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jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomHappy Easter!

He is risen!

Our Lord has overcome death and the tomb.

It is vital that our children understand this. I mention it because some British crèches teach little ones that the Crucifixion is Easter. No, it is not. This post has a true story about a little boy who learned that Jesus died, end of.

An excellent sermon by the Revd P G Mathew of Davis, California, brings the Resurrection story to life and answers a few questions we might have.

Martin Luther wrote two sermons which thoroughly explain more about the Resurrection and why it should have a deep, lasting meaning for us.

John MacArthur rightly tells us that without the Resurrection, there would be no Christianity. He answers general questions regarding the faith, well worth reading.

In the 17th century, an Anglican cleric, the Revd George Herbert wrote two beautiful poems for this feast day, ‘Easter’ and ‘Easter Wings’. The latter is especially striking, as he arranged the verses to look like wings. Have a look!

I would like to wish all my readers and subscribers a very happy Easter. May the joy we experience today fill our hearts and minds the whole year through.

Luther Rose ML 125pxThe Gospel of Barney — highly recommended — recently detailed the growth and development of the Lutheran Church in the United States.

Please read it in full, as it has much useful information. A summary follows.

Students of church history know that Germany and Scandinavian countries adopted Lutheranism during the Reformation.

When people from these countries emigrated to the United States, they stayed in their denomination and worshipped in their first language.

Consequently, there were groups of German congregations: the General Synod, the General Council and United Synod of the South. These merged in 1918 to become United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA).

There were also Finnish congregations under the banner of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (Suomi Synod), established in 1890.

Danish congregations comprised the American Evangelical Lutheran Church, established in 1872.

Swedish churches affiliated with the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, established in 1860.

In 1962, these groups merged to become the Lutheran Church of America (LCA). It was the largest Lutheran church body in the United States. The German congregations were in the majority.

At that time, I remember seeing a lot of Lutheran churches in the Midwest. Some towns had a majority of Lutheran and Catholic congregations. My Lutheran neighbours were of Swedish heritage on one side and German on the other. I went to church with them a couple of times in the early 1970s. The service was liturgical with traditional hymns. Sunday School was demanding for my young peers. The senior pastor took the Confirmation class and drilled the candidates on the Bible and their ability to associate various Old and New Testament passages with common scriptural themes.

The Lutheran Church impressed me. As I was about to be confirmed at that time, the Lutheran classes were much more in-depth than my Catholic ones.

However, Barney tells us that, a little over a decade later — in 1988 — the LCA became the ELCA in what is considered to be a ‘hostile takeover’.

Like The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA), the ELCA is now more interested in ecumenical unity and left-wing politics than spreading the Gospel.

This is ironic, particularly as the ‘E’ in ELCA stands for … ‘Evangelical’. Hmm. ‘Evangel’ means ‘the Gospel’. Evangelical Lutherans should be preaching it.

And like TEC and PCUSA, ELCA’s congregations are on life support. Their leaders think that by espousing universalism and politics congregations will grow. In fact, the opposite is happening.

Older people continue to attend because that is their church heritage. A number of Anglicans, myself included, feel the same way as do our contemporaries in TEC and PCUSA. We pray for faithful clergy and congregations.

However, these congregations are dwindling because pewsitters no longer hear the Shepherd’s voice from the mouths of His clergy — John 10:1-18 (emphases mine):

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Sadly, we are hearing the voice of the stranger, the hired hand and the thief.

Friday’s postconfession introduced Pastor Barney, a medically retired Lutheran minister.

His current ministry focus is on rural pastors in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Barney’s posts are not only thought-provoking but witty — recommended reading.

One of his posts deals with pastors new to churches in rural areas. In it, he also addresses the problems they face, particularly if they are fresh out of seminary.

To those of us sitting in the pews, Barney says that a pastor’s life is far from easy. The graphic comes from his post, ‘A Country Parson’. Excerpts follow.

Barney has a list of rules for those of us who go to church and complain about those who lead our walk in Christ. In addition to praying for them, he suggests ten great ways we can be generous (emphases in the original):

1. They are not the last pastor you had, who may have been a saint or an idiot!

2. Your budget is small, but your hearts are large! – money is not everything, you have beef, pork[,] eggs[,] chicken they too are tax-deductible.

