Doxology

“For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.”

These words are not included in the earliest copies of Matthew’s Gospel, nor does Luther comment upon them. Many Christians pray them, though, as a hymn of praise—a doxology—which matches the opening petition of the Lord’s Prayer, in which we ask that God’s name be hallowed.

The kingdom is God’s. He rules over everything that he created; he is Lord of all that exists. The Church in particular is his kingdom, and his will is to increase that kingdom so more people will dwell in his new creation. That new creation is also his kingdom, which he will rule eternally.

The power is God’s. He is almighty; he can do whatever he chooses. God is so powerful that he cannot lie. Whenever he speaks, what he says happens. He says, “Let there be light,” and there is light. He says, “Your sins are forgiven,” and they are forgiven. He says, “Your sins are gone,” and they are gone, removed as far from us as the east is from the west. He says, “You are my child, and you will live with me forever in a new and perfect creation,” and we know that all these things are true.

The glory is God’s. In the presence of his disciples—Peter, James, and John—Jesus once shone with light while visiting with Moses and Elijah. Yet to Jesus, his true glory is not that he can shine with light or be counted with the heroes of God’s people. His glory far transcends those accomplishments. For Jesus, his true glory is expressed in love, making himself vulnerable on behalf of his people, offering himself as a sacrifice to take away the sins of the world.

The kingdom and the power and the glory are his forever—or, as some Christians pray, “forever and ever.” The original Greek expression translates literally as “from the ages into the ages.” God’s kingdom and power and glory never end. They endure into the new creation, and we will experience them fully at the resurrection of the body, when we inherit the fullness of what we already have now: the life everlasting. J.

 

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But deliver us from evil

Jesus said, “When you pray, say ‘…But deliver us from evil….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.”

Salvageable adds: When we are given daily bread, unconditional forgiveness, and guidance for our lives, we should be safe from all evil. Therefore, Luther describes this petition as a summary of the Lord’s Prayer. God’s fatherly nature is determined to keep us safe from evil. His name is kept holy, his kingdom is preserved, and his will is done when we are protected from evil. Even when God chooses to permit evil—as he did with Job’s afflictions, with Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and with the execution of his own Son—God permits that evil so that a greater good can prevail. When a Christian suffers, that suffering reminds the Christian of Christ’s suffering on the cross and of His victory over all evil. When a Christian dies, the body is buried and the spirit travels to Paradise to wait with Jesus and all the saints for the Day of the Lord and the new creation.

The devil and sinners in the world use the existence of evil as an argument against the existence of God or against his goodness. Sometimes the sinful nature still within a Christian is inclined to agree with the devil and sinners. God permits us to see and experience evil, not because he is too weak to prevent it or not good enough to stop it, but because he wants all people to know the difference between good and evil. When we face evil, we begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and then God can satisfy us. He satisfies us with the perfect goodness of his Son, which he credits to us even though we have been allies of evil and have taken sides against God by breaking his commands. He satisfies us with the suffering and death of his Son, a battle against evil in which the good side won. Being forgiven, we share in Christ’s victory over evil, knowing that God has chosen us for his team so we can be on the winning side.

Every day God delivers his people from evil. On the Last Day the fullness of his victory will finally be seen in the resurrection of his saints and the dawn of the new creation. From that Day on we will not have to pray for daily bread, daily forgiveness, daily help to forgive others, daily guidance, and daily deliverance from evil. From that Day on we will hallow God’s name, live in his kingdom, and do his will without distraction or interruption. From that Day on we will experience our relationship with God as his children, knowing the love of our heavenly Father and having no reason to doubt his goodness and his power. J.

 

Forgive us our trespasses

Jesus says, “When you pray, say ‘…And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”

Salvageable adds: Repentance is not something a Christian does once in a lifetime and then never has to do again. Even the best of us sins every day. Therefore, we repent every day, and we remember how God forgives us through the work of Christ every day. The Lord’s Prayer gives us an opportunity to confess our sins, listing those we remember and also asking forgiveness for those sins we have forgotten and those we never noticed.

