Stop By, You will be Glad you did!
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1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5, ESV)
The fanciest Greek in the New Testament was penned by St. Luke (followed closely by St. Paul). The simplest Greek in the New Testament was penned by St. John, who uses his easy vocabulary list to dig deeper into the mystery and identity of our God-Man Savior than any other NT writer. And I’m going through John’s Gospel account because our district executive for missions identified it as an outreach primer.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”—or, “…the darkness has not understood it.” John likes words with two equally attested meanings, and he wants us to read or hear both. So, we could translate, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has neither understood it nor overcome it.” Another famous example of the double meaning being used by design is John 3:3: “Jesus answered [Nicodemus], ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is reborn from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
C. S. Lewis observed that evil and bad are not capable of being original: they are perversions or distortions of what was created good. I believe it was Lewis who said, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants have been…how gloriously different the saints.” The light of Jesus, the Christ (or Messiah), cannot be snuffed out. We can, by God’s grace, reflect it: but no one can extinguish it. Some try, and others dabble in darkness for love of power, or even for sport; but light wins over and over again.
Jesus is our life and our light (hence a popular Bible Study series, “Life Light”). In him we have forgiveness and the promise of eternal life, and his love lights up life for us. Darkness is pervasive; the things people do to other people can make our jaws drop and our hearts ache. But Jesus is the Light of the world, and he holds us in his mighty hand, as does his Father. We are loved and looked after. And when a pocket of darkness manages to scrape us, God binds up our wounds.
The hymn leads us nicely in prayer: “I want to walk as a child of the light; I want to follow Jesus.” O Holy Spirit, pour grace into us so that we do just that! And grant us repentance from our dabbles into darkness—our sins. Cultivate an appetite for holiness in us, and fill us up! Lead us in the paths of righteousness so that our Savior’s face can show another smile.
As we approach the cusp of the Advent season, may we be diligent in prayer and spend time feeding on God’s Word, so that we can wait for the second Advent of Jesus with hope and joy. In his name, Amen.
1And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 3And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. 9But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” (Mark 13:1-10, ESV)
In “The Spy Next Door,” a brother and his older sister rifle through Agent Ho’s belongings as they wait for him to pack so he can accompany them next door and babysit them for several days. The 13-year-old sister opens a hall closet door and sees some out-of-style jackets. She remarks, “Oh wow, Fashion Armageddon.”
There is difficulty, disaster, catastrophe, and cataclysm. The demolition of the Herodian temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was part of a national catastrophe. The end of history and the transition to eternity will involve cataclysmic events. A popular term for the dissolution of the present creation is “Armageddon.” Let’s unpack its origins.
Armies would set out at about the same time from Egypt, for example; and from somewhere in the Fertile Crescent (such as modern-day Iraq or Syria). They would often meet, and clash, in a valley named Megiddo (in the Holy Land). Overlooking that valley is a small mountain (or a large hill) named for the valley: Har Megiddo (meaning, essentially, the hill overlooking the valley of Megiddo). From that elevated viewpoint one could witness the clashing of swords, bloodshed, mayhem, and death. And the name “Har Megiddo” comes into English as “Armageddon”—put simply, “…the end of the world as we know it.”
If we didn’t know by faith that God was on our side thanks to Jesus, this would be cause for much dread alarm. But our Savior tells us to lift our heads high if we see heaven and earth start to unravel: for the consummation of our salvation would then be ready at hand! O Lord, keep us mindful that the undoing of this sin-stained creation heralds the onset and nearness of the New Jerusalem, the new heaven and earth, the end of tears and loss and sickness and pain and death: the dawn of eternal life.
We are coming to the end of a Church Year, and soon after that the end of a calendar year. These things mark the passing of time; and as many have come to know, the older you get the faster time flies. What a gift to know by faith that when time is done, eternity with God is our lot! Thank you, Jesus! In his name, Amen.
9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-14, ESV)
“Tia” is Spanish for aunt: not the six-legged creature that invades your living space, but the two-legged creature who is a sibling to one of your parents, or a spouse thereof, and in some cases a cherished family friend who is kind to someone else’s kids. And TIA can be a handy acronym for what binds all of the Lord’s saints—i.e., believers in Jesus—together into one fellowship. TIA can stand for: Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement. Now to elaborate.
To quote the Athanasian Creed, we Christians worship “…one God in three Persons, and three Persons in one God.” The three Persons are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That’s the trinity, the only true God, who is triune. You can’t do Christianity without him. And the second Person, the eternal Son, added humanity to his eternal divinity and remains that way forever. That’s Jesus, our God-Man Savior. You can’t do Christianity without him, either.
Then we have the Holy Spirit (also referred to as the Holy Ghost, meaning simply a Person in the Godhead who has no body). He is called (by Jesus, in fact) a Comforter and a Counselor. He creates and feeds and protects our faith in the Son, which faith gives us good standing with the Father. You can’t do Christianity without the Holy Spirit, either.