6. Invite them out for coffee, to the farm or ranch!

7. Buy them season’s tickets to all High School sporting Events, give them invitations to all significant events.

9. Relax, teach them; it takes time, but they’ll change with love and care – If not[,] you’ve left them better ready for rural ministry.

And what follows are the first five of Barney’s 11 survival rules for rural clergy. (The post actually starts with this section, but as most of my readers are laypeople, it seemed fitting for me to prioritise generosity towards the pastor.)

1. You know all that wonderful stuff they taught you in seminary? – Forget it!

2. You know all those wonderful liberal  ideals you think are oh so important? – listen first – talk later!

3. That idea you are going to change the way these folk think and live – Toss it out!

4. Don’t charge in gung ho to change long-established traditions no matter how politically and theologically correct you know they are! Most of your seminary professors and Bishops have not done real ministry in real congregations in years – if ever!

5. Do go to all High School sports, Grade School programs, graduations, County fairs, Rodeos, 4H and FFA are big out here!

Any pastors from the rural Pacific Northwest who are interested in a private conversation with Barney can contact him via his blog.

A medically retired Lutheran minister has an excellent site, The Gospel of Barney.

One of his recent posts asks if we are looking for trouble. He replies that he certainly is and that, similarly, trouble has been seeking him for much of his life.

The crux of his discourse revolves around our Lord’s looking for trouble by associating with sinners and making His ministry all about them, not the self-righteous, soi-disant nice people.

Furthermore, Barney says that if we want to imitate Christ in this respect, we need to go — as He did — to the places sinners frequent if we want to share the Good News with them.

Please take a few minutes to read Barney’s advice in full. He is witty and engaging.

For now, here’s a taster (emphases in the original, the one in purple mine):

Notice Jesus never had an attentive or receptive audience in the synagogues. He went out to the highways and byways ate with tax collectors and sinners!

We want them to come to our nice churches, for a put-down? Why don’t we try going where they are? I’ve been in many a bar in many a rural town, even without my clerical collar, it usually slowed conversation or muted it a lot! Just because of what I represented.

Mind you the bars in rural towns are more often than not the restaurant too, so a lot of your members are there. I’ve been known to have a couple beers, and enjoy.
Knew the owners of the bar never worried about it! Save the fact there were a number in there I should have known better!

Folks need a refuge in times of trouble. We need to examine ourselves as to why the folks with the most troubles are not coming! It usually takes 7 invitations or connections from a congregation to get someone in the door.

Churches all say, “We are a welcoming and friendly place!” To each other, yes, the test is do we go looking for trouble to invite it in? …

Barney ministers in and to rural areas in the northwestern part of the United States. He counsels pastors from this region. Those who wish to contact him can do so via his blog.

For Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent which ends the evening of Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.

The concept of Lent offends a number of Protestants who say that every day should be considered one of repentance. Others add that this is an extra-biblical or pagan practice, something many believers have gleaned from the Free Church of Scotland minister Alexander Hislop‘s book The Two Babylons.

I explored — and refuted — those claims last year, thanks to information from a Lutheran pastor, the Revd Joseph Abrahamson, who wrote an excellent post in 2014 on the topic for Steadfast Lutherans.

In ‘Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Ash Wednesday and Lent’ Abrahamson tells us that St Athanasius — and other doctors of the Church before him — took Lenten disciplines seriously in the earliest days of Christianity.

Pastor Abrahamson cites St Athanasius’s text from the fourth century (emphases mine below):

6. The beginning of the fast of forty days is on the fifth of Phamenoth (Mar. 1); and when, as I have said, we have first been purified and prepared by those days, we begin the holy week of the great Easter on the tenth of Pharmuthi (Apr. 5), in which, my beloved brethren, we should use more prolonged prayers, and fastings, and watchings, that we may be enabled to anoint our lintels with precious blood, and to escape the destroyer4021. Let us rest then, on the fifteenth of the month Pharmuthi (Apr. 10), for on the evening of that Saturday we hear the angels’ message, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is risen4022.’ Immediately afterwards that great Sunday receives us, I mean on the sixteenth of the same month Pharmuthi (April 11), on which our Lord having risen, gave us peace towards our neighbours. When then we have kept the feast according to His will, let us add from that first day in the holy week, the seven weeks of Pentecost, and as we then receive the grace of the Spirit, let us at all times give thanks to the Lord; through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion, in the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

Below are excerpts from Abrahamson’s post, which sheds more light on the subject of Lenten practice.

