us. When we see these signs of his presence, let us look to the real person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let us rise to pray.
Our Lord, we are so slow to look for the signs of your presence that you have promised. We are so quick to look for other signs of your presence. Convict our hearts. make us stop going down the pathway of looking for salvation and hope mediated by our understanding, by our guess at what might be a good sign of you presence. Let us look to Jesus Christ through the signs you have given us, particularly in your promise that he will be there with us in Word and Sacrament. Make us look to you in hope, through Jesus Christ Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Luke 18.1-8 - Sermon for 10/17/10 - God, Just Like the Judge Isn't

Let us pray.

Our heavenly Father, grant us grace that we might see your attitude toward us rightly. We often look to you without the trust you say we should have in you. We wonder where your justice is. Let us see clearly what you have told us in Your Word, that we may rejoice in the confidence you place within us, believing that you are the great judge of all creation. Amen.

Our passages today all have to do with clinging to our faith, wrestling with God. Did you observe that? In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God. In 2 Timothy we are told to stand firm no matter what. In Luke 18 we are told that we wrestle with God as a woman wrestles with an unjust judge. Right? Or do our Scriptures tell us something else? Let's get a quick summary of what we've read today.

Jacob was wrestling with God. He would not let go until God relented and gave him a blessing. He wrestled all night. Man against God. Who would win? Jacob overcame. He wrestled with God and won by sheer persistence. We are often told that we need to cling to our faith, wrestle with God, and prove ourselves holy, people who will prevail with God.

Timothy is to master his use of God's Word so he is able to work with it and accomplish great things. Despite the opposition he finds, he is to wield God's Word powerfully, praying constantly. If he does this he will be a great success. We've been told that too.

The widow in the parable contends with the unjust judge until he fears her even though he doesn't fear God. Maybe we can be such witnesses for Christ in our society that even though people don't fear God they will fear us and avoid doing things that upset or disappoint us. We can leverage our society by standing rock-solid for Jesus.

There's something wrong with all these views. Sadly, I wasn't making them up. I have heard each and every one of them presented to genuine, faithful Christians. In every instance, in those bodies, I have seen people hurting, people who become confused about the nature of God, who become convinced that they need to work harder at their salvation, sometimes even people who have decided that they are not saved by grace because they didn't repent, pray, or believe well enough. There's something wrong. Dreadfully wrong. Specifically, in the parable of the persistent widow, we could come away with the idea that God is unjust, deep down, and that he needs to be persuaded by us, through our persistent clinging to what is right, before he will do what is right. We could draw a picture of a god who is not willing to do what is right and good and who will only do it because he is afraid of us. This view says that we are ultimately more powerful than God, that we are more righteous than God. It says we are the people who should be on the throne, not the triune God, expressed in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This is no way to read a parable. I guess we'd better go back and start over again. Whenever you read a parable, look at it for a "No way" statement. For instance, there's the parable of the poor lady who lost a coin. She searched all over for it and found it because she couldn't afford to be without it. Then she spent a whole bundle of money on a celebration with her friends. See the "No way" moment there? The parable points out how different God is than our human models.

In this parable of the persistent widow, the widow is confronted with an unjust judge. We are instantly left wondering who, if anyone, represents God in this parable. Normally we'd think the judge would be God, right? But he's unjust. He doesn't want to do what is right. So is God the widow? That doesn't work either. God is never oppressed. So we have a big "No way" moment right away. Where does God come into this parable? Maybe this is a parable without God? But all of Jesus' parables seem to have a God figure in them. So where is God in this parable? He seems to arrive right at the end. He shows up when he points out that the unjust judge is the anti-God. Jesus says that God is exactly the opposite of that judge.

Look again with me at verse 7. "Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?" The answer we are supposed to give automatically is, "Yes, of course He will!" "Will he delay long over them?" The answer we are supposed to give automatically is, "No, God will not delay but will run to rescue his people from their trials."

Rather than an interpretation of this parable that leaves us as the righteous ones who have to wear God down so that he will eventually do what we say is right, we are now left with an understanding that God is the one who is entirely different from our oppressors. He is the one who lovingly created everything. He is the one who has always sustained all of creation. He is the one who truly cares about all that we see around us. He is the one who does what is right and good for his people, even when they don't realize what is right or good.

So now we have an interpretive framework for our parable. We are able to look at it rightly. What we read in verse one, "that they ought always to pray and not lose heart" makes sense. It didn't before, since we were wondering if we were just left out in the cold to deal with our oppressors ourselves. Let's run today's Scriptures through that framework and see what happens.

