The other evening I watched a special on the Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, the “boy king”. His name means “living image of Amun”. Amun was one of the Egyptian gods. King Tut’s father, Akhetaten introduced a new religion: the worship of a sun god, Aten. He named his son Tutankhaten: “living image of Aten”. King Tut’s father even changed the center of religion from it’s ancient site, Thebes(present day Luxor ) to a new city and center of religion, Amarna up the Nile, which Akhetaten built. It lasted as long as King Tut’s father Akhetaten was alive. The priests of the traditional idols did not like the move, so when Akhetaten died, his son King Tut moved back to Luxor and the traditional gods and King Tut changed his name to the one history knows him.
In Jeremiah 2: 11 we read,
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for that which does not profit.
Jeremiah is amazed that Israel had forsaken the Lord while the pagan idolaters would never throw over their false gods, nor think to do so! Why? Looking for a proof for the one true God is tricky business but I think the verse above points to a type of verification. Man, apart from the one true God, will persist in their falsehood because of sheer pride. Even when one nation, Egypt did change their gods, it was only by force of Pharoah and they quickly went back to their idols.The reason Israel (and us!) leave the one true God is our original sinful tendency to spurn the one who truly loves us and then commit adulteries. This is the Lord put the words “adultery” and “whore”, as the only description possible, into His Word through the prophets to accurately describe Israel. We only leave the One who actually loves as He set His heart upon Israel and the whole world. Israel could only and ever leave, change their glory, because the Lord is trueand truth and loves His people. We crave our idols. Unredeemed man insists on his idols because finally they are made in our own image: all of fleshly lusts and desires and aspirations writ large. For instance, Zeus, or Jupiter was constantly having affairs with humans as humans do. The Lord does not! My opinion of Roman and Greek mythology that it is nothing more than a divine soap opera writ large, but once hooked…it is like looking in the mirror or the image of lusts today: the selfie. Like Narcissus we look at our image till we fall and drown. Old Adam does not want to overthrow himself! The Lord does and has, as He did to Israel, as foretold by Jeremiah and the prophets. Then He gives us forgiveness in the only perfect image of Himself: Jesus Christ. No nation has ever changed it’s gods, until the one true God comes into the picture. I do not know if this constitutes, “proof”, yet it does point us to the right direction, that is, away from our selves. This again proves our sin and maybe even show us again, we can not imagine any god who would actually love us enough to say No so we can know His forgiveness. The closest natural man has to the one true God are true fathers and mothers. The gods, that is the idols, love only to possess and control and brutally enslave, as man can and has. The Lord loves to set the captive free as He did Israel in Egypt and now the whole enslaved world through Christ that we believe the good news of our freedom.
At this time the Daily Lectionary Old Testament readings are from the prophet Jeremiah. Yesterday’s lesson is Jeremiah 3: 6-4:2 in which we read:
The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore?
False gods were worshiped on “…every high hill and under every green tree”. Before the building of Temple in Jerusalem, Israel and Judah had some hundred shrines. After the Temple was built, these worship sites became infused with Canaanite idolatry, combining the worship of the one true God with false gods. This is called “syncretism”. Since Canaanite idolatry was a fertility cult for the male and female deities to unite and so ‘insure’ the fertility of the land for a good harvest; and so there were cult prostitutes to unite with the heretical priest to manipulate the deities for their favor. Israel could well have been both spiritually and physically playing the whore, though the distinction between physical and spiritual is not as distinct as we tend to think.
What is a whore? A woman who sells her body to men for sex. Israel had sold out to false gods and it sure seems it is usually for sex as idolatry leads ever to fornication. The prophetic pattern against sin is always in this order: idolatry, then immorality. False gods demand exorbitant fees, and as they are demons (see 1 Corinthians 10:20) , we sell our soul to them, the faustian ‘bargain‘, and so lose our soul. Israel was losing her soul as were the Christians in Corinth. The devil’s best stratagem is not necessarily and initially direct appeals to the flesh but appeals to spirituality and the so-called refinements of sophisticated spirituality. This is great cover up which eventually leads to lusts of the flesh, e.g. divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage,”hooking-up”, orgies and drugs, pornography. We have seen this with churches one by one falling like dominos.
The Lord first warned about the high places. Israel bought into a lie, but the one true God can not be bought. He is truth as He is love. Here we can see the utter reality of the Lord: He can not be bought or need we to sell our souls to Him! The false gods always want us to sell out our bodies and souls like a whore for the price of our freedom in Christ. He found and saved Israel, not Israel by herself at all. He bought them and brought them with cords of love, Hosea 11:
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim* to walk;
I took them up by their arms,
but they did not know that I healed them.