First, legalism:

The ancient Church recognized that it was free from legalistic obligations, both from the Old Testament Law, and from new invented laws of men.  St. Paul wrote about this in Colossians 2. They also knew from Scripture that they were not to use this liberty as an excuse for sin. (Romans 6) They knew that they were not to let their consciences be bound by new human regulations as if their salvation depended upon them. (Galatians 1-2) Whatever was beneficial for the teaching of God’s word and for the practice of the Christian life-consisting of repentance and forgiveness in the Means of Grace-was encouraged.

That said:

No human can require a Christian to use the fast of Lent as a saving work. A congregation can recommend the practice as a serious self-examination of one’s own sin and sinful appetites; of one’s own weaknesses. No human can require Christians to use ash on Ash Wednesday or any other day as a way of proving their faith.

And neither can any human forbid the use of the Lenten fast or the use of ashes either. Both are legalism, a replacing of the Gospel for a new law. The whole point of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast is to look on ourselves as worthless and utterly needy: to look only upon Christ, to celebrate His feast in the Lord’s Supper, preach His passion and death upon the cross, and proclaim the Resurrection of Christ as the final seal upon our salvation.

Secondly, the near-universal consideration of Lent as a time of penitence, fasting and prayer:

We learn from this [Athanasius’s text] that even at the time the Nicene Creed was written, at the time Constantine the Great ruled, the Western and Eastern Churches practiced a voluntary fast for 40 days before Easter.

That this was practiced in Rome and elsewhere is seen in St. Athanasius’ letter from the year 340 A.D. when he returns from a meeting of pastors/bishops from all around the world, and he encourages his own congregations to continue in the same practice of the 40 day Lenten fast as does “the rest of the whole world.”

Thirdly, Abrahmson gives us several scriptural references concerning the use of ashes: 2 Samuel 13:19Esther 4:1, Job 2:8, Isaiah 58:5, Jeremiah 6:26, Daniel 9:3, Jonah 3:6 and Luke 10:13. Therefore:

The practice of believers using ashes to represent sorrow and repentance is well testified in the Bible.

Fourthly, an explanation of how the days of Lent are calculated:

In order to count the 40 days of Lent the Sundays of that season are not counted as part of the fast. Rather the Sundays are each a minor feast day. If you add the six feast Sundays to the 40 fast days you get 46 days. That means that the first day of the Fast of Lent is a Wednesday, just as Athanasius explained.

From an Episcopalian perspective, Anne Kennedy — wife of the Revd Matt Kennedy — gave a good précis of the Episcopal / Anglican reasons for using Lent as a special time to progress in sanctification. I posted on her reflections last year. Mrs Kennedy took for her text Psalm 32, which includes these verses:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

She writes, in part:

This strikes me as a perfect entrance into a Lenten season of repentance and self examination. The gift of God’s forgiveness to the one who turns in sorrow for sin is the beginning point. It is the moment of greatest blessing. Many things come after it—love, grace, maturity, knowledge, enlightening of the heart and mind—but none of them can be had in their fullness without repentance, without turning around and walking towards God rather than away from him. And yet this beginning step is usually always the hardest, whether it is a first time repentance, or one of the many many times of contrition the Christian faces …

Certainly, we can accomplish nothing without divine grace. Therefore, we pray for more of it, particularly during this time.

It is also to be hoped that the discipline we undertake during these 40 days becomes an inherent part of us so that we may then progress to another stage of sanctification afterward.

The Reformed site Puritan Board recently had a discussion about faith.

In response to a question on their forum — ‘Faith: what is it?’ — the Revd Bruce G Buchanan of ChainOLakes Presbyterian Church, Central Lake, Michigan, gave an excellent response.

