Sunday, July 14, 2019

Psalm 41:1; Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; July 14, 2013;

Psalm 41:1; Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; July 14, 2013;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;” (Psalm 41:1, ESV)
From a Sermon by Rev. John Nunes.
Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Repeat after me: Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! Glory to the name of Jesus! The Lord our God is King!
For some of us that’s uncomfortable isn’t it. We’ll don’t feel bad it’s that way for most Christians in NA… even awkward and embarrassing. But for more than 200 million Christians throughout the world saying something like that would be downright dangerous. In the last 18 years, an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians have been murdered by various groups, while another 2 million people have been displaced. These are places where it is legal to imprison, torture, enslave, rape, assault, and even murder by crucifixion those who profess words just like those. In some of those places this assembly that we so much take for granted could be a death sentence to all of us. This time of year, a few days after Independence Day is a good time to reflect on that fact, and ponder, and praise God for the blessings that we often overlook.
For some Christians, worship is a matter of life and death. But for all of us, being in Christ means even more. You see, all eternity hangs in the balance. It’s not just a mater of life and death; it’s a matter of everlasting life and everlasting death. In Word and Sacrament, God sets Jesus into our lives as the way, the truth and the life. He gives us so much more than worldly freedom. Through Word and water, bread and wine he enters our lives and we are changed, we are set free from sin and death. That’s a story that needs to be told!
It all really came about on a dark Friday outside of Jerusalem. It was there that Jesus won this life changing freedom for you and me, and all people who believe in him. When Jesus was crucified and died, he changed all of human history. But even more importantly than that he changed your history and mine. His death gives us freedom that is greater than any human won freedom. His death frees us from the very grip of death itself. The proclamation of what Jesus did is our “Emancipation Proclamation” from the bondage of sin and death. Martin Luther said it like this:
Human freedom might change laws without changing people, but Christian freedom changes people without changing the Law.
Jesus snatches us from the claws of the law. He gives us real freedom:
  • From living in a dead-end valley of the shadow of death to living an abundant life.
  • From slavery to sin; to having all the rights and privileges of the Children of God.
  • From having broken spirits to leaping with joy in the Holy Spirit.
  • From thirsting for righteousness to drinking from the cup of salvation that runs over.
Philis Weatly was an African born American slave in the 1700’s. She was set free through faith in Jesus Christ at a very early age. But she is better known for being a poet. She was the first African American poet, and the first Woman poet to be published on this continent. It was her poetry that eventually led to her freedom. Still, she died young and penniless. She wrote this:
In every human breast,
God has implanted a
Principle with we call
Love of
Freedom; it is impatient of
Oppression, and pants for
The problem with our panting for freedom is that we go after the wrong kind of freedom. The sin that permeates us leads us to seek freedom not where it can ultimately be found. No earthly utopia will ever supply true freedom, only frustration and futility. No earthly government can promise real freedom to its citizens, only partial freedom that is fleeting.
If you doubt me just look at how throughout history the most purely motivated activists ended up surpassing the oppression of those they replaced. Look how therapeutic techniques that are supposed to make relationships right often fail to distinguish right from wrong and indulge the sinful nature instead of helping. Why do liberation movements often end up oppressing those they intended to help?
That’s what the Psalmist was complaining about when he wrote these words:
Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;” (Psalm 41:1, ESV)
He was oppressed by marauders who streamed across the land limiting everyone’s ability to live peacefully. He was moved by the Holy Spirit to pen those words, a liturgical prayer of liberation, true liberation. He was speaking about looking for freedom that is found only in the Holy God. The freedom that he gives is freedom worth panting over and seeking out.
We worship God here today. That’s why we gather together and are blessed to be able to do so freely. In deer like fashion we come here to drink in the saving words of God. We stand and sit side by side in unity and love. It all flows from our connection with each other in Jesus Christ. There are many ways we serve one another and even others who do not know about the freedom we find here. Just because we are unified in faith doesn’t mean there’s only one way to serve. Some do so quietly through faithful prayer, some serve outwardly by washing motorcycles, (serving in a carnival) and still others by visiting friends in the hospital. Just because we are one in the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean that there is only one way to serve. God has given us all many and varied gifts; he gives us the freedom to use those gifts. St. Paul talked about all of us being “one body” arms, ears, eyes, etc. Each serve in a different way but none less valuable than any other.
Also being a member of this body doesn’t mean there is only one way to vote. If anyone tells you that Christians have to agree on social issues like taxes or which candidates to vote for they’re wrong. There is room for constructive debate among us when it comes to the ways we do certain things. A good source of information on this topic is found in the CTCR document Render Unto Ceaser… and Unto God. It’s available in the church library or you can check it out of my office. It read, “also in the church, and not only in the public square, civil but principled debate on social ethics must be encouraged.” (p. 63). There is a time and place for creativity… a time to challenge long established assumptions… a time to question the way we’ve always done things… and propose changes. There is room for diversity of opinion among the people of God when it comes to structure and church government and how we bring the Gospel to the community around us. Of course, there isn’t any room for change in the content of that Gospel. Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation; He has purchased and won us from sin and death by his life, death and resurrection. We are brought to faith and strengthened in faith by the work of God in Word and Sacrament. How we tell those truths is a matter of freedom.
The freedom we are looking for, well the freedom that everyone is looking for is found only in Jesus Christ. He is with us here and we are free! We gather here to eat and drink his very body and blood that is our freedom. We deeply drink in the Word of God spoken to us, which brings us the deliverance that comes from knowing the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are totally delivered from the slavery of sin. We are delivered and free, now! Not sometime in our future after our death, but right now. We struggle with sin every day, but Jesus death has freed us from it. It doesn’t control us because we have forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Whenever sin tries to bind us again, we know that Jesus was bound to death instead of us. We can set sin aside and move on to a better future, a future of freedom in Jesus Christ.
Think of what it means for your life now that you are free from the slavery of sin. You don’t have to worry about punishment for your failures. When you fail you can move on, you can forgive and forget when someone hurts you. All of that pain and suffering was placed on Jesus; you can give it to him and live free from it. You don’t have to worry about your eternal destiny. That’s sealed also by the death of Jesus. What happens to you after death is assured in Christ. Doesn’t that make your life different than it would be otherwise? You are free to do all kinds of things in service to other people. All different kinds of things to help them to see Jesus and his work for them. All different kinds of things to serve your friends and neighbors too. All the while pointing toward the one who has set you free to do those things.
That’s what life is about. Being free in Jesus lets you see and know it. We have a small taste of that because of the freedoms we enjoy here in the US. We can be very thankful for that. But most of all we can be thankful that Jesus Christ has really set us free. Amen.
The peace of God, that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