4 I led them with cords of kindness,
with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
and I bent down to them and fed them.
And as the Lord spoke His Word through Jeremiah:
“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.
13 Only acknowledge your guilt,
that you rebelled against the Lord your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the Lord.
“You are a member of the first generation of doctors in the history of medicine to turn their backs on the oath of Hippocrates and kill millions of old useless people, unborn children, born malformed children, for the good of mankind —and to do so without a single murmur from one of you. Not a single letter of protest in the august New England Journal of Medicine. And do you know what you’re going to end up doing? You a graduate of Harvard and a reader of the New York Times and a member of the Ford Foundation’s Program for the Third World? Do you know what is going to happen to you? . . . You’re going to end up killing Jews.”
There was a famous TV preacher who wrote a book about the Beatitudes entitled, “The Be Happy Attitudes”. What a crock! Full disclosure: I have not read said book. I guess that the way to be ‘Be Happy Attitudes’ is by us thinking positive, happy thoughts and doing positive happy things. In it’s place, that’s okay but in terms of the Lord’s so great a salvation, it’s all on me but the clear sense of the Beatitudes, our blessing, our salvation, does not rest on me or you but upon the One who blesses that is the Lord. The problem is not unhappiness primarily but sin crucially. The false, ‘be happy attitudes’ are aspiration, our going up to God. The Lord’s Beatitudes are inspiration. Inspiration is literally “in spirited”, hallowed, made holy by the Holy Spirit witnessing to the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, filling the lungs of our souls with the Spirit of His grace, mercy and peace. All the saints in Christ have known this in Christ.
The Lord who calls the least, the last and the lost into His reign seems to enjoy creating out of nothing, as He did the heavens and the earth. On each day of creation, after creating out of nothing, by His Word, He said, “It is good”. The Lord likewise redeemed the saints out of the nothingness of sin, death and the power of the devil, by His blood shed for us all. The saints are the roll call of the least, the last and the lost. His redemption is good. His blood is for our good. His blood made us His, justified by grace through faith, as He became sin.
During an interview with a comedian, the topic was atheism and faith. The comedian was asked are you believer? After all, aren’t you a Roman Catholic?” “Yeah, I believe and I’m a Roman Catholic but with what’s been happening recently, I believe the book but not the cast.” I guess the “cast” being the priests, bishops etc. and I took the book to be the Bible, the Word of God. Not a bad answer. I believe the book, the Word of God and more than that: because of His Word toward us in Jesus Christ, the lodestar of the Bible is why I believe His book, His Word. What is His Word toward us and all humankind? It’s not a principle, a program, a holy political platform, an ideal that the Lord presents and proclaims to us but he comes to us in a very concrete person: Jesus Christ.
The comedian went amiss though with his jibe at the “cast”. The Bible is quite a cast of characters!
- Abraham, a pagan idolater to be father of nations;
- Moses, murdered an Egyptian the same Moses who didn’t talk so well is given the Law to lead a people out of slavery by speaking God’s Word;
- a prostitute, Rahab saves Israel in the fall of Jericho;
- a Gentile woman, a Moabite, Ruth becomes the foremother of King David and Jesus Christ, David’s Lord; David, a shepherd boy;
- “I’m only a youth” Jeremiah, a teenager called to proclaim God’s unvarnished truth to a very wayward Israel;
- Peter, James and John, fishermen called to be Apostles into the world with the light of Jesus Christ;
- Paul, persecutor and would-be murdered of Christians…and it’s a cast of millions as we heard in the first lesson. They did this all by faith alone.
God loves the world. It is not an ideal man that He loves, but man as he is; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find abominable in man’s opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, the real man, the real world, this is for God the ground for unfathomable love, and it is with this that He unites Himself utterly. God becomes man, real man.
God became a real man so we can be real men and women. This cast I trust because they were (and are!) so very real and loved and called by the real Lord to be his real people, really knowing they are sinners at the same time made right, justified in Christ alone and His work, as worked out in our lives by the Holy Spirit.
