Jesus Heals the Blind Man

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

The Bible in 3-D

Jesus Heals the Blind Man

What do you see?

Luke 18:35-43  Jesus Heals the Blind Man

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

christ-healing-the-blind-man-1560

The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind Man by El Greco (1560)

Although Bartimaeus was born blind, blindness was a metaphor showing people had no faith. Isaiah and Paul speak of the unbelief of the people in Israel and Asia Minor as not seeing or understanding the revelation of the Messiah or Jesus Christ.

The life of a blind person was awful as the blind were forced to beg and frequently taken advantage of. Blindness, other than a natural condition associated with age, was mostly likely the result of infection from unsanitary conditions or trichinosis from pork.

Therefore, in this picture, El Greco demonstrated the great mercy of Christ in curing his blindness and filling him with the Holy Spirit. It is interesting that El Greco illustrates several people in his painting who appear to be oblivious to the miracle that is happening.

Martin Luther wrote that the book of the Acts of the Apostles is to emphasize the importance of how both Gentiles and Jews must be justified by faith without doing any merits or good works. The big picture of all the stories and events in Acts is how the Gospel or good news of the resurrection and salvation of Jesus Christ makes everything right for us. It is not about the faith of the apostles but it is about faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. We do not need to do anything else – just trust God!

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

Understanding the Debate within Churches Over Sexual Identity

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

The Bible in 3-D  

Understanding the Debate Within Churches Over Sexual Identity and Behavior

Why is there a Debate?

The purpose of this blog is to provide a perspective on the controversy over marriage and sexual behaviors in the institution of the “church.” Rather than taking a position, the intent of this article is to provide information on the affirmative and negative (status quo) side of the issue. Through discussion there should be an informed debate and understanding.

History of Debates

The church, as an institution, has had debates on theological and social issues over the centuries. The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church divided in 1054 A.D. over the presence of statues, the date of Easter, and the authority of the Pope. The Protestant Reformation divided the Roman Catholic Church in 1517 over the authority of the Pope, forgiveness of sins, and the marriage of clergy. July 1519 marks the 500th year anniversary of the Leipzig Debate between Martin Luther and Johann Eck over the authority of God’s Word, the distinction between the law and the gospel, the errors of people and institutions, and the absolute forgiveness of sins by Jesus Christ. Andreas Karlstadt and Philipp Melanchton also contributed to the debate with Luther.

The house arrest of Galileo, Index of Prohibited Books, Inquisition, infallibility of the Pope, Scope’s Trial on the teaching of evolution in schools, contraception, population control, abortion, are examples of conflicts that have been debated by clergy and Christians. Some of these issues are still being debated within the church, society, and families.

The LGBT community represents almost 15% of the population in the United States, a significant minority with millions of American families accepting LGBT persons as family, neighbors, colleagues. In the decade of the 1920s following World War I, the gay community became more visible until the McCarthy Hearings in 1950. The 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village marked a turning point in the problems the LGBT community faced. Harvey Milk became the first openly gay politician who was elected to the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco in 1977. In the 1980s, the homosexual community was affected by the AIDS epidemic. This epidemic led to the identification of people seeking treatment and millions of others who died from AIDS. In 2003 Massachusetts became the first state to recognize gay marriage and today all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) recognize or perform same sex marriages in some capacity.

The Christian church has consistently taught that God knows us before we are born, is the creator of life, and calls people to faith in baptism. Many Christians understand marriage as either a sacrament or part of God’s plan and not necessarily the result of free will or a decision by two adults. It is similar to the “call” one receives to enter the holy ministry. The question of marriage and the amount of free will or foreknowledge by God is important to discuss.

The Church Proclaims God’s Grace

All are welcome

God’s timeless Word reveals His plan for humanity and His intentions for marriage and sexuality. God’s grace is for all who are baptized and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Although churches may not approve or validated a same sex marriage, premarital sex, a change in gender from a birth certificate, prostitution, adultery, the church recognizes that the sinful nature of humanity impacts each of us. However, in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and become a new creation.

Romans 3: 21-26: “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood-to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 26he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

John 3: 16-17: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

The Church Teaches God’s Love!

