There are some who are taken aback by Jesus' words and deeds. Others respect Him; still others ridicule Him. This was also the case on the first Pentecost about two thousand years ago. So it is also today. Attitudes, however, are not lasting. God can change them. With Him nothing is impossible.
On the first Pentecost Peter addressed those who only fifty days earlier had cried: "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" (Luke 23:21). At an earlier time these people would have accepted Jesus as a bread king (John 6:15). But they were offended by the truth that Jesus was the Savior. They were seeking a Messiah who would fulfill their earthly expectations. Jesus did not give them what they wanted because He had not come for that purpose. God's Son had come to save fallen mankind from sin. He wanted people to believe in Him as such a Savior. But instead of believing in Him, they were filled with a violent hatred toward Him, the Eternal Love. And so they killed Him.
Many are disappointed in Jesus and hate Him. Many see Him as a hindrance to their hopes and want to cast Him away from their path. The hearts of many preachers tremble with fear when they are called upon to proclaim this despised Jesus to their hearers. Fear has caused many to change God's message in order to please people. At first the Apostles tried to do this too, but they did not build up God's Church by doing so. Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter denied Him. John, being a friend of the high priest, tried to use this relationship to his advantage.
It was different on Pentecost. The Holy Ghost had given the Apostles the courage to speak. Peter cried out: "God has made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). The people were pricked in their hearts. They had sinned against God by killing His Son.
We also need to be convicted of sin in God's sight. Nothing less will do. We cannot get by with blasphemous talk. Half?heartedness and hypocrisy are not acceptable to Him. The Holy Ghost causes us to ask: "What shall we do?" And to those who ask, the Lord's Apostle answers: "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38). "Repent', or more correctly translated: "Be converted, change your minds!" Before, when you were unbelievers, perhaps you blasphemed Jesus. Do not do so any longer. Jesus has atoned for your sins. He has loved you and given His all for you. Trust in Him. Thus you will be saved. In Him you will find peace to replace the accusations of your conscience.
To those who have not as yet been baptized with the Christian Baptism, this word of God applies: "Let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins."
But what about those who were baptized as children, but have since then begun traveling the road of the Prodigal Son. Must they be "rebaptized"? No.
Martin Luther very aptly compares Baptism to a ship, which would remain afloat even though someone were to fall overboard. He tells us that if we fall away from our Baptismal Covenant, we are to return to it: "For the ship never breaks, because (as we have said) it is the ordinance of God, and not a work of ours; but it happens, indeed, that we slip and fall out of the ship. Yet if anyone fall out, let him see to it that he swim up and cling to it till he again come into it and live in it as he had formerly begun."
In Baptism God has established a Covenant of grace with us. "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim. 2:13). Christ's work of atonement and God's faithfulness are our refuge. In them sinners find peace.
For three thousand people the first Pentecost was the day of their conversion and the day they found peace of conscience. May Pentecost be such a day also for us.
Fireworks color the sky - for a moment - into beautiful configurations. They cause us to forget the twinkling of the stars. Fireworks provide a moment of joy, but the stars in the heavens shine continuously.
br /> The Bible tells us of Jesus' seventy disciples who had been overcome by a sudden burst of enthusiasm and joy. When Jesus had sent them out to proclaim the message: "The kingdom of God has come near to you" (Luke 10:9), He had also given them the power to perform miracles. Now they return from their mission and say: "Even the demons are subject to us in Your name" (Luke 10:17). Why did the disciples perform miracles?
br /> At that time the disciples had a very special message to proclaim. When Herod imprisoned John the Baptist, these 70 became the forerunners of Christ. Their task was to proclaim the news that the promised Messiah had come. That was the meaning of the message: "The kingdom of God has come near to you." A momentous event of this type needed attestation. In the name of Jesus the disciples healed the sick and acted as His servants. In this way they demonstrated that the word they proclaimed was true. If Jesus had been a mere human being, no one could have healed the sick in His name. The disciples were given the power to perform miracles so that their hearers would listen to their preaching and would believe that Jesus was the Savior of sinners.