Along with this prayer of repentance, we make a promise in the Lord’s Prayer: we promise to forgive those who have sinned against us. As we make this promise, we remember that God goes first. Jesus purchases forgiveness for all people on the cross. Having received that forgiveness ourselves, we now share that forgiveness with other people, especially with those who have sinned against us. We do not begin the process of forgiveness, nor does God limit his forgiveness of our sins to the level of our forgiveness for other sinners. The ransom Christ paid is sufficient to cover all the sins of every person who ever lived or will live, including our sins. When we fail to share forgiveness with another sinner, we cast doubt on the extent of Christ’s ransom and God’s forgiveness. Therefore, Jesus teaches us to pray daily that we will forgive the sins that were committed against us.

Two versions of the Lord’s Prayer contain different pictures of sins. One speaks of trespasses—people going where they are not supposed to go. The other speaks of debts—something that is owed to another person. Our sins are trespasses, for we have gone where God told us not to go. Our sins are debts, and we owe God a penalty of debt we can never pay. Jesus went where he should not have gone—to a Roman cross meant for criminals, and to hell itself, where his Father abandoned him for a time. Jesus went there so we do not have to go there. Jesus paid our debt by his ransom, so we are no longer in debt to God.

Jesus went there for us and for all people. Therefore, when people trespass into our lives and fall into debt to us by their sins, we forgive them. We forgive, not from the goodness of our hearts, but from the wealth of God’s goodness. No act is more Christlike than to forgive someone who has hurt you. No witness of Christ is more dramatic than to forgive as Christ has forgiven. We forgive by the power of God’s forgiveness that has already been given to us. J.

Thy will be done

Jesus says, “When you pray, say, ‘…Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also. How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let his kingdom come; and when he strengthens and keeps us firm in his Word and faith until we die. This is his good and gracious will.”

Salvageable adds: Those four words, “Thy will be done,” can be the hardest words for a Christian to pray. We are accustomed to delivering our wish lists to God and advising him how to run the universe. We would like to take God’s promises about prayer and use them to make ourselves the lords and make God our slave. The “name it and claim it” approach to prayer completely ignores our relationship to God. He is our Father; we are his children. Because he loves us, he invites us to ask anything of him. Still, because he loves us, he will grant no prayer that is bad for us or that contradicts his master plan for the redemption of the world.

Jesus prayed this difficult prayer in Gethsemane. He begged his Father for another way to rescue sinners; he did not want to drink the cup of God’s wrath, filled with the poison of sin and evil and rebellion. Even as he named the gift—“Let this cup pass from me”—Jesus refused to claim it. Instead, he prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.” This example sets the pattern for every Christian as we live our lives and as we speak with our heavenly Father in prayer.

We are nearly half-way through this prayer, and we have not yet said anything about what we want and need. The first three petitions of the prayer focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and what God wants. Even secular business strategy understands this approach: talk to the customer about the customer first, and the customer will keep listening when you switch to your product or service. Christians are not cynical when we begin our prayers talking to God about God. In both Old and New Testaments, believers began their prayers talking to God about God. They spoke of things God had done in the past and promises he had made. They reminded God of his nature—not because God needs reminders, but because the rest of us need reminders. The more we speak to God about God, the more we are pulled away from our selfish sinfulness and gathered into the saintly habit of loving God more than we love ourselves.

The words “on earth as it is in heaven” apply to all three petitions prayed thus far. “Hallowed be thy name on earth as it is in heaven.” “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s name is always holy, except where sinners profane the name of God. God’s kingdom follows his rules, except where sinners break his rules. God’s will is done everywhere in creation except where sinners rebel against him and follow their will rather than God’s will. Some people wonder why God allows sin and evil to exist in his otherwise perfect creation. That question is not the mystery, though. The true mystery is why God loves sinners and rebels so much that he sends his Son as a ransom to reclaim them. The only answer to that mystery is found in the will of God—a gracious, merciful and loving will that wants no one to perish but wants to redeem and reclaim all people. Because that is God’s will, Christians cheerfully and trustingly pray the words, “Thy will be done.” J.

