Hymn Parade – These Are the Days of Elijah

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

Bible Verses That Influenced Hymns

Days of Elijah – Robin Mark (1994)

 How do the events of our lifetime show examples of extreme suffering and the presence of evil?

These are the days of Elijah/Declaring the word of the Lord, yeah/And these are the days of Your servant, Moses/Righteousness being restored.

 These are the days of great trials/Of famine and darkness and sword/Still we are the voice in the desert crying/Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MtdyRDy4fU (by U.S. Marines)

These are the days of Elijah declaring the Word of the Lord

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Romans 10:14

And these are the days of Your servant Moses righteousness being restored

Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19

And though these are days of great trials of famine and darkness and sword

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:  “For your sake we face death all day long;  we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:35-36

Still we are the voice in the desert crying prepare ye the way of the Lord

 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

[Chorus] Behold He comes riding on the clouds

 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. Revelation 1:7

Shining like the sun at the trumpet call

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52

So lift your voice it’s the year of Jubilee

Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clanLeviticus 25:9-10

And out of Zion’s hill salvation comes!

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation,  gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

The lyrics to this song were inspired by the tragedy of the Rwandan civil war in 1994, which claimed the lives of 1 million innocent people. The people of Israel felt helpless in the 9th century B.C.E. in a divided country living in a foreign culture under King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. The people of Israel who believed in God faced persecution and death if they did not worship the statue of Baal. Elijah stood up against the false religious system and spoke for God, the Creator of heaven and earth.

I felt in my spirit that He replied to my prayer by saying that indeed He was very much in control and that the days we were living in were special times when He would require Christians to be filled with integrity and to stand up for Him just like Elijah did, particularly with the prophets of Baal. “These are ‘Elijah’ days”. Elijah’s story is in the book of Kings and you can read how he felt isolated and alone in the culture in which he lived. But God told him to stand up and speak for Him. When Elijah called to God for fire and it came, the people realized the truth. Unfortunately for Elijah, he had to hide in the wilderness to escape the wrath of Queen Jezebel.

The references to famine and trials, darkness and swords are the story of world history, including the conflicts in our 21st century world. The song, especially the chorus reminds us of the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ. This is why we worship and desire to be in the presence of God!

Mount-Carmel1

Statue of Elijah at Mt. Carmel in Israel.

Elijah is calling upon God to set fire to the altar to demonstrate His almighty power in heaven and on earth.

In his sermon on Christmas morning in 1525, Martin Luther commented on the “days of Elijah” and his coming to earth before the coming of Christ: “But first we must answer the inquiry liable to be made, If the voice of God today is the last message, why is it said that Elijah and Enoch shall come, opposing Antichrist?

I answer: Concerning the advent of Elijah, I hold that he will not come in a physical manner. As to the coming of Elijah I am suspended between heaven and earth, but I am inclined to believe it will not take place bodily. However, I will not contend hard against the other view. Each may believe or not believe it, as he likes. I well know St. Augustine has somewhere said, ‘The advent of Elijah and of Antichrist is firmly fixed in the belief of all Christians. But I also know there is no statement of Scripture to substantiate his assertion.

Malachi’s prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah (Malachi 4:5) the angel Gabriel makes reference to John the Baptist (Luke 1:17), and Christ does the same even more explicitly where He says in Mark 9:13, ‘But I say unto you that Elijah is come, and they have also done to him whatsoever they would, even as it is written of him, ‘Now, if John is the Elijah of the prophecy, as the Lord here says he was, the prediction of Malachi is already fulfilled. And there is nothing more prophesied concerning the coming of Elijah. The statement the Lord made just previously to the one quoted, ‘Elijah indeed cometh first, and restoreth all things,’ may be fairly interpreted to mean that Christ, referring to the office of John, practically says: ‘Yes, I well know Elijah must first come and restore all things, but he has already come and accomplished it.’

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Decision: The Wide or Narrow Gate?

The Narrow and Wide Gate

Why does the Christian faith describe such a difficult journey through life?

Matthew 7:13-14: 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

broadandnarrowgerman

The Narrow Gate – a drawing by Charlotte Reihlen (1862)

Charlotte Reihlen was converted to the Christian faith by the Rev. Ludwig Hofacker of Stuttgart. Her conversion made her husband angry and he left her and took a boat to the United States. While in America, her husband repented of his sin and decided to return home to his wife in Germany. Charlotte founded a Deaconess House and a middle school for girls. She probably educated 500 young girls and women.

