The Sabbath Rest

The Sabbath rest is ancient. God himself rested on the seventh day, just after he created the world in six days. When God gave his law to his people the command to rest on the seventh day made the top ten. God knew that working without rest would damage his creatures. So he built it in — rest every night and the seventh day. It provided time for his people to worship and to meditate on his word.

Yet for Christians the day they worship — and rest — is a matter of freedom. It belongs to the civil law, the law for the nation of Israel.  It is not a part of the moral law, the law for all people. We know this because Jesus called himself “the Lord of the Sabbath” and St. Paul describes that freedom in Romans and Colossians. Still the church chose from the beginning to rest every Sunday, the first day of the week, to remember the Resurrection of Jesus.

While Christians should worship God every and any day, resting on Sunday brings with it the opportunity to hear God’s word preached, to receive his gifts of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, to meet with each other and pray for each other and to study the Word of God. It not so much that we have to go to church than that we get to go to church. At many times and in many places that freedom does not exist.

So we honor Sundays and Holy Days. We use the opportunity to receive the forgiveness of sins and bread for our daily lives. We rejoice to honor our Lord Jesus, who died for us, rested in the tomb three days and rose again, so that we might rest with him forever.

The Law of God is Good and Wise | Fence, Mirror and Guide Book | The Two Greatest Commandments | The Ten Commandments | Fear, Love and Trust God | Pray, Praise and Give Thanks

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

Pray, Praise and Give Thanks

A name has a lot more packed into it than we often realize. It carries a person’s reputation, authority and power with it. In ancient magical lore, if you know a person’s true name, you can have power over them. God’s name is the most important of all, not because it is magical, but because God has promised to hear us when we call to him.

This command is all about using God’s name in prayer, to act as his tools in this world to bring the Gospel to the lost and do his will as we serve him and our neighbors. We baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We teach all that he commands us to teach. When we make promises to tell the truth and make promises to each other in his presence, we commit ourselves to keep them.

The problem is our sinful nature wants to use God’s name to cover lies and to make people believe we intend to do what we have no intention to do. We want God to give us things that we desire, treating God as if he were some kind of cosmic vending machine – insert prayer, believe you will get it and it will come to you. We are inclined to say “O my God” when we are surprised or shocked rather than as a prayer for help. These uses are misuses of God’s name and what the command tells us not to do.

So, then, do we go the other way, as Judaism does, and not even use his name at all? No, God wants us to use his name. We call to him in trouble. We are comforted when in his name our pastors forgive our sins. We draw strength when we remember that he came to us in our Baptism and put his name on us that in his name we are saved. We call his name like we call a beloved father, mother and grandparent, knowing we are loved and they want to share our lives. We use his name to praise him and thank him for his love and mercy.

See also: What’s in a Name? | God’s Name | Jesus is Lord | Son of God | Son of Man

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

Fear, Love and Trust God

“You will have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

In a previous post, we considered what it means to have a god. What it really is all about, Martin Luther tells us, is who or what are you going to trust. As Christians, we know that well. After all, the Holy Spirit planted trust — faith — in our hearts. So, we love God. We also remember that God is holy and know that sin has its consequences. So, we respect and fear him too. What challenges us is the “above all things” part.

There are many precious things that claim a place in our hearts. We love our spouses. We love our children. Perhaps we love our country, our home, our hobbies or possessions. These are great blessings that do have a proper place in our lives. The trouble comes when they compete with God. We can easily come to invest a trust in them. We build our lives around them, invest time and money in them. It is easy to come to trust them as much if not more than God.

The problem is that, no matter how precious these things are, they cannot bear the weight of our trust. Spouses and children become ill and die. Our nation may turn on us and make us choose between it and God. Possessions break, fade away and are lost. The only thing that endures forever is God’s word. God made the world by his word, his Word became flesh and lived with us. His suffering, death and resurrection earned for us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Because he lives forever, we know that we will rise to live with him forever.

So we fear, love and trust God above all others. Then other blessings fall into their proper place as we thank God for them. This love and trust, then, in turn, leads to obey the rest of the commands as well.

See also: The Law of God is Good and Wise | Fence, Mirror and Guidebook | The Two Greatest Commandments | The Ten Commandments

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

The Ten Commandments

Etched in stone, framed as a print in calligraphy, the Ten Commandments appear in many places throughout the Western world. As the foundation of the English and French legal systems, they still define the basic moral framework of our society, even though they have been under attack for the last fifty years.

