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MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS

A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.

6421 W. Poinsettia Drive

Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419

 

1 Peter 3:8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:  9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.  10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.  12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.  13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?  14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;  15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:  16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.

 

REASON FOR THE HOPE WITHIN YOU

 

Today's lesson has so much spiritual wisdom in it that we can see why Luther thought the letters were packed with more Gospel material than the Gospels themselves. Much of this section deals with how to behave during times of persecution, suffering for doing what is good, which glorifies God, rather than suffering for doing evil.

 

The foundation for this conduct is contained in the 15th verse.

 

15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

 

The word used here for reason is the Greek word apology. It is often translated as "defense." Plato's Apology is Socrates' defense of his life before being executed. Cardinal John Newman's Aplogia Pro Vita Sua means "In Defense of My Life."

 

I have mentioned this because the term apologetics is used to describe how we defend the Christian faith. Sometimes the word is used with the term polemics (Greek for war), since the proper defense of the truth also involves an attack against falsehood.

 

Simply speaking, every Christian believer is given many opportunities to speak about the truth of God's Word. Lutherans understand that the opportunities will arise, as the verse indicates. We do not have to be anxious and fretful about whether we are "doing enough" or "witnessing enough" or "making a difference." We should only be concerned about being faithful to God's Word.

 

When do the opportunities arise? At work religion is often discussed. At funerals people will talk about the meaning of life. At the birth of a baby. In normal conversation spiritual matters come up quite frequently. I do not mean comparing congregations or synods, but speaking about the meaning of God's Word.

 

Two different times Jews were talking about death and grief. We were discussing it, too. Both times someone said, "Christians deal with death better than we do." In another case, our Jewish doctor asked us why we had hope and how could we resign ourselves to the death of our daughter. He admitted that he was bereft after the loss of his son. In yet another case, I talked about eternal life and Christ to a medical board at the Cleveland Clinic. These opportunities are thrust upon each person in different ways.

 

Once, a Roman Catholic friend said, at work in an insurance office, "Why don't you join us?" I answered, "In a word, Purgatory. The Church of Rome teaches that Jesus did not do enough when He died on the cross for the sins of the world. Therefore, they insist on Purgatory to pay additional for sins. That teaches against the meaning of the cross." He responded by saying, "That's right. I never thought of that."

 

The more we dwell on the meaning of the Word, the more we speak in terms of spiritual wisdom rather than man's cleverness. A child will ask why. In many cases, the answers directly involve God. We were talking about gardening and I mentioned to a group of engineers how an earthworm carries little calcium factories which he uses to sweeten the soil. A Mormon chemical engineer, understanding the complexity of such a device, asked how this could happen. I said, "God created them that way." Mormons reject Creation, so he almost turned purple.

 

The proper use of reason is often misunderstood. The Martin Luther quotes in this week's bulletin go far in explaining many of the misperceptions. For instance, reason does not judge the Word of God. Our reason must be subordinated to the Word. Reason and experience by themselves frighten us and fill us with dread, because we judge things according to our feelings and senses.

 

Many people blind themselves by saying, "It is the Word of God if it is reasonable to me." But what is reasonable? To say that God become man and died on the cross for the sins of the world? What human being can understand or comprehend that? Not one of us would die a miserable death for people who were still our enemies, yet Christ did that. Who can explain the Trinity? If the Trinity is beyond our ability to comprehend, do we deny the Trinity?

 

Calvin and the Church of Rome agree in arguing for a reasonable religion. Calvinism tends to run toward Unitarianism as a result. Unitarianism (which can be spelled Tis I Ruin A Man) denies the Trinity and specifically the divine nature of Christ. The Church of Rome embraces all religions, as shown by the words of John Paul II and Mother Teresa.

 

The opposite of rationalistic Christianity is not being irrational. In fact, the churches heavy in Law and rationalism are the ones that accidentally promote tongue-speaking, dancing in the spirit, and being slain in the spirit.

 

The opposite of rationalism is complete trust in the Word of God. In this we all fail, and yet we worship and study to strengthen that weakness. The more we hear the promises of God, the more we trust in them, because the Holy Spirit works through the promises.