Of course, the faith the Holy Spirit creates to connect us to Jesus trusts that he is true God and true Man; that he lived without sin, suffered in our stead, died to pay for our sins and the sins of the world, and rose in victory to promise us eternal life. That mouthful is the Atonement, i.e., what Jesus did for us. And all who confess humble faith in the Triune God (the Trinity), the Incarnation of the Son (adding humanity to his divinity), and his Atonement that saves sinners, are included in “…all the saints,” the one flock under one Good Shepherd, even Jesus.
This weekend’s sermon will approach “All Saints’ Sunday” from a very different angle: namely, strength v. weakness for “…all the saints…”—or, if you like, vigor v. stagnation in the Body of Christ—locally and beyond. God bless! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
6Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Revelation 14:6-7, ESV)
Some early Lutheran theologians saw the fulfillment of this part of the prophecy in Martin Luther. I think he would have been livid if he heard that. He could be vulgar, he was often harsh with his words, but he was never proud. Anyhow, he did proclaim the eternal Gospel, along with so many others (as he would be sure to remind us).
The western church into which Luther was born, and in which he was raised (today called “Roman Catholic”) was beset with plenty of trouble. The aftermath of the Black Plague had left most people weary and scared. Superstition was widespread and life was short, leaving many folks looking for a “leg up” to attain Heaven in the next life. Literacy was not widespread, and the Bible had only been partially put into the languages that Europeans spoke. The government of the Holy Roman Empire (most Germany) had made it illegal to do so.
Martin Luther sought to correct abuses and unbiblical practices in the church, things most ordinary people—lacking literacy and education—did not know were at odds with the Bible. He also advocated for the education of more people, and the availability of the Bible in the language that people spoke and wrote every day. He did not want to make trouble: he wanted to clear up confusion and clean up church practices. But as we know, trouble ensued—the Peasants’ Revolt, brutally crushed by the nobility; extended conflict between Luther (and other reformers) and church leadership; eventually even a protracted war.
Today we look back at that era, and our three chief takeaways come from the way Luther brought the biblical teaching about justification back into the light. He maintained that (1) We are saved by grace alone, that is, God’s gracious actions to save us from sin, death, and condemnation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who is true God and true Man. And (2) This salvation, purchased and won by Jesus, is received by way of faith alone—that is, the “hand” of faith, granted by the Holy Spirit, receives God’s acquittal, forgiveness, and a host of additional blessings from the Father for Jesus’ sake. And (3) We evaluate all preaching, teaching, and church practice according to Scripture alone, our final authority in the church.
I know, that was quite a mouthful. Yet we need to keep it in the front of our consciousness as biblical Christians who are connected to Jesus by the Spirit’s gift of faith, and are thus reconciled to the Father, who forgives and purifies us on account of the ministry of Jesus, our Savior. In his name, Amen.
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. 5And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5, ESV)
Our job is to convince as many people as we can of the veracity, the truth, the reliability of the last comment made in the text above. Tall order? Sure. But we don’t work alone on this. “Behold, I am with you every day until the end of this age” (Matthew 28:20).
The Lord, the Almighty, our grace-giving triune God “…sits on the throne,” is enthroned, lives and rules over all. And he has things prepared for us that are too wonderful for us to presently imagine. The vocal recording artist who sang the song I’ll cite here was, by report, a stutterer. He offered to try to eliminate the repetitious consonant from “B-b-b-baby…” The producer said he liked it, so don’t try to eliminate it. So, to quote Bachman Turner, “B-b-b-baby, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet”!
I find the commandment to unselfishly love one another to be Jesus’ way of getting us from where we are now to where this text is: his way of getting us through the perils and trials and tribulations of this present pilgrimage. The more attention we pay to that commandment the better we all fare. You can supply the converse.
O Lord, increase our love exponentially! Let those outside your Church say, “Wow, look at how loving they are toward each other.” And open hearts and minds to hear about the New Creation, and all about the One who will return to take us there. Christian witnessing is done with precisely that in mind. After all, you need to know the destination if you don’t want to wander and meander.
Chapter 21 goes on to give a vivid metaphorical description of Paradise. Hard details are given sparingly. I liken the vision John was given to wrapped presents under the Christmas tree. You can pick them up, shake them to see what sounds they make, note how heavy they are, even make guesses based on the shape of the box. But you have to wait until the right time to unwrap them and see what’s inside.
That said, you know it won’t be a lump of coal and it will be something fantastic. You know those things because your parents love you. Our heavenly Father loves us in Christ Jesus. We can anticipate eternal life with real joy, and share that joy generously! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13For, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:12-15, ESV)
First Paul cites Joel 2:32, then Isaiah 52:7. This short passage from Romans gives us a call for laborers in the harvest of souls—one that rolls out beautifully. And believers, along with those who have strayed, plus those who need a first-time connection to Jesus: all should hear the Lord speaking his love through the apostle’s words. May they, and we, all hear “…the words ‘I love you’ rolling off [God’s] tongue.”
