THE NEED FOR THE SAVIOR: Before and After
…God’s Word testifies that the intellect, heart, and will of the natural, unregenerate man in divine things are not only turned entirely away from God, but also turned and perverted against God to every evil; also, that he is not only weak, incapable, unfit, and dead to good, but also is so lamentably perverted, infected, and corrupted by original sin that he is entirely evil, perverse, and hostile to God by his disposition and nature, and that he is exceedingly strong, alive, and active with respect to everything that is displeasing and contrary to God.
Gen. 8:22: The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.
Jer. 17:9: The heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked, or perverted and full of misery, so that it is unfathomable.
This passage St. Paul explains Rom. 8: The carnal mind is enmity against God.
Gal. 5:17: The flesh lusteth against the spirit; and these are contrary the one to the other.
Rom. 7:14: We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.
And soon after, 18:23: I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing. For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man, which is regenerate by the Holy Ghost; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin.
Now, if in St. Paul and in other regenerate men the natural or carnal free will even after regeneration strives against God’s Law, it will be much more obstinate and hostile to God’s Law and will before regeneration. Hence it is manifest (as it is further declared in the article concerning original sin, to which we now refer for the sake of brevity) that the free will from its own natural powers, not only cannot work or concur in working anything for its own conversion, righteousness, and salvation, nor follow [obey], believe, or assent to the Holy Ghost, who through the Gospel offers him grace and salvation, but from its innate, wicked, rebellious nature it resists God and His will hostilely, unless it be enlightened and controlled by God’s Spirit.
And they have conquered (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death . Revelation 12:11.
About Perpetua and Felicitas and their Companions:
At the beginning of the third century, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity. Among those disobeying that eo their faith with such conviction that the officer in charge became a follower of Jesus. No saints are more uniformly honored in all the early calendars and martyrologies than these African martyrs. In 202 the emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity and harsh persecution ensued. Arrested in Carthage were Vibia Perpetua, a noblewoman from Thuburbo, twenty-two years old; her infant child; Felicitas, a pregnant slave; Revocatus, a slave; Saturninus; Secundulus. There were all catechumens. Later their catechist, Saturus, was arrested also. While under house arrest they were baptized.After making arrangements for the well-being of their children, Perpetua and Felicitas were executed on March 7, 203. Tradition holds that Perpetua showed mercy to her captors by falling on a sword because they could not bear to put her to death. The story of this martyrdom has been told ever since as an encouragement to persecuted Christians. Here is the record of the martyrdom:
First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side.. . . but the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to go, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway, was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetua. Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.
Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honors, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less significant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages.
Reflection: An early Christian writer, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220) famously penned “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The first church buildings were erected over the sites of martyrdom, as was the case of Perpetua and Felicitas after Christianity became a legal religion after AD312.
We erect church buildings in our day after a church building committee has taken in consideration all sorts of factors but this one is major: visibility with good parking. Now parking is important and convenient. But it is a sobering reminder that the first basilicas, etc. were not built according to convenience, but to honor the witness of the martyrs. Martyrdom is not convenient, only expedient for the persecutor, or so such a person, government etc. thinks. Though I will hazard a guess that the sites of church buildings on the locales of martyrdoms met the visibility requirements: coliseums, courts etc. The martyrs were publicly executed in a “high traffic area”, a crossroads of civilization. This reminds us that the martyrs let their light so shine before others, even in death, that others might see their good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:15-17).
The word “martyr” in New Testament Greek is literally “witness”. We are to be prepared to give our witness at any time (see 1 Peter 3:14-16) even when not convenient. I am no expert at witnessing, but the faith to so witness comes not from within but from with out: in the Lord, in the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 10:19-21). The martyrs who witnessed by their blood give us good courage so that others might call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved. The martyrs then, and now, are good to contemplate to give us good courage to witness when asked about the hope that is in us. The martyrs, contrary to other ‘martyrs’ in our day and time, did not destroy themselves to take others with them and so die. They died so that the we might live in Christ Jesus, in His Church, by faith and in love, and indeed: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Let us pray:
O God the King of saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
“The seminal error of feminism, the worm gnawing away in the heart of it, is the assumption that you can actually seek the good of woman without taking account of the good in man, as if the sexes were independent of one another or forever antagonistic. Man and woman are for one another.”- Anthony Esolen (Out of Ashes)
Man and woman are made for another as this week’s Daily Lectionary Old Testament readings make clear, Genesis 2:
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
The Lord unites, we divorce. Feminism has sharpened the sword ever more of the divorce between man and woman and with that, doing their best (actually their worst) to demean men. While they are doing so, they are also demeaning women as simply “vaginas”(e.g. The Vagina Monologues: the author Eve Ensler wrote this to, “celebrate the vagina”) as they decry men as mere phalluses. In such demeaning, then the male and female nature of heart, soul and mind are reduced to mere materialism. This is a denial of the doctrine of creation and the imago Dei, the image of God, Genesis 1:
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
This is where and when Christ’s Church must remain steadfast in the Word as written in the Scriptures and inspired by the Holy Spirit. This radical feminism is a full scale war against marriage, as has the divorce and adultery culture been part of that war. Christ came to redeem men and women in the fullness of their separate and complementary creation as Church is the bride of Christ. He came to claim us from the war of sin and give us peace which this world can not give. Do not let the atheist culture determine the truth of God’s Word in this or any matter.