July 11 - Cook County News Herald

Last week we looked at the bibliographical test for ancient documents relating to the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We found that no documents of ancient history have better evidential accuracy (that is, we have the documents as they were written) than the New Testament texts. This week were going to look at the internal and external tests for ancient documents. The internal test for documentary real liability asks this question: What do the texts claim for themselves?
The four Gospels, Matthew Mark, Luke and John claim to have been written by witnesses or eyewitnesses of the events described. Or written by close associates of eyewitnesses based on careful research. For example from Luke’s gospel the writer tells of his careful research: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1–4, ESV)
Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus and eyewitnesses of the events they describe. Luke the physician accompanied Paul on his journeys. Mark was an associate of the disciple Peter. The connection to be original apostles is very strong. In the face of these claims, and no external argument against them. We must follow Aristotle’s dictum that the benefit of the doubts is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself.
The external test for documentary authenticity looks for sources outside of the texts in question to confirm what those text say about themselves. Since it is possible for a document to make claims that are not true; external confirmation is therefore an important way to eliminate the possibility. Fortunately, the New Testament as many such external confirmations available.
Papias of Hiropolis (ca 130 A.D.), based on information obtained by John the elder (John the apostle) tells us that Mark very carefully recorded what the apostle Peter told him. Irenacus, a student of Polycarp of Smyrna, was himself a disciple of John writes, “Matthew published his gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, when Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure (that is their death which occurred time of the early and persecution and 64-65), Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by his teacher. Then John the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his gospel, while he was living it Ephesus in Asia.” (Add. Haer. 3.1)
An article of this size does not allow the inclusion of the many external documents that’s important the authors of the New Testament. You are encouraged to research for yourself these claims on the Internet.
These conclusions about the authorship of the New Testament documents allow us to date the writing of these documents before 70 A.D. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in that year. The documents do not speak of this very important event. There is also of fragmented John’s gospel that must be dated at the end of the first century (100 A.D.). The biblical scholar Harnack uses the following reasoning to date the Gospels. Paul died in 64-65 A.D. the book of Acts does not mention his death and would have done so if he had already died. The gospel of Luke, which is part one of the book of Acts and referred to in the preface of Acts as having been written earlier, must’ve occurred after the writing of the gospel Mark. This gospel was used as a source for Luke’s and Matthew’s gospel. All of which occurred later than Jesus ministry which ended around 30 A.D. From this reasoning we determine that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written within a 35 year period following Jesus’ crucifixion.
His argument can be summed up with the following diagram: (> signifies “must have occurred before”)
       The Book of Acts > Gospel of Luke > Gospel of Mark all after Jesus Ministry – 30 A.D.
To be sure, this evidence merely allows for us to date the documents and determine their authorship. How much weight should be given to them, that is, how accurate are they and what they say will be taken up in my next article.
Please feel free to contact me with comments or questions.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

