Friday, November 13, 2009

" is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants"

To die for. That is they way people sometimes describe something worthy of the highest possible price. But we exaggerate by that expression, because death really is too high a price for a human being to pay, if you think about it. If Momma's lasagna really was “to die for” and you died – how could you enjoy a single serving because you'd be dead? Ultimately physical death is too expensive a price.

Is there price that is too high for even God to pay? You may be surprised to hear that the answer to that question is 'yes'. A bit further on in today's Epistle we are told ...”it is not angels He helps but Abrahams's descendants”. Why not help angels who sinned? You don't hear any preachers asking that question, but that does not mean it is not a good question. And this is the answer - redeeming fallen angels would be too high a price to pay, even for God.

Why too high a price to redeem sinful angels? Because God designed angels to taste only one kind of death for their sins – eternal death. Remember how Jesus tells us that God created eternal damnation ”for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25.41).

If God were to show His redeeming love for any angels that sinned, and tasted their death, He would have had to be banished from Heaven never to return. You see why that would not be practical as a demonstration of redeeming love on the part of God's Son. The price would literally be too high even for God.

So God created a creature that He could afford to redeem and forgive by paying for their sins Himself. God created us, creatures created capable of two deaths – the eternal death that the devils die, but also physical death – a death that God's Son could taste without Christ having to be forever separated from His Father.

So the author to the Hebrews tells us, “Since the children have flesh and blood (another way of saying human mortality), He too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps but Abrahams's descendants.

For this reason he had to be make like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (verses 14-18).

Notice is says “He had to be made like His brothers”. This is the way it had to be. Realistically, God could not make atonement for the angels that sinned, but He could make and it was fitting to make, creatures for whom He could make atonement and that is what God did.

And as He created us to be redeemed and as He carried out His loving plan to demonstrate His redeeming grace, mercy and love by means of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the angels of God who had not sinned sang for joy and still find God's demonstration of love toward us endlessly delightful.

Even now, scripture tells us, the holy angels, archangels and all the company of heaven are focussing their praise on the fact that Christ “was slain and by His blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5.9).

Hebrews says to us, “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers”.

The author to the Hebrews invites us to contemplate the wonder of the fact that it was for people like us that our Savior came. People
 powerless over their lot in life. People whose lives are, at times, filled with toil
 and pain. People who fear death. But people whom the Son of the living God has made to be His brothers through paying the ultimate price.

'...we see Jesus (he writes), ... he suffered death, so that, by the grace of God, He might taste death for everyone.'

How remarkable (by virtue of His incarnation and humiliation) to be able to say of the Son of God, “He understands the taste
 of death”. He knows what it means to live in conditions that are far below
 what they should be.
 And it's not just that He understands from afar, as if He has some
kind of intellectual knowledge, almost like a academic analysis of
 suffering. He's not like some politicians who claim to "feel your pain," 
when you can bet that they really have no clue.

No, Jesus left the glory of heaven to come and live among human beings as a man. He
 who created all our material universe by the word of His mouth, became part of this
 creation, being made "lower than the angels" that He might redeem humans.

You see, He didn't just come here to understand our plight; He came 
to do something about it. And “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” caused Him to suffer in order that He
 might be the perfect Author of our salvation.1

He knows suffering. He knows
 pain. He knows anguish, disappointment, grief, sorrow and rejection. "He
 was stricken by God, smitten and afflicted. He was wounded for our 
transgressions, bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace
was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4b_5).

Whatever you have suffered in this life, He knows it. He
 experienced all that you've suffered and more. For the last time I checked, 
there wasn't anyone of us who had been whipped, beaten, stabbed, and nailed
 to a cross for even our own sins, let alone the sins of other people.

 endured all of that so that you might never have to know the eternal agony
 of hell.
 Dear brother or sister, you don't have to fear death. You don't
 have to live as though the current state of your existence is the way things
 always will and must be. Your Savior wants better things for you. He wants 
a better life for you. He wants to meet you in His house, at His table, to
 fill you with Himself, and to give you a peace that passes understanding as a brother would ideally want to do for his brothers.

I know there are times that you don't believe that. I know there
are times when you wonder where He is and why He hasn't intervened to rescue
 you from your circumstances. I know there are times when you wonder if He
 really cares or if He is even there at all. You feel angry. You feel
confused. You feel abandoned. You feel alone. You feel unloved and 
unwanted. I know you do.

All I can say to you, in the midst of your struggles,
 is wait. Scripture says: "They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their
 strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not
 be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31). God works in
 His own time, and though it may not seem so at the time, He always comes
 through. The only question, during any test of faith, is 'will we come through'? And when we don't, God is there to forgive us for our shortcoming, sins and lack of faith.

To comfort us who so often feel alone (unnecessarily I might add) God's word reminds us, “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those (like us!) who are being tempted”.

This is all part of what you might call the way we live now. We may
 never know why we suffer the way we do. We can never be sure when to expect 
the Lord to open His hand of blessing, or for how long. (And certainly, He 
is not bound to our circumstances. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, He
 can bless us even if we're still in the fire.) But there are two things we
 can always count on: 1) nothing in this life ever stays the same, and 2)
 Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

1Ephesians 3.9-10

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Triumph of the Villains

Some Remembrance Day thoughts:

In 1935 the great filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, produced a documentary with the title "Triumph des Willens". Ten years later proud empires lay in ruins and 60 million people were dead.

In English, the title of Riefenstahl's film translates as "the Triumph of the Will" (a reference to the domination of the then newly-elected Hitler), but ironically the German word "Willens" in the title is pronounced like the English word: "villains". Hence the title of his blog: "Triumph of the Villains".

As a Christian, I believe that there will be a day of reckoning when the forces of evil will be defeated forever.

