The Identity of Jesus

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In our trek through The Apostles’ Creed we will take three weeks in visiting the Second Article. The Article begins, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary.” And Luther’s explanation for this portion goes, “I believe that Jesus Christ – true God, Son of the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary – is my Lord.”

The Second Article starts with the all-important conversation on the identity of Jesus. Everyone who has heard of the first century Nazarene has some image in their mind of Jesus. The question is, do our cherished images conform with the way our Lord is presented in the Scriptures?

Many today claim that too much is made theologically about Jesus’ identity. The claim continues that we need to pay more attention to what Jesus taught and of the example of his life. The idea continues, we should ask what Jesus would do. And if we can’t find an example in the Bible, we imagine what Jesus would do. And usually we imagine him being very soft and affirming.

The problem with the aforementioned is that Jesus himself seemed to think his unique identity mattered, as is demonstrated in passages like Matthew 16:13f. Furthermore, the New Testament writers seemed as concerned with what Jesus’ life uniquely accomplished by his death, resurrection and ascension as they did with what he taught and how he lived.

The Second Article begins by affirming the Biblical witness that Jesus was uniquely both God and man! He was both by virtue of his divine conception and his virginal birth to Mary. As man he could identify with frail humans diseased by sin and needing salvation. And also as man he could taste death. As God he could provide the satisfaction required for sins, and he could defeat and then swallow up death forever. His identity as the God/man is key to our salvation!

Since You Asked…

Do Lutherans Promote Private Confession?

“Confession has not been abolished by the preachers on our side. … The people are carefully instructed concerning the consolation of the Word of absolution (forgiveness) so that they may esteem it as a great and precious thing. It is not the voice of the man who speaks it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command. …it is necessary for terrified consciences” (Augsburg Confession, XXV)

Confession has two parts: First that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the Pastor as from God himself.

 

Creator of Heaven and Earth

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Moving on from the Ten Commandments we next visit The Apostles’ Creed in our journey through Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. And it is appropriate to go from what is expected of us, as reflected in the commandments, and move to what God has done, is doing, and will do for us, as reflected in the Creed.

When we reflect on what God expects of us, as we must, we necessarily feel condemnation. For we fall so short of God’s will for us as perfectly reflected and summarized in the Ten Commandments. So it comes as a great relief to affirm things that don’t rely on our sorry effort and performance. When we contemplate on what God graciously accomplishes on our behalf, our hearts swell up with gratitude and hope. This is particularly the case when we consider God’s redemptive work to reclaim lost sinners!

For teaching purposes Dr. Luther divides the Creed into three parts or articles. The First Article is, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” And Luther’s explanation goes, “I believe that God has created me and all that exists. He has given me and still preserves my body and soul with all their powers. He provides me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all I need from day to day. God also protects me in time of danger and guards me from every evil. All this he does out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy, though I do not deserve it. Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”

Here we believe, teach and confess that we are utterly dependent creatures. Nothing exists apart from God. He spoke things into existence. And things continue to exist because God sustains them.

Pure existence is cause for rejoicing! We move, live and have our being in, by and through God alone. He creates freely out of pure goodness , wisdom and delight, and not out of any necessity. To him belongs the glory!

Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the “KYRIE” (kir-E-A)?

KYRIE is a Latin term which is in turn is a transliteration of a Greek word meaning “Lord.” In the Latin Mass the term KYRIE was combined with the term ELESION meaning “have mercy.” In addition, the Mass included a three-fold response: KYRIE ELEISON, CHRISTE ELEISON, KYRIE ELEISON, which translated is “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” In our Lutheran Worship Service we utilize a prayer from the Latin Mass known as a Peace Litany. A Litany is a responsive prayer. This Litany is usually led by our Assisting Minister, and the congregation response is the KYRIE ELEISON. And so the Assisting Minister begins, “In peace let us pray to the Lord,” and the congregation responds to this and each succeeding petition with, “Lord, have mercy.” (with help from the Manual on the Liturgy a companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, publ. by Augsburg).