July 4, 2019 - Article for the Cook County News Herald.

Rev. Jonathan C. Watt
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Cook County News Herald
I have lived in Grand Marais since September. I love it here, even in the deepest cold of winter. What a beautiful place to live. It was a joy to sing about the Savior’s birth this last Christmas with Borealis. Thanks to all of you who helped me feel welcome.
Since I have four articles to write for the News Herald, I decided to write about Christian Apologetics. That isn’t apologizing for Christianity (apologetics is the technical term for mounting a defense), but rather defending what the bible teaches about who Jesus Christ is, and what he has done for us.
Christianity is a historical religion. It is based on the claims of ancient people about the person of Jesus Christ. A man who lived in history. He was active in the world. He made claims about himself. These are recorded in the Bible in the first four books of the New Testament. The historicity of Christianity stands firmly on the historicity of Jesus. We can determine the truth about Jesus by historical and scientific investigation.
So, let’s start at the beginning. The question is: How do we determine the truth claims of historical sources? By historical and scientific investigation. The nature of the documents is irrelevant. Religious documents are no different than any other. Historical and scientific investigation is the only valid way to determine the claims. The historian uses logic, collects facts, and sets out theorems, and accepts the explanations which best account for the facts discovered.
Historians use three basic tests to determine the accuracy of ancient texts; The Bibliographic test, the Internal Test, and the External Test. The Bibliographic test follows the trail of how we got a particular text. How close to the original events was the text written? What are the oldest copies of the text? And how early are they?
The fact is that the Gospels (the biblical books, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) pass these tests far better than any other ancient text. Everything we know about ancient Rome and Greece, is based on far less textual evidence than we have in the Gospels. Just a few examples will suffice. Homer’s Iliad, a text from ancient Greece, was written about 800BC. The oldest manuscripts we have are from 400BC. That’s a gap of 400 years. We have a total of about 1,800 fragments and copies of the Iliad.  The Annals of Tacitus, a history of Ancient Rome comes from 100AD. For the first half we have documents from 850AD and the second 1050AD. That’s a gap of 750 to 900 years. We have approximately 31 documents. (note these are 2014 figures and some new discoveries may have changed these numbers. See And the list goes on. In fact, all we know of ancient Rome and Greece comes from less than 2,500 copies of the ancient documents. With a time gap between the writing and the documents from 200 to 1,500 years.
In contrast, the Greek New Testament documents were written between 50-100AD. The time gap between that and the copies that exists is a mere 50 years (or less), and there are 5,800 copies, in Greek. Counting early translations, the number swells to 18,500. But, what about differences in the copies? Is the text we have even close to the original? The answer is, yes. While there are many variants, most of them are minor grammatical, or syntactical. Not a single difference can be found on a theological issue. The textual evidence for the Christian claims is better than that of any ancient text. One could say that if you discount the textual grounds of the New Testament texts, you must first discount the entire body of Greco-Roman historical and literary texts. I encourage you to follow the trail of this historical evidence yourself.
As for me, I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ, who was a real person and did real things in history. As St. Paul said in his trial before Herod Agrippa, “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.” (Acts 26:26, ESV) He pleads his case based on things the king can verify. He claims, as do I: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–6, ESV)
Please feel free to contact me with comments or questions.