First off, we have the woman who contends with her enemies and does everything in her power to see that they do what is right. She is ultimately successful, but only after a very long and hard struggle. She overcomes because she is more persistent than they are. Jesus tells us that God is nothing at all like those enemies. He sees our trouble brewing before we even have a hint that we are in trouble. While we were yet sinners, unborn sinners, all of us, Jesus died for us. Before we were ever dreamt of by our parents, Jesus had taken our sin, done what was necessary to redeem us, and had appointed us for everlasting life. Do you believe that? Then I can tell you confidently that Jesus' words on the cross, "It is finished" are for you. I can tell you without a doubt that Jesus' body was broken for you and his blood was shed for you. He did it before you knew you were in trouble. He died for your sin before you knew you were a sinner. And he appointed means of grace to draw you to him in faith. That's the kind of God we have. We should never give up in prayer, because we know God is the kind of God who has already taken care of our greatest need and who will continue caring for us in every circumstance here on earth. He is nothing like the unjust judge. He rushes to care for us.

Now what about those other Bible passages that I mangled for us a few minutes ago? Jacob, wrestling with the angel of the Lord. Is Jacob prevailing against God? No. He does not prevail against God. He tries all night to wrestle and win. When God is finished with him, God touches his hip, throws it out of joint, makes Jacob fall to the ground writhing in pain, while God stands up and says, "All right, you won. You have a new name, Israel. You won so you get to do what I tell you now." Quite a victory, right? If Jacob had been able to have any effect whatsoever on the Angel of the Lord he would have something to boast about. But he does not. God simply says, "There you go. You don't seem finished, but I am finished with your striving. I'll put an end to it and remind you how I can use you productively rather than leaving you to waste your time rolling around on the ground getting hurt." Jacob prevailed with God because God said he did, and for no other reason. We are saved by grace through faith because God says so, and for no other reason. The Word and Sacraments are effectual because God has promised so, and for no other reason.

How about Timothy? Is he to do great things because he knows how to use God's Word? Is he to succeed because he can pray so very well? No, he does great things because God has given him the Word, which is powerful and always accomplishes God's purpose. Timothy does great things because God works in and through him.

At the beginning of this sermon I said that our passages all had to do with clinging to our faith, wrestling with God. But that was not right, was it? These Bible passages don't have anything to do with that at all. They all have to do with God clinging to us, implanting our faith, nurturing our faith, gently but firmly and repeatedly reminding us that he is the author and finisher of our faith. Our life and work begins with Christ crucified for sinners. It continues with Jesus given for us. It will end with Jesus raised for us as the firstfruits of the resurrection, the firstborn among many brethren.  Yes, it is truly all about Jesus for you, for me, and for the world. It is not about us. It is about Jesus for us.

Let's pray.
Our Lord, we thank you that you have given yourself for us. We confess that we often look at those people who oppose us and we think that you might be like they are. Give us eyes to see by faith how you are the one who runs to meet us, to gather us up when we have fallen, who sustains us in every circumstance. Let us trust in you and your provision of Word and Sacraments. Feed our faith until you bring us home to be with you in eternity, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Dave Spotts
blogging at

Saturday, October 9, 2010

2 Timothy 2.1-13 - Sermon for 10/10/10

Let us pray.

Our Lord, guard our hearts and our minds. Guard my lips that I may proclaim your Word aright. Grant us repentance and forgiveness as we look into your perfect Word. Amen.

Are you a soldier of the cross? Or, appropriate to football season, maybe we should ask if you are on the Jesus team? Or in this part of the country, maybe we ask what we've been farming for Jesus and whether it's harvest time yet? These are themes Paul raises in our passage today from 2 Timothy 2. Let's walk through our reading in order and draw a few conclusions from each segment we read. That may help me avoid getting ahead of myself and confusing matters.

We read verses 1-2 (ESV) again. "You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."

Paul here calls Timothy to a faithful transmission of the Gospel. He is not to allow the Gospel of Christ to die with his generation. Timothy's mission as a pastor involves nurturing faithful men so they can be faithful pastors and teachers. Something I've studied for years and become convinced of is that we as believers need to be deliberate about training future generations. This includes discipleship in the home, especially husbands leading their wives and children in Christian growth. We don't live in a vacuum. Sad to say, if we raise up our children to decide for themselves whether they want to believe on Christ or not, we send them a crystal clear message that faith in Jesus is not a matter of life and death, that the Christian life is entirely optional. We send a message which encourages our children to depart from the faith, not to cling to our Lord and Savior for protection. On the contrary we are to train others who can themselves train yet more people. This starts on the level of the pastor seeking to teach and raise up elders who are strong and biblically qualified. But it continues as those elders nurture relationships with the other men of the church, helping them to lead their families.