Redemption

“(I believe) in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”

Salvageable adds: If the first article of the Creed can be confessed even by Jews and Muslims and heretics, the second article separates the Christians from those who only seem like Christians. The mysteries of the Incarnation of Christ and of Redemption are summarized by Luther in clear and simple statements—producing perhaps the most important sentence that Luther ever wrote.

Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity. He is truly and completely God, one with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. Jesus possesses every quality of divinity—he is all-powerful, all-knowing, present everywhere, with authority over all things in the universe. At the very same time, Jesus is true man, born of the virgin Mary. He has all the qualities of humanity: a human body, a human mind, a human spirit. He knows what it is to hunger and thirst, to face temptation and danger, to suffer, and to die. He is 100% God and 100% human, yet one person. The Son of Mary possesses all the powers of divinity; the Son of God possesses all the elements of humanity.

Later creeds spelled out in more detail what it means to be one person, completely God and completely human. The Nicene Creed calls Jesus “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten—not made, being of one substance with the Father.” The Athanasian Creed clarifies that Jesus is “equal to the Father regarding his divinity and less than the Father regarding his humanity.” Many of the false teachings that have plagued Christianity through its history result from misunderstandings of the two natures of Christ, the relationship of his divinity and his humanity.

He became human to rescue humanity from sin and from evil. We could not redeem ourselves: every one of us is trapped in sin and evil. The blood of Jesus, his suffering, and his death, paid the price to reclaim us for the kingdom of God and reconcile us to God. The resurrection of Jesus proclaims his victory and promises us a resurrection like his. His suffering, death, burial, and resurrection are historic events, part of human history, that expand in importance to rescue sinners both before and after they occurred. All of the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, point to this rescue mission of Jesus Christ.

He is my Lord. We have a real relationship, one that matters more than anything else in my life. As my Lord he takes care of me, rescues me from enemies, and sustains me. Because he is my Lord, I owe him allegiance, obedience, and reverence. We are not equal partners, but we have a relationship based upon love. His love for me comes first, and my love for him cannot equal his love; but I love him because he loved me first. This relationship outlasts a lifetime. Because he rose from the dead and will never die again, I can be sure that I will live forever in his kingdom, celebrating his victory with him and with all his saints. As Luther says, “This is most certainly true.” J.

God is jealous?! and he takes it out on the children?!

 

God says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).

Yes, God himself says that he is jealous. But jealousy is not always the same as envy and coveting. At root, the meaning of jealousy is wanting to keep that which is one’s own. A husband who is jealous does not want to share his wife with other men. His jealousy may tempt him into sinful behavior, but the desire that one’s wife or husband remain faithful is not sinful. In fact, a man who willingly shares his wife with others shows that he does not love her.

God loves his people. He does not want to share his people with false gods. God does not envy false gods, because he needs and wants nothing from them. But he is jealous, wanting his people not to have other gods or to worship graven images. Whether the false gods are those worshiped by ancient religions—Baal, Zeus, Thor, Osiris, and the rest—or whether they are the modern false gods of money, fame, pleasure, political causes, and the like—God does not want to share. He loves his people too much to let them be deceived and harmed by anything that looks like a god and sounds like a god but cannot accomplish what God alone can do.

For that reason, God allows us to see the price of evil, the damage that it causes. He intends that we see what is wrong with evil and prefer that which is good. Evil is unfair, but God is fair. He would not punish children for the sins of their parents. Through Moses, he forbade the government of Israel to follow that practice (Deuteronomy 24:16). Other ancient governments did that, reasoning that a man’s concern for his family might deter him from crime even more than his concern for self-protection. But God says, “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).

