Archive for April, 2011
Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection is my favorite of all the Gospel accounts. I know that John’s account holds a special place in the hearts of many, perhaps because, at least in the many Easter services I’ve attended, it always seems to be the appointed Gospel lesson for the day. And no doubt the picture it paints of Peter running to the tomb and finding it empty and his companion John seeing and believing is gripping and exciting, but nevertheless, Mark’s account holds a special place in my heart, mainly because of how it ends: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. The End” (Mark 16:8).
Well, “The End” is not actually in the Greek text, and that’s part of the problem. Because with an ending like this, many in the early church thought, “Surely there must be a better, more appropriate ending than three women, scared out of their wits, fleeing from an empty tomb where they have just encountered a young man dressed in white!” And so, in most Bibles, there is Mark 16:9-20, appropriately culminating with Jesus’ great commission in verse 16, His ascension into heaven in verse 19, and then a strange line about snake handling in between these verses. But don’t worry, that verse about snake handling probably wasn’t in the original, divinely inspired text. Whew! Am I a glad about that one!
If you’ll notice, after verse 8 in most Bibles, you’ll find a notation: “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9–20.” In other words, even though Mark’s gospel wraps up nicely with Jesus’ great commission and ascension in verses 16 and 19 respectively, the earliest manuscripts of Mark end with wary women. This leads textual critical scholar Bruce Metzger to comment on verses 9-20, “The section was added by someone who knew a form of Mark that ended abruptly with verse 8 and who wished to supply a more appropriate conclusion” (Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 105). It is important to note that Metzger also explains that verses 9-20 have a long storied history in the Church, first being attested to by Irenaeus and Tatian’s Diatessaron in the second century. Thus, though these verses were probably not written by the Evangelist himself, they did not come long after him.
But even with all this in mind, I kind of like that we seem to have nothing more of Mark’s Gospel after verse 8. After all, if I found a missing body and a supernatural looking guy in white hanging out in Jesus’ tomb, I think I’d be scared too! And yet, we all know that the women shouldn’t have been scared. After all, Jesus had foretold His death and resurrection time and time again (cf. Mark 8:31, 10:33-34). The women should have known better.
But then again, so should we. For we, like the women, have the promise – and the fulfillment – of a risen Savior! We, like the women, can say with the young man in the tomb, “Christ is risen!” And just as the young man told the women that Jesus was going ahead of them into Galilee where they would see Him (Mark 16:7), Jesus tells us that He goes ahead of us as our Good Shepherd, leading us through this life, and even into the next (cf. John 10:4). So why in the world do we worry? Why in the world do we fret? For what reason in the world do we have to be afraid?
Perhaps we are more like the women than we care to admit. For we have the same message as the women: “Christ is risen!” But we also have the same response: We are trembling, bewildered, and afraid.
But we don’t have to be. For Jesus, as our Good Shepherd, invites us, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Fear may mark the end of Mark’s Gospel, but it does not have to mark the end of our lives. For Jesus’ gospel in and through our lives is still being written.
So, of what are you afraid? Your finances? Your future? A person? Perhaps even your eternity? Remember that the message of Easter is not only, “Christ is risen,” but also, “Do not be alarmed” (Mark 16:6). For we serve and follow a living Lord who can take care of and take away our fears. I hope you’ll let Him. Because although verse 8 may be a good place for a Gospel to end, it’s never a good place for a life to end.
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One of my favorite parts of Holy Week is the music. Last night in Maundy Thursday worship, we sang of Christ’s body and blood, given for us sinners to eat and drink. I’ve been singing the words to this hymn this morning:
God’s Word proclaims and we believe
That in this Supper we receive
Christ’s very body, as He said,
His very blood for sinners shed.
Today, as we reflect upon the cross of Christ, we will sing another of my favorite songs:
Mighty, awesome, wonderful,
Is the holy cross.
Where the Lamb laid down His life
To lift us from the fall.
Mighty is the power of the cross.
And then, on Easter, will come this powerful anthem:
I know that my Redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever-living head.
The words of this final song, of course, are taken from the book of Job where, even after Job has lost everything, he declares his faith in God and his desire for an advocate to plead his case to God: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me” (Job 19:25-27)! These words have long been taken by Christians as a foreshadowing of Christ’s resurrection. Hence, the reason we sing these words on Easter! Interestingly, however, it’s not just Christians who have found hints of a resurrection in Job’s story, the ancient Jews did too.
In the third century BC, a Greek translation of the Old Testament was commissioned. Because of the rampant Hellenization of the ancient world, many Jews could no longer read Hebrew, the language in which the Old Testament was originally written, and so this work of translating the Bible into Greek was undertaken so that people could read the Bible in their language. The Septuagintal translation of Job is especially interesting because whoever translated it seems to have a love for resurrection! Consider these passages:
- Job 14:14: Hebrew – “If a man dies, shall he live again?” Greek – “If a man dies, he shall live!”