Beatitudes are the blessing of Jesus Christ toward real men and real women. If the Lord wanted to bless ideal men and women, he would have said, Blessed are the rich in spirit, Blessed are those who are positive Blessed are the warriors, Blessed are the powerful…If the Lord had wanted only ideal men to come to Him, He would still be sitting on that mount waiting to open His mouth till this day. But open His mouth He did: Blessed are the poor in spirit, mourning, etc…not exactly a recruiting poster for denominational Christianity purpose driven, positive thinking, your best life now as the purveyors of the national religion with their feet planted firmly in their time teach it. but real men and real women, the least the last the lost. “The Few, the Proud, the Marines” is a good recruiting ad but in the One who calls us its, the many, the lowly, poor in spirit, mourning at the way the world is to be His saints. But there is a similarity between the marines and the saints in one way: both are in formation. The saints are not being conformed to the pattern of this present world but being transformed by Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s tools are in arsenal of His Word: faith, peace, prayer, salvation. The saints are a work in progress, to be saints, but His work always. Unlike the other Marine slogan, “Never given, always earned”, here it is Always given, never earned. And also: Always given, ever learned.
This cast both then and now have a script, the Scripture, our lines, His inerrant Word to learn, pray, speak and live. The problem is when we are always adlibbing our own lines, thinking we know what the playwright really wanted to say and it’s look at me I’m pretty good. “Oh, I want my part to really be moving” and we act out of character. We should know our lines, and the Lord’s lines are good. Man does not like the Playwright’s Script and rewrites it, but once that is done, it is no longer the real play and the Script-ure is nothing to play around with. When man starts rewriting the Bible, like Joseph Smith, Mohammed and liberal/progressive Christianity, the result will always be a water downed version with lines that might be tough but will always be showing how holy we are. It’s called being a Pharisee, a hypocrite. The Lord, blessed be His Name has given us His real lines for real people that eventually by faith through His grace we cherish in our hearts and souls and minds to live them in real living. When an actor auditions and does well he will receive a call back. Now we receive callbacks from time to time, not when we have done well, but we are called back when we have done not done well at all: flubbed our lines, tried to hog the stage, talked about others in the cast. The Lord calls us back in true repentance, by His Law, the script that is totally demanding, to confess our bad acting and be forgiven by His grace alone.
This past Friday, Pr. David Ongwaye messaged me on Facebook about how I was doing and I told him I was making Scripture cards to go along with the candy we passed out on Halloween at the Mission. He wrote, Trick or treating? I don’t know what you’re talking about! I explained Trick or Treating to our Kenyan brother. He wrote back:
“It must be enjoyable and such (a) show of kindness should always be the fruit of our spirit as Christians. That is why we are unique people!” I responded: “That’s a good thought! I never thought of trick or treating that way!” Pr. Ongwaye: “What else can we say! How can we be known to be Christ’s disciples if we can’t show our love to our neighbours!”.
His Church is cast of millions upon millions, that John could not count from every tribe, nation, tongue. The saints love in word and deed. Saints believe and saints live the faith always in Christ in the communion of saints. We remember those who have exited the stage who’s part in our lives sustained us and other saints granted by the Lord for major roles who of course weren’t acting at all. They knew who they were because they knew Who’s they were: Jesus’ own. Jesus has promised there will be a cast reunion in the resurrection into the Kingdom come. This cast, His Church, His communion of saints, is not perfect, by any stretch and yet it is not an excuse to do bad but to love as we have been so loved. This communion of saints is not an ideal or utopian community but a real one, a real cast of characters. In a stage rehearsals, the manager is there with the script feeding lines to the actors as they learn the script, so is the Holy Spirit. The saints are not us vs. them but in Christ Jesus for us all. A cast that does not lift high themselves, but lifts high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore His sacred Name. We bear on our brows the sign of Him who died and rose for us all. Lift high His Cross so others may know the Way, the Truth and the life, Jesus Christ.
Our Confession approves honors to the saints. For here a threefold honor is to be approved.
- The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy; because He has shown that He wishes to save men; because He has given teachers or other gifts to the Church. And these gifts, as they are the greatest, should be amplified, and the saints themselves should be praised, who have faithfully used these gifts, just as Christ praises faithful business-men, 5] Matt. 25:21, 23.
- The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace truly superabounds over sin, Rom. 5:20.
- The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues, which every one should imitate according to his calling. These true honors the adversaries do not require. They dispute only concerning invocation, which, even though it would have no danger, nevertheless is not necessary.
This World War II American anti-Nazi poster is definitely from a different era. The concern clearly expressed is that the Nazis were the enemy of the Christian faith represented by the Bible. The Nazis were trying to kill the Bible, that is the Word of God. In fact, the Nazis even produced their own Bible which is called “the Hitler Bible”. Hitler and company did their own version of the commandments, Hitler’s 12 commandments.