If anyone therefore does not eat of the Word of God, the same shall not live; for as the human body cannot live without earthly bread, so the soul cannot live without the Word of God. A word is said to proceed from the mouth of God when He makes His Will known through the Sacred Scripture.
(From a sermon by St. John Chrysostom, on St. Matthew 4: 4; from The Sunday Sermon of the Great Fathers,Volume
“Shrove” is not a word in much use these days except for today: Shrove Tuesday:
Shrove, past tense of shrive: Shrive; verb (used with object), shrove or shrived, shriven or shrived,shriving.
impose penance on (a sinner).
grant absolution to (a penitent).
hear the confession of (a person).
to hear confessions.
to go to or make confession; confess one’s sins, as to a priest.
People in droves bought the book about Christian ‘spirituality’, The Purpose-Driven Life, but few would buy a book titled, “The Shriven Driven Life”. So many supposedly ‘Christian’ books are about how to be deliriously happy, your “best life now” without the reality life in the Lord is a shriven life: repentant, confessing sins and the need for the Lord’s absolution. The old 11th Century Hymn, “Alleluia, Song of Gladness” to the point, third stanza (another translation):
Alleluia we deserve not
Here to chant forevermore;
Alleluia our transgressions
Make us for a while give o’er;
For the holy time is coming
Bidding us our sins deplore.
Shrive is from the German, “to write”. His Word written into our hearts and souls so to repent and live in Christ We are in a spiritual war. When we heard of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on the Libyan shore, or any of the martyrs in Christ, then “your best life now” is such a shallow narcissistic idea. When the thief on the cross, to Jesus’ right, confessed and then prayed, Jesus, remember me when me when You come into Your Kingdom, he was shriven. Jesus said: Truly, today you will be with Me in paradise. When we dwell on our own faults, we despair and the Lord says, Lift up your hearts: penitent, pained…and hold His promise to forgive close to your heart.
“Beat down Satan lower and lower and lift up Christ higher and higher” That is part of a hymn sung by Lutherans in Papua, New Guinea. We can sing it because Jesus Christ has done the heavy lifting: our sins in His Body on the Tree of the Cross. It is ashes on the forehead but it is the Sign of the Cross. Shriven and forgiven. There is only One Who could literally cross the abyss from the Holy LORD to sinners in rebellion: the One Who became our dust and ashes. Jesus Christ is the second Adam, the man from Heaven. (See 1 Corinthians 15: 45-49) “In this Christian Church, He fully forgives my sins and sins of all believers.” (From Martin Luther’s explanation of the 3rd article of the Creed). And when sin weighs you down, the mirror of the Law shows a less than a pretty picture. When sin weighs you down, come to Jesus Christ where and when He said He will be: This is My Body, This is My Blood. When sins weighs you down, (and Satan wants to beat you lower and lower to drive you away from the Lord), pastors are called to hear confession in utter confidentiality and offer the Lord’s own forgiveness to you personally in your ears and in your hearts (see St. John 20: 22-23; 1 John 1: 8-10). When sin has undone you, cast it off and then flee to the Lord for refuge for His infinite mercy given in His Son.
As it is written in 2 Peter, the Lord has given us precious and very great promises, as we were cleansed from our former sins in Holy Baptism. The Apostle Peter continued:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
Lent is about that growth, not to be redeemed, but as we are the Lord’s redeemed. Who we are is Who’s we are. Who’s we are is who we become. We are shriven and forgiven. The life in Christ is His forgiven driven life. The promise is that as we heard from 2 Peter, “we will never fall”, that is, fall away from the Lord. We will fail in sin and so shrive because in the middle of the ashes, there is the Cross. In the midst of death, there is Life. In the midst of sin, there is the risen Savior.
The commonplace heresy of our time has been for some time that Jesus is not true God. He was a good teacher but not very God of very God. Today’s Gospel reading, as does all the witness of the Scripture speaks for and out of His Divinity. There has been another heresy call docetism that Jesus just appeared as a man, but was God alone in the appearance of a man: a phantasm, an avatar of the celestial plane. This heresy said that the body and all matter was crude and debased and only the pure spirit was real. As in Yoda pinching Luke Skywalker and talking about “this crude matter”. Jesus’ sufferings were only an appearance as well. Suffering is not a phantasm in our lives, neither were Jesus’. This would also mean that joy is only an appearance, but it is not and neither is the Lord’s joy in finding lost! These are as the Apostle Peter wrote, “cleverly devised myths”. Either way we do not have the Savior who touched the disciples in their fear to calm them body and soul but He did. He touched the blind, the lame, the deaf, the mute, the dead to see, walk, hear, speak and live.
Either way heresy leads us away from Christ. Either heresy denies the Atonement If Jesus was not true Man then He did not lead Peter, James and John up the Mountain and if He was not true God, then He could not have been transfigured before Peter, James and John. Either heresy, divides the two natures, man and God. The Bible is clear: Jesus is not divided, nor the persons confused, but He is the one Christ for us and for our salvation Who came down from heaven.