Galatians 5:14 “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

James 4:12 “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

Romans 13:8-10 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

John 8:7-11 “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The Church Teaches That the Bible is the Inspired Word of God

Judaism and Christianity are “revealed religions” because they are based on God’s direct communication with His people on Earth through Abraham, Moses, prophets, and apostles.

The most explicit account of this is in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

When Jesus was with us on Earth, he unequivocally accepted the authority of Scripture and He applied it to every contemporary situation. When Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days after His baptism, he quoted the Bible in His encounters with Satan. He respected the faith of the Jews and corrected their unbelief.

Martin Luther spoke of the authority of the Bible at the Diet of Worms in 1521, “–unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason…I do not accept the authority of popes or councils, for they have contradicted each other…my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand)

When the church has been faced with challenges, as they were with the verse that the sun stood still, the creation of the world in seven days, the Great Flood, or the Virgin birth, the position has been that the translation is in error or the limitation of human understanding.

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” 13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua: 10:12-14)

The Words of Scripture on Sexual Ethics

The verses below are not presented in an order of importance, except that I separated the verses in the Old Testament from the New Testament. They are provided only as information to explain the controversy or debate with some churches or between individuals. There is always the danger of citing a verse without offering the context in the Bible or the situation at the time.

The verses below are from the New Testament of the Bible:

Mark 10:6-9 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

 Romans 1:26-28 “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.”

 Hebrews 13:4 “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

1 Timothy 1:8-11 “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

1 Corinthians 6:17-20 “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

1 Corinthians 7:2 “But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.”

Jude 1:7-8 “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. 8 In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings.”

Matthew 19-6

The verses below are in the Old Testament of the Bible:

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.”

Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Leviticus 18:22 “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.’”

Leviticus 20:13 “‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.’”

Perspective of Martin Luther

In the first five volumes of Luther’s collected works there are over one thousand explicit references to the verbal inspiration of Scripture! Martin Luther and John Calvin were very clear in their understanding that God is the author of the Bible and although it is written by people it is the inspired and revealed Word of God. Therefore, it is not appropriate to select or delete words, verses, or sections. The entire Bible must be accepted as the Word of God.

Martin Luther made no new claims concerning the nature of the Scripture. Luther writes “We must make a great difference between God’s Word and the word of man. A man’s word is a little sound, that flies in the air, and soon vanishes; but the Word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God and endures everlastingly; we should therefore, diligently study God’s Word and assuredly believe that God Himself speaks to us.” (Martin Luther, 1848 “The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther, tr. by W. Hazlitt”, 20)

Luther also wrote, “It is cursed unbelief and odious flesh which will not permit us to see and know that God speaks to us in Scripture and that it is God’s Word, but tells us that it is merely the word of Isaiah, Paul or some other man who has not created heaven and earth. (Robert Preus, “Luther: Word, Doctrine and Confession” Doctrine Is Life: Essays on Scripture. St. Louis: Concordia, 2006, 264)

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

 

The Widow’s Offering

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

The Bible in 3-D  (Text, Image, Perspective)

 The Widow’s Offering

How has God invested in each of us?

 Mark 12:41-44   The Widow’s Offering

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Widow's Mite

The Widow’s Mite (Le denier de la veuve), by James Tissot, 1886-1894

Martin Luther did not preach on this parable but the perspective of Rev. David Lose, past president of the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia offers a contemporary perspective on stewardship and using all of the gifts God gives to each of us.

“Stewardship is not, ultimately, about what we give to the church. Rather, stewardship reflects a conviction that everything we have has been entrusted to us by God. Therefore, stewardship is concerned with helping us use all that we have wisely – that is, as God would have us use it.

Read this way, Jesus words about the widow push us to expect more of ourselves and our congregations and take seriously that everything we have – gifts, abilities, challenges, wealth, assets, time, opportunities – all of this comes from God with an expectation to use it in accord with the ethics and patterns of the “anti-kingdom” Jesus has been proclaiming.”  http://www.davidlose.net/2012/10/mark-12-41-44-2/

Think about what our world would be like if the Words of Jesus and the Bible were never written, lost, destroyed, or never translated into the languages we understand.  The Bible is the source of truth in a time when Truth is challenged and questioned.  The Bible reveals to us God’s love and grace, His promises, and His daily involvement in our lives.

The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German and the printing of the Bible is perhaps the most important event in World History regarding the importance of God’s Words in art, literature, music, and the impact on individual lives.

