14 May 2022
13 May 2022
12 May 2022
11 May 2022
07 May 2022
06 May 2022
Cf. Certainly the sacraments of the body and blood of Christ are a divine thing, through which we are made partakers of the divine nature; and yet the substance or nature of bread and wine does not cease to be. – Pope St. Gelasius, De duabis nature. In Chr. Adv. Eutych. Et Nestor. Patrology IV, 1:422
Spring Pastor’s Conference Meditation: Sola Scriptura
May 2nd, 2022
St. Matthew 4:1-4
In Nomine Jesu
“It is written.” Sola Scriptura. Without fail the church is convulsed with various crisis that shape their whole subsequent existence. I think here of the Ecumenical Councils which hammered out sound credal confession. I think of the Christological controversies that carefully navigated the proper understanding and relationship of the two natures in Christ. I think of Seminex and those who fought tirelessly for the sole authority of the Scriptures over against any human authority. I think of the educational and confessional crises that we face in our higher institutions of learning. And as of late, I think back mostly to the Predestinarian controversy in the 1880’s over the doctrine of election, and I ponder the words that were exchanged between C.F.W Walther and one of his former students.
Walther: “I ask you upon your conscience, in the presence of God, do you not believe that this controversy on Election will shiver our dear Missouri Synod into fragments? Alas! What will become of us? How many will remain? The pastor replied: “Dear Doctor, I do not believe any will leave us, excepting perhaps seven or eight who are not and have not been Missourians at heart, such as heed the Word only, though it be contrary to all reason…But in every controversy only this, what has God said?” Or as Jesus said to the tempter, “It is written.” Or as the Reformers confessed, Sola Scriptura.
Right after His baptism, our Lord endure a most grievous crisis. Sent out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil for 40 days. Then proceeded all sorts of grandiose plans for a successful career. The decisions He faced were fundamental to His person and work as the Messiah. I suppose, some might flippantly say that it wasn’t that bad for Jesus. Yet at its core, they were as simple as they were crucial: faith or unbelief, obedience or disobedience, cross or no cross, “It is written” or, “Did God really say,” Sola Scriptura or Sola Ratio.
As pastors, you are on the frontlines and in the trenches of a cosmic war. You know intimately that Christ’s Church is assailed by Satan, by those who don’t want to live beneath Word of God but above it, by those whose confessional subscription would reflect more a quatenus (in so far as) than a quia (because), and by those who want to fashion the Church according to the alluring promises of Satan. You are aware of the theological hesitation and indecision over the years in our Missouri Synod that has simply accumulated to a point where we now have produced crises in our life as church that can no longer be evaded or ignored.
To break the hypnotic spell of the ecumenical mushiness and pagan progressive ideals that buffet the Church we must return to the “It is written,” to the Sola Scriptura. We must have a clear grasp of the true Biblical doctrine of what the Church really is, as it is so beautifully confess in AC 7 and 8, in the Smalcald Articles, and in the Large Catechism. A pile of stones is not yet the Church, thus a pile of churches is not the Church. Only that is the Church which is built on the foundation of the prophetic and apostolic Word, Jesus Christ Himself being its cornerstone. “It is written.” Sola Scriptura. In every controversy only this: “What has God said?”
St. Athanasius wrote after outlining the Old and New Testaments, “These are the fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me” (Festal Letter, 39:6-7). Jesus is clear, anything but Him as the key that unlocks the fountains of truth and grace from the well spring of Scripture is a demonic imitation. Sadly, many pastors and laity are tragically trapped within their own hubris, the false piety of the devil, or their conscience is ever vacillating between “Did God really say,” or the Sola Scriptura of “It is written.”
It is quite evident that the real Church, the mystical body of Christ, is and remains hidden to mortal eyes. It lives under the cross and suffers many weaknesses, sins, and offenses, within and without. We may see the Devil’s enticing promises of grandeur and magnificence, of “all the kingdoms of the world,” but we must believe and confess the Church—she is an article of faith. We find her not by sight but only by faith in her pure marks, in the purely preached Gospel, and the purely administered Sacraments. For as a creature of the Word of God, the Church always remains under the Word. She lives, not by the bread of men, but by the bread of God that comes down from heaven and gives life and salvation to the tempted, the fallen, and the broken. The Sola Scriptura of Christ’s Word comes first, and it alone determines what the Church is and what it is not.
The promise, “It is written,” alone keeps you, even as it keeps the One who spoke it into existence. This is the great confession of Jesus in desert amid the devil’s wiles: “It is God’s promise alone which keeps me. By it I live by faith, and not by gazing at bread. No, I see no bread and am starving; I see no water and I am dying of thirst; I see no men who believe in me, yet I am to bring them the kingdom.” Jesus does not believe in bread but in the promises; He believes in “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Sola Scriptura. And if the Word now gives Him bread in His great hunger, He will thank God. The connection to sola fide and sola gratia should be obvious to you here. And if that same Word refuses Him the loaf, he will go on hungering and believing in God’s promise that He is destined to a great work and will not die of hunger. The very Word of God is the Lord in this hour, and Jesus lives by it. And so do you as His undershepherds, men who feed and tend the lambs of the Good Shepherd’s flock even as you are tended and fed by same living voice, the same living waters of Baptism, and the same Table prepared in the midst of fierce and demonic enemies.