Unfortunately some translations do misinterpret Exodus 20:5-6, reporting that God punishes the children for the sins of the fathers. These translations miss the sense of “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.” That visit of iniquity is not a punishment from God; it is a consequence of sin and evil. God does not work this way, but the sinful world works this way.

Children who were abused by their parents often become parents who abuse their children. It’s not fair, but it happens. Children whose parents misuse alcohol or other drugs are more likely to misuse the same drugs. It’s not fair, but it happens. It’s not fair that some children are born with defects, and others are born already addicted to drugs, because of bad decisions their mothers made during pregnancy. It happens because evil is unfair, and God wants us to see evil for what it really is.

When iniquity visits, it stays for a while. The consequences of sin do not disappear, not even when the sin is already forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ. God measures the durability of evil as lasting “to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” He contrasts that with his love. God’s love lasts for a thousand generations. (According to the Bibles account, nowhere near that number of generations has yet lived on the earth.) Rather than resenting God for the evil he permits—and he does so for good reasons—God’s people rejoice to know that the love of God and his mercy overwhelm the power of evil. All  victims are rescued because God himself became a victim, suffering unfairly on the cross so he could redeem those who trust in him. And that really isn’t fair either, but it is unfairness that is given for our benefit. J.

Protecting reputations

God says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way” (or “put the best construction on everything”).

Salvageable adds: Jesus declares himself to be the Truth. He calls the devil the father of lies. Which team do you prefer? In spite of the fact that most people prefer the truth to lies, most people also find occasions when they would rather lie. With questions like, “Did you enjoy the book I gave you for your birthday?” or, “Does this dress make me look fat?” we might consider it both kinder and safer to tell a lie—“a little white lie,” we like to call it.

Little lies are dangerous, though. Once we have found reasons to excuse lying under certain circumstances, we risk entering a growing pattern of dishonesty. We begin to lie for our own protection to hide the fact that we have done something wrong. We gossip about others, telling stories we heard that may not be true but are quite entertaining. Soon we move to lies that cause trouble for other people, robbing them of their good reputations and assigning blame to them that they do not deserve.

Both God’s commandment and Luther’s explanation focus on our neighbor. We are not to tell lies about our neighbor, in court or anywhere else. We are not to betray or slander our neighbor. We are not to hurt our neighbor’s reputation. Instead, we are to defend our neighbor and speak well of him. When more than one explanation fits the facts, we are to choose to believe the one that puts our neighbor in the best light rather than the worst light.

Of course if you see a crime in progress, you should report it to the proper authorities. If you are called into court to describe what you saw, again you are to be honest and thorough. Such actions do not betray a neighbor; instead, they help our other neighbors. But if someone (especially a fellow Christian) has hurt you in a way that is not criminal, you are not entitled to tell everyone else what happened. The first person you should approach is the one who hurt you—not to get even, but to try to reconcile with that person. When that works, no third person needs to know what has happened.

Explaining everything in the kindest way does not mean making ourselves potential victims. When we drive, we should be prepared for other drivers to do crazy and illegal things. When walking down the street and seeing a stranger approaching, we should have a plan to keep ourselves safe. But with family and friends we should not need to be suspicious. We should assume the best of them, not the worst. We should be truthful in all we say about them. When someone else tries to gossip with us, we should turn off the conversation rather than listening to the gossip. When we know a story is untrue, we should speak up and defend the neighbor whose reputation is being stained.

A classic question about the ethics of truth and lying poses this question: Suppose one person has plans to harm another person, and that second person is hiding. You know where that second person is. If the first person comes to you and asks you, should you tell them where the second person is hiding? Would it not be better to lie, to protect that second person from harm?

We live in a confusing, sin-stained world. Sometimes it seems that we must choose between sins, that we have no choice that does not involve a sin. I would tell a lie to protect a person from harm. I would also confess that lie to God as a sin, asking for forgiveness because I could not find a way to keep that person safe without sinning. Perhaps God would not regard such a lie as sinful, but I would rather confess the sin, confident in his forgiveness for all sins, than try to keep it hidden from God.