How can we best prepare to celebrate this historic event in 1522?

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

Restoring Life to Jairus’ Daughter

Healing the Sick Woman and Restoring Life to Jairus’ Daughter

 Mark 5:21-43   21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him.

25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

SONY DSC

 The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter by Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max (1878)

Miracles presented a problem for artists because of the difficulty in capturing the main point of the event and the atmosphere surrounding the event. In this painting we do not see the desperation of the family and friends whose young daughter has died. Jesus is not the focal point of the painting and is lost in the darkness. Our attention is on the young girl dressed in white but still sleeping and lifeless. Miracles were a problem for people living in the Enlightenment because they denied the natural order of things. Thomas Jefferson edited the Bible and removed the stories of miracles from it. The message of the Bible in the 18th and 19th centuries was on morality rather than faith.

Is it important to see the figure of Christ or the miracle of the young girl coming to life? How would Jesus feel about his place in this painting? As you read the Bible verses and analyze the painting, what is the most important part of the story?

Luther: “These are the words of such a teacher. And He is worthy of being believed by the faithful. He must say: ‘To me, death is not death, but a sleep. In My sight, no one dies; but all are only sleeping.’ We must answer: ‘Amen, my Lord. I believe. Help me believe, my Christ. You do not lie.’ It is Your gift that I do not lie to myself, but believe firmly that I cannot die eternally; the fact that I die means that I shall sleep for a time. Only give me this faith. You are the one who says to these crowds and flute players: ‘Go away,’ so that they will go away and stop troubling and ridiculing this faith of mine. Unless You tell them to go away, I shall be unable to stand against them. Meanwhile, I shall believe that when I die I shall not die, but fall asleep; that when I am dead I am still living, because I live to You, whom I believe. And You are the one who makes alive, You who say concerning me: ‘He is not dead; rather, to me he is living and is sleeping for a time until I awaken him so that he may be alive to himself as well.’”

According to Robert Kolb in Luther and the Stories of God, Christ sees the world differently than we do. David had seen himself as a poor shepherd, and so had the world, but Christ viewed him as a king.  We see ourselves as sinners but Christ sees us as saints. Jesus speaks two words ‘Talitha koum’ and a dead girl gets up! (p. 80)

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

Healing the Centurion’s Servant

How was it possible for the faith of the centurion to heal his servant? Do you agree or disagree with Martin Luther that alien faith needs to be rejected?

Luke 7:1-10: When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

JesusHealingCenturionServant

Healing the Centurion’s Servant by Paolo Veronese (1580)

Paolo Veronese was an Italian Renaissance painter from Venice known for his historic and religious paintings. His challenge is to tell the story of the healing of the servant while focusing on the faith of the centurion. Two of the centurion’s helmeted soldiers are with their commander as Jesus compassionately gestures to the kneeling soldier. The large painting is at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Luther: Luther preached on the miracles of the healing of the lepers and the centurion’s servant on the Third Sunday after Epiphany in 1529. It is a remarkable message about faith without merit or works. The lepers call upon Jesus for mercy and healing and the faith of the centurion heals his servant. Yet, the gospels are clear that we are called to faith by the Holy Spirit and that the faith of one person does not save someone else. This will raise questions about the faith of infant and young children and prayers of a faithful parent for an unbelieving son or daughter. The question is does the faith of a parent save their child? “Now the question is, what becomes of the young children, seeing that they have not yet reason and are not able to believe for themselves, because it is written in Romans 10:17: “Belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Little children neither hear nor understand the Word of God, and therefore they can have no faith of their own.”

Excerpt from Martin Luther’s sermon in January 1529: “Herein is the great faith of this heathen that he knows salvation does not depend upon the bodily presence of Christ, for this does not avail, but upon the Word and faith. But the apostles did not yet know this, neither perhaps did His mother, but they clung to His bodily presence and were not willing to let it go, John 16:6. They did not cling to His Word alone. But this heathen is so fully satisfied with His Word, that he does not even desire His presence nor does he deem himself worthy of it. Moreover, he proves his strong faith by a comparison and says: I am a man and can do what I wish with mine own by a word; should not you be able to do what you wish by a word, because I am sure, and you also prove that health and sickness, death and life are subject to you as my servants are to me? Therefore also his servant was healed in that hour by the power of his faith.