Paul’s colleague, the apostle Peter, wrote: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, ESV). In a similar way, the Holy Spirit motivates, enlightens, and guides us as we share our faith in Jesus, and as we tell of our love for him. So, while the enemy tries to intimidate you—telling you that it’s too scary to go out on your own, and go out on a limb, and witness about the Gospel—remember that he is “the father of lies.” Even without an Evangelism partner you never witness alone: you’re always “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So rather than dread the scary experience, get excited as you prepare to enjoy the ride!
Our world is chaotic. Dangers, perils, and threats abound. People are confused, sometimes despondent. One Christian song tells us that we need to “…sing, aloud, the song that someone is dying to hear down in the maddening crowd—as you once were before you heard the song.” I’m pretty sure that “the song” is the Gospel: forgiveness, freedom, rest, and life thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who promised to make ready for us a place in Heaven and to return and take us there. May the Holy Spirit fire us up and move us to belt out that tune!
The devil works hard to churn out hopelessness, seeking to drive people in the direction of death. As we share Jesus, invite people to church, and do works of mercy in Jesus’ name (which works best if we let people know that), we see “…fetters of death now dissolve, disappear…” What a beautiful sight, when we see a person’s burdens dissipate as they get acquainted with Jesus! Thank you, God!
Remember that he sends us out as his voice to a scared and dying world. We are ambassadors of the source of peace and life. And rather than thinking that pastors and teachers in the church should do Evangelism for you, rejoice that their job is to equip you as a witness for Jesus—so that you can do Gospel witness with them. In Jesus name, Amen.
22So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:22-28, ESV)
Earlier in the chapter we’re told that Paul was fuming inside, deeply troubled by all the idol shrines littering the landscape of Athens, Greece. But when he opens his mouth, we hear a silver tongue: “Wow, y’all are really religious people!” And, led by the Holy Spirit, the apostle brilliantly meets these Hellenistic pagans where they are—and leads them to where they need to be.
His portal to their hearts and minds is their own altar to “…the unknown god.” Paul proceeds to introduce them to him whom they called unknown. Then he quotes Greek authors to explain the true God to men who had sought favors from false ones: “In him we live and move and have our being”; “For we are indeed his offspring.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Asia Minor, now known as Turkey, was largely overrun by Islam. But not Greece. The idol shrines are pretty much gone, but all over the Greek landscape crosses and churches remain. Christianity has diminished markedly in Europe and North America; but it’s burgeoning in Africa. Wherever we find ourselves, and whatever the church’s circumstances in our region or continent, our calling remains the same: we are ambassadors for Jesus, who is King of kings and Lord of lords, who saves people from sin and gives them eternal life.
The apostle celebrated the Athenians’ spiritual appetite, and then led them from junk food to real nutrition. Science Fiction fans need to hear (among other things) that in John 3:16 “…the world…” God loved by sending his Son is an English translation of the Greek word “cosmos” (adopted, of course, into English). The idea is to find and use points of entry and connection with those to whom God sends us: ways to share the Good News about Jesus. It’s not all that complicated.
My prayer is that God employs each and every one of us to share our hope of everlasting life founded upon the saving ministry of Jesus. Ignited and guided by the Holy Spirit, we can know the joy of using both head and heart to introduce (or reconnect) people to our “Beautiful Savior”! In his name, even Jesus, Amen.
2Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. 4Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. (Acts 8:2-6, ESV)
Since Samaria is a region, “the city of Samaria” likely means its leading city, which could be Sebaste, Sychar, or Shechem. At any rate, Philip proclaimed the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus; and the people ate it up.
C.F.W. Walther (yes, he had that many names) said: “The Church is a great Mission House, and every Christian in it is a missionary.” How odd, then, that so many Christians want their pastor to do their mission work for them, rather than with them. Of course, that can be corrected without undue angst (a theological favorite for “struggle”).
There are, I’m pretty sure, times when the prayer harbored within us is: “Lord, let me get in and out of the grocery without meeting anyone I know or talking with anyone I don’t know.” But if each Christian is a missionary I hope that, at least most of the time, our prayer within (or spoken aloud) is: “Lord, give me chances to share the Good News about Jesus, whether to excite interest in someone not yet connected to him, or to strengthen a fellow believer.”
When Saul got busy trying to turn Christian boys and girls into orphans, the families that could fled to places away from Jerusalem. And wherever they went they shared Jesus’ Gospel with any who would listen. It seems it was natural for them to talk about what they believed. Oh, Lord, make it natural for us to do the same!
The where and the how of Christian witness can vary a lot. Cafeteria, grocery store checkout line, hospital parking lot…you can continue the list if you like. Casual conversation, invitation to a church service, interaction after a funeral…and so on.
The why is hardly esoteric: “I believe, therefore I speak” (2nd Corinthians 4:13). Trepidation, or concerns about inconvenience, ought not to be allowed to deprive any Christian of the joy of sharing their joy over Jesus with others. I know it happens; but the less often it happens, the better. O Lord, fire us up to share our hope of eternal life due to the forgiveness of sins thanks to Jesus!