br /> At certain critical times God has used miracles. They have never been an end in themselves, but have always served some purpose. God confirmed the word of the New Testament with miracles (Mark 16:20). Because we now have this confirmed Word of God, we no longer need miracles. Jesus disciples in their enthusiasm put matters in the wrong sequence. But fortunately they came to Jesus, and Jesus set them straight. They had gone from the Word to miracles, and from the joy of salvation to being enchanted by miracles. They should have progressed from miracles to the Word, from their own works to Jesus, and should have served Him with thankful hearts because they had been saved. Here is the difference between a healthy and a fanatical Christianity. Jesus says: "Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven" (Luke 10:20).
br /> Fireworks cease, the stars continue to shine. Miracles are for critical times; they cease, but the Word of God endures and we endure through It's power.
"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful" (John 14:27).
To a Christian it is important that he has Christ's peace in his heart. Christ reconciled us to God when He atoned for our sins. The peace of forgiveness is based on Christ's once?and?for?all sacrifice in our behalf. We have this peace through faith. It is, however, very easy to lose this peace. The greatest and subtlest danger is spiritual indifference. If a person falls into some grave sin, his conscience accuses him and he knows that he has lost his peace. He knows he must rise again through repentance and faith. But when a person becomes spiritually indifferent, his conscience does not react. It hears God's Word but does not apply it to itself and therefore does not accuse. When a spiritually indifferent person of this type listens to a sermon, he gets nothing from it because he believes that he is without fault. Indifference leads to other sins. He begins to make distinctions among preachers. He is not concerned about the substance of the preaching - only about outward matters. The spiritually indifferent falsely believes that a hardened heart is a heart at peace.
Spiritual indifference also has other devastating results. It takes away the decisiveness of confession. A spiritually indifferent person believes that he must be conciliatory in all things and must not take a strict, unconditional stand in matters pertaining to the Word of God. In this way he believes he is promoting the cause of the Gospel. But God's Word is strict and unconditional. God's Word is not many different contradictory messages; it is unchangeable, eternal, always the same.
Christ has given us peace so that we will trust in His lordship, His grace and His guidance. "Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful" (John 14:27). Christ has not given us His peace so that we would use it as an excuse and begin trying to please people, be afraid to confess His name, modify God's Word or do some other terrible thing.
Christ has given us His peace so that we would with courage and joy fight among the ranks of His soldiers. The spiritually indifferent believe that Christ brought peace to earth. But to them Christ says: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34). If we wish to be Christians we must bear our cross. If we refuse to bear the cross, we cannot have a good conscience but will live with hardened hearts in an imagined state of peace.
Let us therefore beware of spiritual indifference! Let us fight with courage and joy in Christ's army.
Many people are troubled because they cannot lead the type of life they would like to lead. They would like to be better people than they are. The Apostle Paul was such a person. He had to confess: "I am doing the very thing I hate" (Rom. 7:15). Paul did not feel holy. On the contrary, he was very much aware of his sins. Although Paul made this confession, he was not living in mortal, grave sin. He was troubled by original sin, that evil old Adam.
Man's corruption can be compared to an iceberg of which only a small portion can be seen above the surface of the ocean. Similarily only a small part of a person's corruption becomes apparent in his evil words and deeds. A person does not become holy by giving up certain outward sins such as murder, fraud, adultery and drunkenness. That huge iceberg of sin remains in the heart and reveals itself every now and then in committed sins, sometimes even in gross sins. We must fight against sin. It is not possible to be a Christian and at the same time continue to live in mortal sin. Nor is he a Christian who is outwardly respectable but continues to harbor evil thoughts in his heart. But where can we find strength to lead a holy life?
Consciences have often been burdened when people have been told that they must first improve their lives and only then may they believe. A sincere conscience has not been able to find peace in this way. The plan of the Bible is different: Faith first, then works. Paul hated the evil that lived in him, but he did not despair. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). He found his refuge in Christ. He believed the promise that God justifies the ungodly. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). This is how we too can find peace. In Christ God has atoned for our sins. They have been forgiven. We can believe this just as we are, as sinners, as ungodly people without prior improvement, just as the repentant thief on the cross.
