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Light for our path: Where did Jesus go?

Where did Jesus go when he died? I am having a discussion with a friend who is a Jehovah’s Witness, and his ideas do not sound biblical.

James F. Pope

The gospel writers record seven sayings of Jesus Christ from the cross. Two of those sayings help answer your question. To the repentant thief at his side, Jesus graciously bestowed this promise: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). At death, Jesus directed words in a different direction: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Jesus’ words contain simple, meaningful truth. Sadly, the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reject that truth.

The false teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses deny that people have an immortal soul. They maintain that the soul and body form a person’s entire being and when death takes place a person ceases to exist. They insist that was the case when Jesus died on Good Friday. You can find the following on their website: “Do you know what happened to Jesus’ body? God caused it to disappear. God did not raise Jesus to life in the fleshly body in which he died. He gave Jesus a new spirit body, as the angels in heaven have.”

What about Jesus’ promise to the repentant thief that he would begin enjoying heaven the very day he died? Jehovah’s Witnesses play a grammatical game with their Bible (New World Translation). Their Bible renders Luke 23:43 as, “And he said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.’ ” Notice the comma. Inspired writers of Bible books like the evangelist Luke did not use punctuation devices like commas. We insert them in our translations according to the rules of our grammar. There is no basis whatsoever to place a comma after the word today. Jesus was certainly speaking those words “today” and not “yesterday” or “tomorrow.” The New World Translation places a comma after the word today, because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a paradise on earth at some point in the future.

The true teachings of the Bible

Scripture clearly and consistently teaches that a human being has a body and a soul (Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 16:26; Luke 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 5:6-9; Revelation 6:9; and, Revelation 20:4). That applies also to Jesus Christ since the time he took on human flesh (John 1:14).

Scripture’s teaching is also that a person’s body and soul separate at death (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Not long after Jesus spoke of committing his soul into the hands of his heavenly Father (Luke 23:46), his soul and body were separated.

So “where did Jesus go when he died?” His soul went to heaven, while a pair of faithful followers (John 19:38-42) laid his body in a tomb. While in the tomb, the Lord’s body did not experience any decay (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:31). “On the third day” he appeared to his disciples with his same, but glorified, body (Luke 24:36-39).

That is what resurrection is all about: the reuniting of body and soul. For Jesus, that happened at exactly the time he had prophesied (Matthew 16:21; 17:23). For the repentant thief and everyone else who undergoes death, that will take place on the Last Day (John 5:28,29).


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Should I take Communion?

I was raised and confirmed WELS. Recently I had sex before marriage, and I feel awful. I’m incredibly guilty and do not want to do this again. Should I take Communion? 

James Pope

The type of question you asked could be answered yes or no. Let me explain why my answer to you is yes.

When could the answer be no?

In 1 Corinthians 11:27, the apostle Paul explains that it is possible for people to receive the Lord’s Supper to their harm and not their spiritual good: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” Imagine that—a person appears to be on the receiving end of God’s forgiveness by partaking of the Lord’s Supper, but instead the individual is actually sinning! How can that be? By partaking of the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner.”

In the case of the Christians in Corinth, their unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper consisted of abuses that took place in a meal preceding the celebration of the Supper (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:18-22). Unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper can go beyond those abuses to include a denial of the real presence of the Lord’s body and blood, a denial of one’s sin, or a denial of Jesus Christ as Savior. If you had informed me of your sin and then defended it with the mind-set that “Hey, everyone else is doing that,” I would have advised you to refrain from being a guest at the Lord’s Supper until God changed your heart and you had the right attitude toward sin.

Why is the answer yes?

In your question and statements, I did not sense attitudes that would have resulted in unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper. Rather than seeing a denial of sin, I recognized a confession of sin. I saw in your words the cry of a child of God: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

God does not ignore a cry like that. The Bible says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Through the Sacrament of Holy Communion, God offers and gives you the forgiveness of sins by giving you the very body and blood of your Savior in, with, and under the bread and wine. That forgiveness covers all sins.

You are bothered by your sin. What is important in preparing to receive the Lord’s Supper is our attitude toward sin. With that in mind, let me remind you of a resource that you likely came across in your confirmation instruction. Luther’s Small Catechism has a section titled “Christian Questions.” It consists of a number of questions that Christians can ask themselves prior to receiving Holy Communion. There is also a condensed version of those questions on page 156 in Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal. Asking and answering those questions is a practical way of doing what Scripture says: “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). Examining your heart will help you answer ­your question in the future.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

 


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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 02
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Respect God’s authorities

These days it seems like people, particularly professional athletes, disrespect the anthem, the American flag, and our military to “protest.” I’m worried this mentality is going to trickle down to our children. What can we tell our children about what God says about respecting government and authority, even when we don’t agree with something that is happening in our country?

James F. Pope

It is no secret that young people have long been susceptible to following trends established by those seen as role models. Let’s see what scriptural principles can address your question and concern.

Respect God’s authorities—then

God’s will for people to respect his author-ities in government is clear. One apostle, Paul, wrote: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1,2). Another apostle, Peter, urged: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors. . . . honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:13,14,17).

When those apostles wrote, Nero reigned as Roman emperor. He was definitely no friend of Christians; his atrocities against them are well documented. Yet, the directives of “be subject” and “honor” applied even to him—not because his life or actions generated respect, but because he filled a seat of authority God had established. Certainly, if Christians were caught in the crossfire of conflicting commands from God and government, it was important for them to implement the principle of Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” Otherwise, they were to obey and respect the governing authorities.

Respect God’s authorities—now

So what does this mean for Christian youth in 21st-century America? The Fourth Commandment still applies. God still has representatives in the government. God still looks for Christians to respect his representatives and submit to governing authorities.

What can Christian youth do when they do not agree with what is happening in our country? They can work toward positive change. They can contact people who are in a position to bring about such change. They can be positive examples of impartial love and respect in their daily lives. Can they follow the example of some professional athletes by kneeling during the national anthem? There is no law forbidding that. But one wonders if their actions will generate more support for their cause or ill will.

The use of a national anthem and any customs related to it is certainly an adiaphoron: something God has neither commanded nor forbidden. In that and every area of Christian freedom, God’s people will seek to benefit others. One wonders what the greater benefit might be for kneeling during the national anthem—especially when the song is introduced by the announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, to honor America . . .” When people ignore that announcement, it follows logically that they are dishonoring America.

Kneeling during a song will not change hearts; kneeling in prayer can. So, let’s continue to teach our Christian youth to pray “for all people—for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1,2). When God changes hearts through his Word, then there are blessings—for people personally and for the land in which they live. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

 


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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Worship emphasis on Dec. 24th

Since the early Christian church chose Dec. 25 as the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth, why is there so much emphasis on worship the night before?

James F. Pope

Anecdotal evidence and congregational worship service statistics supply credence to your question, so let’s examine the issues.

A lost date

It does seem unimaginable, but the exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown. God certainly had a time in mind for Jesus to enter the world he created, and when that time had “fully come” (Galatians 4:4), the Lord was born of the virgin Mary. You and I might think that the date of such an important event would have been written on a scroll like Job’s words (19:23) or chiseled into tablets like the Lord’s words to Habakkuk (2:2). If it was, it did not survive the passing of time. The date of Jesus’ birth escapes our knowledge.