The painting is an allegory of passages from Scripture and there are many points that are unexplained, ambiguous, and subject to criticism. For example, the fence between the two paths and the Prodigal son on the narrow path.

Luther: Martin Luther touches on this in Concerning Christian Liberty, when he writes, “Christian faith has appeared to many an easy thing; nay, not a few even reckon it among the social virtues, as it were; and this they do because they have not made proof of it experimentally, and have never tasted of what efficacy it is.”

Luther understood that faith does not lead to a journey on the easy path. In Concerning Christian Liberty, Luther writes of our obligation to our neighbor and people we may not even have a relationship with. Following the life of Jesus, accepting those who hurt and abuse us, forgiving sins, and resisting temptation are the most difficult things in life. People who have faith in Jesus Christ discover the meaning of life and the joy of living an abundant life in God’s grace!

 Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Hymn Parade – When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Hymn Parade: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross by Isaac Watts (1707)

 To what extent is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ the single most important event in world history?

Galatians 6:14     May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQlJm-5_Ll4

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God! All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down! Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Isaac Watts (1674–1748) wrote hymns that reflected the theme of the sermon and in a poetic style that was ideal for congregational singing. Before Isaac Watts, hymns often supplemented the Psalms or based on the strict interpretation of Scripture. Isaac Watts is credited with writing 750 hymns! The hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross is inspired by the most important event in human and personal history!

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Christ_on_the_Cross

Christ on the Cross was painted in 1627 by Peter Paul Rubens

In this painting, Jesus Christ is shown crucified on a cross with three women beneath him weeping with sympathy. Jesus is based in the center of the painting to clearly state the importance of His sacrifice and that the subject of this painting is religious. The use of darker colors makes the sacrifice of Jesus to appear as sympathetic and personal for the viewer. Imagine the impact of the perspective of this painting around the same time as the Pilgrims and Puritans were coming to Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colony.

Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. “God forbid,” says the Apostle, “that I should glory in anything as dangerous as the false apostles glory in because what they glory in is a poison that destroys many souls, and I wish it were buried in hell. Let them glory in the flesh if they wish and let them perish in their glory. As for me I glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He expresses the same sentiment in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, where he (Paul) says: “We glory in tribulations”; and in the twelfth chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians: “Most gladly, therefore, will l rather glory in my infirmities.” According to these expressions the glory of a Christian consists in tribulations, reproaches, and infirmities.

But the Cross of Christ is not to be understood here as the two pieces of wood to which He was nailed, because it is all the afflictions of the believers whose sufferings are Christ’s sufferings. Elsewhere Paul writes: “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)

It is good for us to know this lest we sink into despair when our opponents persecute us. Let us bear the cross for Christ’s sake. It will ease our sufferings and make them light as Christ says in Matthew 11:30, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

By whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. “The world is crucified unto me,” means that I condemn the world. “I am crucified unto the world,” means that the world in turn condemns me. I detest the doctrine, the self-righteousness, and the works of the world. The world in turn detests my doctrine and condemns me as a revolutionary heretic. Thus the world is crucified unto us and we unto the world.

In this verse Paul expresses his hatred of the world. The hatred was mutual. As Paul, so we are to despise the world and the devil. With Christ on our side we can defy him and say: “Satan, the more you hurt me, the more I oppose you.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

When Jacob Met Esau

Jacob Doubted God When he Returned Home to Face Esau

When did God surprise you?

Genesis 32: Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’” When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”

17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”

19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.

Genesis 33 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.

Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.” Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down. Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?” “To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” he said.

But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.” 10 “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it. 12 Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.” meeting-of-jacob-and-esau-1844 Jacob Meets Esau by Francesco Hayez (1844)

Jacob deceived his father Isaac, who was nearly blind, for the birthright. His twin brother Esau was furious over this deceit and Jacob left the land of Canaan where his grandfather, Abraham, had lived. He has been away from his family for 20 years and receives word that his brother Esau is coming to meet him, with a following of 400 men.

Jacob fears the worst and in his desperation turns to God in prayer. The first lesson he learned was that prayer is not a simple request but a persistent struggle with God. The story in the previous chapter describes a physical encounter with an angel of God with the dislocation of Jacob’s hip. It is a powerful story, similar to how Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane when He was faced with betrayal and death by crucifixion.