Amazing results will then follow. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age" (Titus 2:11,12). Grace gives strength for a better life. For the more firmly we cling to grace and believe our sins forgiven, the better grace is able to instruct us. If we believe that our sins have been forgiven, we can no longer live in mortal sin. If we do, then we don't believe, even though we might claim that we do. At the same time grace enables us to grow in humility. We recognize the power of original sin in us. With the Apostle Paul we lament the fact that it has a hold on us. We understand those who have fallen, and with God's help want to help them rise again. To ourselves and to others we say: "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom. 5:20).
God has two spheres of authority. One is the earthly sphere or the State. It takes care of the earthly welfare of the citizens and seeks to provide them with outward peace and orderly living conditions. The other is the spiritual sphere or the Office of the Keys of the Christian Church. The Church is to proclaim the Gospel, to remit the sins of the penitent, to retain the sins of the impenitent and to do good. This is why the Church has the Word and the Sacraments. But God has not given the Church earthly authority or earthly power. On the other hand God has given the State certain earthly powers which it is to use according to need in fulfilling its responsibilities. These powers, or means of punishing, are usually called the sword. "For there is no governing authority except from God... it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil" (Rom. 13:1,4). When the State uses the sword, it does not break the Fifth Commandment. God, you see, is above the Commandments and He has the right to punish evildoers. When the State punishes evildoers it is only carrying out God's will. The right of the State to use the sword also applies in its relationship to its enemies, who wage war against it and who can be compared to thieves and murderers. "Fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses" (Neh. 4:14). Jesus often associated with soldiers, but He never told them to forsake their calling. John the Baptist, speaking to soldiers, said: "Be content with your wages." A Christian may therefore with a good conscience serve the State and use the sword that has been given to the State.
Although these principles are set forth clearly in the Bible, this matter has been a source of anguish for many. They remember Jesus words to Peter: "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matt. 26:52). They conclude that Jesus denied the State the use of the sword. This difficulty disappears when we examine Jesus' words more closely.
Who was denied the use of the sword? The State? No, for Jesus submitted even to the unjust treatment He received and did not tell the soldiers to put away their swords and clubs. He addressed His words to Peter who rebelled against the State. By what sword then would Peter have perished? By the sword of the State, of course. Jesus did not therefore take away the sword from the State, but rather preserved it for the State. But He did take it away from the Apostles and the Church. According to the Law of Moses the Old Testament Church had the right to use the sword against heretics. Elijah slew the prophets of Baal (see Deut. 13:5). The Church no longer has this right. This truth was taught to Peter in a very graphic way.
The times when the State has to resort to much use of the sword are difficult times, not only for the nation but also for God's Church. Christians should therefore earnestly heed this exhortation of the Bible: "I urge that entreaties and prayers... be made... for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God, our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:1?4).
Jesus arose from the dead. This is what eye witnesses tell us in the Bible. The lifeless body, that hung on the cross and was placed in the tomb, arose, glorified and full of life. The disciples thought they saw a ghost. But Jesus said to them: "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bone as you see that I have" (Luke 24:38,39). After this He showed them His hands and feet. And while they still could not believe, He ate in their presence and said: "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44).
In our day a new trend of thought is gaining more and more followers: Jesus' resurrection is understood symbolically. Those who support this trend are of the opinion that Jesus' bones are still in the tomb. They understand the resurrection to mean that people can bury the past and engage in the most radical endeavors, believing that something good will come of it. They make a social?political program out of religion and deny the central doctrine of Christianity.
Jesus bodily resurrection has brought us complete comfort and peace. He has conquered death. He bore our sins and died because of them, but He arose without sin. Our sins were left behind. Christ "was delivered up because of our transgressions and was raised because of our justification" (Rom. 4:25). By raising Jesus from the dead, God testified that His Son's atoning sacrifice was sufficient and forgave the sins of the world, our sins too.
Now we can have the assurance that all believers in Jesus will rise to eternal life. Jesus says: "I am the Resurrection and the Life, he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies" (John 11:25). The Apostle Paul tells us how important Jesus' bodily resurrection is. He says: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain" (1 Cor. 15:14). But now preaching is not in vain, nor is faith useless. "For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead" (1 Cor. 15:21).