Am I being demeaning to women here? I hope not. But I bring it up because I know what our culture says. Some of the most godly, committed, biblically literate people I know are women. I'm married to one of them. As we are all equal before our Lord in matters of salvation, so we are all called to learn and grow in grace just as much as our Lord nurtures us. Yet God has called men to step up and be the leaders in His Church. They are to be the spiritual leaders in their families, nurturing that faith in everyone under their authority. Where the men won't step up, I thank God for Christian women who will. But, men, it is your responsibility. Go ahead. Sit there. Get clammy palms. Gulp repeatedly. Pray like you have never prayed before. Lead your family gently but firmly in the paths of righteousness as you read the Scripture and pray with them. Need help? Ask for help. That's one of the things I'm here for. But you get to do it. Be those faithful men whose women will rejoice and feel safe in your presence as you lead them to our Lord and Savior.

Is this an easy thing? Not at all. In fact, I dare say it's something we can't do. Yes, there I go again, being like the Bible, telling us to do what we can't do. Well, that's what the Law of God does. It shows us our sin, telling us what is good and pleasing in the sight of God, showing us that we aren't able to please our Lord. Yet it also shows us our Savior, reminding us that we need the Gospel proclamation that Jesus has done what is pleasing to the Lord on our behalf. But it isn't an easy thing. Fact is, it may just prove fatal. FATAL??? Wait a minute! I thought we were trying to be welcoming. What if there are visitors? What did I just say to them? Come to our church and it will be fatal? Am I trying to drive people away?

I must apologize, but I am duty bound to tell the truth. That's what you asked me to come here and do. That's what I'm going to do. Yes, following our Lord, doing what is pleasing to him is likely to be fatal. (Do you like that? I went from "might be" in the last paragraph to "probably will be" in this paragraph.) Well, yes, we may as well admit it. When Jesus calls us to follow him, he calls us to follow him to his death on the cross. So I guess I should say it IS going to be fatal. There, the cards are on the table. But before I get too far ahead of myself, I need to read a little bit farther.

2 Timothy 2.3-4 (ESV) "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." Remember what soldiers do? They leave their families. They do really difficult physical tasks. They lose sleep, they eat badly, they have the wrong things to drink and wear, all to go engage in combat with other people and quite possibly die. And since Jesus came in order to die on our behalf, since the path to heaven takes us through the grave, when we follow Jesus we are taking up our cross and expecting to die. We die to this world. We leave civilian affairs. We do what has been set before us. We leave our comfort zone. Jesus has left his too. And we proclaim the truth regardless of what it will cost us.

This isn't sounding too encouraging, is it? We are supposed to leave our comfort zone by striving to enable others to know, hear, live, and teach the Scriptures. We are supposed to do it even if it means denying ourselves. And we are told the task is really too hard for us, even in the relative comfort of our local church and our family. We are not really able to do it. You may well ask what I am doing. Am I trying to persuade people to depart from the faith? Don't worry. Stick with me for a little longer.

We read on. 2 Timothy 2.5-7 (ESV) "An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." We all understand what it takes to be athletes. I think we understand that quite well. You can look at my body and see that I know exactly what it takes to be a fine athlete. And you can reach the conclusion that I am unwilling to pay that price. I won't win the crown. I can follow the rules but I won't win. I can't throw, catch, run or jump. The winner plays by the rules. He also works really hard, sometimes doing things that seem like a waste of time. Did you ever think about how football coaches make the players run up and down the stairs in the stadium? Did you ever see those stairways the players need to run up and down on the playing field? Neither did I. There aren't any, though it would make for an exciting game. The perseverance of the athlete pays off. How about the farmer? Can you really expect to have a successful farm or garden if you don't do anything to it? Not at all! I know what they call a bean field that is not planted, tended, or harvested deliberately. Real estate. It is not a farm. But the hard working farmer has a very good chance of an increase. And it's right that he should receive something from his labor. Are you doing what Paul told Timothy to do? Think about it. That's what he told Timothy. Though we are soldiers for Jesus, though we are following his directives, though we are headed for transformation from this world to a heavenly home through death, we still receive something in this life as we labor.