Jesus is the Truth. Yet he has essentially lied about us to his Father. “Father, forgive them,” he prays for us. “They don’t know what they’re doing.” (Often when we sin, we know exactly what we are doing.) More than that, he says, “Father, accept them. Their sins are gone; their debt has been paid. When you look at them, see me, and treat them as you would treat me.” God’s mercy and grace are not fair. God treats us far better than we deserve. He treated Jesus far worse than Jesus deserved. By that sacrifice, a balance has been established. As the children of God, we seek to be as honest and truthful as we can be in this world, while we wait for a perfect new creation where there will be no falsehood and no lies. J.

God’s holy time

God says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”

Salvageable adds: “Holy” and “sacred” mean the property of God, something that has been given to God and belongs to him. “Despise” means not only to hate, but also to disregard, to treat as of no importance.

Notice that Luther’s explanation does not mention days of the week. In the beginning, according to the book of Genesis, God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. While the world was still very good, pure and without sin, God mandated that people were to follow his pattern, working six days but resting from work on the seventh day. God, who made us, knows that we require rest from both physical labor and mental effort. Therefore he gave us the gift of a day free from work, a day when we can rest and can also focus on our relationship with God.

In the Law of Moses, God stressed the holiness of the seventh day of the week, demanding that his people do no work on that seventh day. Even the gift of manna in the wilderness was withheld on the seventh day of the week. The rabbis of Israel in Roman times (the Pharisees) made a detailed study of God’s commandments and had a long list of requirements, teaching what can and cannot be done on the seventh day of the week. They criticized Jesus and his disciples for going against their requirements. Rather than entering a detailed debate with them about the commandment, Jesus said simply, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8).

Paul explained what this means in his letter to the Colossians. He wrote, “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (or, better, “the substance is Christ”) (Colossians 2:16-17). As Jesus in his death fulfilled the significance of the Passover lamb and the other animal sacrifices (as well as the kosher food rules, which are related to the sacrifices) by his death on the cross, so Jesus also fulfilled the significance of the Sabbath day by resting on that day, his body in a tomb and his spirit in the hands of his Father in Paradise. As Christians do not sacrifice bulls and lambs to God, knowing that the death of Jesus ended that practice, so Christians are not required to rest on the seventh day of the week. We are free to gather for rest, for worship, and for renewal of our relationship with God whenever we choose. Most Christians choose to gather on Sunday morning, the weekly anniversary of Christ’s resurrection, but a group that gathers on Wednesday night or Friday afternoon or any other time is not breaking God’s commandment.

Yet it is incorrect to say that the Sabbath commandment, unlike the other Ten Commandments, is not repeated in the New Testament and can be ignored by Christians. Jesus expected us to gather when he promised, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). The writer of the letter to the Hebrews admonishes, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Therefore, Luther stresses that the Sabbath commandment is obeyed or broken by our attitude towards God’s Word and the preaching of it. One Christian who occasionally misses a Sunday morning church service because of work obligations or illness but regrets it has not broken the commandment; another who attends every Sunday but disdains the Bible readings and the sermon has broken the commandment. As Luther says, we should gladly hear and learn God’s Word, for the Word is the power that changes our lives and brings us forgiveness and reconciliation with God through Christ’s sacrifice.

Every Christian needs some holy time, some time that belongs to God, preferably daily. This time is best spent in reading the Bible, meditating on its message, and in prayer. But even this is not enough. Every Christian needs to gather with like-minded Christians, preferably weekly. This time also is holy. Christians gather to support one another and to receive the support of each other. They also gather to hear God’s Word and to honor his name with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. Jesus assures us that when we gather in his name—celebrating his victory and his forgiveness and all his promises—he is present in a special way. By means of the gathering, he shares his victory and his forgiveness with his people. J.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses

The last day of this month marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s historic act, posting 95 theses for debate on the campus of the University of Wittenberg in Saxony. This event is generally regarded as the beginning of the Reformation (aka the Lutheran Reformation or the Protestant Reformation). One of the most interesting facts about this event is that Martin Luther, when he wrote his 95 theses, was not yet “Lutheran.”