Would not a person be willing to give anything to overcome the power of death? Jesus gave His all so that He might conquer death for us. Now in joyous faith we can say: "Death, where is your victory? Death where is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15:56). Sin brought death. But now that Christ by His sacrifice has atoned for our sin, death has no power over us. Let us, therefore, courageously believe that our sins have been forgiven in Christ, our crucified and risen Savior. To us too He says: "Peace be with you!"
"I have the authority to lay down (my life), and I have the authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father" (John 10:18). This is what Jesus said about His death and resurrection. We do not have the authority to lay down our life. We have no choice - we must die. As sinners we receive the wages of sin, which is death. Neither do we have the power to rise up to live again. Only Christ had that power. But when He carried our sins to the Cross and appeased God's wrath, He conquered death for us. Already in Baptism we have been buried with Christ and have also been raised up with Him. When we, therefore, believe in Jesus, we are death's conquerors, and we are already living a new life as a gift from God.
This life is still a life of faith. For our eyes behold something altogether different: Sin still clings to us, we experience tribulation, we fear what the future may hold for us, we get sick, grow old, and one day we will die. But faith presents Christ as a counterbalance for all this, and He is pure forgiveness, comfort, peace, joy, life, strength and courage. For He lives and is always with His own, not only during joyous, good days, but also during our deepest sorrow and even in death. For this reason we rejoice in spirit, even when we sigh according to our flesh.
During His earthly life Jesus raised people who had died and in this way demonstrated His power and glory. But these people returned to their former bodies which were still subject to sin and death. The resurrection is something altogether different. Because Christ rose from the dead, He now has a new mode of existence. True, He has the same body as before. He showed His wounds to His disciples; and doubting Thomas, by touching Him, was permitted to determine that He was indeed Jesus. Jesus was not a spirit, but had a body, flesh and bones. Nevertheless He is different from what He was before. His body has been glorified. Those who depart from this life in faith can rise to the same type of existence. Time and place will no longer shackle them, hunger and thirst will not trouble them, the cares and sins of this life will be forgotten, they will enjoy perfect peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. We will be in a more secure position than Adam was in Paradise. Adam fell into sin, but in heaven no one will fall.
The message of Easter is a message of joy. Jesus says: "I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (John 11:25).
"For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast" (1 Cor. 5:7,8). According to this exhortation, when God's people recalled God's works of grace, they were filled with a spirit of jubilation. "In Thy Name they rejoice all the day" (Ps. 89:16). We dare to approach God with joy because of Jesus.
Every year the people of Israel observed the Passover festival in memory of their liberation from slavery in Egypt. They slaughtered a lamb without blemish and prepared it for their Passover meal. According to this prototype Jesus became our Passover Lamb. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was innocent, without sin. Our sins were charged to Him. He suffered for them. "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world", said John the Baptist as he pointed to Jesus (John 1:29). In the original language the word for "takes away" means to carry. John the Baptist therefore beheld Jesus as the Lamb on whom the world's burden of sin had been laid. Bearing this burden, Jesus suffered and died. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). But because Jesus had no sin of His own, His suffering was a substitutionary suffering.
Jesus did not remain in the grave. He arose from the dead. What does this mean to us? It means victory over sin and death. It is proof that our sins have received their wages. A sufficient price has been paid. For if even a single sin had not been atoned for, Jesus would still be in His grave. So certain is the fact that our sins were charged to Him; and so certain is the fact that we have been absolved of our sins. Jesus "was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification" (Rom. 4:25). He who now believes in the Son has passed from death to life and will not be condemned. Already in Holy Baptism we were buried with Christ into death and also together with Him were raised through faith.
We have reason to celebrate and to rejoice. Our crimson sins can no longer condemn us. Christ with His blood has made them white as snow. They have been forgiven. The power of death has been broken. Jesus has risen as the firstfruits of those who are asleep. On the Last Day there will be a gigantic Easter celebration. All those who died believing in Christ will be raised, free of sin and the chains of death, to enjoy the bliss into which they were baptized. Those who have not believed will be raised to "disgrace and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12.2). For this reason let us now celebrate Easter in faith, so that we can also celebrate it eternally.