Now since the occasion is offered and this Gospel requires it, we must say a little about alien faith and its power for many are interested in this subject, especially on account of the little children, who are baptized and are saved not by their own, but by the faith of others; just as this servant was healed not by his own faith, but by the faith of his master. We have never yet treated of this matter; therefore we must treat of it now in order to anticipate, as much as in us lies future danger and error.

First we must let the foundation stand firm and sure, that nobody will be saved by the faith or righteousness of another, but only by his own; and on the other hand nobody will be condemned for the unbelief or sins of another, but for his own unbelief; as the Gospel says clearly and distinctly in Mark 16:16: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” “The righteous shall live by faith.” And John 3:16-18: “Whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already.” These are clear, public words, that everyone must believe for himself, and nobody can help himself by the faith of others., without his own faith. From these passages we dare not depart and we must not deny them, let them strike where they may, and we ought rather let the world perish than change this divine truth. And if any plausible argument is made against it, that you are not able to refute, you must confess that you do not understand the matter and commit it to God, rather than admit anything contrary to these clear statements. Whatever may become of the heathen, Jews, Turks, little children and everything that exists, these words must be right and true.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

The Stoning of Stephen

The Stoning of Stephen and the Big Picture of Pentecost

How did Stephen’s faith give him the freedom to forgive his murderers in the pain of his violent death?

Acts 7: 54-60  54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Stoning of Stephen-Rembrandt-1625

The Stoning of St. Stephen by Rembrandt, 1625

This is Rembrandt’s first painting with a biblical subject. Stephen was a member of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Stephen’s job was to care for Greek widows. “And according to Acts 6:8, Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.”

A group of Jews became jealous. In front of the high priests they falsely accused Stephen. He defended himself with a long plea that ended with accusing the priests. Stephen claimed they did not uphold the law, and that they betrayed and killed those that announced the coming of the “Just One” who is Jesus Christ.

The crowd in the temple was infuriated and seized Stephen. Outside the city he was stoned to death. That made Stephen into the first Christian martyr: someone who died for the faith. The yet unconverted Saul (Paul) looked on with approval. (Acts 6, 7 and 8:1).

In the background to the right are the priests. In the top center members of the Christian community watch with fear and worry. Stephen wears a fine gown, common among the deacons in Rembrandt’s days. His last words were “lay not this sin to their charge”. The light that shines on Stephen’s face represents the sign that heaven saw all this happen. The man on horseback is probably Saul, the persecutor of Christians, who will soon take a trip to Damascus where he is converted to the Christian faith after being without sight for several days. His name is changed to Paul.

In the selected passages from Martin Luther’s sermon on St. Stephen’s Day, we discover how faith gives us freedom.

Do we need churches?

“There is no other reason for building churches than to afford a place where Christians may assemble to pray, to hear the Gospel and to receive the sacraments; if indeed there is a reason. When churches cease to be used for these purposes they should be pulled down, as other buildings are when no longer of use. As it is now, (1523) the desire of every individual in the world is to establish his own chapel or altar, even his own mass, with a view of securing salvation, of purchasing heaven. Let us, therefore, beloved friends, be wise; wisdom is essential. Let us truly learn we are saved through faith in Christ and that alone. This fact has been made sufficiently manifest.”

The Faith of Stephen

First, we see in Stephen’s conduct love toward God and man. He manifests his love to God by earnestly and severely censuring the Jews, calling them betrayers, murderers and transgressors of the whole Law, yes stiff necked, and saying they resist the fulfillment of the Law and resist also the Holy Spirit. More than that, he calls them “uncircumcised in heart and ears.” How could he have censured them any more severely? So completely does he strip them of every creditable thing, it would seem as if he were moved by impatience and wrath.

Stephen’s love for God constrained him to his act. No one who possesses the same degree of love can be silent and calmly permit the rejection of God’s commandments. He cannot dissemble. He must censure and rebuke everyone who opposes God. Such conduct he cannot permit even if he risks his life to rebuke it. Love of this kind the Scriptures term “zelum Dei,” a holy indignation. For rejection of God’s commands is a slight upon his love and intolerably disparages the honor and obedience due him, honor and obedience which the zealous individual ardently seeks to promote. We have an instance of such a one in the prophet Elijah, who was remarkable for his holy indignation against the false prophets.

