Step Seven – Engaging Others

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

The Digital Disciples Series

ENGAGING – Step 7

 How do you define or describe an active disciple?

 How many people follow your news feed? 

John 1:45 “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’”

 When Philip encountered Jesus and discovered who He was, he immediately wanted to share it with his friend, Nathanael. Our desire to make disciples should stem from obedience, but also love for others—if we believe Jesus is who He says He is, we cannot be complacent.

Jesus-Andrew-Philip-jesus

According to a survey by The Institute for American Church Growth, family and friends are the main link for bringing others to faith in Christ with about 60% of those asked, “What person was it that led you to come to faith in Christ?”, reporting that it was a family member or friend.

Jesus says to each one of us. “Come!” This is how we are called to faith. We share the happiest events in our lives – births, graduations, promotions, awards, weddings, vacations with family and friends – and faith in Jesus Christ should be the most important celebration in our life because it changes everything!

The essential answer to all our questions about life is in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. When we share this answer with others we are proclaiming, witnessing, and demonstrating engagement as an active disciple. We are modeling Philip by sharing the joy and excitement that comes with the peace and understanding about the perspective of life that is known through the gift of faith in Jesus. When we know who Jesus is and why He came into our civilization, the way we talk and live is changed.

witnessBeing an active disciple is sharing our lives with a friend and ice cream and coffee

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!”

Dosso_Dossi_022

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.

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

Jesus Enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

Jesus Enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

What question would you ask Jesus if you saw Him?

Matthew 21: 1-11   As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”   11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Giotto Entry into Jerusalem

The Entry into Jerusalem by Giotto di Bondone (1305)

The Entry into Jerusalem is told in detail in all four gospels indicating its importance for Jesus and our salvation. Although this may not be the most descriptive painting of Palm Sunday, it reminds me of the importance of continuity over time as this fresco was painted over 700 years ago! The historical evidence of Holy Week is in the documented love and grace of Jesus Christ!

Jesus is the center and His face is filled with peace and reflection as the crowds to the left rip off branches and take off their outer garments. This moment is not about Jesus but it is all about the people – the apostles on the left who believed Jesus as their Savior and those on the right who are looking for a savior. The artist is aware of the violent death Jesus will face in a few days. We see the reaction of Martin Luther below in his commentary on Palm Sunday as the people asked: “Who is this?”

Martin Luther’s perspective is one that is likely to appear shocking to us in the 21st century because they should have known who Jesus is! “Therefore, it is truly a disgraceful question when they ask who He is in Matthew 21:10, as if they did not know Him and as if the temple, the city, and everything belonged to them. He answers them with a question, however, and sets before them John the Baptist. He asks them where John’s Baptism is from. The common people and children give them a fine answer and say: ‘Have you not heard of John’s testimony? This is Jesus, the prophet from Galilee’ in Matthew 21:11.

They have to fall silent. They cannot allow themselves to answer Christ’s question by saying that John the Baptist’s Baptism is from men, for the people regarded him as a prophet (v. 26) And as they say here: “The prophet comes from Galilee.” (verse 11). The people say, ‘He is Jesus, the prophet.’ And the very word ‘prophet’ is for them like a clap of thunder. This was not to be trifled with, for the people believed that a prophet held the highest authority in spiritual matters. Whatever he might order of command must be done….

For the Lord did not ride in to stir up a revolt or to usurp the government , but He did want to clean out and reform the temple. (Matthew 21: 12-17) And for that reason He attacks only those who are in the spiritual government, to which He was called, and enters the temple as the true Messiah and Lord.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

In Christ Alone by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend (2001)

In Christ Alone – Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, Northern Ireland/England (2001) 

How does this song help us to understand that Jesus Christ has been present in the lives of billions of people since the first century?