We learn in this picture the importance of humility and falling on our knees before God and other people we have hurt. We also learn of God’s blessing in that Esau accepted his brother Jacob and asked for no retribution; only love and acceptance. Hayez portrays the powerful Esau embracing his deceptive twin brother.

We learn the importance of having faith in God and trusting His wisdom over our cleverness – or the advice of Pastor Google and friends. This is such a powerful story for anyone who struggles with a broken relationship, medical issue, alienation, and loneliness. We might say that this story and picture is a powerful lesson about human behavior. In Luther’s lecture (commentary) on Genesis 33, he speaks directly to how God intervenes inwardly to change hatred into reconciliation and acceptance. Luther explains this as a miracle!

“Esau again inquires what these companies are than he may have an opportunity to converse more familiarly with his brother and to emulate him in mutual love and goodwill. It appears that he had not yet received the gifts sent by Jacob. One cannot say what the reason was. Whether it was that he was still burning with hatred and refused to listen to the messengers sent before he saw his brother actually humbling himself, or whether he refused to accept the gifts, moved by special kindness and mercy since he had become milder and had seen the companies offered by his brother, I do not really know. But it seems that he refused the gifts more out of goodwill than hatred.

I will interpret it so that it remains established that this victory worked the miracle that Esau’s heart was changed and placated. So it can be that while his anger was still hot, he set out with the 400 armed men to terrify and kill his brother. But when he saw him humiliated and sending gifts, the Lord’s hand intervened and changed his heart so that he said: ‘Why should I do violence to my brother? why should I take anything from a good and upright man, a needy exile? The Lord has blessed me more bountifully than He blessed my brother; it would be fair for me to relieve his need by the abundance of my possessions. Why, then, should I accept gifts at his hand?’

God works this inwardly through the Spirit, but outwardly through means, the respectful possession and the offering of gifts, although Esau does not seem to have accepted them because of the very great zeal and love with which he embraces his reconciled brother.” (Luther’s Works: Lectures on Genesis. pp.169-170)

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

The Temptation of Christ

Do temptations always test our faith?

Matthew 4: 1-11: Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

temptations-of-christ

The Temptations of Christ Fresco in Sistine Chapel 1480-1482 by Sandro Botticello

The Temptations of Christ depicts three scenes from the gospels. The story takes place in the midst of people rather than in the isolation of the desert. This application about sin and temptation in our daily lives would speak directly to the hearts of the people and to the clergy in the Sistine Chapel as it calls for repentance.

On the left, Jesus who has been fasting, is confronted by Satan who is disguised as a hermit, to turn the stones in the desert to bread. The second scene in the close-up below, Satan tempts Jesus to challenge God’s promise that the angels will protect Him. He tempts Jesus to jump from the cliff. In the third scene, Satan promises Jesus all the beauties and wealth of the world if He will deny God.

Temptation in Detail-Sandro_Botticelli

Close-up view of the upper right section of the painting

Luther, in his sermon in 1525 during the Peasants’ Revolt said: “But in spiritual matters this temptation is powerful when one has to do with the nourishment not of the body but of the soul. Here God has held before us the person and way, by which the soul can be forever nourished in the richest manner possible without any want, namely Christ, our Savior. But this way, this treasure, this provision no one desires. Everybody seeks another way, other provisions to help their souls.

The real guilty ones are those who would be saved through their own work; these the devil sets conspicuously on the top of the temple. They follow him and go down where there is no stairway; they believe and trust in their own work where there is no faith nor trust, no way nor bridge, and break their necks. But Satan makes use of and persuades them through the Scriptures to believe that the angels will protect them, and that their way, works and faith are pleasing to God, and who called them through the Scriptures to do good works; but they do not care how falsely they explain the Scriptures.

Who these are, we have identified often enough and very fully, namely, work righteous persons and unbelieving hypocrites under the name of being Christians and among the congregation of Christian people. For the temptation must take place in the holy city and one temptation is seldom against another.

In the first temptation want and hunger are the reasons that we should not believe; and by which we become anxious to have a full sufficiency, so that there is no chance for us to believe.