His transfiguration shows clearly, as clear as the light that shone forth from His Face that He is God and He touches His disciples to show He is Man. He is not 50% man and 50% God, but 100% God/100% man. He still is as He sits at the right hand of the Father. As recorded in the Gospels, the Father clearly said twice: This is My Beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased. The Father said this when His Son was baptized by John as we hear at the beginning of the Epiphany season. The Father says the same on the Mount of Transfiguration and He added: Listen to Him. As the Mother of God said to the servants at the Cana wedding feast, do what He tells you. The Holy Spirit teaches us what Christ has said and who Christ is. We are trained in the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus Christ, not by the Law. The Law can not transfigure us. Christ came to do what the Law can not do: transfigure us.
The word “transfigure” in Greek is the basis of our word: metamorphosis. Matthew tells us of the Holy Trinity when Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends and the Father speaks. As the Holy Spirit overshadowed the virgin Mary, so the Son and His three disciples are overshadowed by the bright cloud, the Holy Spirit and the Father speaks. The next time we read of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the one God, is when Jesus sends out the Apostles to teach, preach and baptize in the Name of the Holy Trinity. We were transfigured from orphans to the Lord’s sons and daughters in baptism. The other time we read of “metamorphosis” is Romans 12:
“Transformed” is the same root as “transfigured”, a metamorphosis. Our minds are renewed and transformed in Christ: for instance, we learn that life is not politics, life is Christ. Everything we have and own is not everything, as God alone gives every thing. Life is more than food, clothes and drink. We learn that sin is the great burden but virtue is not. We know there is right and wrong. We have learned we are not self-invented, but wonderfully and fearfully created. We are not a random accident. We learn the Father’s forgiveness in Christ once and for all.
Peter wanted to stay there on the mount of Transfiguration. A woman asked in the Bible class as the Mayflower where is the mount of Transfiguration? I said it is unknown as to location. As it should be. Peter wanted to build three tents or tabernacles, equal for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. They are not equal and Moses and Elijah know that! If Jesus had agreed to Peter’s offer that mountain would have been the Mecca of all Meccas…and Jesus would not have touched Peter, James and John so they could see Jesus only, Jesus only going the lonely way through the valley of the shadow of death to another mountain, a hill actually, called Skull. We could not have been redeemed, forgiven and sealed with the Holy Spirit to be His own in His death and resurrection.
From 2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” His face shone like the sun on transfiguration’s mountain. “The Lord bless you and keep, the Lord make His face to shine upon you” The face of love’s pure light was spat upon by the Roman soldiers and a crown of thorns placed upon that head. As it is written, Isaiah 52, centuries before the Incarnation:
As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
Jesus was transfigured and Jesus alone was disfigured. Sin is disfigurement. Wrong and evil twists man into horrible shapes of greed, lust for power, sexual immorality…seeking God in all the wrong places, fame, power, looks. They then have theologians who will justify ungodliness, saying it is okay, devising daily cleverly devised myths. Like the myth of tolerance as the sole virtue these days. Pastor Matt Richards posted this on Facebook:
In Jesus, we do not see tolerance, but we see love. If Jesus would have gone the way of tolerance, He would ‘not’ have gone to the cross but would have left us in our sins. And if we were left in our sins, we would be left with damnation. So much for the way of tolerance! But because of His great love for us and His rich mercy, Jesus could not tolerate our sin. Indeed, the Son of God could not tolerate our sin, so He was compelled to the cross – in love – to do something about it.
He has done something about it and Lent is focus of what the Lord did about it. Can you imagine the Lord saying to you, I tolerate you? It is frightening and He has not but He has said, For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son. Just imagine anyone saying that to someone they claim to love! I tolerate that you are doing wrong. Such is the way of cleverly devised myths which always results in the downward spiral of the disfigurement of sin and eternal death. St. Peter wrote of all “false prophets”:
They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray.
The One who was transfigured, was disfigured and we are configured together as His Church, His body. This Word, as all the Word of God, is the lamp in our hearts, the day star arising. Tend to His Word always as the Lord tends to you always. We can love others and show the Way, capital W. Martin Luther commented on the day star of the Word:
This is God’s Word, even the Gospel; that we are ransomed by Christ from death, sin, and hell: Whoever hears that, has this light and has kindled this lamp in his heart, even that by which we may see the One that enlightens us, and teaches us whatever we need to know. But where this is not, there we rush on, and by principles and works of our own device would find out the way to heaven. Of this you can judge and see by your light, that it is darkness. Therefore since they have not the light, neither wish to receive it, they must remain in darkness and blindness. For that light teaches us all we ought to know and all that is necessary to salvation, a thing which the world by its wisdom and reason knows not. And this light we must still have and depend upon, even to the day of judgment. Then shall we have no more need of the Word, just as we put out the lamp when the day breaks.
Jesus told His disciples not to speak of the Transfiguration unto the Son of man is raised from the dead. His resurrection is beyond any epiphany. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.