The federal government produced this poster in ’43, and 71 years later, government (federal, state and local) is trying to do what the Nazis could not. A Houston mayor subpoenas pastors for their sermons because they brought a lawsuit against the city regarding LGBT style legislation for unisex public bathrooms. Prayers in school and at public events forbidden. Anti-Zionism is just a mask of the new antisemitism. Universities and the military removing Bibles in their guest rooms, curtailing the Gideons. The social ostracization of churches who deny same-sex ‘marriage’ (pseudogamy, false marriage) as “homophobic”. I do not think that we are living a Nazi-like nation, but it must be remembered that when the Nazis began their campaign against Church and synagogue, many thought this was a good thing. Those who did not, said little or nothing…and churches saying nothing as if in the poster, now the Bible is the enemy and killing the Word is a good thing.
The knife to Scripture was not first wielded by secularist proponents, but by friends of the Bible: 19th and 20th Biblical scholarship. The Biblical scholarship that denied Scriptural inerrancy and authority. It was initially less like a knife and more like a scalpel, removing those living parts of God’s Word that do not comport with the secularist, worldly agenda: ordination of men, abortion, greed,lust, same-sex marriage and the denial of gender, etc. Again, this was done within the Church, by ‘friends’ who were (are) trying to make the Bible relevant, timely, palatable and all under the rubric of ‘doing good’. Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus for Him to use the Word for His own purposes for ‘doing good’, on the devil’s terms. This is grim. This is the struggle of our time, against the zeitgeist of the powers and principalities in the heavenly places (see Ephesians 6:12 ).
The most sung and loved of the sizable number of Reformation hymns is “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Dr. Martin Luther, the last stanza, emphasis my own:
God’s Word forever shall abide, No thanks to foes who fear it;
For God Himself fights by our side with the weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house, Goods, honor, child or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.
The Kingdom’s ours forever!
Jesus promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church. Then Peter tried to deter Him from being crucified. Peter eventually denied Jesus three times. The dark army was moving and it was met by the Lord of Hosts upon the Cross. He is risen. He then sent the Church militant moved out into occupied territory with His Word alone.
One of the periods of Christian history we tend to overlook is the two centuries, from AD33 to AD312 (The Edict of Milan), in which the Church grew greatly under mild and severe persecutions. The Church had no churchly institutions. No government to give them a hand to help, but the hand of government to hurt and martyr. No Bill of Rights protected their religious freedom. They lived in a society in which sexual immorality was taken for granted, from the almost pornographic statuary of Greece and Rome to acceptance of deviancies of all descriptions. The Church had the Bible, the Word, the Sacraments, prayer, faith, hope and love, weapons of the Spirit, the armor of God (Ephesians 6). The Lord watched over His Church, His bride, His body and still does.
It may be that the chastisements of the Church, mild and severe, are the Lord’s way of teaching us the faith anew. His Word will not be killed, on purpose or by accident by the hand of mortal man,but the Word dies in our hearts when we seek other comforts and hopes, however pious looking. When the religion of the self’s symbol is the selfie and the mirror, rapt continually looking at ourselves, we do not see the enemy coming from behind. The Church had enemies and Jesus said, Love your enemies, yet they were still enemies. Love them, but do not surrender to them. It is those times when Christ and His Church seems to have had no enemies may be the times of faithlessness and apostasy. When the Church is derided,denied and decried, then rejoice and be glad, said Jesus, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.This does not mean we are to be “nice” and not say anything when wolves in sheep’s clothing preach a false Gospel. As a dear colleague liked to say, Nice is the enemy of the good. Americans want to do right and when someone says I am hurt by what you Christians say or do,an American’s response: “Oh, we do not want to hurt anyone.” The answer of “no” maybe that is the very thing they and we need to hear and then the Yes of the Gospel of Jesus.
This World War II poster is scary. When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned, he wrote his brother Pastor, Timothy this:
8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! (2 Timothy 2)
Paul was bound but the Word is not. He was chained as criminal for the crime of preaching Christ which is no crime. Luther and the Reformers knew this. They knew the knife of those who denied the authority of Scripture alone. They did not prevail. Luther and company did not prevail, the Lord did. He still will. He calls us, as He did the blessed Reformers: Confess Christ! Fear not, I am with you until the end of the age. You do not build the Church, I do. You are to confess. Confess Christ as Lord! Confess Christ so that saints are remade in Baptism. All the saints surround the Church encouraging us to look to Jesus Christ alone, His grace alone, as His baptized saints.
Let us pray…Almighty and gracious Lord, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defend us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever