On Civil Government and the Return of Christ

Welcome back to our congregational study of the Augsburg Confession! In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we’ve been working our way through the AC, article-by-article. It’s been fairly difficult at times, and I congratulate you for reading so far. This month we’re going to look at a couple articles that sometimes slip by us: whether Christians can hold political office and what we believe about the return of Christ. Here’s Article XVI: Civil Government –

Our churches teach that lawful civil regulations are good works of God. They teach that it is right for Christians to hold political office, to serve as judges, to judge matters by imperial laws and other existing laws, to impose just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to take oaths when required by the magistrates, for a man to marry a wife, or a woman to be given in marriage [Romans 13; 1 Corinthians 7:2].

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these political offices to Christians.  They also condemn those who do not locate evangelical perfection in the fear of God and in faith, but place it in forsaking political offices. For the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart (Romans 10:10). At the same time, it does not require the destruction of the civil state or the family. The Gospel very much requires that they be preserved as God’s ordinances and that love be practiced in such ordinances. Therefore, it is necessary for Christians to be obedient to their rulers and laws. The only exception is when they are commanded to sin. Then they ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

As we’ve encountered already, this article is broken up into 2 parts: what we believe and what we reject, more or less. First, what do we believe? We believe that, “lawful civil regulations are good works of God.” That means that, when we keep civil laws – such as, not murdering or stealing – we’re actually doing things that are pleasing to God. That’s because not murdering and not stealing are things God has told us in Scripture. Also, since we learn in Scripture (Rom. 13) that civil government started as God’s idea, it is perfectly fine for a Christian to hold office, be a judge or police office, be a politician, buy or sell in the marketplace, swear before a judge, etc.

You might know that the Lutheran Reformation wasn’t the only one happening in the 1500’s. Another group around at this time was called the Anabaptists. They believed that the civil realm was absolutely sinful; therefore, a Christian could not hold a political office. If you were a Christian who did – then you weren’t a true Christian. We, of course, disagree with that for the reasons above. Instead, we would say the Gospel encourages us to continue in our vocations, including serving in a civil office or aspiring to one. We also believe that it is a Christian’s duty to obey their rulers and laws. “The only exception is when they are commanded to sin. Then they ought to obey God rather than men.”

augsburg-confession-1530

Now for Article XVII: The Return of Christ for Judgment –

Our churches teach that at the end of the world Christ will appear for judgment and will raise all the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:2]. He will give the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but He will condemn ungodly people and the devils to be tormented without end [Matthew 25:31–46].

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.

Our churches also condemn those who are spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.

Again, this article is broken into a couple parts – what we believe and what we don’t. With the majority of the Church catholic (universal), we believe that at the end of the world Christ will return and raise the dead. At His return, He will also render His eternal judgment against sin. Those who, by grace, received His Word in faith for the forgiveness of their sins will enter eternal life. However, those who rejected Christ and His Word will be condemned to eternal separation from God’s love in hell.

The same group we mentioned earlier, the Anabaptists, come up here. They taught, and some still do, that there is an end to the condemnation of hell. In a nutshell, they taught that one could leave hell and enter heaven. The second thing we reject may be a more familiar idea, since it is part of the premise of the Left Behind series that was popular a little while back. We reject that – before Christ returns – all evil will be destroyed and Christians will be the rulers of this world. Though they aren’t mentioned here, we also don’t hold to the ideas of the Rapture or Tribulation. None of these are actually Christian ideas, originally. We simply believe that the end of the world will be when Christ returns. Those who received Him in faith will enter the new creation, those who rejected Him will be condemned.

I hate to end of kind of a bummer of a sentence. I guess, I encourage all Christians to give thanks for the grace they’ve received and pray that the number of God’s people would be increased. Next month we’ll return to a couple articles that hit on the core of the faith. We’ll study the articles on free will and the cause of sin. See you next month!

“What Sort of Man is This?” Matt. 8:23-27

Text: Matthew 8:23-27

Storms and the sea are things that come up pretty often in Scripture. When I did a word-search for, “sea,” I came up with over 400 matches. Sometimes its vastness is considered. Other times it’s mentioned as the place where the great creatures dwell. Just after our text in Matthew, the Sea of Galilee is where Legion drives a heard of pigs and drowns it. Often, its raging and roaring – its destructive nature and potential for death – rouse fear and wonder. But, overwhelmingly, the witness of Scripture is that the sea, and the storms that rage on it, are under God’s control. “The sea is His, for He made it. And His hand formed the dry land.” God is the one who set the boundaries of the sea, who dried up both the Red Sea and the Jordan River so His people could pass through in safety. Psalm 107 speaks this way, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”[1]

Such words should’ve been the confession of the Disciples when the storm rose up in the Gospel text. Instead, they feared for their lives – even with Jesus in the boat. It appeared to them that all was nearly lost. Then, Jesus – who was with them and in control the whole time – rebuked the wind and wave and brought about a great calm. Bewildered, the men were left scratching their heads. “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?”[2] In our text, Jesus again revealed His glory as the One who has power and authority over wind and wave.

I.

            Today we’re picking up in the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel that we were in last week. Only ten verses separate our passages, but a lot has been going on. After Jesus healed the centurion’s servant He went and stayed at Peter’s house. There He healed Peter’s mother-in-law from her fever and many others who were sick and oppressed by demons. St. Matthew writes, “With a word [He] healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’[3] We’re beginning to get a pretty good picture of who Jesus is, what sort of man He is. He’s the one whom the Father proclaimed from heaven, He’s the one who turned water into wine, the one who cleansed the leper, the one who heals diseases and casts out demons simply with a word, the one who will be whose face and clothes will shine like lightening next week. In short, He is God and is in control of all things.

St. Matthew writes, “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to over to the other side…And when he got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves. [So, they] went and woke Him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’[4] At Jesus’ instruction, they departed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had just been rejected by a scribe and an unnamed disciple, so He decided to go preach to the Gentiles. As they were sailing, a great storm arose. We aren’t given any clue from the text to make us think that this is anything other than the type of storm that would occasionally happen on the Sea. But, with a boat that measures only about 4 feet deep, waves can begin to overcome you fairly easily.

During this time, St. Matthew writes, Jesus was sleeping in the helm of the boat. He was in the captain’s spot, unworried by the wind and waves. Though, by His human nature, He needed rest, by His divine nature, all things were in His keeping. The Disciples should’ve taken a clue from this. They should’ve remembered all the miracles He’s already done. Instead, they were afraid for their lives and they woke Jesus. “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”[5] As they were crossing the sea, a great storm arose that caused the Disciples to panic. They woke Jesus who, though He did rebuke them, caused the wind and sea to be exceedingly calm. He revealed that all things were under His control. What sort of man is this, they ask? The sort who has power over illness and disease, death and demons, and – now – wind and wave. Jesus again revealed His glory as the Son of God, who has power over all things.

II.

            “What sort of man is this?” That same question is still asked today. Whether it’s just in minds, spoken, or written, it is asked all the same – seemingly, with as many answers as there are people. There is, however, only one right answer. That hasn’t stopped the constant flow of opinions, though. Especially in this last political season, it seems that there is a Jesus to fit every cause and ideology. Most of the millions of Jesus’ that are proclaimed by politicians and activists are simply reflections of their preachers – and not the way it should be. But, when it all comes down to it, when life takes a turn for the absolute worst – which it always seems to do – none of those Jesus’ will save; not the Jesus of radical equality and tolerance, not the Jesus of universalized religion, and not the Jesus who simply says nothing.

We often fall into the same path as the Disciples in our text. I’ve said it before, and you don’t need me to say it again, but no one makes it through life unscathed. The fact is, life is hard. Sometimes it feels like living is the worst of all possible options. Whether it’s our health going down the tubes, our spiritual life feeling hollow, and even the rent on land going up – life is hard. Maybe the harder pill to swallow is that, like the storm in our text, sometimes God in His wisdom allows these things to befall us – but not without reason. And, not outside His control. Sometimes God allows bad things to happen to teach us to rely on Him, that man does not live by bread alone. But, because the weakness of our flesh, we often fail to receive all things as coming from God’s loving hand. We assume that a good life means God’s happy with us and that suffering must mean He’s angry with us. We don’t always thank Him for the good and when bad happens, we question His care for us. “What sort man is He, anyway?”

Jesus is the man who is God, who has control over wind and wave. He demonstrated that by rebuking the sea in our text, rescuing the Disciples from their fear of death and teaching them that all things are under His control. So, He revealed His glory again. He has command over all things, and knows what best to provide us. Sometimes, this means that He does calm the storms in our lives. Sometimes He does rescue us from danger and harm, illness and anxiety. Sometimes not. But, to bring St. Paul in, “Who [or what] shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”[6]

Why is St. Paul able to speak so confidently, even though he himself suffered so much – including being imprisoned and beheaded for the faith? Because he knows that Christ, the Lord of wind and wave, has calmed the ultimate storm. Apart from Christ we can only be tossed about like a ship on the ocean of sin. But, by Christ, sin and death have been defeated. By His death and resurrection, He rebuked and calmed the claims of sin and death against us. Though in this life we groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies, we know that at His return Christ will put a final and complete end to all suffering and death, and we will inherit eternal gladness with the saints in light.

Just what sort of man is Jesus? He is God. He is in control of all things: sin and death, disease and illness, wind and wave. In His wisdom, He does sometimes permit disaster to befall us – but that does not mean that we are out of His keeping. The disciples feared that was the case. Then Jesus rose and rebuked the wind and sea, and the resulting calm was greater than the raging of the storm. Though in this life we may be tossed about, we know that Jesus has calmed the ultimate storm. At His return, all suffering will cease, and He will fully save. What sort of man is this? The One who reveals His glory by calming the storm, both this time forth and forevermore.


[1] Ps. 107:28-29.

[2] Matt. 8:27.

[3] Matt. 8:16-17.

[4] Matt. 8:18, 23-25.

[5] Matt. 8:26.

[6] Rom. 8:35, 37.

Epiphany Mercy

Text: Matthew 8:1-13

In one of our Bible studies this last week, some of us had the opportunity to talk about why we follow the Church year. As in, what are some of the benefits of using a set rotation of themes throughout the year, where we learn about events in the life of Christ and the church through corresponding readings? One of the major benefits is that the Church year ebbs and flows, just like life. We aren’t happy at all times, but neither are we always sad. Just like in life, where at certain times we become focused on certain things, so, during the Church Year, we focus on different things at different times. The different seasons of the year center on different doctrinal topics.

The season we are in now is Epiphany. In this season, we celebrate the manifestation of our Lord’s glory, the revealing of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the Nations, now come. We’ve encountered this idea twice already. First, in the Baptism of our Lord, where the Father proclaimed Him from heaven. We also had the Wedding at Cana, where the water was made wine – Jesus’ first miracle. This theme is expressed very well in today’s Introit. The antiphon (the part that repeats) goes, “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.”[1] This week we continue the idea of the Lord revealing His glory in the sight of all people and we’ll add a new aspect: the compassion and mercy of our Lord.

In our text today, we heard about two miracles. Both tell us something about our Epiphany Lord. In the first part of the text, we heard about the leper who came to Jesus to be cleansed. Jesus stretched forth His hand and did something you absolutely would not do – He touched him. Immediately the leper was cleansed. In the second part, a Roman centurion came to Jesus on behalf of his own servant, who was near death. Jesus spoke and, at that very hour, the servant was healed. Through these miracles, we confess today that that our Lord is merciful and compassionate, and is willing to cure both sin and death.

I.

We pick up in the eighth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he writes, “When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’”[2] Our text follows nearly immediately after Jesus had finished delivering the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ ministry had already begun earlier, with His Baptism in chapter 3. Chapter 4 saw Him overcoming the devil in the wilderness, calling of the first disciples, and some initial healings. When Jesus saw the crowds beginning to follow Him, He went up on the mountain and taught.

Now, coming down from the mountain, a man who had been following from a distance came up and threw Himself down at Jesus’ feet. “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” What does the man mean? Well, leprosy was a very serious disease. It was debilitating and, eventually, a fatal condition. Moreover, one suffering from leprosy – which included several skin conditions – was ceremonially unclean. He could not visit the temple, nor could he live among his family. Anyone who encountered such a person, would also become unclean and must undergo an arduous ritual of cleansing, even if they themselves weren’t leprous.

St. Luke tells us that the man’s condition is quite advanced, perhaps he is very near death. The man came to Jesus, kneeling at His feet, asking for cleansing, but he conditions his petition with the words, “If You will.” The man may be desperate, but this is a prayer made in faith. “If it be according to Your will, Lord, You can heal me. But if not, I die in peace.” “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”[3] Not willing that this man should suffer, Jesus showed the utmost compassion: He touched him. But, instead of becoming unclean, Jesus’ touch cleansed the man of his leprosy.

Later, when Jesus entered Capernaum, a Roman centurion came Him. He begged Him and said, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”[4] This centurion demonstrated great faith, something Jesus would later marvel at, by not even asking Jesus to something. He just told Jesus the situation, knowing that the Lord would know what to do. When Jesus offered to come and heal the servant, the centurion replied that that was not necessary. Just as he himself was a man of authority, Jesus can also simply command the illness to leave and it will. After marveling, St. Matthew writes, “Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’”[5] Jesus again revealed His glory by having mercy on the centurion’s servant. Jesus spoke, and he was healed.

II.

In our text we see our Lord’s glory continuing to be revealed. By His mercy and compassion, Jesus manifests the glory of God for all to see. As if cleansing a leper wasn’t enough, Jesus healed by touching the man. Jesus went absolutely beyond the pale to show His compassion for those previously unclean. The centurion who came to Jesus – he wasn’t a Jew. He was not descended from Abraham. He was a Gentile. Jesus would’ve been excused from dealing with the man. Instead, He offered to go into the man’s home (which would’ve made Jesus unclean). When the man responded that Jesus could heal just by speaking, Jesus said of this Gentile believer, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”[6]

In these miracles, Jesus manifests His glory by having compassion and showing mercy. He has compassion on the unclean, making clean again. His has mercy on one previously outside the chosen people. Leprosy, by the way, also stands as a good illustration for the harmful effects of sin. Leprosy is a disease that affects the nerves. It causes loss of sensation, which worsens as it spreads. Eventually parts of you get damaged, die, and fall off. All of this contributes to one being unclean. In the Biblical sense, unclean means you cannot expect to encounter God and live; you should expect the opposite. Sin does nearly the same thing.

Sin, like leprosy, takes ahold of us and spreads. Lie begets lie. Temptation that is entertained bears terrible fruit. Before too long, the temptation to skip church becomes a habit. The anger we harbor in our hearts consumes us. The lust that burns within us chokes out the ability to love as God designed. Before God, by our own powers, we deserve to be cast out like lepers for our sins. We can only rightly say, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof.”[7] But Jesus does.

Jesus is mercy. Jesus is compassion. Rather than cast us away for the unclean leprosy of sin that eats within us, Jesus came to cure it. He touched our whole human nature by becoming human Himself. Being fully God, He also become fully man. He bore our entire human nature. Though He had no sin of His own, He took all the world’s sinfulness upon Himself. He touched our human nature, bore our sin, and suffered for our sake on the cross, so that through these things the leprosy of sin would find its cure. Though we are not worthy for Jesus to come under our roofs, He does. By Baptism, Jesus Christ Himself, with His Holy Spirit, dwells within our hearts. In the Lord’s Supper, we receive the very body and blood of Christ, broken and shed on the cross, to purify us from the inside-out.

Had the leper not been cleansed, he probably would’ve died very soon, and the servant most likely. The same is true for us. We know what the penalty for sin is: death. Just like leprosy spreads, hastening the pathway to bodily death, so sin spreads hastening the pathway to eternal torment. But, Jesus is mercy and compassion. By becoming flesh, Jesus has purified the human nature. By His Sacraments, He works throughout our entire lives to purify us from iniquity. Then, when our frail bodies will cease, He will raise us, too. He who has command over disease and illness, also has command over death.

As we move through our Lord’s Epiphany to His journey toward the cross, we continue see His work of revealing His glory to the world. This week we saw Him healing both an unclean leper and a Gentile centurion’s servant. He stretched forth His hand to touch the unclean and His Word to the Gentile. May He continue to stretch forth His compassionate hand to us through the Sacraments and give to us His Word of mercy, so that we may be cleansed from all sin and rescued from eternal death. To God be all glory.


 

[1] Introit for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Lutheran Service Book: Altar Book, pg. 857.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt. 8:1–2.

[3] Matt. 8:3.

[4] Matt. 8:6.

[5] Matt. 8:13.

[6] Matt. 8:10.

[7] Matt. 8:8.