May the Holy Spirit get us “hooked” on the joy of letting our Christian colors show in what we say as well as what we do. May God’s boundless love for us in Jesus put our minds, hearts, and mouths in gear. And may more and more souls taste and see the goodness of the Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen!
30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. 33And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:30-37, ESV)
According to Junie B. Jones (a fictional character in a book series popular with youth), “Nothing is the worst kind of something.” Jesus asked his leadership team what they were discussing on the road, and their silence attempts to say, “Nothing.” Of course, he knew what they had talked about: he was giving them a chance to come clean. They declined. He dealt with their problem anyway.
They were engaged in a zero-sum competition for status, influence, and importance. Who is the greatest? Who’s the teacher’s top lieutenant? They were, in effect, jockeying for position. Jesus essentially tells them that the position they should pursue is on their knees, since that sends you right to your Savior’s arms. And in those arms our Savior held a “child” (ESV’s translation).
The word actually means a baby so young it doesn’t crawl yet; but we can’t be entirely sure it was an infant. Sometimes we refer to our adult children as our “babies.” The point is, the child was young enough that he didn’t yet have any status, clout, or sense of self-importance. To receive such a person is to agree to meet their needs. Jesus says he values such service. I trust we do too.
But look at the connection: the apostles fail to grasp Jesus’ forecast of his suffering, death, and resurrection; then they launch into a festival of self-conceit. They were not focused on Jesus’ purpose or mission to save sinners: and that lack of focus led them right into the Great Room of the house that sin built. C.S. Lewis noted that in prideful moments we lose sight of God; for when pride overtakes us, we look down on others; so how, then, can we expect to focus on God, who is above us?
And if the little boy was a baby, he gives us a fine picture of discipleship. An infant is helpless and fully dependent on loving adults (and sometimes older siblings). And to such, Jesus said—to those who know their utter dependence on God, and who recognize their need to be loved by, and to love, their fellow believers—to such belongs the Kingdom of God.
O Lord, enable and remind us daily to receive your Kingdom, your grace, and your blessings as little children loved by their strong, protective heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
27[Jesus said,] “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
(John 12:27-33, ESV)
In the Roman Empire, in the first century A.D., “holy cross” would have been a striking oxymoron: a stunning contradiction in terms. The Romans used crosses and crucifixion to inflict as much humiliation and torture upon the crucified as possible, until they died. Still, we know that the cross on which Jesus died is holy because his broken body and shed blood wash our souls clean and make us holy, promising the eventual—and fully durable—redemption of our bodies.
This year, 2021, we’ll observe Holy Cross Day at Messiah Lutheran Church, Valdosta, GA, on Sunday, September 12th, at 10:30 a.m. But before that, we’ll observe Holy Cross Day at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 11th—the 20th anniversary of the horrific attacks of 9/11/2001. On that day, back in 2001, my daughters’ ages were 7, 2, and 7 months. Today they are 27, 22, and 20. Still, in some ways it seems like it was yesterday. Let us never forget; and thanks again to all who tried to help, rescue, and relieve suffering.
Outwardly, as he hung on his cross, our Savior looked abject, hapless, and defeated. But “behind the scenes,” so to speak, much was in progress. Our heavenly Father’s name was being glorified! And how was that, with the way things looked? The Lamb who was being slain was also crushing Satan’s metaphorical head, delivering defeat to the enemy. And simultaneously, that same Lord of Life, dying on his cross, was liberating “…the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve” (to borrow language from Lewis, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe): of course, that’s us, along with all other sinners.
So, for us the cross of Jesus is very holy. By his faithful ministry that culminated at the cross, and resonated with power from the empty tomb, Jesus set in motion a process called sanctification: God making us holy. The process will be complete in each of us when we see Jesus face to face. Meanwhile, we confess our sins and ask God for mercy and renewal on account of Christ crucified, now risen from the dead: the Lamb who was slain but lives forever, our God-Man Savior.
So, individually and together, let us “Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, till all the world adore His sacred name.” In that name, even Jesus, Amen!
24And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” 29And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. (Mark 7:24-30, ESV)
I saw a Peanuts® birthday card with snoopy on the front saying, “Enjoy your favorite food, cake, and ice cream on your special day…” On the inside he continued, “Just remember: anything that falls on the floor is mine.”