- Job 19:26: Hebrew – “After my skin has been thus destroyed…” Greek – “And to resurrect my skin upon the earth that endures these sufferings…”
- Job 42:17: The Greek Septuagint adds a line to this verse not in the Hebrew text: “It is written of Job that he will rise again with those whom the Lord will raise.”
Clearly, the translator of Job believed in the resurrection! Thus, the book of Job not only foretells Jesus’ resurrection in that famous line from Job 19, it foretells the resurrection of Job and all the faithful as well. For because Christ has risen, we will rise! In the words of the prophet Daniel: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). For those who trust in Christ, we will be raised to everlasting life. Because Christ has risen, we will rise. The translator of Job knew and believed this. I hope you do too. For if you know and believe that your Redeemer lives, you can know and believe that you will live…forever.
Right now in my personal devotions, I am reading through the book of Lamentations, a sorrowful song written by the prophet Jeremiah, which describes Israel’s defeat and exile at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC. Some of the language Jeremiah uses to describe Israel’s demise is grotesque and gut wrenching:
- The tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst. (Lamentations 4:4)
- Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become dry as wood. (Lamentations 4:8)
- The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food during the destruction of the daughter of my people. (Lamentations 4:10)
Clearly, this is a tragic, despairing time. Indeed, even for a professional prophet such as Jeremiah, who has seen much sin and tragedy, the despair of the exile seems overwhelming. And Jeremiah places the blame for this despair squarely at the feet of God.
In chapter 3, Jeremiah laments his plight:
I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of His wrath; He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me He turns His hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; He has broken my bones; He has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; He has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; He has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, He shuts out my prayer; He has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; He has made my paths crooked. He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; He turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; He has made me desolate; He bent His bow and set me as a target for His arrow. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; He has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes. (Lamentations 3:1-16)
Notice the pronoun Jeremiah employs again and again to describe who is responsible for his misery: “He.” “He” has brought Jeremiah misery, trouble, pain, and despair. It’s “His” fault that Jeremiah’s plight is what it is. Who is this “He”? None other than God, of course. God has afflicted Jeremiah in the most miserable of ways.
And yet, even in his misery, Jeremiah has not lost all hope: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23). Jeremiah believes that finally, ultimately, God’s steadfast love will prevail. Indeed, it’s interesting the way Jeremiah describes this steadfast love just verses later: “Though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:32-33). Though God does afflict and grieve people because of their sin, Jeremiah says, He does not willingly do so. God’s will is not to pour out His hot wrath, but His steadfast love. The Hebrew word for “willingly” is milibo, a word meaning, “from His heart.” Thus, Jeremiah is saying that from God’s heart does not come affliction. Rather, from God’s heart comes His steadfast love. God’s will is wrapped in love.
Luther describes God’s wrath at sin and God’s will of love by making a distinction between the “alien” and the “proper” work of God:
We must know what is meant by the work of God. It is nothing else but to create righteousness, peace, mercy, truth, patience, kindness, joy, and health, inasmuch as the righteous, truthful, peaceful, kind, joyful, healthy, patient, merciful cannot do otherwise than act according to His nature. Therefore God creates righteous, peaceful, patient, merciful, truthful, kind, joyful, wise, healthy men…But He cannot come to this His proper work unless He undertakes a work that is alien and contrary to Himself…Therefore, since He can make just only those who are not just, He is compelled to perform an alien work in order to make them sinners, before He performs His proper work of justification. Thus He says, “I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal.” (AE 51:18-19)
God must judge us before He can justify us, Luther says. His alien and His proper work go hand in hand. Thus, both God’s alien work of judgment and God’s proper work of love are needed in Jeremiah’s life. And both God’s alien work of judgment and God’s proper work of love are needed in our lives too. But lest we forget, through faith in Christ, God’s proper work prevails!
The alien and the proper work of God meet most clearly in the death and resurrection of Christ, which we remember during this Holy Week. Luther explains:
God’s alien work is the suffering of Christ and sufferings in Christ, the crucifixion of the old man and the mortification of Adam. God’s proper work, however, is the resurrection of Christ, justification in the Spirit, and the vivification of the new man, as Romans 4:25 says: “Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification.” (AE 51:19)
God judges His Son on the cross, killing Him for the sins of the world. This was not something He delighted in doing – it was alien to Him – but it was necessary. For Christ’s crucifixion satisfied God’s righteous wrath at sinners…sinners like you and me (cf. Romans 3:25-26). And with God’s wrath satisfied through Christ’s suffering and death on the cross, God could now move to His proper work: Giving to His children His steadfast love which never ceases.