Now I want to make something perfectly clear. I am not telling anyone to work really hard at godliness in order to earn favor with God. I will never tell anyone to do that. It doesn't work. We do not earn a thing. We are not the triumphant Christian soldiers, decked out and glitzy, marching to victory in a bloodless battle, following Jesus, clothed in our good works, that terrible picture you might imagine from a popular Christian revivalist hymn. No, we aren't like that. We don't appear triumphant at all. When we try to clothe ourselves in our own good works, our own diligence, we find that we are in repulsive filthy rags. By the way, here's a side note about how I dress. Did you notice what I wear under this white robe? Black clothes. It's symbolic of sin and death. That's what we're clothed in by nature when we go around doing what we do. Then before the church service, on goes the white robe. It symbolizes Christ's righteousness covering my sin and shame. Well, back on topic. When we try to prove our righteousness, when we try to earn merit, all we do is clothe ourselves in black, in failure and shame. No, we will never earn favor with God. And we don't look triumphant. You'll remember that Paul is in prison when writing to Timothy. He is waiting for his execution. He doesn't look like a winner at all. But how does he go on in our passage?

2 Timothy 2.8-10 (ESV) "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." Paul may not look like a victor in the contest. And to be quite frank, when we look on Jesus hanging dead on a cross, he doesn't look much like a victor either. But Paul reminds us to remember Jesus Christ. How do we remember him? We remember him risen from the dead. We remember him as the eternal king, ruling forever on the throne of David. We remember him proclaimed as the savior of the world. We remember that those who would resist us may bind us but that they can no longer bind our Lord. God's word is not bound! And this is the very word that empowers us, that gathers us into unity and one accord, that we believe teach and confess. This is the very living Word of God which Timothy is to entrust to faithful men so they can teach others. This is that living and active word of God, which is powerful. Remember Jesus Christ!

Are we on the pathway to death as soldiers of Christ? Maybe so. Probably so. Unless our Lord intervenes, there will come the day when each of us will be lying somewhere dead. But what is this promise our Lord has given his soldiers? 2 Timothy 2.11-13 (ESV) "The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him: if we endure, we will also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: if we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself."

Let us pray.

Lord, we see your promise. We who have died with you are partakers of your life. We who hold to you receive a great inheritance in our heavenly home. Though we can depart from the faith you will never leave us or forsake us. You have given us your promise, and your promise is good. Bind us to you as your faithful soldiers. Create in us a desire to learn from your word, to trust in you, to leave our civilian pursuits and be thoroughly entangled in the freedom which you give to those who turn to you in faith. This we pray, as prisoners of you, the Lord who has set us free, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, unchanging, ever faithful. Amen.


Dave Spotts
blogging at

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Habakkuk 1.1-4, 2.1-4 - Sermon for 10/3/10

Let us pray.

Our Lord, we see our times, and we know you see our struggles. We look at our world and we see evil all around us. We try to live a life of holiness, as we know we should. Yet we confess we fail. Take our lives, take our disappointments, take our filthy rags and turn them into your robe of righteousness, working in and through us according to your will, as we pray that your will should be done on earth as it is in heaven. This we pray through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The prophet Habakkuk speaks at a very hard time in his nation's history. He is at the crossroads between Assyrian domination and Babylonian domination. He speaks to a people who have been defeated, broken, cast out of their land of promise. And to the people of Israel, the promise of an inheritance from God is tied firmly to the promise that they will inherit the land of Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey, the place promised to their father Abraham. What are they to do when evil enemies invade their land? What does this say about the children of promise? What does it say about the God of promise?

Before we look at Habakkuk's answer more, maybe we should ask what this prophet, some 2600 years ago in a different culture, on a different continent, could have to do with us? After all, many times we think that these people in the Old Testament don't have much to do with us. That's especially the case with the minor prophets. Sometimes I don't begin to understand what they are talking about. For that matter, I can hardly find the book in my Bible. It's so small! Of course, these are called "minor" prophets not due to their importance but because what they wrote is pretty short. They are minor in size. That's why they only last a couple of pages in the Bible. So let's look at what's happening now. Let's see something that seems more relevant to our own time and place. Then we'll see if all the threads tie together.

Have you heard this? I have, many many times. Jesus came to live and die for me. He came to make all things new. By believing on him I am a new creation. The old has passed away, all things have become new. And the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing in our midst. God has not stopped speaking. His mercies are new every morning. This new wine of the Holy Spirit is being poured out on us. We have to find new wineskins, no, we have to become new wineskins to hold the new wine of the Holy Spirit. And as that happens we find that we are truly new creations. We are the righteousness of God in Christ. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Yes, that's the message. And in many church congregations if I were to go on like that, someone would be saying "Amen." Several people would be raising their hands to heaven. And some 25 years ago, in the setting where I was ministering to people, a bunch of people would rise to their feet, rejoicing and clapping for God's goodness. It's all right if you want to do that. It's also all right if you act like good Lutherans and do it inwardly but just smile a little bit.

