Archive for January, 2010

CHRIST.ology – Part 1

Today begins a three-part series of blogs I plan to post on Christology.  These are based on a three-week Bible study I am leading at Concordia’s Men’s Bible Breakfast on Tuesday mornings.

“Christology” is a compound word.  The suffix “-ology” means “the study of” and the word “Christ” means, well, “Christ.”  Thus, Christology is “the study of Christ.” And indeed, there is no important topic – or, more accurately, there is no more important person – to study.  Martin Luther explains:

I have perceived and noted in all histories of all of Christendom that all those who have correctly had and kept the chief article of Jesus Christ have remained safe and secure in the right Christian faith. Although they may have sinned or erred in other matters, they have nevertheless been preserved at the last. For whoever stands correctly and firmly in the belief that Jesus Christ is true God and man, that he died and has risen again for us, such a person has all other articles added to him and they firmly stand by him…On the other hand, I have also noticed that all error, heresy, idolatry, offense, misuse, and evil in the church originally came from despising or losing sight of this article of faith in Jesus Christ. (AE 34:207-208)

If we lose a proper Christology, Luther argues, we lose all of theology and quickly lapse into rank heresy and wickedness.  Therefore, Christology is foundational for everything we believe, teach, and confess.  This is why it’s so important.

Classically, theologians have talked about two natures in Christ – a divine nature and a human nature.  And yet, even though there are two natures, there is one Christ.  Over the next two weeks, I will write about how people have gotten the two natures in Christ wrong as I survey the historical heresies that have plagued Christology.  I will also write about how the two natures in Christ relate to each other.  But in this blog, I just want to briefly comment on two passages of Scripture which I believe are foundational to properly understanding Christology.  The first passage is Matthew 16:13-16:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Two things are especially notable about this exchange between Jesus and his disciples.  First, the answers of the people as to Jesus’ identity are notable, especially when considered in light of Mark 6:14-15: “King Herod heard about Jesus’ miracles, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Others said, ‘He is Elijah.’ And still others claimed, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.’” These answers to Jesus’ identity of John the Baptist, Elijah, and one of the prophets were apparently stock answers.  Herod Antipas believes that Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life to haunt him because he had earlier beheaded him.  Peter however, has a different answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Peter defies all the stock answers and affirms Jesus’ divinity as “the Son of the living God.”  He confesses good Christology.  And this leads to the second especially notable thing about this passage.  When Jesus asks, “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?” the “you” is plural.  It’s “y’all.”  In other words, even though Peter is one who answers Jesus’ question, Jesus is positing this question others as well.  Indeed, this is a question that Jesus asks every disciple, including you.  And this means that every disciple must answer for him or herself, including you.  Thus, Christology is vital because Jesus himself asks us to confess who he is.  Do you have an answer to Jesus’ question?

The second passage that is especially pertinent to Christology is 2 John 7-11:

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

In Matthew 16, the Christological problem is that those outside of Christ’s church are being deceived as to Christ’s identity.  In 2 John, the problem is that some inside the church are trying to deceive others as to Jesus’ identity.  And interestingly, they do this not so much by denying his divinity as they do by denying his humanity:  “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming into the flesh, have gone out into the world” (2 John 7).  This heresy seems to be rooted in a philosophy called Gnosticism, which denied that the eternal God could or would ever want to become human.  Thus, there were teachers who taught that even though Christ seemed human, his humanity was merely an illusion.  We’ll look at this heresy more in-depth when we study the Docetists.  For now, suffice it to say that John thunders against such people:  “Do not take these people into your house or welcome them” (2 John 10).

But doesn’t this seem a little harsh?  After all, isn’t Jesus known as a man who “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).  Yes, but those “sinners” were people outside the faith who Jesus was evangelizing so that they might believe.  In John’s case, there are people inside the faith – supposedly, at least – who are, through their false teaching, seeking to drag faithful Christians away from Christ.  To them, John responds the same way that Jesus responded to the religious leaders of his day who also supposed themselves to be in the faith while leading people astray: “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good” (Matthew 12:34)?