An arbitrary date

So if we do not know the date of the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, how did the early Christian church arrive at Dec. 25, as you noted? The answer to that question is not entirely clear. Two theories have long been suggested. One states that the early Christian church proposed that late December date to counteract a Roman winter festival that promoted immorality. The other theory imagines that Jesus was conceived and died on the same date: March 25. That would make the day of his birth Dec. 25. Neither theory carries much weight by way of historical evidence and documentation.

Because the date of Jesus’ birth is elusive, it comes as no surprise that the Christian church does not agree on when to celebrate it. The Western church opted for Dec. 25 as the day of Jesus’ birth, while the Eastern half selected Jan. 6.

As Christians in the Western church, we have a church calendar in which Dec. 25 has long been designated as the Nativity of our Lord, the festival that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. So why is there so much emphasis on worship the night before, you ask? Why does Christmas Eve surpass Christmas Day in importance in some people’s minds? I have my own guesses, but that is all that they are. I imagine the sentimentality of an often candlelit evening service is more appealing to people than another morning worship service. Family traditions, including get-togethers, can take place on Christmas Day, leading people to gather for worship on the evening before.

No doubt there are many other factors involved.

A timeless celebration

For me personally, the day the church has designated as the celebration for Jesus’ birth has more significance than the evening before. Yet I recognize the place of Christian freedom in this area of life. God has not spoken in his Word about our worship schedule. We can freely establish liturgical church calendars. Consequently, it is not surprising to find both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day listed alongside the Nativity of our Lord in liturgical church calendars.

Rather than pitting an evening against a day, that dual listing can encourage worshipers to attend both Christmas celebrations. As with other important events in Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, his birth merits more than a single-day celebration.

There is every reason for it to be a timeless celebration.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Is marrying an unbeliever wrong?

Is marrying an unbeliever wrong? Or is it just foolish?

James F. Pope

Multiple choice questions regularly have more than two possibilities, so I am going to propose a third option and provide rationale for it.

Wrong?

There are some who say that, yes, it is wrong for a Christian to marry a non-Christian. They often cite 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers,” to support their position.

The context of that passage, however, is not one of marriage. In fact, when the Bible does address Christians married to non-Christians, there is no condemnation of such marriages. The apostle Peter encouraged Christian women who were married to unbelieving men to witness to their husbands by their way of life. “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (1 Peter 3:1,2).

Foolish?

Foolish” is defined as “having or showing a lack of good sense or judgment.” That word could be used to describe a particular marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever. It could also, depending on the circumstances, be used to describe a marriage between a Christian man and a Christian woman. Describing all marriages between a Christian and a non-Christian as “foolish” goes too far.

Challenging!

Challenging” is a word I would use to characterize a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian. Potential problems will arise, including dedicating time to worshiping the Lord in church, determining how much of one’s income to give back to the Lord, and deciding how to raise children—just to list a few. A Christian who thinks of marrying a non-Christian will need to realize that in that marriage he or she will be spiritually single. Is he or she equipped spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically to be spiritually single? Is the Christian entering that marriage with a noble goal of evangelizing the non-Christian spouse, with the hope and prayer that God will change another heart and life? Does the Christian fully realize what pressures can arise to compromise or abandon the Christian faith in order to accommodate the wishes of the non-Christian spouse?

To me, one of the greatest challenges for a Christian married to a non-Christian is knowing that unless God intervenes and changes the heart of the non-Christian, husband and wife will be spending eternity in different places. That knowledge has to inject great sadness into the Christian’s heart.

On the other hand, what blessings there can be when a man and a woman are “one” in marriage in the most important way: when they are fellow members of the family of God. Such a marriage is not exempt from problems, but that marriage has a wonderful foundation because it is built on the love of God in Christ.

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22). How doubly true that is when the wife is a child of God through faith in Jesus. And how wonderful it is when a Christian woman can find a Christian man for a spouse. In those instances it is possible to echo Joshua’s pledge: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Is Luther adding words?

It was brought to my attention that Martin Luther added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28. Is this a fact?

James F. Pope

Luther did include the word alone in his translation of Romans 3:28. It will be helpful to consider the simple content of that verse.

A look at the text

A literal translation of the verse in question could be: “For we consider that a person is justified by faith without the works of the law.” There is not a Greek word in the verse that corresponds to alone in English. Well-known Bible translations indicate that. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (English Standard Version). “For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Holman Christian Standard Bible). “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (King James Version).

So why did Luther put alone (or in German, allein) after “a person is justified by faith” in his translation? Let’s let Luther himself answer that question.

A reply from Luther

In his “On Translating: An Open Letter,” written in 1530, Luther explained his translation of Romans 3:28:

I knew very well that the word solum [Latin = alone, only] is not in the Greek or Latin text. . . . At the same time . . . it belongs there if the translation is to be clear and vigorous. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since it was German I had undertaken to speak in the translation. But it is the nature of our German language that in speaking of two things, one of which is affirmed and the other denied, we use the word solum (allein) along with the word nicht [not] or kein [no]. For example, we say, ‘The farmer brings allein [only] grain and kein [no] money.’

. . . This is the German usage, even though it is not the Latin or Greek usage. It is the nature of the German language to add the word allein in order that the word nicht or kein may be clearer or more complete. Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, pp. 188,189

Luther plainly acknowledged that the word alone is not in the Greek text, but there was good reason to include that word because of the nuances of the German language.

An answer from Scripture

Certainly, if we are not saved by our good works or by a combination of faith and good works, then we are saved through faith alone. That is the consistent message of Scripture. “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28). If we are saved by faith, and the works of the law have no place in our salvation, then we are saved by faith alone. “So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). If we are justified by faith and not the works of the law, then we are saved by faith alone.

Sola fide (Latin for “by faith alone”) is a Christian doctrine that does not hinge on a single verse or even a single word in the Bible but is clearly a truth of Scripture.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: What are we to learn from the parable of the shrewd manager?

What are we to learn from the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke chapter 16?

James F. Pope

You are not the first to ask that question. Many people consider that parable to be one of the most challenging to understand. The key is grasping Jesus’ instruction at the end of the parable (v. 9).

Viewing money selfishly

In the parable of the shrewd manager, a man mismanaged his employer’s possessions. When the employer learned what happened, he dismissed the servant. But fearing for his future, the servant embarked on a new level of mismanagement: He contacted people who were indebted to his employer and singlehandedly reduced their bills. It was not concern for other people’s financial situation that prompted his actions. No, he cooked his boss’ books because he wanted to create a network of potential friends who might help him out in the future. The man wrongly used someone else’s possessions for his own earthly benefit.

One of the biggest surprises in the parable is the response of the employer. Rather than expressing outrage, he commended the dishonest manager! Even though he was a victim of someone else’s incompetent and fraudulent actions, he acknowledged how shrewdly his former manager had operated. It takes a person with a skewed worldview to appreciate getting ripped off like that.

Viewing money unselfishly

In contrast to the example of the dishonest manager, Jesus instructed his disciples: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). Rather than looking upon money with a “What’s in it for me right now?” attitude, Jesus leads us to view money with a “What’s in it for them in the future?” attitude. Jesus teaches us to use the possessions he has entrusted to us for other people—to gain eternal friends.