For the record, I reject the notion that Jesus refers to this Gentile woman as a “dog.” Our Lord is using an Order of Operations illustration to challenge her request as premature: he effectively asks her, “Aren’t you just a little bit early with this request?” In Matthew’s account of this event, Jesus says he was sent first and foremost to “…the lost sheep of the House of Israel”—and this distraught mom is a Gentile, not an Israelite. To be specific, she was Lebanese. On the matter of Israel first, Gentiles second, take a look at Matthew 15:21-28. As my seminary roommate cautioned me, it’s not prudent to look at one of the synoptics in isolation (the synoptics are the Gospel accounts by Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
So, what is the Order of Operations in Jesus’ chosen analogy? If your beloved family pets are fed with what (a) falls from the table and (b) is not finished by your dear children, then the children need to eat first and then the pets. Israelites first, Gentiles later: and Jesus knows perfectly well that both are people; he died to save both. But Jesus doesn’t say, “No”: he challenges this mother to respond. She says that leftovers are just fine, if that means he will set her daughter free from torment. She accepts God’s Order of Operations. “Just please help,” she says. And I love our Lord’s reply. Mark’s Gospel account: “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” Matthew’s Gospel account: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” (I’m sure he said both).
So, the girl is set free; the unclean spirit is banished; and the mission to the Gentiles is afoot. How awesome to see our saving God in action! The editors of the Lutheran Study Bible note how large this mom’s faith is in comparison to the Scribes and Pharisees and even, at this point in the story, in comparison to Jesus’ disciples. And her faith receives liberation for her dear child. Does that sound familiar? Faith receives freedom from sin!
O Lord, increase our faith; strengthen our hope; augment and motivate our unselfish love; and lead us in the way that leads to eternal life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51, ESV)
In Nathanael’s defense, a lot of folks in that day from places outside Galilee regarded Galilee as “the sticks.” Evidently Nathanael regarded the then little village of Nazareth to be too itsy bitsy to produce anything grand. But, as he soon learned, you really don’t get far telling the Lord where to look for his personnel.
On this apostle’s name, perhaps a reminder would be helpful. When I was in high school we would often call people by their last name instead of their first. “Hey, Kinast, you comin’ with?” In similar fashion our Lectionary calls the observance I’m using for this coming Sunday, “St. Bartholomew, Apostle.” And that’s fine; you can also call me “Kinast” if you like. For Bartholomew is Nathanael’s last name: it’s Aramaic for “son of Ptolemy.” His full name, then, is Nathanael Bartholomew; or: Nathanael, son of Ptolemy.
I’m convinced that Jesus decided to have fun with Nathanael’s smart remark about Nazareth. Employing his divine knowledge, he overhears (from quite a distance) the young man’s snide comment: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He could have called him out for it; but he didn’t. Instead, he said (and this is a paraphrase): “Well, a straight-shooting Israelite who speaks his mind.” I simply love it. We can both thank Jesus for salvation and admire his style.
Understandably, Nathanael is taken aback because Jesus appears to know his personality even though they’ve never (technically) met. But all the while the Holy Spirit is working “behind the scenes” to endow Nathanael Bartholomew (can we call him “Nate”?) with faith that will lead him to make a blockbuster declaration about Jesus.
Jesus clues Nate in to his ability to observe him over distance, and Nate is dumbfounded. Yet, with the Holy Spirit at work within him, the up-and-coming apostle exclaims: ““Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Then Jesus basically tells St. Nate, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” And a new team member is added. Our God-Man Savior turns out to be full of surprises.
And each apostle and every disciple joins in proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, the eternal Son of the everlasting Father, come down from Heaven to save sinners. We join together to preach Jesus, crucified and risen: The Lamb who was slain for us, yet now lives forever—as we shall too, by his trustworthy promise. In his name, even Jesus, Amen.
53So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day 55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink …. 67So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:53-55, 67-69; ESV)
The key question here is whether eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood refer to the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion), or not—in which case they would be a metaphor for something else. The short answer is that those two phrases can refer to Holy Communion, but they don’t have to (not exclusively). Let me explain.
If either phrase referred only to Holy Communion, then a lot of people would be lost—including many children, and surely the penitent thief crucified next to Jesus. But these believers are not lost. Eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood can be a metaphor for trusting in him as Savior, and submitting to him as Lord, believing that he let his body be killed and shed his blood for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is the Gospel faith we share with all Christians.
And this Gospel faith in Christ, in whose name we ask the Father to forgive us when we have sinned, this holy faith is fed by two main channels. Now, note that a “channel” can also be called a “means” (as in, “means of transportation”). And we recognize two main channels of blessing from God, two chief means of grace: channels, or means, by which our faith in Jesus is fed and our bond with him is made stronger. These two major means of grace are: the Word of God (the Bible, both Old and New Testaments); and the Sacraments that Jesus gave to his Church.
Not all Christians agree on how many Sacraments there are. Lutherans recognize two: Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Note that the Lord’s Supper is called by many names, such as: Holy Communion; the Holy Eucharist; the Sacrament of the Altar. Like God’s Word, these Sacraments—these “grace conductors”—convey to us God’s love and forgiveness, thereby building up our faith. Now back to the text at the top of this devotion.
Eating the body of Christ, and drinking his blood, can refer to holding the Christian faith—that Jesus is true God and true Man, that he suffered and died to pay for our sins, and then he rose again; and because he lives forever, we will too; and the risen Jesus lives and reigns, as he always did, with the Father and the Holy Spirit: only now, he lives and reigns with them as the God-Man. And, eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood can also refer to receiving the mysterious—yet beneficial—meal called Holy Communion. And now some further explanation.