Thus, in these two passages, we read of the heart and soul of Christology.  Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  That is, Jesus is true God.  But Jesus has also “come into the flesh” (2 John 7).  That is, Jesus is also true man.  True God.  True Man.  This is Christ.  And this is Christology.

Christology.  Yes, it’s a big word.  But it’s also central to everything we believe.  I hope that this blog has helped you understand why.  So, until next Thursday, I’ll simply leave you with these questions:  Who do you say Jesus is?  What’s your Christology?  I hope that you can confess along with Peter and the church, “I believe, teach, and confess that Jesus, true God and true man, died and rose again for my forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”

January 28, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Matthew 5:13-16

The Roman philosopher Pliny wrote, “Nothing is more useful than salt or sunshine” (Natural History, 31.102). This past weekend in worship and Adult Bible Class, we reflected on the truth of those words as we discussed Jesus’ mission for us, using his metaphor of salt and light:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

Part of what makes these metaphors so powerful is that they are multifaceted and therefore rich in their applications of who we are called to be as Christ’s witnesses. Salt, for instance, had nearly limitless uses in the ancient world.  From a seasoning to a preservative to a sign of friendship to an element in sacrifices to a symbol for the Word, salt was used in and for nearly anything and everything.  As such, salt was considered a precious commodity.  In fact, spilling salt was thought to invoke a curse.  In order to break this curse, a person was to take some of the spilled salt and throw it over his shoulder. From this, we get the tradition of tossing salt over one’s shoulder for good luck.

Interestingly, in Leonardo da Vinci’s famed fresco of the Last Supper, in front of Judas is a spilled shaker of salt.  Da Vinci used this well-known image of spilled sodium chloride and the superstition connected to it to poetically portray Judas’ deep and dire betrayal of his Lord and Master.

Salt’s value in the ancient world adds yet another facet to Jesus’ commission, “You are the salt of the earth.”  Not only are we to spice up the world with the message of Christ, preserve the world with the true doctrine of Christ, be a friend to the friendless in the name of Christ, be willing to sacrifice for the cause of Christ, and preach the Gospel boldly according to the Word of Christ, this metaphor of salt also reminds us that we are considered precious in the sight of Christ.  As God reminds us through his prophet Isaiah, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life” (Isaiah 43:4).  Finally, God gave not men, but a man named Jesus, in exchange for us.  We are so precious in God’s sight that he gave his Son for us.  Thus, when Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth,” among other things, Jesus is reminding us of how infinitely valuable we are to him.

As for Jesus’ metaphor of light, we learned not only that are we called to be light for Christ in a dark, crooked, and depraved generation, we also learned that Christ is our light, just as he tells us: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).  Interestingly, Jesus’ identity as the Light is intimately connected to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. In the Old Testament, a king was called a mashiach, or messiah, a Hebrew word meaning, “anointed one.” A king would be anointed with oil as a sign of his fitness to rule and reign over Israel.  Oil, of course, was used not only for anointing kings, but for a whole plethora of purposes, including that of lighting lamps.  Thus, in Psalm 132:17 we find that the oil of anointing is connected to the oil which lights a lamp as the Psalmist prophecies that God will “set up a lamp for his anointed one.”  The two pictures come together.  The oil with which God’s Messiah is anointed becomes the very oil with which he lights a dark world.  And so, when Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” his claim is none other than a Messianic one.

Finally, these metaphors of salt and light are not only Christ’s mission for us, they are a description of Christ himself.  Salt describes Christ’s love and care for us as his precious children.  Light describes Christ’s identity as the world’s Messiah and Savior.  In other words, we cannot be salt and light without Christ being Salt and Light first.  So this week, go forth as salt and light in the name of the One who is Salt and Light.

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January 25, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Confession and Absolution with the Lutheran Fathers

I came across this quote in the Lutheran Confessions and thought it might be appropriate as you prepare for worship this weekend. Two things are striking to me about this quote. First, the candor of the confessors concerning their sinfulness is a good reminder to us all concerning the importance of transparency over and against hypocrisy. Second, the questions asked by the confessors serve as a terrific guide for a private time of confession before God.  As you read, read the questions slowly and ask yourself, “How have I fallen short in each of these areas?” Be honest with yourself and with God.  But then, read on! For the second paragraph of this quote lays before us the sure and certain hope that we have been forgiven of our sins for the sake of Christ!  Indeed, I love how the confessors quote Augustine to this end: “All the commandments of God are fulfilled when whatever is not done, is forgiven.” This is beautiful gospel, for it reminds us that we are only righteous, noble, pious, and good when God forgives us for all the ways in which we have been sinful, depraved, wicked, and bad!  What a gracious God we serve and trust.

So, with that primer in mind, here is some wisdom from our Lutheran forefathers:

The Law always accuses us. For who loves or fears God sufficiently? Who with sufficient patience bears the afflictions imposed by God? Who does not frequently doubt whether human affairs are ruled by God’s counsel or by chance? Who does not frequently doubt whether he be heard by God? Who is not frequently enraged because the wicked enjoy a better lot than the pious, because the pious are oppressed by the wicked? Who does satisfaction to his own calling? Who loves his neighbor as himself? Who is not tempted by lust? Accordingly, Paul says in Romans 7:19: “The good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

Augustine says: “All the commandments of God are fulfilled when whatever is not done, is forgiven.”…Wherefore we cannot conclude that we are accounted righteous before God because of our fulfilling of the Law, but in order that the conscience may become tranquil, justification must be sought elsewhere. For we are not righteous before God as long as we flee from God’s judgment, and are angry with God. Therefore we must conclude that, being reconciled by faith, we are accounted righteous for Christ’s sake, not for the sake of the Law or our works.

Defense of the Augsburg Confession III 45-56

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January 23, 2010 at 7:31 am 1 comment

On Prayer – Matthew 6:5-13

Prayer.  Most people do it.  Few feel completely comfortable with it.  After all, there are certain nagging questions which perennially plague those who pray.  “Will God hear my prayer?”  “What if I’m not comfortable praying with or in front of others?”  “How do I pray, anyway?”

Recently, I received a question concerning Jesus’ teaching on prayer.  Because there are many questions pertaining to prayer, I thought it might be helpful to answer the above questions in light of what Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:5-13)

With Jesus’ words fresh in our minds, then, here are the most common questions I receive pertaining to prayer.

Question 1: Will God hear my prayer?

Yes!  Jesus says that when you pray, “your Father…will reward you” (verse 6).  For your heavenly Father to reward you, he must first hear you.  And he does!

Notably, there are two different types of rewards talked about in Matthew 6.  The first is the reward received by hypocrites who pray to impress men rather than to be heard by God.  In verse 5, the Greek word for their “reward” is misthis, a word denoting a compensation or payment. Thus, these hypocrites earn their reward from men because their impressive, long, flowery, public prayers.

The reward which comes from our heavenly Father, however, is of a different sort.  The word for “reward” in verse 6 is apodidomi, a word which simply means, “gift.”  A reward from God is not earned by the merit of our prayer, but freely given by God’s grace.  God wants to give his “good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11).  God hears your prayers…and he responds!  He may not respond with a temporal gift, but he always gives his eternal gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to those who ask him.

Question 2:  What if I’m not comfortable praying with or in front of others?

Jesus commends those who pray “in secret” (verse 6).  Thus, it is certainly okay to pray silently and by yourself.  If you’re not comfortable praying with or in front of others, that’s okay.  Just continue to offer personal and silent prayers to your heavenly Father.

However, as wonderful as personal praying is, we are also called to learn how to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).  It is important to learn how to pray with and for others.  When you do pray for others, your prayers do not need to be eloquent or long.  A simple, and yes, even bumbling, prayer is heard by God like any other.  And blessedly, it also boosts the spirit of the person for whom you are praying.  If you’ve never prayed with someone, try it with a trusted friend!

Question 3:  How do I pray, anyway?

Jesus offers guidance both in how we are and how we are not to pray.  First, he explains how we are not to pray: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7).  They key to understanding Jesus’ guidance here is the phrase, “like pagans.”  The pagans of Jesus’ day offered repetitive prayers to false gods, thinking they could coerce these gods with incantations, getting them to do what they wanted.  An example of this comes in Acts 19:34: “They all shouted in unison for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’”  The true God cannot be coerced by such a sterile formulaic cry.  It’s not that prayers can’t be long, it’s that God won’t hear a prayer simply because it’s verbose.  Rather, he’ll hear a prayer – whether it be a prayer of many or few words – because it’s prayed in Jesus’ name.

This leads us to how we are to pray.  Jesus gives us gracious guidance in this regard when he says, “This, then, is how you should pray” (Matthew 6:9) and then launches into what is popularly known as the Lord’s Prayer.  The Greek word for “this” is houtos, a word meaning everything from “exactly” to “in such a manner.” In other words, Jesus, when he tells his disciples, “This…is how you should pray,” seems to be giving his followers precise instructions on prayer as well as more general parameters.  Thus, we ought to both pray the Lord’s Prayer and pray like the Lord’s Prayer.   When all else fails, when the words just won’t come, pray the Lord’s Prayer!  After all, it was given to us by none other than our Lord himself.

But do not only pray Lord’s Prayer word for word, also use it to guide your praying.  When you pray, do you approach God as your loving heavenly Father?  Do you pray for his will to be done?  Do pray for your needs?  Do you seek God’s forgiveness of sin and protection from the evil one?  These requests ought to mark our prayers because we are encouraged to make these requests by Jesus.

Finally, prayer is a precious gift from God which out to be used regularly.  It is no wonder that the apostle Paul writes, “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  The Greek word for “continually” is adialeiptos, a word used outside the New Testament to describe chronic coughs.  Thus, prayer for the Christian should be as natural as coughing is for a cold patient.  So pray today…many times.  Your Father will gladly hear and help.

Do you have a theological question you would like Zach to answer on his blog? Email him at

January 21, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – Psalm 119:101-105

Proverbs 14:12 soberly reminds us: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” In the Septuagint, the famed second century BC Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the word for “way” is hodos.  The word hodos is regularly used figuratively, referring to the ethical way of humans, whether that way be one of righteousness or one of evil.  Such is the case in this verse from Proverbs.  The ethics of a man may seem righteous, but they are righteous only in his own eyes.  To God, a human’s self-contrived way of ethics is a way only to condemnation and damnation.

In worship and Adult Bible Class this past weekend, we talked about the primacy of Scripture at Concordia. Doctrinally, I talked about how:

  • Scripture is inspired. This means that God speaks the very words of Holy Writ – every verb, adjective, noun, and pronoun.  He also speaks all of Holy Writ – from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation.  Thus, we believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture.

  • Scripture is inerrant. Because Scripture is inspired by God, and because God is perfect, the Bible contains no mistakes or errors in its original autographs.

  • Scripture is perspicuous. That is, Scripture is clear!  You don’t need a PhD in theology to understand the Bible.  Any Christian can read and study this book.

  • Scripture is sufficient. Although Scripture does not tell us everything we might want to know about God, it does tell us everything we need to know about God, for it tells us of our sin and our need for a Savior.

  • Following this primer on the doctrine of Scripture and its authority, we then considered together a Psalm 119, which well extols the value of Scripture.  The Psalmist writes:

    I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. (Psalm 119:101-104)

    In the Septuagint’s translation of this Psalm, as in Septuagint’s translation of Proverbs, we find the word hodos used in its ethical sense.  In verse 101, when the Psalmist announces, “I have kept my feet from every evil path,” the Greek word for “path” is hodos.  Again, in verse 104, when the Psalmist says, “I hate every wrong path,” the word is hodos.  The Psalmist despises the way that seems right to a man.  Instead, he desires to follow the way of God, as given in his Word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).  The righteous hodos of God is to be found in his Word.

    “Keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in his ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9). Again, the word for “ways” is hodos.  The ways of God are to be found in the commands and Word of God, as Moses so aptly reminds us.  But make no mistake about it:  God’s holy Way, as given in the Scriptures, is no sterile system of ethics, contained only in some tepid tome.  For in the Scriptures, a Way of God is revealed which offers us eternal life.

    In John 14:6, we again hear of a hodos.  Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  The word for “way” is hodos.  In the midst of a host of human futile “ways” Jesus declares himself the sole “Way” to God.

    It is no surprise, then, that the earliest Christians called themselves followers of “the Way” (cf. Acts 22:4).  For they knew that the ways of man, no matter how righteous they might seem, lead only to death.  The Way who is Jesus, however, leads to life eternal.

    Jesus is the Way.  And Jesus’ Way is revealed to us in the pages of a book which the Psalmist says is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  Scripture too, then, is God’s Way.  May we cling to God’s Way of Scripture and God’s Way of his Son.  For here we have the sure and certain Way of life.  May we follow this Way, believe this Way, be forgiven by this Way, and read this Way.  Read your copy of the Way today.

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    January 18, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

    On Baptism, Babies, and Salvation…

    I received the following question recently concerning the Lutheran Church’s stance on the baptism of babies. Because this is a perennial question, I thought it might be helpful to post my answer on my blog. I hope it is a blessing to you.

    Question:  Would you please explain the baptism of babies?  Do you think this is a salvation experience?  If so, why?

    There are really two parts to this question.  The first has to do with the baptism of babies and whether or not such an action is appropriate.  I would say it certainly is. Biblically, the “household references” which surround baptism are pertinent to understanding the baptism of infants.  A few examples will suffice:

  • Acts 15:14-15 The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.

  • Acts 16:31, 33 “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household”…At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.

  • 1 Corinthians 1:16 “I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.”

  • This is just a sampling of the “household references” which surround baptism.  This term “household” refers not only to adults, but also to children.  Again, we do well to consider just a few biblical and historical references of households which include children:

  • 1 Samuel 22:16, 18-19 And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house.” Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn and strike the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword.

  • This reference is significant because the “father’s house” in verse 16 is explicitly connected to those who are children and infants in verse 19.

  • Genesis 17:12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner – those who are not your offspring.

  • Again, this reference is significant because eight-day old infants are considered to be part of one’s household.

  • Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 13:1  “Greetings to the families of my brothers, along with their wives and children.”

  • This greeting, written by the church father Ignatius around the turn of the second century, simply and logically notes that households include children.

    The weight of the above evidence suggests that when a “household” was baptized, children too were included.

    Now, on the second part of the question:  “Even if children were baptized in the early church, what’s the point?  Is baptism a salvation experience?”  Again, the answer to this question is unequivocally, “Yes.”  The witness of Scripture is clear:

  • Acts 2:37-39 “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

  • Note here that baptism is connected to forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit, both marks of salvation.  Not only that, but “children” are specifically mentioned, once again emphasizing the importance of baptizing even our youngest.

  • 1 Peter 3:18-22 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

  • A couple of things are notable about this passage.  First, Peter explicitly connects baptism to salvation.  There can be no doubt as to baptism’s salvific work.  Second, in verse 21, Peter maintains that the water of water of Noah’s flood “symbolizes” the water of baptism.  The Greek word for “symbolizes” is antitypos, meaning a “copy” or “knock-off” the original (see Hebrews 9:24 where the earthly temple is an antitypos of the heavenly one).  Peter is arguing, then, that the water of Noah’s flood was only a knock off of the water that God was already anticipating in baptism. Baptism is bigger than the flood!  Thus, baptism is clearly fundamental to God’s will and work in history and in our lives.

    Whenever baptism is hailed as a “salvation experience,” the inevitable objection arises:  “But I thought Jesus saved!  How can you say that splashing some water on someone will save them?”  Martin Luther addresses this objection when he writes:

    Certainly not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water does these [salvific] things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water.  For without God’s Word the water is plain water and no baptism.  But with the Word of God it is a baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit. (SC Baptism 3)

    Luther reminds us that Baptism is no good if God does not show up.  Baptism does not save us without Jesus.  Rather, through baptism, Jesus comes to us and saves us.  He declares us to be his children, even as the Father announced Jesus to be his beloved Son when he was baptized (cf. Matthew 3:13-17).

