A Liar and a Murderer
In John 8:44, Jesus says, "[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
There are two characteristics of Satan that Jesus highlights for us here, to teach us. The first is that the devil is a liar. God's word is truth, and it guides us as a lamp in the darkness showing us our sinfulness and pointing us to Jesus our Savior. The devil seeks to draw you away from the truth of God's word by lying to you, by trying to convince you that God's word is not true. The devil is the chief liar, the source of all lies, the "father of lies" Jesus calls him. His lies are subtle and sneaky. He lies by telling half-truths, by twisting God's word, or by quoting it out of context, just as he did in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and in the wilderness with Jesus.
And why all this lying? In order to serve Satan's second prominent trait; he is a murderer. He seeks to murder you. Satan lies to you to draw you away from God, so that you would serve him, and dwell with him in the everlasting death of hell. That's his goal. He wants to destroy and pervert what God has created good. The highest good of God's creation is human beings, you and me. The devil's eternal destiny is hell, and he wants to pull as many people down with him as possible. He lies in order to murder.
But Satan is defeated. The war between Satan and the Lord, begun in Eden, continued as Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, was finished at the cross and Jesus' empty tomb. Satan lost. Though the war is over, and Satan's final destination is assured, he still wages battles against humanity, especially against God's people. He continues to lie. He wants you to conform to the culture instead of God's word. He wants to confuse good and evil, right and wrong in your mind. He wants you to doubt the promise of your baptism, the certainty that your sins are forgiven, and the continued mercy of God in your life. He wants you to do something, anything, other than being in church on Sunday morning where God's word, and Christ's body and blood strengthen your faith. Don't listen to him. Instead, trust your Lord who has called you out of Satan's darkness into His marvelous light.
The gods of the people around you
In the Book of Deuteronomy God was preparing His people to finally enter the promised land after 40 years of wilderness wandering. He renewed His promises to them and reiterated the 10 commandments (Deut. 5). In Deuteronomy 6, the Lord commands the people that when they enter the land, "You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the people around you" (Deut. 6:14).
This past Sunday we heard of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness by Satan. For forty days Jesus was fasting and being tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1-11). In every case Jesus refutes Satan's attacks with words from Scripture; all three temptations are countered with words found in Deuteronomy 6 and 8. The final temptation, to fall down and worship Satan, Jesus refutes with Deut. 6:13, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve."
Obviously, Deuteronomy 6 verses 13 and 14 go together. In order to worship the true God we must avoid the "gods of the people around" us. What are the gods of the people around us in our culture in our day and age? You may see a statue of Buddha around town or a mosque but there are many other gods of the people around us. Money, sex, fame, power, or security can all become gods.
What other things does our culture value more than God? One way to ponder that question is to identify where our culture spends its money. Consider the great buildings of our day, sports venues, resorts, universities, government buildings, airports. Compare those to the number of churches built. Government data estimates that in 2020 roughly 3.5 billion dollars was spent on construction for religious purposes. Compare that to 98 billion for educational construction, 82 billion for office space, or 25 billion for amusement and recreation construction. Does our culture value those things more than worship of the true God? As Jesus says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
We too would do well to heed the words of the Lord to the Israelites, "You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the people around you."
This week we begin our annual observance of the season of Lent, the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. 40 is a common number in Scripture. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years between the time they left Egypt and when they entered the promised land. Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the wilderness being tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:1-11). These two events are typically referenced as to why our Lenten observance lasts 40 days.
There is another 40-day period from the Old Testament I want to consider as we reflect on Lent, the 40 days that the spies (or scouts) went out to observe the land of Canaan in Numbers 13. Twelve men, one from each tribe, were appointed to go to the land of Canaan to do reconnaissance. They were to see what sorts of things grew in the land, what the people were like, how the cities were fortified, etc. They made their observations for 40 days then reported back to Moses and the others what they had found.
Upon their return all twelve spies reported that the land was indeed fertile and prosperous, a land flowing with milk and honey. Ten of the twelve, however, said that the inhabitants and the cities were too great, too strong to be defeated by the Israelites. They put fear into the hearts of the people. The other two, Joshua and Caleb, responded that with the help of the Lord the people who dwelt in the land would be no match for Israel. The majority prevailed however, convincing the assembly that they could not take the land. This greatly displeased the Lord, and the people were consigned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years before they would enter the promised land.
In a sense, we are like those spies. In Lent we are considering the battles that wage war in our lives, the struggles we face over our own sinfulness, the temptations of this world, and the assaults of Satan. We take time to observe our situation, that we are by nature sinful and unclean, lost without God's mercy and protection. We are waiting to see what the Lord will do about our sin-filled situation. Will he be able to conquer our enemies for us? Will we trust in Him alone, or will we fall back in fear and despair doubting whether God's strength will overcome all our weaknesses? The promised land of heaven is indeed rich and prosperous, but how will we enter there?