First, he said that all of us — including unbelievers — exercise a certain amount of faith every day: we trust our floors will be sound and our toothpaste non-toxic.

He then went on to list the components of biblical faith, which differs from the ‘blind faith’ atheists accuse us of. Emphases in the original below:

One component of faith is knowledge. Is.43:10 “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.'” Promise typically comes to us in the form of information; although that information does not always come to us in propositional form. It can be personal as well: so for example a mother makes promises conveyed to her infant by presence, by care, by comfort and provision; but not to begin with by verbal propositions at all. Jesus preferred people to believe him and the words he said; but if that was too difficult, he counseled them to “…believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him,” Jn.10:38.

Verbal communication allows promises to take disembodied form, thus permitting the extension of knowledge and confidence, particularly when the form of communication is fixed and permanent. Revelation takes place when formerly unknown, or otherwise unknowable, truth is attained or imparted. God’s revelation to man is centered on Jesus the Son of God, the Incarnate (re-embodied!) Word (Jn.1:1,14), by whom God comes at last to us (Is.7:14; Mt.1:23) and speaks to us, Heb.1:1-2.

A second component of faith is assent. Assent means acknowledging the truth of something that has been spoken or revealed. Not everything spoken nor impression left (but unspoken) is true. But even if it is true, it may be disbelieved. This is the opposite of what faith does with truth. Israel acknowledged Jehovah as God and Lord alone at Sinai (and often afterward); but in their hearts and by their behavior they showed how far from heartfelt assent they were, by worshiping a golden calf. Every sin of ours is a bit of our innate denial as well.

Act.24:9 “And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.” These people gave witness that to what was previously spoken they heartily agreed. 1Tim.5:19 “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Here is a text that commands the church NOT to admit a charge (of sin); it tells us NOT to receive or believe one man’s word against another. We are not to give it credence or assent to it, unless/until it meets a better standard.

2Tim.2:25 “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” Some are confronted with the law who refuse to acknowledge it. Whereas others are granted the ability from God not only to encounter the Word, but also to be convicted thereby unto repentance, which is a full assent of the truth of God, knowing our just desert and having hope in Christ alone. Tit.1:1 “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness.” Here are THE faith (speaking of fact/content) and (full) knowledge composed, which things alone produce godliness.

But knowledge and assent are not all of faith. We have not yet come to what Heb.11:1 is getting at. Jas.2:19 says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Superficial devotion to God, to his Word, may gain acceptance of truth. But consent characterized by fear is not full faith; nor is “dead faith” (which James is there criticizing). Faith is also trust. Faith actually rests upon what it claims to have heard and consented with. Jn.7:17 “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” This verse ordains that upon the (genuine) commitment of the will unto divine revelation–i.e. God’s will–shall issue full assurance. In other words, faith’s blessing can only be obtained in the exercise of faith. One may desire to rest one’s legs from weariness; a chair has been provided for him, and he has looked it over (it seems sturdy enough to support his weight). But unless he repose himself upon it, he has not trusted it in fact.

Illustrating this ultimate element of trust is the aim of the author of Hebrews. He describes faith, 11:1, as that substance, basis, confidence–the sure resting–and the conviction, the discovery, the evidence–really, that which is found by the resting–though it is not seen, or gained by the senses or even by any bodily experiences whatever, possibly even contrary to such experiences (as the OT saints repeatedly demonstrated).

That final sense of assurance is properly “of” faith, but we like to say it is not “of the essence” of faith, so that without a full enjoyment of assurance faith is not realized. If that were so, then those whose faith was weak could scarcely be comforted, hardly encouraged to persevere in faith no matter how weak. Is.42:3 “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” But assurance is not only possible, it is positively encouraged: 1Jn.5:13 “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” Faith ought to result ordinarily (and again and again) in blessed assurance of God’s favor. Feelings fluctuate, but God never changes, 2Tim.2:11-13.

