Friday, May 22, 2015

Devotions: The Irony of "Jesus" Barabbas

Barabbas. He was the man Pilate offered to the crowds in the hope of setting Jesus free since it was the custom to set one political prisoner free during the Passover. But it didn't work. The crowds had already been stirred up to call for Jesus' crucifixion.

Ever since I was a little boy I sensed the irony of this. Samuel Crossman, in his beautiful hymn "My Song is Love Unknown," captured it with these words:

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful He
To suff’ring goes
That He His foes
From thence might free.

There is, however, more to the irony. The New International Version tells us that Barabbas' name was actually "Jesus Barabbas." A lot of translations leave out "Jesus" from Barabbas' name because there is a little debate about it in the ancient manuscripts. 

More than twenty ancient manuscripts of Matthew have the words "Jesus Barabbas." But Origen, one of the greatest Bible scholars who ever lived, argued that this must have been a mistake. In his commentary he said, "“in the whole range of the scriptures we know that no one who is a sinner [is called] Jesus.”*  But great Bible scholars aren't always right. Origen didn't want the name of "Jesus" sullied by allowing it to stand for a criminal. But I think that is exactly what God wanted. 

If it is true that they both have the same first name, we can see all the more clearly how Jesus came to take our place on the cross.  St. Peter said, 

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3.18).  

Paul said, 

"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5.21). 

Jesus did allow His name to be sullied. He allowed His entire being to be showered with our sin when He went convicted and condemned to the cross. When you feel guilty, worthless and weighed down by sin, remember who became a substitute for you.

Prayer: God of Grace, I give You my thanks and praise when I remember how Jesus stood in my place to be condemned. Help me to remember that, though undeserving, I have been set free from the condemnation of my sin. I am forgiven. I am free. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

*Metzger, Bruce M. "A Textual Commentary On The Greek New Testament"

Sunday, May 3, 2015

What Does the Gay Community Really Want and What Does It Mean?

I wish I didn't have to address the sin of homosexual behavior again. It is no different from any other sin. Indeed, we must be concerned about all sins. But we must be most concerned about the sins that people insist are not sins. 

During the recent Supreme Court hearings on gay marriage Justice Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verilli if religious institutions can maintain their tax exempt status if they are opposed to same-sex marriage.  Verilli responded:

“You know, I — I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I — I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is — it is going to be an issue.”

In an earlier post I asked if it will still be possible in our culture to believe and to say publicly that homosexual behavior is sinful? 

Right now the main item on the gay community's agenda is the legal right to marriage, but coupled with that is the insistence that this lifestyle not only have legal status but that it also have full acceptance by all. This is why some would consider it illegal for institutions, especially educational institutions, to oppose gay marriage.

Why are bakers and photographers being forced to participate in gay weddings? Why do gay activists purposely single out Christians for these services? It's not just about their right to be gay, it's about their offense that someone does not approve of their lifestyle. This they can't stand. 

What does this mean? Different people consider different things to be sins. Muslims think that I am sinning and blaspheming against God by believing that God is three persons in one God. But that does not mean that I think they should be forced to believe or speak  otherwise. Even more, it really doesn't hurt my feelings that they believe this way. It doesn't hurt me personally because I am at total peace with my faith in the Triune God.

I cannot see into the hearts of gay people, but I suspect that one of the reasons for their instance that their lifestyle be accepted might be because they are not at peace with it themselves. 

This is a very sad thing. There are not enough laws, affirmations, or celebrations that can be implemented to take away this internal dissonance. Even if every voice of opposition to the gay lifestyle were silenced by force, there would be one last voice - the voice of conscience and nature that would still be saying, "This is not right." 

This is the same voice that I hear in my head when I sin. This is the voice I hear when I have evil thoughts or words or when I fail to live up to God's high expectations of righteousness. The difference is that I don't try to suppress this voice for long. I agree with Solomon: "He who covers his sin will not prosper; but he who confesses and forsakes them will have mercy" (Proverbs 28.13). 

This is why, although we are concerned about all sins, we must be most concerned about the sins people say are not sins. 
God have mercy. Give us true repentance. Give us forgiveness in Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Funeral Sermon for My Dad

Funeral Sermon for Paul G. Walther
1 Corinthians 15.3-8

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.  (NIV Adapted)

     Dear Mom, Susan, Kathy, Mike, Tim, Carol, children, relatives, friends and members of Zion Lutheran Church,

     My message this morning is based on the same text that I was studying and preaching from for last Sunday, Easter. I only had to adapt my sermon just a little on Sunday after mom called me about Dad’s dying. I want to share it again with all of you with just a few more changes.

     As most of you know the first Paul was a zealous Pharisee. He wasn’t in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but he must have come soon after - within a year. About that time Stephen was stoned to death and Paul was there guarding the cloaks of his murders. Paul enthusiastically joined the persecution of the church and was on his way to Damacus to find, arrest, and punish the Christians who had fled there. Some of them may have been killed also. But on the road to Damascus Paul, or as he was known then, Saul, was met by the risen Christ. He was the last person to see the risen Lord, and he was the most unlikely - for he had never loved Him but had in facted hated Him with all the hatred a human being could have. Paul was a proud, self-confident Pharisee who viewed God as a rewarder and punisher. His entire faith at that point was based on his own achievements. But as always happens in the Bible, when sinful men, no matter how holy they think they are meet a holy angel or the holy Son of God, it is a complete shock. Suddenly they realize their sinfulness.  Paul described his shock by saying that Jesus appeared to him as one “abnormally born.” The Greek word that Paul uses here is the word for “abortion” or “stillbirth.” But Paul’s shock wasn’t just that he saw Christ risen from the dead. The greater shock was that this Christ came to him in forgiveness and mercy, which Paul knew was totally underserved. He was told go on to Damascus where a disciple named Ananius would say, “rise, be baptized, and wash away your sins.”  Paul’s shock was that God is not just a rewarder and a punisher, but a forgiver. This is why Paul would refer to himself not as a man, not even as a child, but as one who had been abnormally born or aborted and had not even taken a breath. This is why Paul would refer to himself as the “least of the Apostles” and as “the chief of sinners.” Paul’s life was completely and forever changed. Paul would go on to become the greatest of all the apostles.