 

Isaiah 66:1 Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?  2 For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

 

God is saying here, "I created the heavens and the earth. What exactly can you fashion to impress Me? I look to the person who does not count himself much but receives my Word with humility and a meek spirit."

 

If I were Reformed or studied at Fuller, I would set up a little program to teach people exactly what to say and how to say it. I would say, "Winning the winnable while they are winnable seems sound procedure," (Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, p. 291) but Donald McGavran has already said it.

 

People who look for the fruit rather than the Gospel are working from the Pietistic point of view. The tree bears the fruit. The fruit does not bear the tree. Pietists said to one another, "If we are really top notch Christians, we will certain things that show it. But we cannot be so fussy and unloving about doctrinal purity. The important things is what we do." A Pietistic approach is to say, "Look at us. Look at what we have done. Look at how good we are."

 

A visiting seminary professor said, in the booming 50s, that many different pastors took him outside to admire the size of the parking lot. If we think of that in terms of the Isaiah quotation, it is either sad or funny. The prayer of the day would have to be, "Oh Lord, look down with admiration upon our 20 acre parking lot. 6 inches. Two courses. Proper drainage. Parking valet ministry. And we did it all for You alone." Isaiah did not mention parking lots, as I recall.

 

The same problem is apparent in more difficult times when people fret over whether their church has accomplished enough to make them feel good about themselves. Do they fret over the purity of the Word of God?

 

This is how a rose garden develops: First the rosarian will seek out the best possible stock. True the catalogs show the beautiful blooms and not the ugly bare root plants, but the gardener knows one thing. All Peace roses come from one seed that a grower planted. Every single Peace rose comes from that seed. The only way to raise a Peace rose is to plant a Peace rose.

 

People say, "I want to have more love and peace in my life." Then they should seek the pure Word. From the pure Word will come the fruits of the Spirit. If the fruits are lacking, then one should ask if sorrow for sin and faith in the Gospel are also lacking. The lack of spiritual fruit is not the fault of the Gospel but of the person who resists and fights against the Word of God.

 

What is the reason for the hope within you? When we first try to state it, with stammering lips, it seems pretty difficult. In fact, many ministers never catch on, in personal meetings. They may be overcome by fear (lack of faith) or they may have never been in that frame of mind. Strangely enough, the trials and crises of life are the best preparation for defending the hope. When God provides miraculously, again and again, beyond all hope, it becomes easier to speak about it.

 

In addition, when someone has battered away at the "reason for the hope" and sent us back to the Scriptures and the Confessions, our faith can reach the point where it is firm and unshakeable. Sadly, too many seek the easy way and they do not allow the Word of God to strengthen them in this regard. Then they fall into the clutches of human reason and cry out in fear, as if God died and left them alone. Satan loves to stoke such fears.

 

C. F. W. Walther told pastors to read Luther when they were discouraged. Walther must have been discouraged often, because he knew Luther better than anyone of his era. Most of what he says in Law and Gospel could be said today, even the practical examples, without anyone knowing it was written a century ago by a man who spoke German. Walther, like Luther, trusted in the work of the Word alone. Instead of worrying about practical results, Walther taught men in Latin the truths of the Scriptures and the Confessions. Today he would be slapped in the face and sent packing for being so impractical. He never used graph paper in class! Not once did he mention that the ushers had to be friendly on Sunday morning. (Imagine that in a formal, stuffy German American church.) But the little band of Missouri Synod Lutherans took the imperishable Word of Life, in their impractical way, and established a strong and rapidly growing denomination. The synod did not start shrinking until they began handing out graph paper in their evangelism programs.[1]

When people study the weekly quotations and use Luther's Family Devotions or the Sermons of Luther, they will acquire the spiritual wisdom of Luther and teach as Luther taught. If the Lutherans who read this would give as much time to Luther as they do to Ann Landers and Dear Abby, or half as much time to Luther as the sports page, they will become able theologians.

 

They will be able to give a reason for the hope within them, to their spouse, to their children, to their friends, to their co-workers, and, if need be, to those who persecute them.



[1] (Check the works of Kent Hunter, D. Min. Fuller, LCMS, to see what I mean. Graph paper is included in one book. Hunter is now Missouri's leading theologian, after Waldo Werning.)