In the second temptation, however, the abundance and the full sufficiency are the reasons that we do not believe, by which we become tired of the common treasure, and every one tries to do something through his own powers to provide for his soul. So we do; if we have nothing, then we doubt God and believe not; if we have abundance, then we become tired of it and wish to have something different, and again we fail to believe. There we flee and turn against want and seek abundance: here we seek want and flee from the abundance we have. No, whatever God does for us, is never right. Such is the bottomless, wickedness of our unbelief.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

When Sarah Doubted God

Have you ever doubted God’s hidden presence in your life or experienced an “impossible dream” because of God’s love for you?

Genesis 18:1-15 (Sarah’s laugh) 18 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[a] do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. 10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

Rembrandt_Abraham_Serving_the_Three_Angels

Abraham and the Three Angels by Rembrandt (1646)

Rembrandt is bold in his illustration of this divine encounter when God speaks directly to Abraham and Sarah regarding His promise of a son and His plan for salvation. He uses light and presents God as an angel in a very personal way. We see an elderly Abraham and Sarah (at the door) with expressions of disbelief. Rembrandt thought deeply about God’s interactions with people as told in the book of Genesis.

Martin Luther wrote in his lecture on Genesis 18 in 1539, “Sarah was now eighty-nine years old, and during so many years she ha been hoping for the blessing of the Lord. When she sees that her hope is futile, she submits everything to God. Yet she does not utterly despair. For this reason the Lord puts up with her weakness and is not offended by her laughter, which has its origin in her thinking about something that is impossible. For what further hope could there be for a barren and exhausted woman? Therefore the Lord brings her to faith with a very friendly reproof.

Furthermore, I stated that not only Sarah but also Abraham himself supposed that these guests of his were foreigners and that he had no thought either of angels or of prophets. Therefore when they promise a child, Sarah thought: ‘Who would be telling them this? They are not speaking from the heart; they want to ingratiate themselves, because they suppose that women hear such things with pleasure.’

These were Sarah’s thoughts when she laughed. But after she heard Him who sees and has before Him all things, new thoughts arise n her; for she notices that these are not ordinary men, but they are men full of the Holy Spirit, who sees the secrets of the hearts and reveals them.

Therefore this is a cheerful and friendly reproof. From it Sarah concluded that these were men from God and prophets, because they are aware of her laughter and her thoughts even though she is not in their presence.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Calling of Andrew and Peter

The Calling of the Disciples

How does one become filled with the Holy Spirit?

Matthew 4:18-21: 18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”[a] 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Calling of Simon and Andrew-2The Calling of Simon and Andrew by James Tissot (1886-1894)

James Tissot, a French artist sees Simon Peter and Andrew fishing in shallow water and close enough to the shore to hear the voice of Jesus. Tissot visited the Holy Land in 1880 and observed local fishermen wearing nets around their waste.

Calling of Simon and Andrew

The Calling of Saint Peter and Andrew by Bernardo Struzzo but more recently (2006) verified that this was painted by Caravaggio.

In this painting Caravaggio pictures a youthful Jesus without a beard leading two older brothers. Peter is holding a fish in his right hand and Andrew and Peter still appear confused about what they have just experienced regarding the large number of fish they caught after Jesus directed them to fish in the deeper water.

Martin Luther: In Luther’s sermon on Matthew in 1521, he marks the calling of the disciples as the time for grace to be preached throughout the world. The disciples will minister to people in need, preach to the heathen, forgive sinners, be witnesses that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

In his sermon on the Monday after Easter in 1525 (Luke 24:13-25), Martin Luther describes the disciples as ignorant fishermen who came to know Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

“‘The apostles likewise, being ignorant fishermen, learned to know the Scriptures, not in the schools of the great scribes, but through the revelation by which Christ led them into the Scriptures. Thus they were enabled to understand and to write on the basis of a single passage a book or a sermon the world cannot understand. And if I had the same Spirit Isaiah or Paul had, I could take this passage and develop from it a New Testament, if that were not already written.

 How did St. Peter know, or where is written in Moses that which he says in 1 Peter 10-11: “Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto?” Who told him that the Spirit of Christ existed and prophesied of Christ, before there were prophets and, above all, before Christ and the Holy Ghost were present? Are these the words of a fisherman, or of a learned, wise scribe? Nay, it is the revelation of the Holy Spirit who had also revealed it to the prophets before.’”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

The Struggle of Nicodemus – A Bible Story About Doubt and Faith

The Struggle of Nicodemus 

Do you have unanswered questions about eternal life and faith?