How can we do that? We can gain eternal friends by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others and by supporting the spread of the gospel with our offerings so that more might come to faith and become fellow members of God’s family. One of our hymns offers this encouragement. “May our zeal to help the heathen Be increased from day to day, As we plead in true compassion And for their conversion pray. For the many faithful workers, For the gospel they proclaim, Let us all be cheerful givers To the glory of your name” (Christian Worship 577:3).

Imagine someone in heaven walking up to you and thanking you for supporting the proclamation of the gospel that changed his or her life and eternity! Imagine that scene being multiplied countless times as your financial support of mission work brings the gospel into the lives of people throughout the world. Imagine all those “forever friends.”

Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager holds contrasting attitudes before our eyes. One attitude sees money—no matter whose it is—as something to be used selfishly and only for this life. Another attitude sees money as a temporal blessing from God that is best used for the eternal welfare of other people. One attitude might be shrewd in the eyes of some people. The other is pleasing in the eyes of God. In this and every area of life, may God work in us what is pleasing to him (Hebrews 13:21).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions.

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Can I be sure that what I have been taught is the truth?

There are so many religions that claim to be the true religion. How can I be sure that what I have been taught is the truth?

James F. Pope

The Bible provides instructions like this: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). I see your question as a way of following through on that advice. I can suggest three courses of action:

Consider the sources

Only a few books in the world claim to be foundational for a particular religion. Some of those books include the Qur’an (Islam), the Vedas (Hinduism), Tao Te Ching (Taoism), the Tripitaka (Buddhism) and the Book of Mormon (Mormons). An examination of these books reveals numerous problems. Different versions exist. Inaccuracies abound.

The Bible has no equal when it comes to books associated with religions. That is true especially when it comes to the content of those books. Despite being written by some three dozen people over a period of 1,500 years, there is complete unity in the Scriptures; all of it points to Jesus Christ as Savior. In addition, God’s guiding hand has preserved his inspired Word with remarkable accuracy over the years.

Contrast the messages

Page through the “holy books” of non-Christian religions and you will find a common theme. The gods of those religions are demanding, not giving. Adherents are told what they must do and not do to get in on the god’s good side. But will people be able to do enough to please their god before life on earth comes to an end? Uncertainty reigns. Fear dominates.

How different the God of the Bible is! After the Israelites passed through the Red Sea on their exodus from Egypt, the assembly asked in song: “Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11). Yes, which God has rescued people who were naturally opposed to him? None but the true God, the God of the Bible. Only the God of the Bible has shown sacrificial love to sinners. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Convinced by God

While I can show you differences between Christianity and non-Christian religions, only God can convince you that what you have learned is the truth.

See if you can identify with Jeremiah in the Bible. When life’s circumstances tempted the prophet Jeremiah to withhold God’s Word from other people, he observed: “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9). Consider the two men on the road to Emmaus. When they heard Jesus speak to them, they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

If your reaction to reading the Bible is different from reading any other book, that is not a chance happening. Because the Bible is “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12), it has the power to convince and convict people of the truth. In that regard, God himself assures you that you have been taught the truth—his truth.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: How does one recover from a failed evangelism opportunity?

How does one recover from a failed evangelism opportunity?

James F. Pope

Yours is the experience of many a Christian. Whether the door of opportunity opened just a crack or swung wide open, failing to take advantage of that opportunity to witness can fill Christians with guilt and regret. I am going to suggest that you can recover by looking in different directions.

Look back to Christ

When we fall short of God’s expectations and requirements of us, we might shrug it off with this attitude: “That’s the way it goes. Nobody’s perfect.” We could wallow in self-pity and guilt, thinking, “I’ll never get this right. There’s no use in trying.” Or, we can take our sin and burden to God and find forgiveness and strength in Jesus his Son.

There is forgiveness for every sin, including our sins of omission—those times when we fail to do what God commands. There is forgiveness for those occasions when we hide our faith for whatever reason and fail to testify about our Savior. There is forgiveness because Jesus was a “faithful witness” (Revelation 1:5) in our place. He seized every opportunity to share the truth of God’s Word with people—from a Samaritan woman to a Roman governor. What we have failed to do, Jesus did.

More than that, Jesus willingly endured the punishment our sins of omission and sins of commission deserved. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus sacrificed himself, and now his blood “purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

A starting point, then, in recovering from a failed evangelism opportunity is knowing that you are forgiven. Completely. The slate is clean.

Look back and learn

But before we look ahead, let’s look back once more.

Without getting bogged down in the past, ask yourself, “Where did it go wrong? Why did it go wrong?” Was it fear of people’s reactions that led to your silence? Was it a problem of not knowing what to say? Was it failure to recognize a witnessing opportunity?

Whatever the reason might have been, look back and learn. Learn what you might do differently. Then, armed with God’s forgiveness and power and equipped with a greater understanding of what happened in the past, look in a different direction.

Look ahead, Christian

Remember Peter. As Peter cozied up to a fire on a cool spring night in the courtyard of the high priest, the door of opportunity to testify about his Lord opened so wide you could have driven a Roman chariot through it. But rather than telling people about the Jesus of Nazareth he knew, Peter vehemently denied any association with him.

Sometime later, after shedding tears of sorrow and hearing words of forgiveness from his Savior, Peter displayed a bold outlook on evangelism opportunities. He shared it with the recipients of his first inspired letter: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Those are not the words of a man who lived in the past—the past of failed witnessing opportunities. Those are the words of a man who looked forward to more witnessing opportunities. You can look in that same direction, Christian.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Unbelievers who seem to be more morally upright

What do I say when a friend asks why some unbelievers seem to be more morally upright than many Christians she knows?

James F. Pope

Your response to your friend includes understanding what the Bible teaches about good works and the dual nature of the Christian.

SIMILARITY ON THE OUTSIDE

Picture two strangers walking down a street. One is a Christian, the other is an unbeliever. Can you tell who’s who? That is not a fair question because no human being would be able to know the difference with one hundred percent certainty. Why? What the Lord said to the prophet Samuel regarding the identification of Israel’s second king is also true when it comes to people trying to distinguish a believer from an unbeliever: “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God alone can see faith or unbelief in the heart and sort out Christian from non-Christian. You and I have limited vision. That means we might not be able to differentiate between an unbeliever who does nice things in life and a Christian who seems to do fewer amounts of good works.

But, you wonder, why might the morally upright behavior of an unbeliever seem to be more abundant than the good works of a Christian? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? An answer to those questions lies in recognizing the unique makeup of the Christian.

A BATTLE ON THE INSIDE

In Romans chapter 7 the apostle Paul explained the struggles he experienced in living the Christian life. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18,19). The apostle’s struggles materialized when the Lord blinded him physically and opened his eyes spiritually on the road to Damascus. The new self created by the Holy Spirit clashed with the sinful nature Paul had from birth. The result of that clash was that the apostle fell into sin again and again after he became a believer.

Christians today find common ground with the apostle. Christians may find themselves on the losing side of temptation all too often. It then can appear as if the unbeliever’s behavior surpasses the good works of battle-weary Christians. But it’s important to keep the distinction between outward goodness of an unbeliever that does not impress God and good works of a Christian that are pleasing to God because of Jesus his Son. The truth remains that only Christians can do good works (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13), while the entire life of the unbeliever is one of sin (Romans 14:23).

