Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Keys of the Kingdom

"I will give you the keys..." (Matt. 16:19).

The eleventh-century Archbishop of Bulgaria, Theophylact, makes the interesting and instructive point that in these words to Peter, Jesus uses the word "will," pointing to a future time.  And that time, Theophylact explains, was the first Easter Sunday, when the crucified-risen Jesus came to His disciples and said to them all, including Peter, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld" (John 20:22-23).

John 20:22-23 then becomes the basis for the Lutheran understanding of "the keys."  The Small Catechism contains the following terse statement, showing balance between the Church and her ministers, and held together by John 20:22-23.

What is the Office of the Keys?  The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.

Where is this written?  This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven" (John 20:22-23).

What do you believe according to these words?  I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.

When you hear your pastor say, "As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," this is the Office of the Keys in action.  Most times, we hear these words on a Sunday morning - the day our Lord Jesus arose and gave this blessed authority to His dear Church.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Repartee

A little recap of yesterday's message

Heard any good comeback lines lately?  A quick, witty reply is called a "repartee" (pronounced "rep-ar-TAY").  Repartee can also mean, then, "the art of the comeback."  But better to give an example.  The following is one of the most famous.

Nancy Astor, the first female elected to Parliament, was at a dinner party in the company of Winston Churchill.  Churchill, who had been drinking, was pontificating on some subject.  Lady Astor could take it no more and said, "Winston, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your coffee."  Churchill seemed ready with his reply.  "Nancy, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."

It's possible, though, that the Bible contains the best repartee ever uttered.  It comes from the Canaanite woman who came and knelt before Jesus, asking His help for her daughter.

"And He answered, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.'  She said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table'" (Matt. 15:26-27).

This Gentile woman gets the best of Him, doesn't she?  And what is the best of Christ?  His mercy.

But we can take this exchange between Christ and the woman too seriously.  Know that the two of them could not have been more playful!  It may even be correct to say that they are spiritually flirting.  He is flirting with her faith, and finds her humility irresistible.  She is flirting with His mercy.  There is a deep love and understanding.

In this repartee, both sides win.  The woman wins because she believes in Him and receives His help.  Christ wins because all He ever wanted was to give it.

This same Christ is courting your faith.  Let Him be drawn to it by the beauty of your humility.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Bring Them Up

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4).

After considering these words of Paul, I wrote the following lines as part of a hymn.

O father, mother, listen well,
And Scripture will the secret tell:
To keep them from a bitter heart,
Instruct your children from the start
In the Commandments and the Creed
And in the Prayer for ev'ry need.

"Commandments," "Creed," and "Prayer" refer to the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer.  They are the first three things in Luther's Small Catechism and the most fundamental.  Children should hear these three things from the time they are born (and even while in the womb).

The Commandments teach them wrong and right, and how to identify sin.  The Creed teaches them everything they need to know about God, especially the forgiveness of sins.  And the Prayer teaches them what to say to God in every situation.

Parents, do your duty.  Love your children by teaching them what will last their whole lives and into eternity!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Wearing Christ

"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).

Do you really realize what happened in your Baptism?

In Luke 8, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man.  The first thing we are told about this man is that "For a long time he had worn no clothes" (vs. 27).  The Savior ordered the departure of the unclean spirit, after which we find the man "clothed and in his right mind" (vs. 35).

Look to your Baptism.  That is where God ordered the departure of the unclean spirit, to make room for the Holy Spirit.  And that is where you went from being unclothed before God, spiritually speaking - sin fully exposed - to being clothed with Christ - sin fully forgiven.

Luther puts it extremely well: "To put on Christ is to put on the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, peace, comfort, joy in the Holy Spirit, salvation, life, and Christ Himself."

In all of Galatians, the word "baptize" occurs only once - 3:27 - just about the middle of the epistle.  But to appreciate fully the significance of this verse, think of it as a spring used to irrigate all six chapters of the book.  It is one of the top New Testament verses about Baptism.

Look to your Baptism and then look in the spiritual mirror to see that you are wearing Christ in all of His crucified and risen beauty!

You are beautiful!