This Holy Week, spend some time meditating on both the alien and the proper work of God. For both are needed. But finally, one prevails! For God’s work does not end in an alien way. Rather, it ends in its proper way. It ends in our salvation through faith in Christ. Praise be to God!
It was the first new vehicle I had ever purchased. And when I drove off the lot in my brand new 2003 forest green Chevrolet Silverado, I was beaming with pride. Never had I owned a truck so spotless. Before this, I sputtered around in a beat up Ford Ranger. But now, I cruised smoothly in a Chevrolet. I even got to take in that famed new car smell. I couldn’t wait to show off my new truck to my buddies. “Look!” I exclaimed as I pulled into my buddies’ apartment, “This truck is sweet.” And my buddies agreed. Of course, the three of us had to appropriately break in such a fine new vehicle. And so we ventured out on a ritual right of passage, precious to young men everywhere: the road trip. After all, there’s nothing like Slim Jims, Dr. Pepper, and several hundred miles to appropriately break in a new truck.
In our reading for Palm Sunday from Mark 11, Jesus takes a road trip with His disciples to the city of Jerusalem. But instead of breaking in a new truck for His road trip, Jesus breaks in a new donkey: “As Jesus and His disciples approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of His disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here’” (Mark 11:1-2). For this occasion, Jesus wants a donkey “which no one has ever ridden.” Two things are notable about this request.
First, unlike a truck that has never been driven, a donkey that has never been ridden was no smooth ride, for the donkey wouldn’t have been “broken.” That is, it wouldn’t have been used to carrying any sort of a burden. Thus, the animal would have normally tried to buck any burden off its back. Jesus, however, seems to have no such problem: “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it” (Mark 11:7). There is no mention of the animal making any fuss whatsoever. At this scene, one cannot help but think of the kind of power Jesus has over creation. He can calm a storm (Mark 4:35-41) and whither a fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21). Nature submits to His command. Who is this? Even the wind and the waves, the fig tree, and a donkey obey Him (cf. Mark 4:41)!
The answer to this question, of course, is that Jesus is the Holy One of God. He is God’s Messiah and, as such, fulfills the Isaianic promise: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:6-9). Christ, as God’s Holy One, rules God’s creation and brings peace and rest to it – even to unbroken donkeys.
This takes us to the second thing that is notable about Jesus’ request. Jesus’ request for an unbroken animal hearkens to the Old Testament sacrificial system, where unbroken animals were used as sacrifices to God. For instance, in Numbers 19:2-3, we read: “This is a requirement of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence.” A sacrificial animal was to be unbroken and un-ridden. And so here we have an unbroken donkey. But this time, instead of being the sacrifice, the donkey is bearing the sacrifice. For Christ, just days later will be sacrificed on a cross.
In the Old West, the cowboys had a saying. “Hold your horses!” they would say when an equine got out of control. On Palm Sunday, the cry rings out from the disciples: “Hold your donkey!” “Hold your donkey,” for the Savior needs it to ride into Jerusalem. And though it has never been ridden, it will not gallop out of control. For the Holy One of God is sovereign over nature – even donkeys. “Hold your donkey,” and do not give it to someone else, for this unbroken donkey will bear the sacrifice broken for sin…and sinners. What an honor it must have been for that donkey to bear the Christ. And what a blessing it is for us that our King has come to us “righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
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What is hell? Is it a real place? Do real people go there? Find out in this Adult Bible Class from Concordia Lutheran Church.
Recently, I heard the story of a lady whose husband was terminally ill with a heart condition. For years, he had fought valiantly against his sickness, but now, his ability to fight was waning. The time came when he had only days left. He was in the hospital. The doctors were scrambling to prolong his life. And this man’s wife had a decision to make. Should she advise continuing treatments for her husband, who was unable to decide for himself, or should she advise against it? She prayed to her Lord. A couple of hours later, word came from the nurse: “He will not be getting better. It’s all downhill from here.” She took this word to be her divine answer and told the doctors to keep her beloved husband comfortable rather than to try to treat his disease. He passed away a couple of days later.
This past weekend in worship and ABC, we took a look at Jesus’ Parable of the Unjust Judge:
In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!” (Luke 18:2-5)
Upfront, Luke states the purpose of Jesus’ parable when he writes, “Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and never give up” (Luke 18:1). This, then, is a parable about prayer. Indeed, in this little parable are embedded some very valuable lessons that can help us tremendously in our own prayer lives.
First, we must remember that prayer is tough. The woman in Jesus’ parable is persistent in her entreaty of the judge. We should be the same in prayer. But being persistent is not always easy. All too often, we can be tempted to give up when the answers to our prayers come slower than we might like. In our quick fix, microwave, lightning fast, high speed society, we are conditioned to want answers from God and want them now! But sometimes, God makes us wait. And this is good. For patience can build our character and our trust in God. But waiting is not easy.