JOY IN OUR INNER BEING

Picture again those two strangers walking down a street. One person just tries to do nice things—to be a good neighbor, a good citizen, and a good person. Another person tries to do good things because she shares the attitude of the apostle Paul and seeks to do what God says in his law as a way of thanking him for salvation. Does that mean such gratitude will express itself in greater measure than the morally upright behavior of unbelievers? Not necessarily. But Christians will strive to grow in their praise of God.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Light for our path: Preparation of meat invoking Allah

As Christians, should we steer clear of “halal” meat, considering that part of the preparation of this meat includes invoking Allah?

James F. Pope

“Halal” is an Arabic word meaning “permissible.” Halal meat comes from animals that have been slaughtered in keeping with Islamic laws of the Qur’an. Included in the slaughtering process is a ritual with prayer to Allah or at least the mention of his name. As the Bible addressed a situation like this in the past, your question illustrates the truth of wise King Solomon’s words: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

A BIBLICAL PARALLEL

The scene is Corinth, Greece. The date is A.D. 50. Two Christians are standing in the marketplace eyeing meat that is available for sale. The grade is good, the price is right, but there’s one potential catch: the meat was involved in idolatrous worship practices. One Christian says, “I could never buy or eat that meat considering it is associated with pagan practices. That would be wrong.” The other Christian responds, “As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing unacceptable about that meat.” Two Christians with differing opinions about something the Bible neither commands nor forbids.

When I mentioned your question to a couple of friends, I received reactions similar to those two Christians in Corinth:

● “I could never buy or eat meat from animals that had been slaughtered as Allah’s name was being invoked.”

● “I don’t have any problem with buying or eating that meat.”

Who was right in Corinth? Who is right today?

IDENTICAL BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES

The apostle Paul addressed the situation in Corinth by reminding those Christians that there is only one God—the God of the Bible, the triune God: “We know that ‘An idol is nothing at all in the world’ and that ‘There is no God but one’ ” (1 Corinthians 8:4). The food that had been sacrificed to idols was perfectly fine because, as the apostle pointed out, idols do not exist.

“But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled” (1 Corinthians 8:7). If Corinthian Christians believed it was wrong for them to eat meat that had been associated with idolatrous worship practices, then it was wrong for them. Paul reminded the Christians in Rome of the same truth: “But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean” (Romans 14:14).

On the other hand, a Christian in Corinth who recognized the freedom to buy and eat meat associated with idolatrous worship practices could have consumed that product without sinning. At the same time, that Christian would have wanted to exercise that freedom with a loving eye toward fellow Christians whose consciences were guiding them in a different direction. This is where the apostle’s instruction came into play: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9).

So what about halal meat? Slaughtering animals in the name of a nonexistent Islamic god does not spiritually contaminate the meat. Buying or eating such meat is a matter of conscience. And, as was the case in Corinth, Christians will refrain from condemning those who have a different opinion.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 5
Issue: May 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Light for our path: Religion vs. Relationship?

“I don’t want a religion; I want a relationship.” I have seen this quote quite a bit lately. Is there any risk in me using it?

James F. Pope

There is always some risk in being misunderstood when we use language and phrases that might be used in ways different from our intention.


 

IS RELIGION A BAD THING?

From the sound of it, the quote seems to say that religion is bad. Is it?

Dictionary.com offers several definitions of religion including “something one believes in and follows devotedly,” “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects,” and “the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.” There is nothing bad about religion from those definitions unless a person does not want to be locked into a “set of beliefs and practices” or has an objection to certain worship practices.

And that is precisely what can lead some people to say, “I don’t want a religion.” They may want to believe only what they think is best. Or they may want freedom from organized religion and its forms of worship. “I can worship God in nature” replaces “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD’ ” (Psalm 122:1).

ISN’T TRUE RELIGION ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS?

“I don’t want a religion; I want a relationship.” From the sound of it, that quote seems to say that religion and relationships are worlds apart. That is not at all the case. True religion is all about relationships. True religion, that is, Christianity, means enjoying a relationship with God and having the privilege of calling him our Father. The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer illustrate that truth. True religion means enjoying a relationship with Jesus and having the privilege of calling him our Brother. “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:11).

True religion, Christianity, means enjoying additional relationships. God’s design is not that his people become hermits and live far removed from society. No, God’s intention is that his followers interact with fellow human beings, encouraging fellow Christians and serving as light and salt to the unbelieving world. Interestingly enough, the Bible even pairs the word religion with human relationships. “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God” (1 Timothy 5:4).

True religion, then, is all about relationships, isn’t it? The relationships people enjoy with God their Father and Jesus Christ their Brother as well as the relationships people experience with others. Without question, true religion, Christianity, is all about relationships—the vertical and horizontal kind.

So is there any risk in your use of the quote “I don’t want a religion; I want a relationship”? Sure, there is always a risk in being misunderstood if you use an expression that others use for their own purposes. There will be no mistaking what you mean if you say, “If you want a religion and a relationship, you will find both in Christianity.”

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

 

 

 

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 4
Issue: April 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Light for our path: Why do we say “rose again”

Why do we say Jesus “rose again” in the creeds?

James F. Pope

Your question addresses a phrase we speak week after week in worship services. When we confess our faith using the Apostles’ Creed, we declare that on “the third day he rose again from the dead.” When we use the Nicene Creed as a confession we profess that “on the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.” Your question will help clarify part of our worship vocabulary.

A SAVIOR WHO DIED AND ROSE

Like many words in our language, the word again can have different meanings. It can mean “once more” or “another time.” We can rule out those definitions for again in the creeds because Scripture speaks of Jesus dying only once and rising to life only once (Romans 6:9).

Again can also mean “in addition.” Our use of the word again in the creeds has that definition in mind. After confessing that Jesus died and was buried, we declare that, in addition, Jesus rose from the dead. In other words, his death was not the end of his life. In addition to laying down his life for our sins, Jesus took up his life again just as he said (John 10:18).

A SAVIOR WHO ROSE, NEVER TO DIE AGAIN

While Jesus’ resurrection was the fulfillment of prophecy, the Lord was not the first person to rise from the dead, was he? The Bible provides several accounts of individuals who died and were raised to life: the son of a widow in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:22), the son of a widow in Nain (Luke 7:15), a brother of two sisters in Bethany (John 11:44), and brothers and sisters of the faith in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52). But in those and other resurrection accounts in the Bible, people experienced death a second time. They died, they were raised to life, and they died again. That was not the case with Jesus.

Jesus made that clear when he appeared in a vision to the apostle John on the island of Patmos. To a very startled disciple Jesus offered these words of comfort: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17,18).

The Savior who died for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:25) will not suffer death again. Nor will his followers.

A SAVIOR WHO ROSE AS THE FIRSTFRUITS OF THE DEAD

In the Bible’s great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul describes Jesus as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20). In Old Testament times the concept of firstfruits (Exodus 23:19) indicated that while the first portion of the harvest was given to the Lord, it was only the beginning of the harvest. Similarly, Jesus is the first of those raised to life, never to die again. As the firstfruits of that kind of resurrection, there will be others. On the last day the bodies of Christians who died will be raised to life and reunited to their souls. Their bodies will be glorified, and they will never experience death again.

These blessings are possible only because Jesus “rose again,” as we say in the creeds. We make that confession because it is what Scripture states: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 3
Issue: March 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Light for our path: Sacrifices

As a modern American I have trouble understanding how the Old Testament animal sacrifices were pleasing to God. Because of that, I do not understand why God would want or accept the sacrifice of his Son. Can you explain this?