Luther’s theses were written in response to an Indulgence being sold in the area (although not in Wittenberg itself). Indulgences were receipts for money given to the Church as an act of Penance. Penance was an idea rooted in early Christianity, from the days when the Roman government was persecuting Christians. During a time of persecution, some Christians would drop out of the Church and act like their pagan neighbors. Faithful Christians risked imprisonment, torture, and even death for denying the many pagan gods and remaining faithful to Jesus Christ. When the time of persecution ended, some of the drop-out Christians would return to the Church expecting forgiveness for their sin of denying Christ. When reminded that Jesus had said, “Whoever denies me before men, I will deny before my Father,” these sinners would remind Church leaders that the Church is about the forgiveness of sins, and that even Peter had denied Christ but had been restored to the Church. As a compromise, Church leaders agreed that the drop-outs could return, but only after they had shown that they were truly sorry for their sin. Their acts of sorrow—almost an initiation back into the Church—were called Penance.

The new teaching of Penance raised a question about what happened to Christians who died before they completed their Penance—were they saved or lost? Church leaders acknowledged that they were forgiven for their sins, but they taught that Penance could be completed after death in a place they called Purgatory. (The Italian poet Dante located Purgatory on a mountain in the south Pacific, directly across the Earth from Italy.) When persecution was no longer a problem for Christians, the ideas of Penance and Purgatory were extended to all sins. A Christian confessed his or her sins, was absolved (promised forgiveness because of Christ’s sacrifice), and then was assigned Penance to complete the process of forgiveness. During the Crusades, fighters who went to battle the Muslim Turks were promised a Plenary Indulgence, meaning they would not have to spend any time in Purgatory. People unable to go to war were promised a similar Indulgence for contributing money to the preparation of a warrior. Following this procedure, Indulgences became a way for the Church to raise money for various projects. The Indulgence which Luther protested was granted by Pope Leo X to raise money for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk; he was also a Doctor of Theology who taught in the University of Wittenberg. He was disturbed by the claims of John Tetzel, a Dominican monk, who was selling the Indulgences and exaggerating their importance. Tetzel claimed that the Indulgences he sold could free deceased relatives from Purgatory and that they provided forgiveness for the most vile of sins. At this time, universities had not yet established football and basketball teams, but they competed in debate. Luther hoped to prompt a debate regarding Indulgences and about the general ideas of Penance and forgiveness. He could not have anticipated the enormous results that his 95 theses would produce.

As I wrote above, Martin Luther was not yet “Lutheran” when he wrote his 95 theses. He still accepted without doubt the existence of Purgatory. He acknowledged the authority of the Pope as head of the Christian Church on Earth. Most significantly, Luther still approved of the teaching that penalties must be paid by sinners to complete the process of forgiveness. In the 95 theses, Luther distinguished between penalties assigned by Church leaders, which they could then revoke, and penalties assigned by God, which Church leaders could not revoke. Only later would Luther understand that all penalties for sin were paid by Jesus Christ on the cross and that no penalties remain for those who trust Christ’s promise of forgiveness.

Among the 95 theses, Luther wrote, “Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences… Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.” He went on to suggest that, should the Pope wish to remove souls from Purgatory, he should do so out of love and not for the sake of money.