Prayer can also be tough when the answer we receive to a prayer is not the one we want. I think of that lady and her husband. Surely she was praying for a miracle. Surely she was begging for her husband to be healed. But her answer from God through a nurse was loud and clear: “No. His time has come.” To receive an answer like this in prayer and then to make a medical decision like the one she had to make is never easy. Prayer is not easy. This we must remember.
Second, we also must remember that prayer is for the weak. There is an interesting paradox that permeates prayer. Prayer is tough, and yet it is for weak people. It is for people who know that by their own devices, know-how, and strength, they cannot prop up, fix up, or wrap up their lives. In Jesus’ parable, it is a widow who entreats a judge. This is purposeful. For widows were well known to be weak and vulnerable in this day. Without a husband, a widow often had no financial resources for herself or recourse against those who would seek to take advantage of her, as did this mysterious adversary in Jesus’ parable. Prayer, then, is for people who are weak…and know it. It is for people who understand that the most profound things of life happen not with our cajoling and coaxing, but by God’s providence and power. Prayer demands more trust in the supremacy of God and less trust in the supremacy of self. Prayer is for weak people and to a powerful God.
Finally, then, the question of prayer is this: Are you tough and weak in prayer? Are you persistent and powerless in prayer? The good news of our prayers is that they do not fall on the ears of an unjust judge, like the widow in Jesus’ parable, but on the ears of a righteous heavenly Father who wants to help. We do not have to persuade Him to care about us as does the widow with the judge. He already does.
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message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!
The other day, I noticed a conversation between some of my Facebook friends on the parable we studied this weekend, Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31. I found it fascinating the way one of my friends described the point, or as I like to put it in ABC, the “transcendent truth” of this parable: “What I get is that God is not happy with rich people who do not care about the sufferings of others, especially the poor. Why is the rich man in Hades? Because he did not help his neighbor Lazarus.”
I’ve spent some time pondering the “point” that my Facebook friend took away from this parable. On the one hand, she is right. Jesus’ subsequent conversation with a rich ruler in Luke 18 makes her point all too soberly:
A certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. (Luke 18:18-23)
This man’s great wealth kept him out of the Kingdom of God because he refused to love his neighbor and share his wealth. This selfishness was damning for him and to him. My friend is right in her Facebook post.
And yet, something is missing. Because although it is true that refusing to be a neighbor to someone in need – as both the rich ruler in Jesus’ conversation and the rich man in Jesus’ parable do – does damn a person to hell, the inverse is not true. Giving to the poor, being a neighbor to those in need, and even keeping all of God’s commandments does not get a person to heaven! No, only Jesus, through His work on the cross, gets a person to heaven. Indeed, it is vital to note how Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus ends. The rich man is talking to Abraham in heaven and he says:
“I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” “No, father Abraham,” he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:27-51)
The rich man’s five brothers can avoid the fires of hell not by being really good guys who help their neighbors, but by listening to Moses and the Prophets. In other words, they can receive salvation by believing what the Scriptures say about salvation. And if they refuse to believe what the Scriptures say about salvation, they will not believe even if someone rises from the dead to preach salvation to them, which, of course, is precisely what Jesus did. And, precisely as Jesus warned, many people still did not believe. Helmut Thielicke explains the situation well:
Do not imagine that a messenger will come from the beyond and confirm what is said in Moses and the prophets, what seems to you to be so unverifiable, so mythological. Father Abraham will not send you any such occult confirmation. For anybody who has an interest in evading God will also consider an appearance from the dead and empty specter and elusion. Nor will the heavens open above us and God will perform no miracle to bring us to our knees. For God is no shock therapist who works upon our nerves; He loves you as His child and it’s your heart He wants.
So there will be no one appearing from the dead, no voice from heaven will sound, nor will there be any miracle in the clouds. None of this will come to you…We have only the Word, the Word made flesh and crucified, that namelessly quiet Word which came to us in one was was poor and despised as His brother Lazarus. For He really wanted to be his brother…
Accordingly, there remains for us…nothing but “Moses and the Prophets” and all they have to say about this Jesus. He who does not hear these and is not saved here cannot be helped by messengers from the dead.” (Helmut Thielicke, The Waiting Father, 50)
How are the rich man’s brothers to escape the fires of hell? They are to hear and believe all that Moses and Prophets have to say about Jesus. And the same is true for us.
We never learn the fate of the rich man’s five brothers. We simply know that Lazarus rests in Abraham’s bosom in heaven and the rich man is consigned to agony in hell. This is purposeful. For, you see, we are the five brothers in this parable. This parable is ours to finish. For we are, by nature, destined for hell because of our sin, but able to obtain salvation full and free by God’s grace through faith in His Word, Jesus Christ. Will you believe what Moses and the Prophets have to say about Jesus?
Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!