James F. Pope

I can appreciate your question because you and I are so far removed from the time and culture of the Old Testament sacrificial system. If we bridge those cultural gaps, we can come to appreciate the twofold message of the animal sacrifices.

A VIVID MESSAGE OF GOD’S LAW

Euphemisms for sin abound today. People speak of “mistakes,” “indiscretions,” “poor choices” and “errors in judgment.” Those alternate terms for sin are designed to lower the guilt level in a person’s conscience and boost self-esteem. Unfortunately, those terms mask the seriousness of sin and the need for a Savior from sin.

By contrast, the Old Testament sacrificial system indicted people as rebels who violated God’s will by their “sins,” “transgressions,” and “iniquities.” The killing of an animal broadcasted a powerful message to the people, and the message was that sin is serious. “The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:20). Worshipers who witnessed the slaughter of a sacrificial animal had every reason to think, “My sins are serious. I rightly deserve punishment from God. I need forgiveness for my sins.”

A BEAUTIFUL PICTURE OF GOD’S GOSPEL

And yet, in that same sacrificial system there was good news for the worshipers. While the sacrificing of an animal provided a graphic image of the seriousness of sin, it also painted a beautiful picture of the forgiving love of God. The sacrificing of an animal taught the worshiper to think, “I deserve to die and be punished for my sins, but God accepts a substitute and spares me.” Those animal substitutes pointed ahead to the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. The animals were to be perfect and without spot. The Messiah was like them; he was without sin—a substitute for the sinners for whom he died.

Against the backdrop of countless animal sacrifices pointing to a hill outside Jerusalem, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement” (Romans 3:25). The sacrifice of the Son of God did what the animal sacrifices could only portray: it removed sin and guilt (Hebrews 10:1-18). And consider now what that sacrifice says about God.

A WINDOW INTO GOD’S HEART

“Why would God want or accept the sacrifice of his Son?” you wonder. Because he desires the salvation of all people. God does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The plan of salvation that God set up and implemented involved the sacrifice of his own Son.

That Son once said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Imagine the love of someone who lays down his life, not for friends, but for sinners, a world of sinners (Romans 5:8)! God’s love for sinners moved him to institute the sacrificial system and then sacrifice his own Son.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 2
Issue: February 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Light for our path: Climate change exposure in colleges

My daughter’s exposure to climate change ideas in college has led her to question whether it’s responsible to have any children (who will each have a “carbon footprint”). I hate to think that we should refuse God’s gift of children because of climate change fears. Can you shed any light on this?

James F. Pope

Responding to your question will take us in two different directions, but they both lead to God and the truths of his Word.

Caring for God’s creation

More than any other people in the world, Christians have reason to care for the environment. Why? Because we recognize that “the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters” (Psalm 24:1,2). This planet we call home is not the result of some cosmological explosion or chance alignment of atoms. The world, the universe—all things—came into existence by the powerful word of the Lord (John 1:3). He then entrusted the management of this world to the crown of his creation (Genesis 1:28).

So we strive to care for God’s creation as best we can, but we do so with the humble realization and confident trust that the Creator of the universe is also the preserver of the universe. That means that concerns—real or imagined—for the environment need to be balanced by the fact that people are not ultimately in control of this world. God is.

To take a short refresher course in God’s control of his world, review Job chapters 8–41. With figurative language God speaks of the “storehouses” of the snow and hail (38:22) that he has at his disposal. In unmistakably clear language throughout that section of Job, God identifies himself as the one who oversees the environment to sustain life.

Understanding God’s gift of procreation

In addition to sustaining life, God gives life, and he does that through people. With his directive for Adam and Eve to fill the earth (Genesis 1:28), God blessed people with procreative powers. He enables people to be his agents in the life-giving process.

We view children as blessings from God (Psalm 127:3-5). Blessings. Not inconveniences on a lifestyle, not drains on personal income, not barriers to career goals. Blessings. God wants his blessings nurtured, cared for, loved, and brought up in the Christian faith. And because he is in control of life, God will grant those blessings according to his loving wisdom. Husbands and wives, then, can gladly receive God’s blessings as he grants them.

Will God grant so many blessings that he threatens his own world through environmental change or inadequate food supplies? Not at all. The one who gives life is also the one who sustains life. When it comes to God meeting people’s basic needs, the observation of the psalmist still rings true today: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15,16).

On the basis of Scripture, then, your daughter can definitely move forward in life with the attitude that “it is responsible” to have children, should God so grant them. Her concerns about God’s creation are not to negate what God has said about his gift of children and his promise to preserve the lives he has given. God can be trusted in whatever he says (Titus 1:2).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 1
Issue: January 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Church’s approach to biblical interpretation

Is there a simple answer why many mainline Christian denominations either remain silent or now actually officially teach morality contrary to Scripture?

James F. Pope

While there are certainly other contributing factors to the situation you describe, a simple answer can be found in a church’s approach to biblical interpretation.

DIFFERENT METHODS OF INTERPRETATION

The most common method of biblical interpretation for churches under the umbrella of Christianity is the historical-critical approach. This approach has two underlying premises: Any account in the Bible that contains supernatural content is fiction and not fact, and God did not inspire the writers of biblical books by giving them the exact words to write down.

Those who subscribe to this approach maintain that miracles recorded in the Bible are merely the reports of superstitious people with scant scientific information. They further assert that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not write the gospels that bear their names, but individuals who never knew Jesus personally and who lived decades after his earthly ministry penned the gospels.

The historical-grammatical method, on the other hand, takes a drastically different approach toward the Bible. It treats Scripture on its own terms: that all of it is truth (John 17:17), inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and centers on Jesus Christ (John 5:39). The historical-grammatical method examines the words of Scripture in their historical context and seeks to understand and apply those words as they were originally intended—regardless of how unpopular the content might be today.

PUTTING THE METHODS INTO PRACTICE

With this very brief background of biblical interpretation methods in mind, consider what I could do if I interpreted the Bible according to the historical-critical method. If I came across a Bible passage with moral content I did not like—whatever it happened to be—I could amend it in ways that appeared to be credible and legitimate for me today. I could ask, “Would it be loving to others to accept as truth and to implement in life what this passage is saying? Or would it be more loving to find a different meaning and application?” To some people, that could appear to be a sound and noble approach to biblical interpretation.

But you see what is happening, don’t you? People are approaching the Bible with their minds made up regarding what Scripture should and should not say. And, if Scripture does not agree with their opinions, then they believe they can—with self-asserted scholarship and stated sincerity—propose a meaning that lines up with their ideas.

Is that how biblical interpretation is to work? Isn’t it to be just the opposite? King David implored of the Lord: “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me” (Psalm 25:4,5). Proper biblical interpretation approaches God’s Word with a student-like attitude, seeking to be taught by God and to have him replace our ideas on subject matters—including morality—with his.

When that happens and we profess what the Bible says, we may find ourselves standing up for a message that is unpopular for some. Does that mean we change the message to make our lives easier or to attract people who have itching ear syndrome (2 Timothy 4:3)? Not at all. We hold to the Lord’s teachings (John 8:31) out of love for him and others.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm, Minnesota.

James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 12
Issue: December 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Truly repentant?

If someone repeats the same sin often but goes to God with a sorry heart, is the person truly repentant and forgiven?

James F. Pope

Since the fall in Eden, people are sinners from the moment life begins, and they commit sins until their life on earth come to an end. What differs among people is how they view sin, repentance, forgiveness, and Christian living. Two case studies can illustrate those differences and, in turn, help answer your question.

CASE STUDY ONE

Consider the case of a Christian we will call Jessica. She is single and a senior at a Christian college. By her own admission, though, her worship attendance is sporadic, and her Bible reading has come to a standstill. As a result, she has her own thoughts about sin, repentance, and Christian living. She has the idea that because she is a Christian, she can do pretty much whatever she wants and all she has to do is say she is sorry to God and all is well. Because of that faulty thinking, drunkenness and sexual activity are common occurrences in her life.

No human being can look into Jessica’s heart, of course, but one has reason to wonder to what degree she understands Romans 6:1,2: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Or Romans 6:11: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” A person like Jessica could easily deceive herself into thinking that all is well with God when it is not.

CASE STUDY TWO

Consider now the case of a Christian we will call Paul. We know him by that name in the Bible. In Romans chapter 7 Paul informs us about his struggles with temptation and sin. He confessed: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. . . . Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15,18,24,25).

Like Jessica, Paul sinned time and again, but Paul was bothered greatly by doing what God forbade and failing to do what God commanded. Paul understood the seriousness of sin and the great cost of his forgiveness, and he expressed a sincere desire to live according to God’s will.

Where does this leave you with your question? You indicated that the individual in question responds to sin with a “sorry” heart; sorrow is expressed after doing wrong, but sin follows soon thereafter. There is repentance, a turning away from sin and trust in the forgiveness God promises, but there is also a daily struggle. What we do not want to do is unfairly or unlovingly equate repeated sin in a person’s life with indifference or hypocrisy. The individual you reference might very well be fighting “the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) but losing regular battles against sin. Or, you might be describing an individual who seriously misunderstands repentance and Christian living. We leave the judgment of hearts to God in the hope that hearts are filled with sorrow over sin and faith.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Doing enough to be Jesus’ sheep?

The parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) has always confused me. How do I know if I am doing enough to be regarded as one of Jesus’ sheep?

James F. Pope

The parable you cited illustrates why it is important to let Scripture interpret Scripture. Isolating the parable from the rest of the Bible, one might mistakenly think the parable teaches that people who do good things will go to heaven while people who fail to do good things will go to hell. An old axiom of the church will help us understand Jesus’ parable correctly: “Faith alone saves, but faith is never alone.”

FAITH ALONE SAVES

The Bible’s teaching from beginning to end is that faith alone saves. Two millennia before Jesus Christ entered our world as a child, Abram “believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). The Lord had promised Abram that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars that twinkled overhead, and Abram’s Spirit-worked response was to receive that promise in faith. The Lord credited Abram’s faith, not his works, as righteousness.

In the New Testament one of the clearest statements that faith alone saves is Ephesians 2:8,9: “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Countless other Bible passages teach that people enjoy salvation through God-given faith in Jesus Christ and not because of anything they have done. Faith alone saves, and unbelief condemns. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). God alone can perceive whether faith or unbelief resides in a person’s heart. He will judge accordingly.

But the perfect judge will supply evidence for his judgments. That is where Jesus’ parable enters the picture.

FAITH IS NEVER ALONE

You and I cannot look into another person’s heart. We cannot observe faith in the heart of a fellow Christian or unbelief in the hearts of the lost. What we can see is evidence of faith or unbelief in everyday living. That is what Jesus described in his parable. The sheep in Jesus’ parable were going to spend eternity with the Lord because of the saving faith that was in their hearts. God alone could see that faith in their hearts, but others could witness that faith in everyday acts of love and kindness. The goats in Jesus’ parable were going to spend eternity apart from the Lord because of the unbelief that was in their hearts. God alone could see that unbelief in their hearts, but others could recognize that unbelief in everyday acts of selfishness and sinfulness.

You notice that the sheep—as well as the goats—expressed amazement by the recounting of their lives. The believers were surprised with the evidence of faith Jesus supplied. The Lord informed his followers that whatever acts of love they had shown others, they did to him. And they did that out of gratitude for God’s gift of free salvation.

This parable and the rest of Scripture teach that your salvation is not dependent on the good things you do but on the good things Jesus Christ did in your behalf: keeping the law of God perfectly and suffering sin’s punishment. Jesus’ parable is not intended to be a checklist to determine if you are a sheep of Jesus’ flock or a goat. You are one of Jesus’ sheep because of the work of the great Shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 10
Issue: October 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Christians living in a godless world

How are we Christians to live in a world that is becoming increasingly godless and antagonistic toward us?

James F. Pope

Your assessment of life in these last days is accurate and in harmony with what the Bible says: “There will be terrible times in the last days. . . . Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:1,12). Let’s see what other guidance Scripture provides to answer your question.

REVEAL YOUR IDENTITY

As Christians you and I have an identity that is worth noting. The Bible calls us “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9). That description applies to us because God has worked in our hearts through his Word. The Spirit of God connected us to Jesus Christ in faith, bringing us into God’s family and changing our lives forever. God has transformed our hearts and minds, leading us to view him, sin, and life in general differently than people who are still living in unbelief.

As Christians we are different from unbelievers, and that difference is to be evident in our daily lives. The Bible exhorts us: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:15). Failure to display our faith will be of no help to unbelievers. On the other hand, when we do exhibit our faith we enable unbelievers to see the love of Christ in action and give them reason to explore what Christianity is all about.

Still, do not expect the unbelieving world to pat you on the back for being a Christian. The Bible makes it very clear that we can anticipate just the opposite reaction from a world naturally opposed to God.

EXPECT HOSTILITY

Jesus was up front with his followers about the treatment they would receive in life: “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Matthew 10:22). “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18). One of the disciples who personally heard those words wrote: “Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). As an aside, isn’t it interesting how unbelievers wrongly call Christians “haters” for their scriptural positions, when in reality they are the haters?

The Lord spoke of us taking up our cross and following him (Matthew 10:38; 16:24). The Christian cross is whatever we suffer for being a follower of Jesus Christ. Your question is a reminder that our crosses are likely to become more numerous as times goes on, but we are still to bear them as we follow the Lord through life.

There is one final word from Jesus to consider. After explaining a parable, our Savior asked: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). It is a haunting question that gets us thinking about the extent of unbelief and godlessness in the last days—and on the Last Day.

So, how are we Christians to live in a world that is becoming increasingly godless and antagonistic toward us? We continue to live our faith. We do so, not with a persecution complex that leads us to imagine troubles, but with a realistic expectation of persecution and, of course, with confidence in the Lord’s powerful love!

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at www.wels.net. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 09
Issue: September 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Infant Baptism

Light for our path

A friend who belongs to another church asked me where the Bible specifically speaks of baptizing infants. I could not find a verse like that. Can you help?

James F. Pope

Your search came up empty because there is no Scripture verse that specifically commands the baptizing of infants. However, that does not mean we are to withhold Baptism from them. On the contrary, the Bible lists compelling reasons why infants are to be baptized.