In Christ alone my hope is found / He is my light, my strength, my song / This Cornerstone, this solid ground / Firm through the fiercest drought and storm / What heights of love, what depths of peace / When fears are stilled, when strivings cease / My Comforter, my All in All / Here in the love of Christ I stand.       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNRFumI2ch0

1200px-Michelangelo's_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black Pieta, Sculpture by Michelangelo (1499)

The hymn published in 2002 is based on a series of Bible verses relating to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Michelangelo carved this sculpture from one block of marble and it is the only sculpture he signed. It shows the mother of Jesus holding the crucified Jesus Christ, the Son of God and her natural born son. Jesus is at peace as His love for us is now complete in His sacrifice on the cross.

 In Christ alone my hope is found; This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:9-10

He is my light, my strength, my song; Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD : The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. Exodus 15:2

This cornerstone, this solid ground,  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. Ephesians 2:19-21

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11

What heights of love, what depths of peace, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease! There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

My comforter, my all in all— Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:11

Here in the love of Christ I stand. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Martin Luther’s comments on this Epistle are: “St. Paul teaches, first, what the Gospel is, telling how it was provided by God alone in eternity and earned and sent forth through Christ, so that all who believe on it become righteous, godly, living, saved men, and free from the law and sin and death. This he does in the first three chapters.

Then he teaches that different doctrines and the commandments of men are to be avoided, so that we may remain true to one Head and become sure and genuine and complete in Christ alone, in Whom we have everything, so that we need nothing beside Him.

Then he goes on to teach that we are to practice and prove our faith with good works, avoid sin, and fight with spiritual weapons against the devil, so that, through the Cross, we may be steadfast in hope.”

Comments: hbitten@optonline.net

 

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

How are wages, wealth, and inheritance understood in this story?

 Matthew 20:1-16  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This Gospel reading is traditionally read in churches on the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday, which is also the ninth Sunday before Easter. (Septuagesima Sunday) It tells us that we are all sinners and in need of the Grace of Jesus Christ!

Rembrandt_-_Parable_of_the_Laborers_in_the_Vineyard

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard by Rembrandt (1637)

Rembrandt uses darkness to engage the viewer in this scene of two laborers arguing with the landlord about their pay as the workers to the right talk among themselves. The wife of the landlord is the accountant and sits at the table with the open ledger book. This parable is only found in the Gospel of Matthew (a former tax collector) a landowner is paying his workers at the end of the day. The controversy developed when the workers who labored all day received the same wages as part time workers who worked for only a few hours. The perspective Rembrandt creates is for the viewer to look at the scene from the outside, perhaps through a window. This painting is at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The excerpt below is from a sermon Martin Luther preached on Septuagesima Sunday in 1528, the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the ninth Sunday before Easter.

“Hence the substance of the parable in today’s Gospel consists not in the penny, what it is, nor in the different hours; but in earning and acquiring, or how one can earn the penny; that as here the first presumed to obtain the penny and even more by their own merit, and yet the last received the same amount because of the goodness of the householder. Thus God will show it is nothing but mercy that He gives and no one is to arrogate to himself more than another. Therefore He says I do thee no wrong, is not the money Mine and not thine; if I had given away thy property, then thou wouldst have reason to murmur; is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own ?

Now in this way Christ strikes a blow first against the presumption of those who would storm their way into heaven by their good works; as the Jews did and wished to be next to God; as hitherto our own clergy have also done. These all labor for definite wages, that is, they take the law of God in no other sense than that they should fulfill it by certain defined works for a specified reward, and they never understand it correctly, and know not that before God all is pure grace. This signifies that they hire themselves out for wages, and agree with the householder for a penny a day; consequently their lives are bitter and they lead a career that is indeed hard.

Now when the Gospel comes and makes all alike, as Paul teaches in Romans 3:23, so that they who have done great works are no more than public sinners, and must also become sinners and tolerate the saying: “All have sinned”, Romans 3:23, and that no one is justified before God by his works; then they look around and despise those who have done nothing at all, while their great worry and labor avail no more than such idleness and reckless living. Then they murmur against the householder, they imagine it is not right; they blaspheme the Gospel, and become hardened in their ways; then they lose the favor and grace of God, and are obliged to take their temporal reward and trot from him with their penny and be condemned; for they served not for the sake of mercy but for the sake of reward, and they will receive that and nothing more, the others however must confess that they have merited neither the penny nor the grace, but more is given to them than they had ever thought was promised to them. These remained in grace and besides were saved, and besides this, here in time they had enough; for all depended upon the good pleasure of the householder.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

The Wise Men Visit Jesus

The Visit of the Kings

Is God visible or invisible in our lives and world?