    Baptism, then, is no magic trick where water is sprinkled on a baby and that water somehow saves them.  Nor is baptism to be used as an insurance policy against hell, where a parent brings their child to be baptized and then never brings them to worship or teaches them the tenets of the faith, believing that, by some mysterious, inherent, undefined virtue in a baptism performed years ago, their child will be saved.  God’s Word and baptism must go hand in hand, as Jesus himself teaches:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).  Baptism and the teaching of God’s Word go together.  For it is there that we meet Jesus.  And it is there that Jesus saves us.

    And so, we continue to baptize.  And we continue to share God’s Word.  And God continues to work to save people like you and me.  And so we thank God, who has given us baptism and his Word through which we can meet him and meet with him.

    Do you have a theological question you would like Zach to answer on his blog? Email him at

    January 14, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

    ABC Extra – Luke 2:22-33

    This past weekend at Concordia in both worship and ABC, we continued our series “Shine Like Stars:  Concordia’s Core” with a look at Luke 2:22-33 and the topic of worship. At the end of Adult Bible Class, I offered four lessons on worship based on this text.

    Lesson 1:  Worship is commanded by God. Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple “in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord” (verse 24).  Worship is commanded by God and Mary and Joseph follow that command.  And we too are commanded to worship.  And we are not just to worship privately, but also corporately.  As the preacher of Hebrews reminds us, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25).  Worship is not optional for the Christian.

    Lesson 2:  Worship is Spirit-saturated. Simeon goes to the temple to worship when he is “moved by the Spirit” (verse 27).  Worship must be led by and endowed with the Spirit.  This does not mean some sort of Charismatic madness, mind you.  It simply means that the Spirit speaks through the words of Scripture and rests on the praises of his people.  This is why we begin every worship service, “In the name of the Father and the Son of the Holy Spirit.”  We invoke the Spirit’s presence among us as we worship.

    Lesson 3:  Worship is from God to us. It is God who first serves us in worship.  He serves us by his Word, by his Sacraments, and by his grace.  We then respond by simply offering to God what he has first given us.  Indeed, this is precisely what happens with Mary and Joseph when they “present Jesus to the Lord” (verse 22).  They present Jesus, who is the Lord of heaven and earth, to the Lord of heaven and earth!  They present what God has first given them in his Son back to God.  This is what we too do in worship.  For we have nothing to bring to God in worship except that which he has already brought to us.

    Lesson 4:  Worship is accepted by God. God gives us so much in worship.  He gives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  What we return to God in worship is a mere pittance in comparison.  Again, we see this in the case of Mary and Joseph.  God gives to them his Son and, in return, Mary and Joseph bring to God “two young pigeons” (verse 24).  Hardly a fair trade.  And yet God, out of his love, gladly accepts these tokens of worship.

    With that brief review of my ABC, here is one additional lesson on worship which I did not have time to cover.

    Lesson 5:  Worship is evangelical. Simeon, when he sings his song of worship to God, says, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentile and for glory to your people Israel” (verse 29-32).  Simeon’s worship of the baby Jesus begins in the temple, but it does not stay there.  For the salvation that Christ brings has been prepared by God to be seen by all people.  Similarly, in the early church, we read about how “Every day [Christians] continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in the their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46-47).  Lots of people watched the early church worship.  And, through that witness of worship, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

    When was the last time you invited someone to church with you to watch you worship?  True worship of God can be offered only by believers because it is rooted in and flows from faith.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t invite someone who does not believe in Jesus to church with you.  For it is in worship that God will meet them.  And it is in worship that God will convict them with his Law and comfort them with his Gospel.  It is in worship that God just might save them.  And then they will no longer just watch worship, they will worship.  For they will no longer just see the salvation prepared for them, as Simeon so eloquently sings, they will believe it.  And believing God’s salvation is what worship is all about.

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    January 11, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

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