MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KEEP IN MEMORY
1 Corinthians 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
In this lesson we have a clear and concise record of the many people who saw the risen Christ. Moreover, this Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. The Gospel is preached and therefore converts people to faith. The Gospel is received in trust, causing the very faith demanded in the Gospel. Finally, we stand in this faith, in spite of the scorn and opposition of all unbelievers and the assaults of Satan.
Today at A Mighty Fortress we will baptize our newborn, Emma Rose McIver. She hears the Gospel in the lessons, in the liturgy, in the Creed, and most of all in the sacrament of baptism itself. I came from an anti-sacrament background, so I am always amazed at the logic of those who wish to deny faith to infants, as if we have no examples around us.
Obviously we cannot go back in time ourselves and imagine exactly what goes through the mind of a baby. But we can observe certain things. I was talking to my son, and he was directing his conversation toward me while I held his baby daughter on my lap. Little Danielle was clearly reacting to his voice, looking at his face, and smiling as only a baby daughter can. Is that not trust and love? The words are lacking but the expressions are too obvious to debate.
In addition, most importantly, we have the promise of God in the Scriptures. They are clear and invulnerable to hair-splitting. One Lutheran pastor wrote to me on Friday, “I like your verse in the signature of your email. 1 Peter 3:21 – Baptism now saves you.” The HIV translation of the same verse is quite different, in spite of the comparison made between baptism and Noah’s ark. Noah’s ark saved people. In the same way, baptism now saves you.
Some will sputter and say, “How can baptism do this?” When we say baptism, it is a way of saying, “God’s Word saves you.” The power of baptism is in the Word, the promises of God. That power remains with us throughout life. Even if we become total reprobates and desert God’s Word, living the worst kind of life, baptism still has the power of God’s promises. In repentance, someone who has fallen away from the faith can still call upon the promises of God in baptism. Another baptism is not needed. (Oddly, Baptists deny the efficacy of the sacraments and then use adult baptism repeatedly with the same person, as if it were communion. One error leads to many more errors.)
Notice that St. Paul wrote, “If you keep in memory…” This is so important to realize. One of the old Lutherans wrote about the effectiveness of the Word, that it is efficacious when it is a) read out loud; b) read to ourselves; and c) remembered. It is possible for something to be read to us and we forget. I have seen many couples react to some church news in the following way. One person says, “I never heard it.” The other one says, “I was sitting in church in the front row when it was announced several weeks in a row. And it was printed in the bulletin. Can’t you read?”
One woman wanted to prove to her family that her husband never listened to her during a football game, so she read out loud a letter to him from his mother. She then asked questions about the letter. He answered every one. Then, during the commercial, he said, “You know, I haven’t had a letter from Mom in a long time.” That is a clear case of hearing and not hearing.
Therefore, when the Holy Spirit tells us through Paul that we should keep something in our memory, it is God’s command and not a helpful suggestion. God’s promises should fill our minds because the Gospel motivates us to do God’s will and also protects us against Satan’s favorite weapon, despair.
We see countless examples in the Scriptures of God working His will through hardships, often terrible afflictions. As Luther pointed out, Joseph was sold into slavery as a youth. He was deprived of freedom, his friends, his surroundings. His father and grandfather were plunged into terrible grief. And yet, this became the way in which God blessed Israel, through the food stored up by Joseph. He was and remained someone who was given a special promise, that the Messiah would descend from him. And yet, when he was taken off in chains, sold by his own jealous brothers, he must have felt as if God had died and deserted him completely.
Even worse, when Joseph did the right thing with that hussy, Potiphar’s wife, his reward was to be accused of adultery and thrown into prison. The modern mind cannot endure this story, so in “Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Coat,” he is portrayed as giving in to the loose wife of his employer. Nevertheless, his prison term allowed him to rise to second in command in a great and powerful civilization. He interpreted the disturbing dreams of the Pharoah and became his chief advisor. So we may think of the happy ending for Joseph, but we should also remember that he spent many years suffering while holding onto God’s promises. The innocent suffer for a period of time. The guilty are gleeful but they suffer in eternity. Suffering is universal, so we should heed what 1 Peter tells us and make sure we suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
Joseph remembered and held fast those promises. That is extremely important, whether we consider the promise of eternal life, or the promises of forgiveness through the Gospel. Both go together. Wherever the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed, death and Satan are defeated, and eternal life springs up.
Many people do not remember God’s promises. This does not make the Gospel useless or ineffective. It does not lessen the value of baptism or holy communion. But it does not matter what has been believed and done (because of faith) if someone abandons the promises of God or lets faith be stolen away by false teachers.
This epistle tells us clearly how many people saw Christ risen from the dead. This was more than dramatic for the early Christians and unbelievers alike. If Jesus was killed and stayed dead, He was a mere mortal and perhaps guilty of something. We can see from the Easter accounts that no one expected an empty tomb on the first day of the week. They believed in Jesus, loved Him, but did not keep in their memories all He had told them.