We know what awaits us at the end of 40 days as we look forward to Good Friday and Easter. The Lord would defeat our greatest enemies, sin, death, and the devil. On the cross Jesus died for our sin, opening the promised land of heaven to us, and on Easter we see in Jesus’ resurrection a preview of our own. Let us be like Joshua and Caleb confident in our Lord’s promises that he gives us the victory in Jesus.
Does it Sound Like Jesus?
In our daily lives we are inundated with words, words on TV, on the internet, from our radios, in papers, from friends and coworkers. Our world is awash in information and opinions. It's hard to know which pieces of information are true and which ones are not. It's even harder to know whose opinions to listen to and whose to ignore.
The areas of religion and spirituality are not immune to this influx of words. Everyone has a religious opinion it seems, even those who claim to not be religious but only "spiritual." The source of religious authority that would seem to be most dominant in our world today seems to be feelings. The logic goes like this, "If God is causing me to feel this way, then it must be right."
God has a different message for us. This coming Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, when we hear the account of Jesus going up the mountain with Peter, James, and John. There, He is transfigured before them, with his face shining like the sun, His Divine glory on full display. The disciples see Him having a conversation with Moses and Elijah. What a sight that must have been to behold. What feelings must have welled up in those disciples. But perhaps the most important aspect of that event was the voice of God the Father saying about Jesus, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him" (Matt 17:5).
We must measure the words of the world and the feelings of our hearts by what Jesus says. We are to listen to Him. That is, we gauge the soundness of new ideas, the importance of the opinions of men, and the thoughts of our minds by the sure and certain words of Jesus that we find in Holy Scripture. We can be sure what God says is true, and His Word is life-giving.
On Fulfilling the Law
In Matthew 5, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:17-18). Jesus doesn’t abolish or nullify the commandments. Neither does He come to simply reiterate them. Instead, he “fulfills” them. He keeps them. He accomplishes them. Jesus obeys the entire law. He is God, the law is God’s will, so the law is Jesus’ will.
In 1 Corinthians 2, St. Paul says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The content of Paul’s preaching and teaching to the Corinthians is Christ’s death to save us sinners. That’s the Gospel.
The question is, how are these two truths related? Jesus kept the law. In baptism the victory He won over sin and death on the cross is given to you. You are counted as righteous before God on account of faith in the promises of Christ. How then does the law fit in to the Christian life? Remember, Jesus didn’t abolish the law. He fulfilled it. He kept it. He was righteous. So, if Jesus kept the law, and you are clothed with His righteousness, then in the sight of God you have kept the law. You have fulfilled the law. You are counted, like Jesus, as righteous.
The law is not abolished, but our relationship to the law is no longer one of fear or terror. The eternal punishments that come from violating God’s law are rendered null and void for the Christian, because we possess Christ’s righteousness. As Christians, citizens of Christ’s kingdom, our desire is to keep God’s law, to follow His will. Why? Because we know it is good for us. We know God gives us the law for our own good and the good of our neighbor. Our loving Father wants us to promote good and oppose evil. Good works do not save us, yet they are a necessary to the Christian life, and through the power of God's Spirit we do them. Thanks be to God that Jesus has fulfilled the law, given us His righteousness, and stirred up in us the desire to do good.
Our Foolish God
"For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;" (1 Cor 1:25,27).
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,” Paul also writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:22). It seems that things are no different today. People tend to demand both signs and wisdom. On the one hand we want science to prove everything. We want proofs for God, trying to find out what God is like through human wisdom. If God is as good and as loving as he says he is, we want a logical explanation as to why so much evil happens in this world and so much trouble happens in our own lives. Or we treat our own feelings as signs from God. If God’s law is so perfect, we wonder why I feel this way or that way in opposition to that law. If God is so powerful, why doesn’t he fix this problem or that problem. People still want God to give them signs, and they still want to use human wisdom to figure him out.
But the church doesn't have those things available to give. We don’t have the answers to all the world's questions, at least not answers that the world wants. We have only the word of the cross, which to the world today, as it was to many centuries ago, is folly, foolishness. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;”
We don't like looking dumb or foolish. The world thinks the church is foolish with her antiquated ideas of gender, sex, justice, and life. We worship a God who died on a cross. Foolish. Our faith is predicated on that dead man rising from the dead. Foolish. We believe there is a life after death, and eternal bliss for those who trust not in themselves but in the promises of Christ. Foolish. But God chooses the foolish things to bring to naught all the wisdom of this world. “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23). May we always be those who in Godly wisdom follow our foolish God.
No doubt you've heard someone say, "I'm spiritual but not religious" or similarly, "I don't believe in organized religion." Maybe even a friend or family member told you this. But what do these statements even mean? Or what about the so-called "Nones," people who claim no particular religious affiliation? Polling data suggests that over 1/4 of the US population fall into that category. This Pew Research Center survey found that many of these nones don't like the church's stand on social issues or don't like religious organizations in general.