This is always the real crisis: that we are always in temptation, even as we pray not to be led into it. The tempter is always within our hearts. He comes not as foe, but as friend. He courteously said what we had always thought: “Did God really say this? Did He not mean it this way? Would it not suit Him if you now did this or that, instead of taking His Word, all too literally, of believing Sola Scriptura?
Even as the devil is deep within our hearts. Though our hearts condemn us, Christ Jesus justifies us in His blood-sealed promise, “It is written,” your sins are forgiven. Your death is destroyed. Your life is always with me, for I am in you and you are in Me. I am the Vine, you are the branches.” Abiding in your Savior, you will join your voices to the confession of St. Gregory of Nyssa, “Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine Words” (on the Holy Trinity, NPNF, p. 327). “It is written.” Sola Scriptura.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son [+] and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Helmut Thielicke, Between God & Satan: The Temptation of Jesus (Michigan, Oil Lamp Press, 2010), 65-66.
“The Election-by-Grace Doctrinal Controversy and Doctrine of Justification” in Propter Christum: Christ & the Center: Essays in Honor of Daniel Preus (Luther Academy, 2013), 400-401.
Truth, Salvatory and Churchly. Works of Kurt E. Marquart. Vol III Essays Historical and Historic (Luther Academy, 2018), 17, 22.
05 May 2022
04 May 2022
29 April 2022
28 April 2022
It is not only godly, pious, and believing Christians who orally eat Christ's true body and blood in the Sacrament. So do unworthy, godless hypocrites, like Judas and his ilk, who have no spiritual communion with Christ, and who go to the Lord's Table without true repentance and conversion to God. St. Paul teaches clearly that by their unworthy eating and drinking they grievously sin against Christ's body and blood. (1 Cor. 11:27). —FC SD VII:60
27 April 2022
26 April 2022
25 April 2022
23 April 2022
21 April 2022
...gathering for the birthdays of these lovely ladies. Together they tally 119, though you'd never know it, right?
And as usual, after dinner we threw a few games of pinochle which the gentlemen, gallant as they are, permitted the ladies to win. I don't think they were even aware when we were doing it.
20 April 2022
19 April 2022
17 April 2022
16 April 2022
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrows the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: "My Lord be with you all." Christ answered him: "And with your spirit." He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying, "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."
I am your God, who for your sake has become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on a cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by the cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
--An Ancient Homily, read at Matins of Holy Saturday, variously attributed: St. Epiphanius of Bishop of Cyprus (A.D. 403) or St. Melito of Sardis (A.D. 180), but truthfully just unknown.
15 April 2022
Let’s take the hints and unfold them: Mary first. You meet Mary only twice in St. John’s gospel. The first time is in chapter two, at a wedding feast. That is significant! There, you remember, Mary interceded for the young couple with Jesus, but he replied: “Woman, my hour is not yet.” Nevertheless, there He worked His first sign, turning water into wine. And His disciples believed in Him.
The next place you meet Mary is under the cross where she stands next to John, the beloved disciple. And Jesus speaks those tender words to her: “Woman, behold your son!” and to John “behold, your mother.” But what is it that is going on in those words? Quite simply, Jesus is bidding His mother good-bye. Now, ask yourself, when is it in Scripture that a man leaves his father and mother? Is it not when he is to be joined to his wife and become one flesh with her?
And when at the creation of the world, God created woman, did he not do so by first putting the man to sleep, and then taking from his side, a bride? So in John’s Passion, it is after our Lord has been put into the sleep of death that his side is opened by a spear.
And then there is the mystery of what flowed from His side: blood and water. The Church has long looked at this in awe and recognized here the very fountain from which the Sacraments spring. For this water is the water of Baptism, mingled with the blood of Christ. And this Blood is the Blood of the Eucharist, mingled with the water of life. And through these sacraments, Christ’s own life creates His Church, His beloved Bride. And why? That she and He might become one.
For that is what the cross of Jesus is all about. He becoming one with us in our sin, bearing it to death, that by being joined to us His death might be the death of our sin and that we by being joined to Him might be given His pure and sinless life. Think of it! When a couple marries and one of them is wealthy and having everything while the other is impoverished and having nothing, what happens? In their becoming one, the debt is assumed and answered for, and the wealth is given to the impoverished one. So it is between us our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what Good Friday is all about. It’s just one of the reasons we call this day alone in all the year “good” because on this day the greatest good, way beyond our imagining, befell us.
As you prepare to listen to the Passion, listen to it with ears of faith and hear in this wondrous story the account of how Your Lord Jesus is suffering and dying in order that He might be joined to you as a Bridegroom to a Bride, that His life might flow into you and overcome and destroy your death, that His forgiveness might come to you and wipe out the entirety of your sinful indebtedness. “Lo, stained with blood, the Lamb of God, The Bridegroom, lies before thee, Pouring out His life that He may to life restore thee.” Grant us such faith, O Holy Spirit! Amen.