Deadly Coveting

This week we finally arrive at the Tenth Commandment in our grand tour of Luther’s Small Catechism. The second commandment dealing with coveting reads, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his cattle, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” And I also share with you Luther’s pithy explanation, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not tempt or coax away from our neighbor his wife or his workers, but encourage them to remain loyal.”

When arriving at this commandment I often think of King David and the trouble he got into in violating this directive. Remember, David was a man with a “heart after God” (cf. 1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). If this man could stumble and fall into temptation at this point, any of the rest of us could as well!

Perhaps you will remember the sorry incident as candidly chronicled in 2 Samuel 11. What it boiled down to was the fact that King David coveted another man’s wife. Bathsheba was a bathing beauty, literally, for David spied her bathing. By the time the whole peccadillo was over one sin piled up upon another. Coveting lead to adultery, adultery lead to bearing false witness, and to cover this the sin was compounded with murder and theft! One could make a good argument that the First and Second Commandments were violated. Sex became an idol, and God’s name was besmirched. David set a horrible example in parenting – there goes the Fourth Commandment!

When the dust settles, the only command that may have remained intact was the Third. I don’t know that the Sabbath Day was profaned, although I could be wrong on that one.

So you see how deadly the whole business of coveting is! There is a price to pay for our law breaking! But if you read on in 2 Samuel 12 you will also encounter God’s rich mercy that comes to repentant sinners. You will also want to read Psalm 51 to read David’s confession of sin, a true cry for mercy!

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose of the “Silence for reflection and self-examination” in the Brief Order For Confession and Forgiveness?

“The silence for self-examination and reflection should be an extended silence to enable personal application of the general phrases of the prayer that follows. Silence of one or two minutes is not too long” (Manual on the Liturgy – LBW). This is a helpful time to reflect back on our lives over the past week and ask ourselves whether we have been disobedient or unfaithful, bad-tempered or dishonest, or whether we have hurt anyone by word or deed. By allowing for this period of reflection we are able to personalize what would otherwise remain quite general.

 

You Shall Not Kill

Last week we looked at the Fourth Commandment and the respect and obedience we are to give to proper authorities. This week we will consider the prohibition to murder. “You shall not kill.” And once again we will reflect on Luther’s pithy explanation. He instructs, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not hurt our neighbor in any way, but help him in all his physical needs.”

Honor Your Father and Mother

This week in reviewing Luther’s Small Catechism on the Ten Commandments we move to the Second Table of the Law, that dealing with our relationship to others, and the Fourth Commandment. “Honor your father and mother,” leads the way in the Second Table. And Luther gives the succinct and easy to memorize explanation, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and others in authority, but respect, obey, love, and serve them.

If we pay attention we will note that authority and respect for authority are not bad things, but actually the way God ordered His good creation. There is a saying in our Western tradition that goes, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And given our fallen sinful natures, there is wisdom with the saying. But it does not follow that we are therefore better off without any exercise of power and lines of authority! As an aside, in our country we talk about checks and balances to the necessary exercise of proper authority.

Luther argued, largely based on this commandment, that the office of father and mother is the highest office in the land. Of this office above all others God commands that we honor. Interestingly, the family is the first and most basic society in which God has placed us. Family comes before the larger community or society of humans, and before the congregation of God’s people, that is, the Church. And parents have the all-important job of raising future generations.

Raising those in the image and likeness of God is too big a responsibility for parents alone. They need to be assisted by teachers, law enforcement, civil authorities, and religious leaders as well, to name a few. All these offices appointed by God and representing His authority are to be respected, obeyed, loved and served.

This is not only a matter of good order. It is commanded by God.

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of sharing the peace?

“The peace which enables people to live in unity and in the spirit of mutual forgiveness comes only from Christ whose word has been proclaimed. … The peace is a sign that those who participate in it open themselves to the healing and reconciling power of God’s love and offer themselves to be agents of that love in the world. … The personal exchange of the peace should be as unpatterned as possible, but its meaning and significance should be kept clear. It is not the occasion merely for conviviality. The choice of gesture, whether a handshake, holding hands, or an embrace, should be left to the persons themselves.”  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)