Stephen’s conduct is a beautiful example of love for fellowmen in that he entertains no ill-will toward even his murderers. However severely he rebukes them in his zeal for the honor of God, such is the kindly feeling he has for them that in the very agonies of death, having made provision for himself by commending his Spirit to God, he has no further thought about himself but is all concern for them. Under the influence of that love he yields up his spirit. Not undesignedly does Luke place Stephen’s prayer for his murderers at the close of the narrative. Note also, when praying for himself and commending his spirit to God he stood, but he knelt to pray for his murderers. Further, he cried with a loud voice as he prayed for them, which he did not do for himself.

Who can number the virtues illustrated in Stephen’s example? There loom up all the fruits of the Spirit. We find love, faith, patience, benevolence, peace, meekness, wisdom, truth, simplicity, strength, consolation, philanthropy. We see there also hatred and censure for all forms of evil. We note a disposition not to value worldly advantage nor to dread the terrors of death. Liberty, tranquility and all the noble virtues and graces are in evidence. There is no virtue but is illustrated in this example; no vice it does not rebuke. Well may the evangelist say Stephen was full of faith and power. Power here implies activity. Luke would say, “His faith was great; hence his many and mighty works.” For when faith truly exists, its fruits must follow. The greater the faith, the more abundant its fruits.”

hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

Jesus Prayed for His Disciples

Jesus Prayed for His Disciples

Our essential question should be why does God have faith in me instead of why do I have faith in God!

John 17: 1-26   After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Jesus Prays for All Believers

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus Face

Head of Christ by Warner Sallman (1940)

With over 500 million copies printed, this is the image of Jesus Christ (wavy hair, pensive, radiant) that people have embedded in their memory. It is a popular picture found on greeting cards, church bulletins, announcements, and public areas. The image conveys Christ’s righteousness, power, reverence, love, and compassion.

Warner Sallman’s parents were immigrants from Sweden and Finland who lived in Chicago. In addition to the Head of Christ his paintings include Christ Our Pilot and The Lord is My Shepherd.

Luther:  In 1528, between August 8 and October 31, Luther wrote a series of sermons on this prayer. We see in the words excerpted from his sermons that Jesus Christ was part of God’s creation, that even though God is present everywhere, the work of Jesus Christ was to save us from sin. The perspective of Luther in the words below is that whatever challenge we face, we have a friend in Jesus who is praying for us! Luther understands our faith in Jesus Christ as the knowledge God reveals to us that He is a God of abundant love and mercy. This knowledge is revealed to us in v. 15-19; 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

“Consider thou and fully weigh the reason why Christ came, and what He did for the world—He came down from heaven, and was made man, that He might finish the work which the Father gave Him to do (as you will find He Himself hereafter saith); that is, that he might take the sins of the whole world upon himself, and might die to blot them out, and to appease the wrath of the Father; and that he might in His own person overcome death and the devil, and redeem us unto Himself.”

“If God is so omnipresent, how, then, could Christ say that He was going out of the world?”

Luther answered: “This question may be answered and in two ways. In one way, according to frothy, human wisdom, that He has as­cended upon high, and sits above as in a swallows’ nest….But I, according to the Scripture, give this answer, and say that ‘in the world’ means to be in its external and sensible state, that is, to enjoy this life which the world enjoys, which is called the natural life in which we eat, drink, sleep, labor, and take care of our families; in a word, in which we make use of the world; and all things necessary unto this life….Therefore He (Christ) no longer lives a life after the manner of this world; that is, He no longer is in a corporal life, which is to be supported by meat, drink, and other cor­poral necessities.

But we say, that we are to hear that word from the mouth of Christ only. He that hears and believes this, has rightly the truth of God which sanctifies without believing His word, then you can hold fast no hope or confidence in your own reason and wisdom, nor in your strength and works; nor can you arrogate to yourself any holiness because of them, as to be able to avail before God. Therefore, those that are of this mind cannot be proud and arrogant; for they can find nothing in themselves, on account of which they can boast. And you see, that unfeigned humility always follows where there is unfeigned faith. And, true patience and love to the fellow believers upon true humility. When we are under the influence of this, we despise no one, we serve and are kind to all; and whatever evil comes upon us, we endure it with a patient mind; we are not wrathful, nor do we revenge injuries, when we meet ingratitude, perfidy, grief, ignoring, and reproach.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Ascension of Jesus Christ to Heaven!

Ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven

 How do you understand the perspective of the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven?

 Acts 1: 6-11     So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

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The Ascension by Dosso Dossi, 1520

The Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven is documented as 40 days after His resurrection on Easter. It is one of the most important dates in the Church and it is a statement of faith in the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. It is accepted by Roman Catholics, the Eastern and Russian Orthodox Churches, and Protestants.

He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

It is through faith that we understand heaven as the community of all believers or what has been called the invisible church. There are many things we cannot see or understand in this life and perhaps an analogy is that microscopes help us to see molecules, telescopes the depth of space, and magnetic reasoning images the secrets of our body, we are able to see heaven through faith and the reading of God’s Words.

The people of this world will challenge our faith and instincts which is why our understanding, explanation, and actions are powerful illustrations of God’s kingdom and heaven.

Saint Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15-16, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”

This is Scripture and this is God’s Word, which is greater than all understanding and reason. The Scriptures document the truth – authentic news and not fake news.

 In 1534 Martin Luther preached on Ascension Day. Luther speaks about the history and the fruit of the ascension. This history states what happened, how Christ was taken up and hidden by a cloud. If this is preached only as history, Luther says, it does not benefit us. Yet it is preached for our sake!

As he preaches the fruit and use of the ascension for us, Luther proclaims that Christ has made captive all those things that held us captive. Sin, death, devil, etc. no longer hold us captive. Christ has bound them in captivity on high. Since Christ has captured our captors, we are now free from the things that would hold us captive before God: sin, death, hell, and the devil. Luther is drawing here on Ephesians 4:8.

A key fruit of this for us is that we are free from sin. Luther says that we can now taunt sin. If sin threatens to terrify us, we can say to sin: “You are my servant, I am your lord. This is one component of being free from sin, the freedom from fear before God. Another component is the freedom to turn away from sin. Luther preaches both components:

“If you believe in Christ, then the text says that you believe that He sits above, and that He has taken captive my captivity, that is, my sin. In what way? It should not terrify me before God…. I believe in Him who is above, who has captured sin.

Free in Christ, we can stand against temptations because Christ has led sin into captivity by His ascension.

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.

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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

Jesus is the Great Physician

Will our children inherit our values?

Matthew 9: 12-13: On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus Great Physician

The Physician’s Prayer

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Chief of Medical Staff

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The Family of God

Nathan Greene is a freelance artist known for his Christian art and historical and geographic scenes. One of the most difficult assignments for an artist is to paint Jesus Christ because our image of the historical Jesus has been influenced by artists throughout history. Nathan Greene’s art illustrates the personality of Jesus as a picture of love, grace, and comfort. The paintings above are about Matthew 9:12-13.

The pastor, priest, artist, this blog writer attempts to translate Jesus into the realism of our daily lives. For people of faith, the presence of Jesus Christ with family, in times of serious illness or accident, and in the context of the big picture of the diversity of God’s presence in lives throughout history is one of comfort and confidence.

For people who lack faith, it is the words of Jesus in Matthew 9:12-13 that have deep meaning. The presence and love of God comes to us in His Holy Spirit when we need it the most because of sin, guilt, loneliness, and physical, mental, and emotional needs. The words of Matthew assure us that Jesus knows our name and He comes to us in different ways every day. But it is when we need a physician or Savior that we see His grace and love.

Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Matthew 9:13, “Therefore, what He is saying is that it is His Father’s will that He should call sinners and not the righteous. He comes not to judge the world but to save the world (John 3:17) and this by the will of the Father.”

Jesus is saying, “I am calling sinners to repentance according to the forgiveness of sins, to make them righteous twice over, that is, by grace and in truth. (John 1:14,17). By grace, because their sins have been forgiven. In truth, because they are truly beginning to be good and to do good works.”

Repentance is putting sins to death! In forgiveness we are called to the continuous effort of recognizing the evil of hating, prejudice, judging, and separating ourselves from God. Our children will inherit our wealth when we die but we also want them to inherit our values – values of forgiveness, acceptance, love, grace, truth, justice, understanding the eternal promise of God and worshiping Him as Savior and Lord!

hbitten@reverendluther.org