Matthew 2:1-12: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,     are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler     who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Opnamedatum: 2010-02-18

Adoration of the Kings, by Hendrik ter Brugghen (1619)

The richly garbed kings are full of reverence as they offer their gifts with the young toddler, Jesus, grasping at the gifts as all babies do. Brugghen suggests the wise men or kings knew the importance of the birth of Jesus. Jesus will be the savior of all nations and people!

Martin Luther: In his 1522 sermon for Epiphany, Luther used the example of the Magi to emphasize that the priests and educated of Israel knew the Scriptures but failed to understand and assimilate them. Instead they allowed a foreign king, Herod, to cultivate their fear and dismiss this as fake news. Luther ponders that even if they believed God’s Word on the prophecy of a savior as truth, they frustrated it.

Instead, the Magi were prepared to leave their homes and possessions and search for the birthplace of Jesus Christ. They studied the Scriptures and recognized the star. When they arrived in Jerusalem they did not ask for Annas or Caiaphas, priests, or an address. They asked where they would find the King of the Jews! Luther concluded that God works in opposites, He appears in unlikely places, with ordinary people, and hidden from what we might expect. (Robert Kolb. Luther and the Stories of God, p. 129)

“From this we can easily conclude why Christ had to die and rise again in order to rule spiritually to all eternity. For though the passage here proves that He had to become a true natural man, it yet follows that He had to change this bodily life into a spiritual invisible life, as it was impossible for Him to rule bodily as widely and as long as the prophet indicates.

Micah continues and says: “Therefore will he give them up until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the residue of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And he shall stand and shall feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God: and they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.”

From these words it is clear that Christ’s kingdom should be extended to the ends of the earth by preaching and suffering, of which the prophet says that in the majesty of the name of Jehovah He would preach and feed his flock, showing also that He would be persecuted on account of his preaching. Therefore the prophet also says that they should be given a respite as to their temporal existence and government until a new people had been born. The woman in travail represents the little flock of the apostles which during the sufferings of Christ was in the agony of the birth of a new spiritual people for this ruler of Israel, as Christ Himself foretells, John 16:2. “Then Herod privately called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship Him.”

From this text we learn that the wise men were not kings nor princes, but common, honest people, like the learned and the clergy. Herod does not treat them as belonging to royalty, but sends them to Bethlehem, tells them to attend to their mission, and, as if they were his subjects, commands them to bring him word again. He would not have done this if they had been kings or lords; he would have invited them to his palace, accompanied them on their journey, and treated them with great honor. For all historians agree that Herod was a pompous man, who knew how to treat people royally after the way of the world, and wished to be admired by the people.

As, however, he calls the men privately and without display and parade they must have been of much lower rank than he was.

But why does he call them privately, since the land was his and in his full control? He did it for this reason. He knew quite well that the Jews were his sworn enemies and wished to be rid of him. He was afraid, therefore, that if he called the men publicly and the Jews became aware of it, they would go to the wise men and enjoin them not to acquaint Herod with the true state of affairs, so that the new king may live before his eyes.

When he asks them about the time of the star he does it out of the same anxiety. He was already resolved in his heart to slay the innocent children.

He reasoned thus: If the new king is born the Jews will rejoice, and will secrete him for a while until he is grown up, and then will espouse his cause, put him on the throne and banish me. I must forestall them, therefore, and carefully inquire into the time of His birth; and although He is hidden from me I shall still find Him amongst the people when I slay all the children, and their disguise will avail them nothing. He pursues this plan diligently so that the new king might be made known to him, commands the wise men to bring him word again, and puts on a pious and devout face as if he wished to worship the child also.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Massacre of Innocents PP Rubens 1609-11Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens (1609-1611)