We can sometimes learn more during the course of one day than we can learn during our whole lifetime. Such a meaningful day to the Apostle Peter was the day of Jesus' suffering. Both his knowledge of himself as well as his knowledge of Jesus deepened immeasurably.
The season of Lent would be a blessed one for us, if what happened to Peter also happened to us. Jesus had called Peter to be His Apostle. Peter had listened intently to Jesus' teaching. He was always ready to speak and was often the spokesman for all the Apostles. In Peter's heart, however, there was some false self?confidence and pride. When Jesus before His suffering told the Apostles that they would all forsake Him, Peter, speaking for himself, said: "Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away" (Matt. 26:33). That's when Peter's downfall began. When Jesus, in the Garden of Getsemane, asked him to watch and pray, Peter fell asleep. There in the Garden he also, by his own authority, took his sword and cut off an ear from a servant of the high priest. In the courtyard of the high priest Peter denied Jesus three different times. Pride caused the chain of events that led to his downfall. "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling" (Proverbs 16:18).
The crowing of the cock came at the nadir of Peter's fall. The dawn was breaking and nature was beginning to awaken. The crowing of the cock meant the breaking of dawn also in Peter's darkness. Proud Peter is reminded of his denial of the Savior - reminded not by another person, but by a cock, a creature whose lord man was created to be! A humbling experience, but Peter had to accept the admonition. May every dawn of a new day also remind us of our weaknesses and warn us concerning the insidious sin of pride.
When the cock had crowed Jesus turned and looked at Peter. Beneath Jesus sweat?covered brow are the eyes into which Peter has often looked. Even now he looks into them and sees that they reflect that love, which was ready to drink the cup of suffering to the last drop also for Peter's sins. This causes Peter to break down. He goes out and weeps bitterly. Observing the suffering of Jesus can also break our proud hearts and lead us to repent.
Jesus had prayed that Peter's faith would not fail. He had also said: "When once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:32). As a humble brother, aware of his own weaknesses, Peter's readiness to speak served others to their advantage. Because he himself had fallen so deeply and had been forgiven, he now knew how to strengthen other weak believers. He himself had experienced God's fathomless love.
From experience Peter therefore knew how to warn others: "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time" (l Pet. 5:5,6).
In his epistles the Apostle Paul strongly emphasizes the fact that our salvation is based solely on what Christ has done in our behalf. Among other things he says: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:8,9). "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4). "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Rom. 3:28). "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). "God justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5).
In many different passages the Apostle Paul excludes works in the matter of salvation. The Bible is a unified book. If Paul excludes works, so do the other Apostles. Some people, however, waver on this point because they do not correctly understand the words of James. James says: "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). It appears that there is a contradiction here, but there actually is none. Paul explains how we are justified before God or how we become acceptable to Him, namely by grace through faith without works. James explains how we are justified in the sight of other people. Because faith cannot be seen, we are justified in the eyes of others by the fruits of our faith. James also writes: "Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18). It is very plain therefore that James is explaining how our righteousness becomes manifest to others. Paul and James speak of different matters even though their words are similar. Paul is admonishing those who try to earn salvation by their works. James admonishes those who falsely imagine that they are believers and recipients of God's grace even though their works are clearly works of unbelief. To them James says: 'Your faith is dead. True faith produces love. Saving faith is not merely acknowledging the truth of a matter. It is trusting in the Word of salvation. A dead faith cannot save.'
We are saved through the faith that results in works, but not because faith results in works. Salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ.
We need both types of preaching. We need the Gospel of grace. We can find comfort for our conscience only in the truth that Christ has already done everything in our behalf and that salvation is by grace through faith without works. But we also need to be warned. We need to examine ourselves to see if we believe or if we have lapsed into a state of spiritual lethargy. This is the purpose of the Epistle of James. In conclusion he says: "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back; let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19,20).