THE RECIPIENTS OF BAPTISM

When Jesus instituted Baptism in Matthew 28:19,20, he did not limit Baptism to adults. He said “all nations” were to be instructed in his Word and baptized. Think of all the people who comprise a nation. Think of who is counted as a citizen of a nation when a census occurs. All people are counted. If infants were to be excluded from Baptism, Jesus’ words in Matthew 28 would have been an appropriate place to indicate that. Because in every sense infants are included in “all nations,” they are to be the recipients of Baptism.

More than being people who are part of a nation, infants are to be baptized because they have a need for the forgiveness of sins. The Bible does not speak of any age of innocence or any time in life when infants and children are not sinners and not responsible for their sins. Just the opposite, Scripture speaks of people being conceived and born in sin. King David spoke for the entire human race when he confessed, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Jesus reiterated that truth when he informed Nicodemus that “flesh gives birth to flesh” (John 3:6). In other words, sinful parents have sinful children.

A final reason for baptizing infants is that the Bible reveals to us that children and infants can believe. Passages like Matthew 18:6; Luke 18:15-17; and 2 Timothy 3:15 provide proof of that.

So rather than a single verse addressing infant Baptism, it is the case of numerous Bible passages demonstrating why little ones too are to be baptized.

THE POWER BEHIND BAPTISM

Additionally, we baptize infants because we understand from Scripture how Christian faith originates.

A common reason used to reject infant Baptism is the child’s lack of intellectual development. That objection reveals a serious misunderstanding of the nature of faith. Who, after all, is responsible for faith? How does faith originate? Is faith an intellectual process that results in people making a decision for Christ or inviting him into their hearts? Not at all. God the Holy Spirit is responsible for creating faith. People—young and old—are the objects of the Spirit’s powerful working through the gospel (Ephesians 2:10).

The Bible explains that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17). God uses the gospel—the Word alone or the Word connected to an earthly element, water—to call people to faith in Jesus. When it comes to conversion, people are on the receiving end of the Holy Spirit’s work. Faith is God’s gift to people (Ephesians 2:8). God can give that gift to young and old alike, and he does.

So the next time you witness an infant Baptism in church, marvel at the grace of God in providing a way through which he can come into the hearts and lives of his littlest ones! Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). That’s just what happens in Baptism.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at www.wels.net. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

 

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 8
Issue: August 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Parables purpose

Light for our path

Jesus explains his use of parables in Mark 4:11,12. Doesn’t Jesus want people to repent and become believers?

James F. Pope

Before we look at that passage in its context, we want to review the nature and overall purpose of Jesus’ parables.

STORIES THAT REVEAL

Like me, you may have learned this simple definition of a parable: an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. When he told parables, Jesus pointed to something his hearers knew and understood about this life and then made a comparison to a spiritual truth that was naturally beyond their knowledge.

For example, Jesus talked about a farmer sowing seed (Matthew 13:1-9) or fishermen casting a net into a lake (Matthew 13:47-50). The people who first heard these parables could easily picture those activities. They knew what sowing seed was all about, but then Jesus used that earthly activity to describe what can happen to the sowing of God’s Word in people’s hearts and lives. Similarly, those people knew that fishermen pulled up nets with fish that were “keepers” and others that were discarded. Jesus used that earthly activity to explain how believers and unbelievers will be forever separated on the Last Day. Jesus’ parables had the overall purpose of connecting the known to the unknown, reveal-ing spiritual truths that would have otherwise remained unknown.

STORIES THAT CONCEAL

Your question references a time in the Lord’s ministry when Jesus’ disciples asked him why he spoke to people in parables. His answer seems to call for another parable to help us understand it. “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’ ” (Mark 4:11,12, quoting Isaiah 6:9,10).

Don’t misunderstand Jesus. He does want “all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). He does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The key to understanding Jesus’ answer to his disciples is recognizing what he says about people who were “on the outside” of the kingdom of God. These were people who had heard Jesus’ teaching and preaching. They had enjoyed a unique opportunity to see and hear the Son of God speak to them, but they continually hardened their hearts to his message. In that way they resembled Jews in Isaiah’s day: people who had hardened their hearts to the messages God’s prophets had brought them.

To both groups of people with hardened hearts, God delivered a harsh judgment: They would no longer derive meaning from what he said. God’s followers would understand his Word—even his parables—through the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit, but these self-hardened enemies of God would walk away from the treasures of his Word like people who cannot see gold bars in a bank vault.

Even when God carried out that judgment in reaction to people’s unbelief, his promise rang true: “[My word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Jesus’ parables are that powerful. They can reveal truth to changed hearts and conceal truth to hardened hearts.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at www.wels.net. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

 

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 7
Issue: July 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Islam

Light for our path

“Why does Islam have so many followers, and why doesn’t God stop the spread of that false religion?”

James F. Pope

You’re right, Islam does have a very large following. While hard numbers are difficult to obtain, current estimates suggest that Islam accounts for approximately 20 percent of the world’s present population, or about 1.3 billion people.

Global growth

Islam is the invention of Muhammad, who lived in the sixth and seventh centuries A.D. Initially, his message met resistance, but it did not take long before people began submitting to Allah, Muhammad’s false god. (Islam means “submission,” and Muslim refers to one who “submits.”)

There were early converts to Islam for numerous reasons. At a time when Christians were debating the nature of Jesus Christ and other doctrines, Islam came along with a “simple faith,” one that had no complicated creeds or mysterious sacraments. Islam proposed five “pillars” or duties for its adherents: a confession of Allah as god, daily prayer at appointed times, fasting during Ramadan, alms-giving, and pilgrimage. Other reasons for the numerical growth of Islam in its infancy were militaristic expansion and “tax advantages” for non-Muslims, who could forego tax payments by converting.

The growth of Islam today can be attributed, among other reasons, to a higher birth rate of its followers, the illusion of being a peaceful religion, and policies of numerous countries that promote and tolerate only Islam.

Not to be lost in all this is the fact that Islam is a religion of work-righteousness. Unfortunately, that means it naturally appeals to people who think there must be something they can do to be at peace with a higher power of some kind. Any religion like Islam that focuses attention on people’s actions instead of God’s saving actions will naturally—and sadly—attract followers.

Divine direction

So where is God in all this, you wonder. He is “seated on his holy throne” (Psalm 47:8), ruling over the nations. He is in heaven, doing “whatever pleases him” (Psalm

115:3). More than that, he is in our world guiding everything for the good of the members of his church (Romans 8:28).

God is certainly not pleased when people reject his truth and accept falsehood. God’s desire is clear. He does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). And yet, consider how God leads people to repentance and convinces them of his truth. Is it by sheer might and force? No, it is through his Word, by the sweet call of the gospel. Slowly but surely God opens the eyes of spiritually blind people and shows them the Savior they have in Jesus his Son. Since the fall into sin, God has changed the hearts of millions of people, but throughout time God has referred to his people as a “remnant” and a “little flock.”

That is because as God does his work, so does Satan. As God sows the seed of his life-giving word, Satan scatters his life-destroying lies (Matthew 13:24-30,36-43). God, in his wisdom, allows Satan to carry out his work. That allowance calls for you and me to bow in humility to God’s wisdom (Romans 11:33-36). God knows what he is doing, and in the end everything will redound to his glory and praise (Philippians 2:9-11).

Your questions underscore the need to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with Muslims and all who live apart from the kingdom of God.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

Learn more about Islam and reaching out to Muslims at http://truthinlovetomuslims.com.

James Pope also answers questions online. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 6
Issue: June 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Spreading the message

Light for our path 

Were the Jews to spread the message about the promised Savior even to Gentiles, as we do mission work today?