More could be said about faith. Certainly faith is not what name-and-claim practitioners teach. Faith is not an achievement, nor is it a tool for pulling on the Cosmic Vending Machine of Pleasure. Christian faith is a gift of God (Eph.2:8; Php.1:29). Faith is an insight into spiritual things not attainable by human efforts, Jn.3:3. Note the way John associates faith with spiritual sight; compare that expression with the way Paul contrasts faith and physical sight, 2Cor.5:7. Even our eyesight is something that happens largely apart from any effort of our own. We need light to see (cf. Ps.119:130; 36:9); we need the eyeball and faculty of sight (Ps.19:8; Mt.6:22-23; Act.26:18); we need life or the eye will remain useless (Jn.8:12; 2Tim.1:10). All these are gifts, whether of physical kind or spiritual.

To summarise: faith is a gift from God which comprises our knowledge of Him, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, our assent and acknowledgement of divine revelation as well as our trust in this eternal truth which, with grace, brings assurance of the promise of life everlasting.

May we be forever grateful.

One of my readers, Pastor Ashcraft of Mustard Seed Budget, has a great post on forgiving and forgetting.

He suggests we get ‘Holy Spirit Alzheimer’s’:

What I mean by Holy Spirit Alzheimer’s is to forget what we must forgive, to heal the wounds in our hearts, to remember the good and forget the bad, to move on, to stay in relationship with people who have hurt us deeply. When God forgives, He forgets. Would we could do likewise.

He also says that his mother had Alzheimer’s, therefore, using this terminology is not one of disrespect to those who might directly or indirectly be affected by this horrible disorder.

However, last year, I had the opportunity to get Holy Spirit Alzheimer’s and was very glad I did. I also reached out to someone who decided to keep her memory for the time being, if you get my drift. That was disappointing, but I have forgiven her — and forgotten the past.

Life is too short to be holding grudges that have lasted for decades, particularly when they become irrelevant over time.

Luther Rose stained glass 2The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is often referred to as WELS.

WELS Documented details what is happening within that particular synod. You can find it in my blogroll.

The anonymity of the contributors is essential, because another Lutheran site, Intrepid Lutherans, came to the attention of certain clergymen and, consequently, lost some of its main contributors who went by their real names.

WELS Documented readers will discover that a number of clergy have discarded the Book of Concord to create their own set of practices and beliefs.

As with much unconfessional and unscriptural teaching, part of its purpose is to attract people who do not find traditional worship relevant. WELS Documented gives an extensive rundown of congregations where this ‘contemporvant’ worship is taking place. Here are two examples (emphases in the original):

Casual Atmosphere – Reclining movie theater seats with cup holders. Need we say more? Modern Worship – Relevant messages, musical variety, helpful videos.
Victory of the Lamb Website
Victory of the Lamb Church
Franklin, WI

We strive to make every message and every service relevant and applicable to real life, as well as excellent in quality.  At the same time, you can come to church in your jeans, or your shorts (or even in your jean shorts) and feel perfectly comfortable in one of our services.  Grab a cup of coffee and a bagel on your way in and settle in for a high-octane hour of power-learning about God.
From the Crosswalk Website
Crosswalk Church
Phoenix, AZ

Another way of increasing a contemporary and relevant note is in church get-togethers. This WELS Documented post has a series of photos of pastors who have cross-dressed for a church function. One photo shows a young child applying lipstick to a minister.

Not all of WELS Documented looks at anomalies. Some of the posts assert confessional and scriptural Lutheran living. The site is well-written and has intelligent comments, particularly those from Pastor Spencer.

Recommended reading.

In October 2014, the controversial Evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll resigned from the network of Mars Hill churches which he founded 18 years ago.

The last service at the original church in Ballard, Washington, took place on Sunday, December 28, 2014 (H/T: Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod).

Sadly, the interim pastor and congregation seemed happy to listen to and watch a 45-minute sermon from Baptist pastor Rick ‘Purpose-driven Church’ Warren. Will people never learn?

Mars Hill comprised a number of churches in five states in the western US. On New Year’s Day 2015, these were either closed or assumed new independent identities. The Ballard church is now known as the Cross & Crown. It still meets in the converted hardware store.

Not surprisingly, between October and December, many congregants left the Mars Hill church network. Many of us pray that they find suitable congregations where the leadership is truly faithful to the Gospel, instead of exhibiting a macho-man aggression.