What is at the heart of such convictions? It's pretty simple. The human heart wants what the human heart wants and doesn't want to be told what is right and wrong. "Religions" always have a set of doctrines, of beliefs, a worldview that shapes how that religion thinks about God, and mankind, and the afterlife. To be "spiritual but not religious" means recognizing that there is something outside of or greater than one's self, but not wanting to be subject to it, not wanting to be bound by certain doctrines or ways of thinking. In short, it means believing whatever one wants to believe, letting one's own heart determine truth, and good, and evil. It is a prideful mindset as old as the fall into sin itself.
The prophet Ezekiel experienced this. There were many false prophets spreading their lies during Ezekiel's time. They were all "spiritual but not religious." The Lord says to Ezekiel, "Prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the LORD!’ Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!" (Ezek. 13:2-3). These false prophets spoke from their own hearts and from their own spirits, and not from God's Spirit.
Christianity has God's revealed word in the Scripture to lead our thoughts, words, and actions in this life and to prepare us for the life to come. God is real. He is personal. Sin is real, and it kills, and it separates us from God. God Himself provides the solution to this insurmountable problem, by providing His Son to atone for sin. Faith in the promises of Jesus saves us
So how do we witness to the nones? Start with prayer, and know that it takes time, and as you speak God's word to people it accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it.
Lutheran witness has some great articles on this spiritual but not religious phenomenon, from 2011, 2012, and 2022. Also check out this video.
Remember Your Baptism
The phrase "remember your baptism" is intended to call to mind the reality that you belong to Christ by virtue of your baptism. You are God's child, an heir of God's eternal blessings. When you are tempted to sin, remember your baptism. When you despair over your past sin, remember your baptism. When you feel uncomfortable, singled-out, or even persecuted on account of your Christian faith, remember your baptism. You belong to Jesus. The devil and this world have no claim on you.
This past Sunday, we reflected on Jesus' baptism. Of course, Jesus didn't need baptism for Himself; He is without sin. When John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized, Jesus responded, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” It's a somewhat cryptic statement, isn't it? To what or to whose righteousness is Jesus referring? Yours and mine. By submitting to baptism, Jesus is numbering Himself with us as a sinner. 2Cor. 5:21, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
This is the "great exchange." Christ has exchanged your sin for His righteousness. He takes your sin and atones for it on the cross. In baptism, He then clothes you with the glorious robes of His righteousness. You are now reckoned before God as perfect and holy just as Jesus is. These are the great gifts and promises of baptism. In all things, remember your baptism.
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? It’s a common practice, but resolutions may also be the butt of jokes, especially when not kept! New gym memberships tend to spike each January then fall off the rest of the year. Someone may tell you of their resolution and you know that person well enough to realize they won’t follow through. However, there’s nothing really wrong with the practice. It’s wise to look over your life and find things you might want to change and make a concerted effort in that area.
Have you ever considered spiritual New Year’s resolutions? You might resolve to read the entire Bible over the course of the year. Perhaps, you could resolve to spend a certain number of minutes praying each day, listen to a specific theological podcast, or read sections of the Book of Concord this year. Of course, it’s always good at the beginning of the year to resolve to be in church each Lord’s day whenever possible to receive his gifts. You need the body of Christ, and the rest of the body of Christ needs you!
I encourage you to read Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller's thoughts on New Year’s resolutions. Also, if more frequent Bible reading is part of your New Year’s resolutions you might check out this old Weekly Word (especially the Something Good from the Internet Section). Each month in our newsletter we publish daily readings to read through the entire Bible in a year, and I will also be adding the daily readings to the Weekly Word this year so you’ll have two ways to find that information.
In many parts of the world December 26th is celebrated as "boxing day." No, it's not a day to celebrate the heavyweight champion. Traditionally, it was the day when people would give a Christmas "box" to those in need, or to those in service positions. More recently it has become the day to shop the after-Christmas sales, and to "box up" and return unwanted Christmas presents.
This day is also the day when the church recognizes the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the church. The account of Stephen is found in Acts 7. Stephen had recently been selected as a deacon in Acts 6, and quickly found himself at odds with some of the local Jewish authorities. After a passionate sermon from Stephen, these authorities were not pleased with what they heard and proceeded to stone Stephen.
How do these two things, boxing day and St. Stephen's feast day, relate? We all have at one point or another received a gift we didn't want, something we may have boxed up and returned. But the gifts of God are not things we would want to return. In the birth of Jesus, God gives Himself to us, the greatest gift we could receive. Through His death and resurrection God gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation. The world would have us deny those gifts. In the face of persecution and even death, St. Stephen held fast to the gifts and promises of Jesus. May we also deny ourselves and hold as precious the gifts our Lord gives us in Christ Jesus.