Luther did not intend to create a division in the Church; he wanted instead to unite Christians around the true teachings of the Bible. By 1519, Luther’s writing showed a full understanding of the completeness of God’s forgiveness, made available through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. He was unafraid to challenge any Church authority that placed doubt on God’s forgiveness. In his secular trial in 1521, Luther demanded to be shown from the Bible where he had erred. He would not consent to be instructed by popes and church councils, as he declared that they had contradicted one another and were sometimes mistaken. Luther had a prolific career of writing, teaching, and preaching. He also made mistakes, and no one considers his writings inspired as the apostles and prophets were inspired. Yet Luther’s affirmations of the Bible’s doctrines about forgiveness, spoken in opposition to Church traditions and teachings, started a Reformation movement in the Church that is still profoundly important five hundred years later.

When Lutherans list the important writings about the Bible that define their understanding of Christian doctrine, they do not include Luther’s 95 theses. For that matter, when Luther commented about which of his writings he considered worth saving for future generations to study, he did not include the 95 theses. Instead, Martin Luther and Lutheran leaders after him selected the Small Catechism and Large Catechism, both published in 1529, to be Luther’s most important work. The Small Catechism was written to teach children the key doctrines of the Church. The Large Catechism covers the same doctrines, but does so at a level for adults to read and contemplate.

In the coming weeks, as time permits, I plan to share and comment upon selections from Luther’s Small Catechism. Those words, rather than the 95 theses, are the best way to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation of the Church. J.

 

 

I know something God doesn’t know

God is omniscient. That means that he knows everything. God is also omnipotent—that is, almighty. There is nothing God cannot do. God is omnipresent. If any place exists, God is there. God is holy, just, and perfectly good. All goodness is measured by God’s will—if he approves of something, it is good; if he disapproves, it is not good.

People sometimes question God’s omnipotence with logical puzzles. They ask, “Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?” or, “Can God make a circle that is also a square?” Since God, by his very nature, violates the laws of mathematics, I would not consider him incapable of doing things that are logically impossible. For God is three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and yet he is one God, not three gods. The Son of Man became human. Jesus Christ is one hundred percent God and one hundred percent human, yet he is one Being, not two beings.

The Bible does mention one thing that God cannot do. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He cannot lie, not only because he is so good, but also because he is so powerful. When God speaks, what he says is invariably true, because nothing in the universe can resist his will. God says, “Let there be light,” and there is light. God says, “Let the waters be gathered together and let dry ground appear,” and it happens. God says, “Let the land be covered with vegetation,” and it happens.

Therefore, when God says, “Your sins are forgiven,” your sins truly are forgiven. When God says, “You are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven,” you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. When God says, “I have made you a member of my family,” we are indeed members of his family.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103: 12). Send one traveler to the east, ands however long and far the traveler goes, there continues to be more east. Send another traveler to the west, and however long and far the traveler goes, there continues to be more west. The Earth has a North Pole and a South Pole, but east and west are infinitely far from each other. That is how far our sins have been removed from us—infinitely far.

Seen another way, our sins were nailed to the cross with Christ and killed with Christ (Romans 6:6). When Christ rose, he left our sins behind in the tomb; they remain dead and buried to this day. When God looks at me, he sees no sin. He sees perfection, for I have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Galatians 3:27).

Therefore, God no longer sees my sins. Jesus has taken away my sins, and God has deliberately forgotten them. As Jesus could deliberately forget the day and year of the Day of the Lord (Matthew 24:36) during his time on earth, so God purposely forgets our sins and treats us as worthy of his kingdom.

God has forgotten our sins, even though we remind him of those sins. We confess our sins to God and ask for his forgiveness, even though he has already promised to forgive and forget those sins. God does not need our confession, but we need confession. We need to remember that we are sinners, saved from sin only by the life and death of Jesus Christ. We need to remember the reason for his sacrifice, even though his sacrifice is sufficient to make our sins disappear from God’s memory, which means that they are truly gone.

John Chrysostom said it this way: “He that is penitent ought never to forget his sin, but on the one hand, to beseech God not to remember it; while on the other, he himself never forgets it. If we remember it, God will forget it.” God is so powerful that, when he forgets something, it no longer exists. In this way, each of us knows something that God no longer remembers. J.