When we are confronted with God's mercy to us in Christ we should be glad. We should rejoice to see the deliverance prepared for us. We should look forward enthusiastically to our heavenly home, our eternal rest, the resurrection to eternal life in the presence of God. These promises are true promises that our Lord has given us. And we who believe are recipients of the promise.

So I have a hard question. What do we do when life doesn't seem to be working out according to God's promises? What do we make of those hard providences that we see? What do we think when illness, even death strikes? How do we see our Lord's provision when we are unemployed? What do we make of God's promise of an abundant life when we wonder which bills we can pay and what will happen if we don't pay some of them this month? How do we deal with chronic illness, chronic pain? Is there something wrong with us? Is there something wrong with God? Maybe we didn't believe well enough. Maybe we didn't commit every part of our life to the Lord. Maybe we raised our children wrong, or maybe we were raised wrong ourselves. Maybe, just maybe, we think, God isn't really for us. Maybe we think our Lord doesn't really love us like he says he does. Maybe we wonder if the Lord has some sinister will to punish us for some reason, or even for no reason at all.

Does this bring Habakkuk to life? I think it does. Like us, Habakkuk is living at a time when God's chosen people are in distress. They have been confronted with their sin. They have been confronted with their failure. They are being persecuted by the unbelievers who have invaded God's promised land. They face ruin and despair. And the evildoers who have come against them are ungodly people, the worst sort of tyrants.

What hope is there for God's people in distress? Jesus said we will receive all the promises of God in him, including a promise of persecution. He freely acknowledges that we are living in a fallen world. Our world, even in this age of the Church, is coming apart at the seams. We endure the curse of God against sin, which is passed on from generation to generation. If we suffer it is in one way or another linked to Adam's sin, to the fall from grace. We toil at our jobs. We labor fruitlessly to fight against poverty, against unemployment, against disease. Every time we find a cure for one ill we are confronted with another ill in this world. Like Habakkuk, we call out to the Lord, wondering if he really hears.

I have great good news. God hears. He has known our plight. Even before the foundation of the world, Jesus, the Lamb of God, was slain for your sin and for my sin. He came, as promised, to show himself to us, Emmanuel, God with us. He is acquainted with sorrows. He understands our grief. Our Lord knows what it means to endure hardship. In his state of humiliation he suffered on our behalf, as one of us, knowing what it is to live in a sin-cursed world. There is nothing about our plight that our Lord does not know.

So how does this help us? We in the 21st century seem to be going into yet another century which ranks high on the persecution scale. Christians around the world are imprisoned for their faith. The Christian faith is against the law in some countries. In other countries it is severely restricted. Believers are being seized and tortured, even burned alive. It doesn't look too good, especially in some other parts of the world.

Let me ask another question that will help us focus. Just what did our Lord do after he completed his time in the state of humiliation? After he died and was buried? That's when we start seeing good news. That's when we start seeing the victory that our Lord promises us, each and every one. That's when we start seeing Jesus as the savior of the world. Because that's when he descends into hell and proclaims his victory over death, hell and the grave. Our Lord showed his victory to death itself. Then by rising bodily from the dead he showed his victory to his apostles and to many others. Our Lord has risen victorious from the grave! Where is the victory? Death is swallowed up in life. And we who believe receive the promise that no matter what happens to us, no matter what ills come upon us, no matter what kind of attacks we sustain, even to the point of being tortured and killed for our faith, our Lord has risen from the dead and promises that we will rise as well. Ultimately there is no one who can rob us of the life our Lord has given us. In the words of the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 8 (ESV) "we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

This is the hope that we are given in Scripture. This is the promise of which we are partakers by faith. And even when we don't think the Lord is answering our prayer, even when the Lord seems far away, we have been given a sure and certain promise from our Lord. We walk by faith, not by sight. We are not responsible for creating God's blessings on us. We are simply partakers of them by faith. And this statement, "the righteous shall live by his faith" comes up again and again in the Scriptures. The author of Hebrews draws our attention to all the saints who have lived by faith by quoting this passage. Paul quotes it in Romans 1.17, the touchstone of Luther's reformation. He also quotes it in Galatians chapter 3, reminding these saints of God's enduring promises to them. we are recipients of the very same promise. We live by faith.

Let us rise and turn to our Lord in prayer.

Our Lord, we confess that you have risen from the dead, defeating death, hell and the grave. We know from your resurrection that we too, by faith in your name, have victory over all the ills of this world. Grant us faith to appropriate the promises that you have given us, perseverance to live for you in this world, and an earnest desire for your heavenly kingdom, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Dave Spotts
blogging at