Like the two great commandments, the Ten Commandments sum up all of God’s law, spelling out in a bit of detail what it means to love God and neighbor. Yet they are not quite what we would expect from commandments. First, the original Hebrew calls them the Ten Words, not commands. In fact, Judaism counts “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt..” (Exodus 20:2) as the First Word. Second, God does not number them, so Judaism, Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox all number them differently. Third, most of the verbs have a simple future sense to them. In short, the Commandments explain how God wants his people to live.

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther divides the commandments into two tables. The first table is about the way God’s people should relate to God. The second table is about the way they should relate to their neighbors. He also looks not only at what each command forbids, but also what it implies we should do.

While for Christians all three uses of the law apply, the primary use that they focus on is the third use. As God’s children, we love God because he freed us from slavery to sin and want to do his will.

See Also: The Law of God is Good and Wise | Fence, Mirror and Guide Book

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

The Two Greatest Commandments

Because God loved us before he made the world (Ephesian 1:3-4), we love God and want to keep his commandments. But where do we start? The Rabbis count 613 commands in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible, written by Moses) alone! While they kept track of each one in great detail and invented traditions to be sure and keep them, they found it helpful to ask each Rabbi for his opinion. “Which commandment is the greatest of them all?” became a common question for disciples to ask their teacher. So it is not a surprise that people discussed with Jesus this question several times. (Matthew 22:36, Mark 12:28, Luke 10:25-28)

Jesus taught that two commandments summarize the whole of God’s Law — “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:45 ESV) and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) In a sense, the second of the two commandments is contained in the first. Every command in the whole of the Scripture will be kept if you love God with your whole heart.

As sinners, we cannot do this perfectly, of course. But because God loved us first, sending Jesus to die so that we might be forgiven. By his Holy Spirit God has created faith in our hearts, so that we can truly love him. So, then, because God loves us, we also love our neighbor as ourselves and in the same way that we have been loved by God. (1 John 4:7-12)

See Also:
Love | The Law of God is Good and Wise | Fence, Mirror and Guide Book

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

Tested in Every Way as We Are

After Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit sent him into the desert alone for forty days to fast and pray prior to beginning his ministry. The number forty was important to the Jewish people. Their ancestors wandered in the desert for forty years. Moses and Elijah fasted for forty days in the desert. God kept Noah and his family safe in the ark for forty days. For them, the number forty stood for a period of testing. The church took its cue from these periods of testing when it chose to make the season of Lent forty days long.

After the forty days were over, Satan appeared to test him. He said: Why not turn stones into bread? Why not prove to everyone you are the Christ by jumping off the temple so that angels will catch you? You can avoid the cross by worshipping me? After all, I can give you the world!

Jesus could have blown Satan away, but He chose to face temptation in every way that we are tempted, but he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15) He quoted the will of God from the Scriptures instead. In God’s Word is the power to overcome the Devil — and the world and our flesh, too.

Satan gave up for awhile. He knew he would have other opportunities. Ahead of Jesus was still his sufferings and death for our sins. Because He faced temptation as a human, we know He understands us and is ready to help. So, we go with him this Lent, walking with him to Jerusalem, to and through Good Friday and on to Easter.

See also: Baptism of Jesus

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

Fence, Mirror and Guide Book

“In the day you eat of it, you will surely die,” God warned Adam. (Genesis 2:17)  And he did die and all of us with him. (1 Corinthians 15:22) The first sin disrupted everything. It set creation against itself, bringing decay, suffering, grief and disorder. The greatest disaster, however, is separation of God from his children. Now they were under sentence of death. Yet God did not destroy the world, nor damn Adam and Eve as they deserved. In his love and mercy, God promised instead to send his Son to crush the ancient snake (Genesis 3:15). With his judgment on their sin and the curses that followed, he began to reveal his law to Adam and Eve so that they might  learn the consequences of their sin, cling to the promised Seed of Eve for salvation and learn to serve God and others once again.

To this day, the Law of God restrains our sin, drives us to the Gospel for salvation and show us how in faith we can serve God and our neighbors. The law does this in three ways.

First, it stops sin from running free in the world. Through human authorities — parents, governments, employers and others, the law praises and rewards good behavior and punishes evil deeds. It acts like a fence, to contain and restrain sin.

Second, the law tells us what God requires of us, threatens us with eternal death if we do not obey it in thought, word and deed. It reveals every one of our sins, evil motives and desires. It charges us with rebellion against God in his court. It shows us we are guilty and cannot free ourselves. It drives us to the Gospel and the sacrifice of God’s Son for our salvation. It acts like a mirror that shows us our sin.

Third, the law guides Christians, in whom the Holy Spirit has created faith in Christ.  Because we love God and want to please him, the law reveals his God’s will for our lives and how he wants us to love him and our neighbors. It acts like a guide book or a manual that clears away the confusion of life in a sinful world.