Yet even that sacred truth does not bring back all that was destroyed by the villainy that swept the world in the 20th century.

And, tragically, the legacy of Darwinism, Nietzschean atheism and eugenics that led to the slaughter of millions of people is still a strong force behind not only the abortion of millions of unborn children today, but also the undermining of the faith of countless children through nihilistic "religious education".

The villains still have their victims, as long as people are taught to believe that God has no objective existence and we are all mere animals who answer to nothing but our own self-interest, that of our "race" or of our national interest.

Maranatha - I say - come, Lord Jesus and end the triumph of the villains eternally.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Lawful Killing, as Opposed to Murder and Terrorism

The “Guy Fawkes Day” shooting rampage at Fort Hood on the 5th of November, on top of thoughts of Veterans' Day, Remembrance, two ongoing wars in central Asia, and this week's catechesis I presented to my students on the “5th Commandment” make up a cluster of things this week that have motivated me to say something about the theology of lawful killing.

What we have in the person of Nidal Malik Hasan, is a very confused soldier such as the one depicted by Telli Savalas in the film “The Dirty Dozen”. In a prison cell he tries to rationalize his murders with an allusion to the Bible and says, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”, but he adds that “God doesn't say who will be his instrument”. That is where he is wrong, of course. Unless you happen to be a biblically illiterate pacifist, you will recognize that the biblical God has clearly established who will be his instrument of retributive justice and who will “turn the other cheek” and forgive.

The instrument of retributive justice is government, acting on behalf of God and on behalf of all of us as a community. Responsibility for retributive justice is not given to individual citizens to execute on their own behalf. The ones who are told “judge not, lest ye be judged”, “turn the other cheek”, “love your enemies”, “forgive seventy times seven times” and so forth, are private individuals, not government, not the police and not the military. Officials acting publicly, on behalf of the rest of us, are told to judge, are told to avenge and (yes) are told to kill.

Since we humans have contaminated our world with sin and evil, God, out of love for us, established the concept of a justice system to prevent us from being overwhelmed by crime. He ordained that a “sword” be placed in the hands of those who represent our community and serve as officers in government. St. Paul says of such an earthly governor, that, ”...he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13.4).

In his teaching on the 5th Commandment in his Large Catechism, Martin Luther writes, “...God and government are not included in this commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”). ... To punish evildoers, God has delegated His authority to the government ...what is forbidden in this commandment is forbidden to the individual in his relationship with anyone else, but not to the government” (181 – p.379 in CONCORDIA, McCain ed.).

Christians, acting as private individuals may not “take the law into their own hands”. We are to offer our personal forgiveness perpetually to offenders in every case and then let our community take vengeance if needed. If our community judges that a criminals have forfeited their right to live among us, offenders will be banished to prison cells or to a scaffold, but individual Christians will not deny criminals our personal forgiveness, even as we require a judge to pass sentence and an executioner to carry out his vocation.

There is no contradiction in this. It is the vocation of public officials to punish criminals and it is the vocation of sinners to offer their personal forgiveness to all others even as we expect God to forgive us our trespasses and sins (Matt. 6.15). The same applies to the apparent contradiction implied in the phrase “we come in peace – shoot to kill” It may indeed be the case that members of a “peace-keeping force” may have to “fire a shot in anger” precisely in order to carry out their vocation of providing a peaceful environment for the rest of the community.

The same goes for warfare. If you know nothing else about “Just War” theory, you can tell by the words “just war”, that it may be proposed that there is such a thing as ethical, moral and lawful killing on a large scale as in war-time. You might even use a phrase like “state sponsored hate”, if you like, as long as you understand its context in the legitimate execution of justice in a world where there is “a time to love and a time to hate” (Ecc. 3.8). In terms of Judeo-Christian civilization you might say that everything from Joshua and the Battle of Jerico to Operation Iraqi Freedom is state-sponsored hate. Call it righteous indignation, properly channelled, according to the rule of law.

Indignation, however, is not always righteous, as we know – even on the part of states and communities. Earthly authorities are ordained by God to represent Him but they frequently and notoriously abuse their position. Such abuse, however does not discredit the principal of government any more than the concept of a police force is discredited because the Nazis had a gestapo.

Terrorism, if it is state-sponsored, is an example of abuse of power by a government. This is because terrorism, whether conducted by governments, groups or individuals is not an ordered and measured use of force, but rather an abuse of force in which non-combatants, “innocents” and by-standers are more than collateral damage, but actually targets. Terrorists are not soldiers, but dastardly murderers who refuse to grasp the difference between lawful and unlawful killing. Terrorist acts may be intended to “send a message” but any content to that message is obscured and discredited by the abuse of violence involved in conveying it.

Major Hasan, a soldier, was NOT following our orders. Instead he acted as a terrorist, driven, not by legitimate government, but by a diabolical application of his fanatical Muslim beliefs. Yet, whatever the ideological basis, the methods yield the same deplorable results. Terrorism, we should remember, is nothing new – only the methods have changed through the years. Prior to the Irish sectarian bombings and Al Qaeda-style attacks in our lifetimes, terrorism was involved in violence from the barbarian raids in the dark ages to the carpet bombings of the 20th century. All were terrorism because they were an abuse of force and sinfully distant from any meaningful expression of retributive justice.

We are in the midst of a season of honoring soldiers – the living and the dead – who served and continue to serve our communities and our civilization by the calling that was given to them by God, through us. Let us, while we are in this world of sin and evil, contemplate the cross that these men and women have offered to take upon their shoulders out of love for their country and their God. And as we contemplate the differences between lawful killing, murder and terrorism, let us honor their service by wisely discerning those distinctions and thereby reflect God's mercy in His gracious dealings with us – in Jesus Christ our Redeemer.