The Gospel message of Paul is repeated in a brief, historical confession. Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. He rose again, according to the Scriptures. He did what God had promised back to the time of Adam and Eve. Who saw the risen Christ?
When those first ministers preached the Gospel, they preached the resurrection of Christ, based upon eyewitness testimony. They proclaimed the Old Testament promises of the coming Savior and showed people how Jesus fulfilled all the promises. Some of the prophecies were quite remarkable, because people knew them and yet did not understand them until Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave.
Isaiah 53:1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? 2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
We have many different promises to keep in our memories. In remembering we have a certain degree of freedom. We know that certain things will trigger memories, both good and bad. We have no control over the triggering of memories. But we do have control over what dominates our thoughts. Our thoughts become actions or influence the actions we take.
James 1:13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
The term for lust here is wider in scope than many people assume. It includes all evil thoughts, which may be covetous, murderous, vengeful, adulterous, or larcenous. Someone may avoid all obvious carnal sins while rotting away in sins of the heart. After all, Jesus taught us that what we think and say is just as evil as what we do.
Our son, in the name of the 4th commandmant, was not allowed to say “Dingy Daddy.” So one day he was strumming on his play guitar and singing, “Dingy Daddy, Dingy Daddy.” He claimed innocence because he was SINGING it and not SAYING it. So we make excuses in our own minds.
As Luther taught, temptation may be compared to birds. We cannot keep birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from building nests in our hair. Thoughts will fly through our heads all the time, but we do not have to let them stay and take residence.
Ever since I lived in Midland, Michigan, and saw how they made nitrogen at Linde for Dow, I have been impressed with the concept of displacement. (I argued with an engineer that he was using God’s nitrogen for free and yet selling it for Dow. I asked his company to tithe their profits, but he demurred.) Nitrogen is pumped into explosive or dangerous chemical reactions simply to displace oxygen. If oxygen is absent, fires and explosions are unlikely.
Many things are allowed to displace God’s Word in our minds. God’s Word is not like nitrogen but like oxygen. When we think about God’s Word, things happen. The Law disturbs us, awakens our conscience, and reminds us of our fallen state. The Gospel comforts us, fills our hearts with joy, and brings to mind God’s great love for each one of us.
When other thoughts displace God’s Word, nothing happens. God’s wisdom is displaced. His guidance is never absent in a believer, because the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of everyone who is baptized. However, if the still, small voice of God is pushed into the background, the influence of the Holy Spirit is displaced with the influence of material concerns.
I sent around an essay by Ben Stein, (http://www.spectator.org/) about how he went broke on $500,000 a year. Much of what he said was based upon attitude. He began to make money, finally, and figured he was owed every luxury. He had properties, cars, 7 color TVs with cable and HBO, servants, lawn care and snow removal people, huge restaurant bills, and endless deliveries of cut flowers. The effect was not to make him happy but scared, worried sick over meeting all the bills, working harder all the time. Although I have not seen a Christian confession in his columns, Stein has emphasized repeatedly how thankful he is to God for his parents, his adopted son, his wife, and all his blessings.
The Gospel lesson for today is a good example of how our thoughts influence us. The Pharisees thoughts were about himself. It is difficult to miss the humor in the story. “I am thankful that I am not like other men…including this tax-collector.” Thanking God for being better than others seems to be wide of the mark. In contrast, the tax collector was not proud in his appearance, but abased. His thoughts influenced his words, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” One man had faith in himself, his works, his virtue. One man had faith in God’s mercy and saw himself as nothing.
While this seems foreign to us, and goes against our nature, God’s Word directs us to think about eternal life rather than this life. We are not supposed to love the things of this world so much that we let go of the promises of God. However, we are supposed to love God’s Word so much that nothing with material value counts as much in our hearts as His truth.
Have you ever seen two children, surrounded by toys, the room paved and carpeted with toys, struggling over one toy? And the parent says, “Share,” or play with another toy and that one later. This often arouses anger and tears, not gratitude and peace. We are like those children, anxious about one thing when surrounded by God’s blessings.
As we get older, the worries of youth fade quite a bit. When God’s promises are fulfilled many times over, anxieties fade. Also, in later years, many people have passed on, so we no longer think of this life as eternal. Bad times are fleeting, so we can wait them out. Good times are also fleeting, so we cherish each second.
After living in many places and participating in many kinds of activities, I have to conclude that nothing is as pleasant, fulfilling, and lasting as seeing the fruits of the Spirit in children. Recently Bill Gates gave billions of dollars to his charitable trust, modestly named the Bill Gates Trust, just as Marvin Schwan gave $800 million to the Schwan Trust. God has given each parent here an even greater gift – each child is worth far more than all that money. And even more, God has given the gift of faith and the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of baptism. I imagine the managers of those trusts think they have a great and weighty responsibility. But each parent has an even greater responsibility, to keep in mind God’s promises and to make those promises significant in each child’s life.