See Also:
The Law of God is Good and Wise | How do we know what God thinks about us? | So, does God hate me? | Christians and Good Works

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

The Law of God is Good and Wise

The natural world often calls to us with beautiful sunrises and sunsets, filled with colors that contrast with snow during the winter, complement in spring and summer the green of forests and fields and the green-blue of  lakes and oceans, and that complete the wide range of colors in northern mountains, clothed with fall foliage. Even in our world damaged by the fall, there is order, symmetry and rhythm. All of these things are ordered by our Creator with unseen and often unknown principles — laws — that provide for us a place to call home and allow us to plan our lives in it.

The law of God is knowledge of God’s will and the way he wants his children to live. When God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, God built into him was the law of God, written into his heart. Adam loved God, wanted to serve him and knew what pleased the Father. When God formed Eve, this knowledge of God’s law passed down to her as well. Only a few of God’s commandments were spoken to him: be fruitful and multiply, rule over the living things on the Earth and eat plants (Genesis 1:29-30),  work in and keep the Garden of Eden  and do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and of Evil. (Genesis 2:15-17)

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought sin into the world, the image of God within them was destroyed. Some knowledge of his law remains written in our hearts, but it is very distorted, so that, ironically, we no longer know good from evil. When God in his love and mercy promised that the Messiah would come one day to crush the head of Satan, (Genesis 3:15) he began to reveal his law, giving it in detail to Moses. It now serves three purposes, which we will take up in another post.

To:Child and Pupil of the Catechism

See also: How do we know what God thinks about us?

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

Child and Pupil of the Catechism

Martin Luther was troubled. On a formal visit to the churches in Saxony, he discovered that Christian education in the faith was almost non-existent. Even the pastors could not recall the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed. For this reason, he wrote his Large Catechism and Small Catechism. catechism is a book that explains the basic truths of the Scripture, typically by asking and answering questions. In the preface to his Large Catechism, Luther answered the common objections to memorizing and meditating on the catechism in this way:

“I am also a doctor and preacher … yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism, and ever morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, etc. And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain.” — Martin Luther, Large Catechism, Preface 7

If an athlete hopes to compete at the highest level and perform at the top of his game, he needs to work out daily. Most of his routines are basic skills performed over and over again. It is not that he has forgotten them or never learned them, but that they must be second nature to him and done in perfect form. Only then can he execute the most complicated of his moves well. The same thing is true for a musician. She will run through scales and warm up exercises to be sure that she will produce the notes perfectly when she attempts the most beautiful and complex pieces.

For Luther and for us, daily meditation on the catechism works the same way. As we review the basics of the faith, we are able to understand better what God wants us to believe and how he wants us to live. Building on these things helps us to face whatever challenges come are way each day and to enjoy the blessings he gives to us.

See Also:

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

Remember that You Are Dust…

Ash Wednesday works like kind of a speed bump in the lives of Christians. After celebrating the birth of Jesus, listening to the ways in which God revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, seeing him in his full glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, we’re tempted to bask in the glory of God’s grace and love. Yet still our stubborn, Old Adam or Old Eve clings to us and threatens to take over our lives. Lest we forget, Lent comes to help us discipline ourselves, repent of our sin and live life, trusting in God and his promises. Ash Wednesday greets us with the words God spoke to Adam — and to us — when imposing the curse that resulted from the first sin: “Remember that your are dust and to the dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19)

This phrase is a part of the ancient discipline of remembering mortality. (Memento mori — “Remember death”) It is the conscious meditation on the cold, hard truth that all the pleasures and blessings of life are temporary and that death comes to all of us, often suddenly. Ash Wednesday calls on us to stop what we are doing, consider the damage our sin does in our lives — both now and eternally. The collect for the day sets the tone: “Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

Repentance is more than saying you’re sorry. The Greek word the New Testament uses for repentance is μετάνοια means “to completely change your mind.” It includes recognizing your sins, being sorry for them and to stop doing them. All of this is only possible for Christians because it is the work of the Holy Spirit that makes us holy. Ash Wednesday wakes us up, reminds us how to use the disciplines of fasting, prayer and meditation, gives us the forgiveness of sins through confession, absolution and the Lord’s Supper. It sets the tone for our forty day meditation. It marks our sorrow with the ashes of the palms from the previous Palm Sunday and with the sign of the Holy Cross, reminds us of the redemption that is ours in the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus.

May God grant you a blessed meditation on the suffering and death of Jesus that you will be well prepared to celebrate with joy the coming Easter celebration.

See Also: The Season of Lent | Transfiguration

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com