Taking the Holy Eucharist and receiving Jesus’ body “in, with, and under” the bread; and receiving his blood “in, with, and under” the wine: this participation in the Sacrament presupposes holding the Christian faith, drawn from the Bible. And having such faith connects a person to Jesus, even if they don’t get the chance to receive his body and blood “in, with, and under” the consecrated bread and wine. This is why some Christian teachers don’t see, in John chapter 6, a reference to Holy Communion.
Yet we can hardly read these words in John’s Gospel account and not think of the Holy Supper Jesus gave to his Church on the night when he was betrayed. And while lacking faith in Jesus is what keeps you from having durable life, the Lord’s Supper also feeds and fortifies your faith and your bond with Jesus. So however, exactly, someone interprets the whole “Bread of Life Discourse” in John 6, we have been given exceedingly great gifts—including God’s Word, his sure and certain promises, and our Lord’s Sacraments.
And one of God’s promises is spoken by Jesus in the text quoted above: that he will raise his believers up at the Last Day—or, if they’re still living and breathing on earth at that time, he will transform them, giving them immortal bodies just like the ones the dead in Christ receive when they are raised up. God bless your anticipation of that Day! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers [and sisters], for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers [and sisters], these things ought not to be.
(James 3:1-10, ESV)
In Confirmation Class I sometimes quiz students by reading a short selection from the Bible and asking them to label it either “Law” (showing us our sin and calling us out for it), or “Gospel” (showing us our Savior and reminding us that he saved us). This text from James is clearly Law. And note this (not news, just a reminder): what James says about “the tongue” (our speech, what words we say to others, etc.) is said about harmful, hurtful, or otherwise less-than-loving words.
James knows, as do we, that the gift of speech can also be used quite well. A student may say to her teacher, “Thank you so much for listening. I feel a lot better.” And the compassionate teacher might well respond, “You are as welcome as you are smart and sweet.” Can you see the smile coming over the young person’s face? The tongue can also affirm and edify. That, however, is not what St. James addresses in this text!
Hurtful words; judgments or reprimands that are harsher than necessary; flagrant disregard for the 8thCommandment (regarding false testimony: Lutheran numbering), by willfully failing to put the best construction on something: these are some of the sins James decries here. We could add taunts are not playful (and thus understood by the other person), but demeaning; and gossip; and if I missed anything close to home, go ahead and add it in. I don’t expect any of us would want our track record in this area broadcast very far.
And now it’s time for another reminder. Proper proclamation of the Law requires follow-up when the time is right. That is, we should always meet repentance with lavish mercy: the assurance of God’s forgiveness, cleansing, and empowerment for the good: the stuff of the Gospel of Christ. Our prayer is unlikely to be, “Lord, thank you: I’ve finally tamed my tongue!” More likely we pray, “Lord, please forgive me. And how I yearn to do better!” And to that our gracious Father replies, “Put a ring on his (or her) finger and sandals on his (or her) feet!” (Luke 15:11 and following).
Each wound inflicted using words generally requires five kindnesses to neutralize. In contrast, some brief words of affirmation or encouragement build up the sister, or the brother, or the neighbor. May our generous Lord supply us with abundant grace to “…let our gentleness be evident to everyone” (see Philippians 4:5, NIV). And God bless mightily! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
19Know this, my beloved brothers [and sisters]: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:19-25, ESV)
First, a word about which man named James was inspired to write the epistle. The leading contender is the half-brother of Jesus: James, the son of Mary and Joseph. He was a prominent leader in the Jerusalem congregation. And he grew up with one brother (technically, half-brother) who didn’t just think he was sinless: he actually was. “God made him who had no sin to become a sin-offering for us” (see 2nd Corinthians 5:21, for example). I’m going with that: the author is James, half-brother of Jesus.
It’s no secret that it took Martin Luther time to warm up to the epistle of James. But the LSB editors mention that what fueled Luther’s early aversion to the letter was the misuse of parts of chapter 2 by scholars who were hostile to Luther. After a while he came around concerning the epistle. And if we read it rightly it gives us rich fare.
If we say we believe in Jesus, and claim to love him; yet we snap at people all the time, and condescend, and have few to no moral scruples, and balk at the idea of helping someone in need (when we’re able): then something is very wrong. Faith is more than intellectual acceptance of certain truths: it also includes loyalty to our Lord, which can’t help but manifest itself in loving, humble, Christlike conduct.
Luther said, “Faith alone justifies [i.e., receives God’s gifts of mercy and forgiveness]: but faith is never alone.” He meant that a bond with Jesus that is alive and healthy leads us to seek, find, and do godly things, and to speak words of encouragement and affirmation. Any time we experience a short-circuit that stunts the expression of our loyalty to Jesus—which is expressed by our imitation of his example—may our gracious God restore the circuit, and make us busy again with deeds and words that reflect the light, and the love, of Christ.
