Ichthus (ΙΧΘΥΣ) is the Greek word for fish. The fish was often used as a symbol of Christianity by early Christians. In fact, it may be one of the oldest Christian symbols. It makes sense. Fishing is a common theme in the New Testament; several of Jesus' disciples were fishermen, Jesus fed large groups with bread and fish, Jesus cooked fish, Jesus says in Matthew 13:47 that the "the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind." The Greek word ichthus can be used as an acronym for Jesus, Christ, Of God, Son, Savior, or in English order, Jesus Christ the Son of God, Savior. (See image below).
When Jesus called Peter and Andrew as disciples, He said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” They would no longer be catching fish but would be catching people to be a part of God's kingdom. So, in a way each of us is like a little fish! We have been caught in the net of Christ's church by the various fishermen that have proclaimed to us God's word and administered to us His sacraments.
An early church theologian, Tertullian (c. 160-220), picks up on this fish-person analogy in his treatise on baptism. He writes that as water sustains fish, “we, little fishes, after the image of our Ichthus, Jesus Christ, are born in the water (of baptism) nor are we safe but by remaining in it.” Fish and water go together, so also the Christian and baptism. Think about your baptism from time to time, and when you do so, remember that through baptism you are one of God's fish graciously caught up in the net of His kingdom.
In 1973, the Supreme Court decided the infamous Roe v Wade, a ruling striking down various Texas laws restricting abortion. It is estimated that since that ruling, 63 million unborn babies have lost their lives due to abortion in this country. Recently, the court overturned that ruling by deciding the case Dobbs v Jackson affirming the constitutionality of a Mississippi law which states, "[e]xcept in a medical emergency or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality, a person shall not intentionally or knowingly perform . . . or induce an abortion of an unborn human being if the probable gestational age of the unborn human being has been determined to be greater than fifteen (15) weeks.” This ruling opens the way for states to make their own rules on the legality of abortion within that state.
We have been led to believe that the abortion debate has created a great political divide. Perhaps that is true at the level of national politics but there is some surprising agreement among many everyday Americans. (See article linked below.) But how should we understand this issue theologically?
There are several Biblical passages one can turn to including in Psalm 139, "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Or Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." But perhaps the most beautiful understanding of life in the womb is found in the incarnation of Jesus Himself. The Dobbs v. Jackson ruling was announced on June 24th, which the church for centuries has celebrated as the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. This feast day commemorates the visit of the pregnant Virgin Mary to her also pregnant cousin Elizabeth as recorded in Luke 1. Elizabeth says to Mary, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” The unborn Jesus was Elizabeth's Lord and John's. Even in the womb, John knew that he was in the presence of the Lord. Life in the womb is human life. Our God took on the flesh of an unborn child in the womb of His mother, showing that such life is precious to Him.
This is a Letter to the Editor I wrote that was published in the Wise County Messenger earlier this month. The links below are some of the source material for that letter:
Every Divine Service concludes with the words, "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace." This is the Benediction, words that God gave to Aaron in Numbers 6. God promised that as the priests said these words over the people, "they shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them." But what does it mean to pray for the Lord's face to shine upon us? It turns out this phrase appears elsewhere in Scripture, including several times in the Psalms. For example, in Psalm 119:135 we read, "Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes." In Daniel 9:17, "O Lord, make your face shine upon your sanctuary which is desolate." In Revelation 1:16 Jesus is described like this: "In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength." Or think about the Mount of Transfiguration when the face of Jesus "shone like the sun" as witnessed by Peter, James, and John (Matt 17:2).
Obviously, the Lord's face shining upon us is a good thing! It is a sign of God's favor toward us. We wouldn't want our Lord to look upon us with a gloomy face, or a face of anger, wrath, or even disappointment. The shining face of God upon us is an indication that God is pleased with us and wants to give us His blessing. God's shining face from the Old Testament is completed in Christ. Jesus' light brings us from the darkness of our sin to the light of His mercy. It is Jesus of whom John speaks in 1 John 1:5, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." The shining face of Jesus is shown most gloriously in His disfigured and bloody face upon the cross, where He took the darkness of our sin upon Himself.
When Moses talked with the Lord on Mount Sinai, he came down off the mountain, and his face was shining. The shining face of God had rubbed off on Moses, and his face shone to such a degree that he had to cover it with a veil when he talked with God's people. Similarly, God's shining face is reflected on us, His people, as we live lives of service to our neighbor and bear witness to God's mercy in Christ.
I preached on the concept of Christian freedom a couple Sundays ago, but on this day when we commemorate the independence of our nation, I want to briefly take up the topic again. Freedom is a loaded word in American culture. The nation itself was founded on the idea of people having the fundamental right to be free of tyrannical governments. The founders believed that people should be free to govern themselves for the most part. One can debate how far we as a nation have deviated from that ideal, yet the concept of "freedom" still permeates our culture.
Sadly, freedom often comes to mean something else, or perhaps it has always been misunderstood in this way. For many, freedom means being "free" to do whatever one wants. In this way of thinking, God's law is seen only as constraining. God Himself is understood as a cosmic killjoy, a tyrant who just wants to ruin our fun. To be free is to be unconstrained by God's law. This is a false freedom. In fact, such a mindset is an enslavement to one's own desires.
True freedom comes from Christ. Christ frees us from the eternal penalty of being lawbreakers. He frees us from death and hell. He frees us to worship Him alone and serve our neighbor because we no longer are bound by our own fleshly desires. Through His death on the cross Christ has freed us from the bonds of sin. In Romans 6, St. Paul tells us, "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Thanks be to God!