John 3: 1-21:   Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Jesus-NicodemusJesus and Nicodemus, Crijn Hendricksz, Netherlands, 1645

There is limited information about Nicodemus in the Bible, except for the Gospel of John. Nicodemus was a Pharisee or educated religious leader, he likely had a position in the Jewish decision-making institution, the Sanhedrin, was a man who would be considered wealthy, and he is often pictured on a ladder taking Jesus down from the cross. His educational training in debate, inquiry, and reasoning created a struggle for him to answer the question presented by Jesus about being born again to enter God’s kingdom.

Crijn Hendicksz painted this shortly before his early death at the age of 40. He captures the scene in the opening verse that he came to Jesus in the night. (v.2) The gospel for the Sunday after Pentecost, also known as Trinity Sunday, is John 3, the story of Nicodemus followed by one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, John 3:16.

Luther: (Excerpts from Martin Luther’s sermon on John 3) Luther concisely applies the struggle of Nicodemus to our lives in his 1523 sermon to the congregation in Wittenberg:   “In this Gospel you see clearly what reason and free-will can do. You may see it distinctly in Nicodemus, who was the best of the best, a prince and leader of the Pharisees, and the Pharisees held first place in their day.

They were, however, in the highest things — in spiritual life — altogether blind and dead before God, however holy, wise, good and mighty they may have been considered by men. The longer Nicodemus associates with Christ, the less he understands Christ, although he is expected to understand only earthly things and the manner of Christ’s death. Reason is so blind that it can neither perceive nor understand the things of God, nor all things which properly belong to its own sphere. This is a blow to nature and human reason, which have been rated so high by philosophy and the wise men of this world; the wise ones have said that reason always strives to attain the best.

God has here given us an example showing that even the best in nature must fail. In instances where human nature is at its best it is blind, not to speak of its envy and hatred.

Now, Nicodemus, who is a pious and well-meaning man, cannot grasp the work and Word of God; how then would Annas and Caiaphas? He comes to the Lord at night, which he did from fear, not desiring to be

called a heretic by others. From this we may conclude that he was in nature an old Adam, cowardly seeking Christ by night, and that he did not yet possess the true light. If he had been a “new man,” he would have come in the bright light of day, fearing no one.

Because of his hypocrisy, the Lord deals sharply with him, cutting off his salutation and all further speech, as we shall see. Nicodemus approaches the Lord with these words: “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him.”

Christ’s words are as if to say: No, my dear Nicodemus, I am not moved by your beautiful words. You must give up your old life and become a new man. You have not the faith which you say you have; you are still afraid. Although the natural man hears the Word of God, the Gospel, and delights in it, yet it does not enter the heart. Therefore, we must slay reason and experience the new birth. This is what Christ means when he says that we must be born anew. Reason cannot understand this, wherefore Nicodemus

replies: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”

Now, Christ speaks and destroys reason, saying: “Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things?” You should teach others the spiritual birth, that they might become righteous, but you yourself do not understand it. He defeats reason and the whole law and says: My friend, do you not know how these things can be? It is plain to me, as it was also to the prophets, who corroborate my words. Renounce your reason and close your eyes; cling only to my Word and believe it.

Again he says: “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” As if to say: You presume to judge spiritual things by your reason, and

at the same time you cannot understand the simple things of nature. He calls Nicodemus’ attention to the wind. No philosopher or scientist has ever been able to comprehend and describe the nature of the wind —where it has its beginning or where it ends. We cannot see where the wind comes from, or how it blows past us, or how far it goes. Now, if we cannot by our reason fathom those things which we see daily in nature, much less will we be able to fathom with our reason the divine works which God accomplishes within us….

But if I believe in God and am born anew, I close my eyes and do not grope about. I am willing that the condition of the soul be changed entirely, and I think: O God, my soul is in thy hands; thou hast preserved it during my life and I have never known where thou hast put it. Neither do I wish to know, to which place thou will now assign it. I only know that it is in thy hands and thou wilt take care of it. Thus we must abandon the life of the flesh and enter into a new life, being dead to the old. This is a real dying and not merely a painful sensation, like the scratching off of a scab, as the philosophers have said; and they have compared the entering upon the new life with the rinsing of a pot by the cook. There must be a real change and an entire transformation of nature, for the natural state and natural feeling must be completely overthrown.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org