I echo Seattle Times reader Ugmo’s sentiment in the comments following the paper’s December 28 article on the Ballard church’s final service:

Those left looking for a new home for their faith might want to consider returning to a mainline Protestant church… Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist… No rants, no big video screen, no “Jesus rock and roll.” Instead, clergy with actual seminary educations, a focus on thoughtful, complex theology, good music, social outreach, tolerant politics, charity and community.

May God’s grace guide the Mars Hill people towards the true Good News — and a good church community.

On December 12, 2014, Nice-Matin featured the Nativity scenes on display in the village of Lucéram, 20 miles away.

For the past 17 years Lucéram has displayed a variety of crèches, great and small, to the public. As one can see from the photos, children are not only happy to see them but they come to better understand the Christmas story in so doing.

Yet, a number of Protestants dismiss such displays as idolatrous. They also condemn crucifixes and stained glass windows.

It is worth remembering that it was only in the 20th century that most of the Western world learned how to read and write. Prior to that, with nearly everyone attending church on Sunday, people in Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches learned the Bible from the imagery around them as well as from what they heard from the pulpit in Scripture readings and sermons. However, until the Reformation, what came from the priest’s and choir’s mouths was in Latin, leaving out most of the congregation who could not speak or understand it properly. Is it any wonder that images pervaded as teaching tools, not idols to be worshipped?

A Lutheran (Missouri Synod) pastor, the Revd Karl Weber, writing for The Brothers of St John the Steadfast, has a post called ‘Contending for Crèches and Crucifixes’.

Whilst acknowledging the Old Testament prohibitions against graven images, Weber states:

The prohibition against graven images seems simple enough until we realize in Scripture God commands Israel to make graven images for the Ark of the Covenant and serpent on a pole and is pleased with those which adorn Solomon’s Temple. I know eight examples where God commands or is pleased with the making of graven images. A quick look would be:

Weber tells us that Martin Luther had statues of Mary and other saints at his church in Wittenberg:

as an aid and devotion to thank Jesus for his mercy toward us.

He cites a quotation from Luther who stated that it was:

a good practice to hold a wooden crucifix before the eyes of the dying or to press it into their hands. This brought the suffering and death of Christ to mind and comforted the dying.

Weber goes on to discuss the not uncommon dislike of viewing an image of Christ on the cross:

Perhaps our discomfort with crucifixes is in part because it shows what we did to Jesus (cf. Is 53:1-6).

He then addresses the Protestant meme of an empty cross as being the sign of the Resurrection (emphases mine):

Mistakenly many think an empty cross is a symbol of the resurrection. Remember Jesus was raised from the tomb and not from a cross. He was taken down from the cross. In reality though, it is the empty tomb that symbolizes the resurrection. Some may contend the fair linens adorning the altar underneath Christ’s body in the bread and blood in the wine symbolize the discarded grave clothes and these may point to the resurrection. Our Synodical Catechism rightly teaches the miracle of the resurrection points to Jesus’ greatest miracle where he redeemed the world on Good Friday. The Catechism does so with question 145: “Why is Christ’s resurrection so important and comforting? Christ’s resurrection proves that … C. God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice for the reconciliation of the world.”[3] The crucifix reminds me that judgment and death are the consequence of my sins (Rom 6:23) and that may be why Christians are discomforted seeing one.

To those who say that our Lord is not currently present either in the crib or on the cross, Weber replies:

in Christian freedom we may employ the artwork of a crucifix to lovingly teach and remind us of the great love and mercy Jesus has for us when he took our sins upon himself and shed his blood to release us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. And we may employ the artwork of baby Jesus in a crèche to lovingly teach and remind us of the incarnation that it was our flesh and nature and that of no other that Jesus took upon himself to so identify with us and be our savior.

He concludes:

As Christians we can joyfully embrace both a full crèche (manger) and Jesus on the cross. The crèche speaks of the beginning work of salvation while the crucifix points to the work of salvation. One reminds us that Jesus became fully man for us and the crucifix reminds and teaches that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins thereby emptying the grave, Satan, and sin of their power. You are free and fully forgiven my friends! Rejoice!

Thank you, Pastor Weber!

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