C.S. Lewis noted that Christians often squabble over which is more essential, more important in our relationship with God: faith, or good works (which include kind words). Lewis remarked that such a question was, to him, like asking which blade in pair of scissors was more necessary. We pray God to make us doers of the Word, and not merely hearers. I expect this is a growth area for nearly every Christian.
As to the apostolic advice that we be “…quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry,” that’s plainly sound practical advice, highly useful in our quest to love one another as Christ loved us. We seek grace to live by this wholesome maxim.
Of course, the maxim can be distorted (like most good advice). One might conclude that it is never right to become angry. That would be false. If you see someone being cruel to a child, who is in tears and afraid, you can hardly get by with: “Oh, that’s not very nice…” Indeed, “Stop!!! Now!!!” would be more like it—and your face should show that you mean what you say, as you move in to protect the victim. But the situations that call for righteous indignation are very sparse, and we dare not feign the need to get huffy. We should first be confident that it is called for; then, if it is, tough love may be dispensed.
On the good listening part, if you find that difficult you might consider Stephen Ministry training. The tendency to feel a need to dominate conversations probably arises from insecurity; in that case prayer works well. And wherever anyone is at presently, pretty well everyone can grow as a compassionate listener. We ask God for abundant grace in this matter as well.
James’ letter is like a spiritual trainer: we may not always want to grow as much as we’re called to; but fervor and progress in our spiritual growth are supplied, generously, by God. That means we don’t need to generate them—much the same as in the cases of faith, hope, peace, etc. We’ll look at a few selections from James before moving on. And, as always: God bless astoundingly! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Back again. God bless astoundingly in Christ!
8Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1stCorinthians 13:8-13, ESV)
What does it mean for knowledge to “pass away”? It could mean that it gets superseded by new information, which causes us to set aside what we thought we knew. Or it could mean that the knowledge we acquired is no longer relevant, no longer matters. And note this: to see “…in a mirror dimly” is to see in a first century mirror—not today’s crisp, clear, reflective glass: but something more like a piece of dirty brass that struggles to show you what you look like. Of course, prophesies pass away when they are fulfilled, as every last one from God will be when we enter eternity.
I especially like Paul’s reference to leaving childhood behind: how fast that phase of life flies! We were at the pool on the Air Force base where our middle daughter lives with her husband. An officer was swimming with his three kids, the oldest of whom was no more than 13. I pointed out Emily on a pool chair across the way, and said, “That’s my baby; she’s 20.” He replied, “Whoa, I don’t even want to think about that!” So many things in this life are quickly here and gone.
The apostle directs us forward, though: ahead, to the things that endure. When we go home to God’s dwelling place, we no longer have to give things up or say “Goodbye” to what we enjoy. And even in this pilgrimage, where so much is fleeting, Paul reminds us that faith and hope sustain us all through our lives—even amidst change, loss, and the stubborn forward march of “progress.” For example, our “nest” may be getting progressively emptier, but the love and peace of Christ fill our hearts and our home. (And FaceTime is no slouch, either).
But faith and hope are outranked by love. This is agape, the other-focused gift-love Jesus exhorted his followers to see in him and imitate toward one another. God’s love for us, and our love for him and for one another, follow us into forever: they are eternal. But love is not alone this way: peace and joy, fellowship and praise, also go on and on (thank you, Celine).
Now clearly, when it comes to the set of conditions in the coming age (eternity), we “…can only imagine” what it will be like. And that’s fine. We don’t actually need to know as much as we think we need to know just now. Rather than childish impatience (“Come on, Jesus, show us more!”), may we be blessed with an extra measure of childlike trust. God has this. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Greetings in Jesus!
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
(Romans 13:1-7, ESV)
Scholars believe Paul wrote the above words around A.D. 55. If so, the infamous Nero was in power in Rome. Nero’s mother probably poisoned his adoptive father, Claudius, making Nero the ruler of the Roman Empire before he celebrated his 17th birthday. Nero would later murder his mother, Agrippina the Younger, along with his first two wives (and many others). He killed himself in A.D. 68 after 14 years on the Roman throne.
There’s only been one person whose name could yield the numeric total of 666 (see Revelation 13:18), when spelled out in the Hebrew alphabet and given the correct arrangement of multiplier dots (using the Hebrew alpha-numeric code system). That person is Caesar Nero (and it only works for a total alpha-numeric value of 666 if you include his title, “Caesar”). It was during his reign that Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…” So much for disobeying the government if we aren’t fond of those in power!
And please remember this: the number 666 only means something if it is the tally of the spelling out of a person’s name using the Hebrew alphabet, along with the proper arrangement of multiplier dots. I’m sure the professor who came from overseas to teach at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis knew this, when he was handed his Missouri auto tag. The auto tag read, S E M - 6 6 6.