James F. Pope 

What will become clear in answering your question is that God showed love to the entire world as he showed love to a specially chosen people.

Love to Israel

There is no question that the people of Israel were the recipients of unparalleled love from the Lord. King Solomon demonstrated he understood that when he prayed to the Lord on the occasion of the dedication of the temple. He recognized that the Lord had “singled [Israel] out from all the nations of the world to be your own inheritance, just as you declared through your servant Moses when you, Sovereign LORD, brought our fathers out of Egypt” (1 Kings 8:53). The apostle Paul identified some of Israel’s special blessings when he wrote: “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen” (Romans 9:4,5).

That last sentence explains the greatest blessing the people of Israel received from the Lord: the promise that the Messiah would enter this world as a human being through their lineage. The “family trees” of Jesus (Matthew 1 and Luke 3) illustrate how God fulfilled that promise.

But if you look carefully at those family trees, you will notice non-Jews, or Gentiles, in the list—people like Rahab and Ruth. The inclusion of those Gentile women in the human ancestry of Jesus tells us something about the love of God.

Love through Israel

God’s love is universal. God so loved the entire world of sinners that he sent his Son into the world as a human being descended from a long line of—mostly—Jews. So while God showed special love to the people of Israel, he never restricted his love to them. Yes, God wanted Israel to let others know about his love for them. Let me point out just a few examples.

God commissioned Jonah to go to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh and preach a message of repentance. When the citizenry as a whole took Jonah’s message to heart and the prophet subsequently became despondent that Israel’s enemies would share in their blessings of salvation, the Lord asked him: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11). That great city of Gentiles?

The psalms contain directives for the people of Israel to share their faith. “Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96:2,3). Through the prophet Isaiah, God repeatedly instructed his chosen people to let their light shine. “ ‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘. . . the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise’ ” (Isaiah 43:10,21).

Many more examples could be provided to demonstrate that it has always been God’s will that all those who know him in faith share that saving knowledge with others. Certainly, God’s Old Testament ceremonial laws were designed to keep Israel separate from other nations, but being “separate” did not mean uncaring, unloving, or silent. God’s people have always had reason to share their Savior with others.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm. 

James Pope also answers questions online. Submit your questions to fic@wels.net.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: “Rose Again”

Light for our path

Why do we say in the Apostles’Creed that Jesus “rose again” from the dead? And are the descent into hell and the resurrection listed out of sequence?

James F. Pope

The confession of faith we know as the Apostles’Creed has that name not because the apostles wrote it, but because it summarizes the teachings of the apostles. A high point of their teaching, and our faith, is Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. So, your questions are important.

“ROSE AGAIN FROM THE DEAD”

In our language the word again can be used in different ways. It can mean “once more,” “another time.” If that is the meaning of the word at this point in the creed, then we are saying that we believe Jesus rose from the dead at some point before his resurrection on Easter Sunday morning. But the Scriptures say that Jesus experienced only one resurrection from the dead.

Again can also have the meaning of “in addition.” And so, after confessing that we believe that Jesus died, we declare that, in addition, Jesus rose from the dead. In other words, his death was not the end of his life. In addition to laying down his life for our sins, Jesus took up his life again just as he had said (John 10:18). The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is absolutely vital to our salvation (1 Corinthians 15:12-22), and the creed rightly emphasizes that glorious event.

Now, on to your next question about the sequence of events.

“HE DESCENDED INTO HELL, THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE AGAIN FROM THE DEAD.”

On the surface, it looks like Jesus descended into hell before he rose from the dead. That wrong impression disappears when we consider what the Bible says about Jesus’body coming to life and his descent into hell. “Christ was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built” (1 Peter 3:18-20). That section of Scripture speaks of Jesus descending into hell after his body became “alive” in the tomb. With his resurrected body Jesus entered hell to proclaim (“preach”) his victory over Satan, the evil angels, and those people who rejected the only true God during their time of grace.

Then, on the third day, Jesus “rose again from the dead.” Theologians have distinguished between Jesus’body and soul being reunited in the tomb and his appearances to people on earth with his resurrected, glorified body. The phrase from the creed that states Jesus “rose again from the dead” has in mind those appearances to people on earth.

So, perhaps it might be useful if I paraphrased this part of the creed: We profess that Jesus’body came to life in the tomb. He descended into hell to proclaim his victory over his enemies. He appeared to his followers on earth.

No matter how a man-made confession of faith like the Apostles’Creed may be worded, it does state important facts and details that comprise our faith. When it comes to the momentous events of Holy Week and Easter Sunday, we happily join the confession of Paul, Silas, and Timothy: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online or to fic@wels.net.

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 4
Issue: April 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: “My God, my God”

Light for our path

What did Jesus mean when he cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

James F. Pope

This was not a cry of asking for understanding: “Why are you doing this to me?” This was the exclamation of a Savior who knew he had come into the world as a human being for exactly this moment.

Your question provides an opportunity to probe briefly into one of Jesus’ seven “words” from the cross.

PROPHECY DEPICTED

The details of Jesus’ suffering and death that the gospel writers record were not random events or chance happenings. Through his messengers of old, God had prophesied much about what would take place on that Friday we call “Good.” From a friend betraying the Lord to the soldiers piercing his side and not breaking one of his bones, God had foretold what would happen to his Son. Even this word of Jesus on the cross had been foreshadowed in Psalm 22.

This psalm is full of details that pointed ahead to the promised Messiah. Because Jesus came into the world to fulfill all the prophecies of the Messiah, Jesus asked the psalm’s opening question. But notice how he asked it: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Those syllables sound strange to our ears, but they illustrate the everyday Aramaic language Jesus spoke. The Lord did not simply recite Psalm 22:1 as it was originally written in Hebrew. He made the prophetic words his own, verbalizing the truth that he is our Savior.

SUFFERING DESCRIBED

More than declaring his identity as the Messiah, this word of Jesus on the cross gives us a glimpse into the real horror of Jesus’ sufferings. To be sure, the physical sufferings Jesus endured were gruesome. But while that physical pain can make us recoil, this word of Jesus speaks of a suffering we struggle to understand. On the cross Jesus was suffering what amounts to hell. Hell is being forsaken and abandoned by God and punished for sin. That was Jesus’ experience on the cross. No human eyes could see the real extent of that suffering. Ears could only hear Jesus stating that it was taking place.

Minds could only imagine what was going on. Hearts, of the faithful, were filled with awe and praise at love like this.

At one point in his inspired letter to the Christians in Rome the apostle Paul disclosed a remarkable desire: “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from God for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (Romans 9:3,4). What remarkable love, right? If it were possible, Paul was willing to trade eternal places with unbelieving Jews. That is how much he loved other people.

Of course, Paul could not do what he wanted. The Bible says: “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him” (Psalm 49:7). But what Paul could not do, Jesus Christ did. His triumphant descent into hell would take place on Easter Sunday, but on Good Friday Jesus suffered the agony of hell. He allowed himself to be abandoned and forsaken by God his Father for the sins of the world. He did that so we would never have to know what that abandonment is like. He did that so we could be part of God’s family now and forever.

What a loving Lord to be forsaken that we could be forgiven! How do we respond to that? The hymn writer gives us direction: “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all” (Christian Worship 125:4).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 3
Issue: March 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us