13 April 2022
12 April 2022
Well, people loved by God, you just heard the Passion according to St. Mark. Did it feel like a little bit of dejavu? Did you notice how similar it was to what you heard on Sunday from St. Matthew? Similar, but not quite the same and particularly at one point. After the prayer in the Garden and the arrest of Jesus, Matthew marches straight from “Then all the disciples left him and fled” to the trial. St. Mark, however, immediately following “And they all left him and fled” includes something extra. “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” (14:51, 52)
We, of course, want to know who it was, but the Holy Spirit did not inspire the Evangelist to spill the beans on that. We get a bit further, though, if we to stop to ask: why? Why did St. Mark include such an odd detail in his Passion?
Now before I attempt an answer, I need to tell you a couple of things. First, the term used for “young man” here occurs only one other time in Mark’s Gospel. You'll hear it again come Easter morning, when the women arrive at the tomb. “And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe.” (16:5). Neaniskos. The same term in both spots.
And then there’s also this, the Greek term translated “linen cloth” that was about the young man’s naked body is actually sindona and this exact same term is used in Mark 15:46 “And Joseph bought a linen shroud, sindona, and taking Jesus down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock.”
And then add one more tidbit from the Church’s history. Think back to the last Baptism you witnessed. How was the child dressed? Usually in a beautiful white garment, right? Well, anciently NO ONE came to baptism wearing a white garment. In fact, no one came to baptism wearing anything at all, whether they were child or adult. Here’s from an ancient baptism liturgy: “When they come to the water, let the water be pure and flowing. And they shall put off their clothes. And they shall baptize the little children first. And if they can answer for themselves, let them answer. But if they cannot, let their parents answer or someone from their family. And next they shall baptize the grown men; and last the women who shall have loosed their hair and laid aside their gold ornaments. Let no one go down to the water having any alien object with them.” (Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition, xxi.2-5) No clothes, no nothing on your body when people anciently went into the Baptismal water. As naked as the day you were born, so on the day you were born again.
And one last piece from St. Paul: Romans 6:4 (ESV) We were buried therefore with him [with Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Now, with all that laid out, let’s go back and think our way through this question of why such a detail was included in the account of our Lord’s Passion according to St. Mark. The young man “followed Him.” Not them. HIM. That is, the young man is quite literally a follower of Christ. And he did not want to leave his Jesus. But what Jesus was getting ready to do in His Passion was something He would have to do alone. He had told his followers this: John 13:33 (ESV) “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’”
The disciples cannot follow Him where He is going; this anonymous young man cannot follow Him where He is going; neither you nor I can follow Him where He is going. That which He now does, He will do all alone.
And the young man ran away naked. People loved by God, the passion of Christ does that to you. It stripes away all your fig leaves. It exposes all your fears. Everything you've ever been afraid of falls squarely on Jesus as you heard. Being betrayed by a close friend, sold for 30 pieces of silver? Having your other friend deny that he even knows you? Having all your buddies run away and leave you in the hands of your enemies who abuse you? You ever afraid of being beat up? What about being accused of something you didn't do? You ever wanted to cry out: "But it's not fair!" You want to talk about not fair? What about fear of physical torture, and of death itself? Or everyone making fun of you, when you become the public laughing stock? And hardest of all, what about being afraid that God has left you, washed his hands of you, abandoned you, just like all your so-called friends did? Oh, Jesus goes to His cross to endure the unthinkable long loneliness of sin and hell and everything you're terrified of. He takes it all into Himself in a way you cannot even begin to fathom. There's no getting INSIDE His: “Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani.” In the darkness, He bears it all alone. He bears it for you.
And yet He bears it without it breaking Him. It would break you or me. Hands down, we wouldn't survive. But He bears it without it destroying either His trust in His heavenly Father or His great love for you and me. And so it was forgiveness and life there on the Cross. As the Centurion saw and confessed: Truly, this was the Son of God. And that's what makes all His sufferings of all our fears and sins be SAVING sufferings. It's nothing less than the death of God for us.
So the young man loses his garment just as the ancient Church had all the candidates for Baptism do; they had to strip down stark naked. The young man’s clothing, it turned out, was only funeral duds, after all, just a burial shroud. But Jesus takes it, and all alone, He does what would wipe us out by bearing all our sins and fears. He wraps Himself up in them, so that by His suffering, death, burial and then resurrection, He could provides some new duds for His followers to wear that will chase away all fear forever! Jesus shoves us out of the way to take our place on Golgotha that we may take our place with Him at the Father's table in the Kingdom.
So today, at His Supper, He will come to you again to give you that very body and blood that once, naked, upon a cross answered for all your sin and fear and that now live, almighty and everlasting, to plead for you in love before His Father's throne, asking always that you might be clothed in the shining white garment of His perfect righteousness.
Why the young man running away naked? That you might learn that Jesus alone had to bear His passion but that He did it that you might be clothed in His resurrected life.
We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You for by Your holy Cross you have redeemed the world. Amen.