We can comment as we see fit about any part of, and any person in, our government (but let’s maintain civility, shall we?). Yet at the end of the day we should thank God profusely for the freedoms we enjoy in this nation. And daily let us pray fervently that they will be protected and maintained.
We are blessed to live in a land where we can pray as we see fit, gather freely for worship, publish copies of the Bible and other fruitful Christian literature, and so forth. Blessings like these are not enjoyed by the people of every nation. So, we sing as we pray: “God bless our native land; Firm may it ever stand Through storm and night…” In Jesus’ name, Amen.
36And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38But Paul thought [it] best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:36-41, ESV)
Just for clarity: “John called Mark” is often referred to as John Mark, or simply Mark. And he was inspired by the Lord to write what we situate as the second of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament. He’s also the one who, when he fled the armed men at Jesus’ arrest, left his garment behind and ran away dressed the same way as when he was born. Perhaps by the time the Spirit led him to recount Jesus’ ministry, John Mark could laugh at that old embarrassment.
Midway through a missionary trip with Paul and Barnabas, John Mark seems to get homesick. He detaches himself from the missionary team in Pamphylia and returns home to Jerusalem. And for that reason, Paul opposed making John Mark part of the team for the next missionary journey. But Barnabas is no light-weight, no more than Paul. And Barnabas stands up for his nephew, insisting that John Mark accompany him and Paul on the trip.
The “sharp disagreement” between these two well-educated, vigorous, faithful preachers of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus might shock us, or perplex us. How can two Spirit-filled vessels clash like that? But then we recall two key facts. First, it happens all the time. And second, there’s a reason why. Even Spirit-made saints (believers who are being sanctified and strengthened by the Holy Spirit) still struggle with the Old Adam (or Old Eve) within. The battle continues between the Inner Sinner and the New Person in Christ. We are, every one of us, “simul justus et peccator”—at once sinner and saint.
The “peccator” (sinner) part of each of us is no cause for celebration. But the tussle between the Old Adam in Paul and Barnabas, as well as the ongoing reality of “church politics,” should not discourage us. As the editors of the Lutheran Study Bible point out, the split between Paul and Barnabas has this result: instead of one missionary trio going forth to refresh and encourage recently planted Christian congregations, there are now two pairs. In effect, since both pairs likely had additional helpers, the work is cut in half and efficiency is doubled.
I’d like you to take (at least) two things away from this event in Acts 15. First, even when we act selfishly, foolishly, or otherwise fail to show spiritual maturity, God can bring about good for the Gospel and for Christ’s Church. And second, it’s not how much press you get that counts. After this parting of ways, Luke’s focus rests on Paul’s ministry: but that doesn’t mean Barnabas’ ministry stops. We just know less about it. Indeed, the Scripture stops the story of the launch and spread of the New Testament Church before Paul’s ministry is over, and with little mention of anyone else’s ministry in action.
Still, I have to smile when I imagine the day Barnabas and Paul reconciled. Did they share dry wine, or sweet? Well, either way I’m sure they laughed at their bullheadedness: each at his own primarily, and both with a warm chuckle over the whole silly thing. And surely both gave God thanks that their journeys bolstered the faith and confidence of so many new Christians. God be praised. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:16-20, ESV)
The Greek word translated “authority” means “authority and the power to exercise it.” Further, “all nations” is not a reference to political entities: it means all ethnicities, or all ethnic groups (Greek: panta ta ethne). Also, baptizing “…in the name of…” can best be understood to mean baptizing “into the name that belongs to…,” which would be the name God delivered to Moses: Yahweh—the one, true, triune God. Finally, “always” really means “every one of the days.”
If we try to take stock of the mystery of the Holy Trinity intellectually, or even using metaphysical philosophy, we’ll probably end up with a headache. If we believe in the triune God (“…one God in three Persons…three Persons in one God”) with the trusting faith of a son or daughter looking up to our heavenly Father, we can boldly confess that our heavenly Father lives and reigns with the Son and the Holy Spirit, “…one God, now and forever,” Amen!
Sometimes on Trinity Sunday, if I’m doing the Children’s Message, I ask the young kids (most of whom are under 10) this question: “Kids, is it true or false that if a(x)2 + b(x) + c = 0, then x equals negative b plus, or minus, the square root of b2 minus 4(ac), all divided by 2(a), provided that b2 minus 4(ac) is greater than or equal to zero?” Of course, they look at me with quizzical expressions; and I tell them it is true, but I don’t expect them to understand all that. God doesn’t expect us to understand him fully, so much as he wants us to receive his love in Christ and love him back.
Paul says that presently we know “in part,” and that in the age to come we will know “fully.” But we entrust the details, dynamics, and particulars of that “full” knowledge to God. In other words, what will we learn when we get to Heaven? God knows! Meanwhile, we stand in awe of God’s majesty; even as we bask, and grow, in the warmth of his mercy. What matters most is now how clearly or fully we understand God, but how completely and lovingly he understands and blesses us. In Jesus’ name, Amen!