     Easter, and in fact the entire Christian life, is about forgiveness. The first sentence of Jesus’ first sermon was, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The last command He gave to the disciples was to “Preach repentance and the remission of sins.” From the cross He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” In the heart of His own prayer is the profound petition: “Forgive us our tresspasses.”  It is always about forgiveness. Thus Paul also says in our text, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins.”  

    This is the same forgiveness giving Jesus into whom my father was baptized and with whom and by whom he continued to live all of his life. By God’s grace he met my mother and together they established a home in which Jesus was always the center of attention. He lived out his vocations as teacher, professor, administrator and friend in a Christ-like way. He and mom stood outside our nearest abortion clinic praying for minds to change and for babies to be saved. They went to St. Louis to help the homeless. Once when we were driving home from Ft. Wayne to see my Grandmother, Dad and Mom were have a serious discussion about the Seminex problem.* I was a precocious boy in junior high at the time. Dad was frustrated that some pastors were saying Jonah wasn’t actually swallowed by a great fish and vomitted back up on the beach. They were saying it was just a story. That’s when I piped in from the back seat. I decided to take up a little for those wiseacres with a little of my own logic. I said, “So what if Jonah wasn’t swallowed a great fish. It’s still a good story, and it still could teach us good spiritual lessons.” Looking straight ahead, and with the most matter of fact tone you could imagine he said, “Mike, Jesus said that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish.” Dad taught me not to question the Bible and it’s center in Jesus.

     Saturday he watched two basketball games, sports being one of the great loves of his life. He and mom had their last devotions together. The text of that devotions was from John 14. “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” Shortly after that he left his home here on earth and joined the first Paul and many other disciples since to celebrate the greatest Easter we all look forward to celebrating someday - Easter with the risen Christ Himself.

     What about all of us? Dad would not be happy if I did not bring this sermon directly to you. My family and my sisters and their families know about this. At family gatherings we often talk about our faith. What are you thankful for? How is your faith? Always remember Jesus and hold on to Him. Can we be transformed like Paul of Tarsus and like Paul G. Walther? Can we depart this life in peace and see the risen Christ ourselves?

     The answer is certainly “yes.” But like the first Paul God has to break us down. He has to tear from our souls those terrible misbeliefs that Satan wants us to hold: That maybe there is no such thing as sin; That we can pick and choose which things are to be called sins so that we can continue in some of them; That we can compensate for our sins by trying to be a good person.  None of those approaches do anything about sin. Quite often I see people looking to God for blessings. They want a good life. But they don’t always want forgiveness. Why would God give you more life if the life He has given you is being destroyed by sin already, and you don’t really care?  The sin has to be removed, and it can only be removed by the forgiveness of sins through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s all about forgiveness.  And that is, amazingly, what Jesus wants to bring us more than anything.  Once we have that, we have everything.  Paul said, “How shall He who did not spare His own Son but gave Himself up for us also, along with Him, graciously give us all things” (Romans 8.32).  Realizing his own complete weakness as a sinful human being Paul found complete strength in Christ. “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2.20). God has given that strength for life and for death in the forgiveness of our sins in Christ. Oh Holy Spirit, sustain us in that faith that holds dearly to the Easter truths that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day; And, that as He lives, so shall we live also. (John 14.19)


Obituary - Paul G. Walther (1931 - 2015)

Paul G. Walther, 84, of Belleville, Ill., born March 25, 1931, in Brownstown, Ind., passed away Sunday, April 5, 2015.

Mr. Walther received a Bachelor of Science degree from Concordia University, Seward, Neb., a Master's of Science degree from the University of Michigan, and his Ph.D. from Indiana University. He spent many years as a teacher, a principal, a superintendant, and a professor.

He taught at Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Ill., and was an assistant-superintendent and superintendent in the Vandalia, Ill. public school system. He was also the Director of the Area Agency on Aging in Belleville, Ill.

Paul was an active member of Zion Lutheran Church in Belleville, Ill., where he was a member of various boards and committees. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, and brother.

He was preceded in death by his parents; F.J. and Amanda, nee Woempner, Walther; and a brother, Richard Walther.

Surviving are his loving wife of 59 years, Ruth, nee Michael, Walther, whom he married on June 25, 1955; a son, Reverend Michael (Carol) Walther of Maryville, Ill.; two daughters, Susan (Mike) Garrison of Litchfield, Ill., and Kathy (Tim) Weber of St. Charles, Mo.; eight grandchildren, Aaron, David, Paul (Laurie), Stephen, and Lydia Walther, Blake Garrison, Adam and Sydney Weber; two great-grandchildren, Jackson and Casen Walther; a sister, Hildegarde (Marvin) Brammeire; three brothers, Wayne (Marlyn) Walther, John (Caroline) Walther, and Daniel (Kathy) Walther, and two sisters-in-law, Doris Walther, and Marilyn Michael.

Memorials may be made to Zion Lutheran Church, to the Lutheran Laymen League, or to the Lutherans for Life. Condolences may be expressed online at:

Visitation: Friends may visit from 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 8, 2015, at Zion Lutheran Church, 1810 McClintock Ave., Belleville, Ill.

Funeral: A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 8, 2015, at Zion Lutheran Church, Belleville, Ill., with Pastors Brian Downs, Michael Walther, and Dr. Darwin Schrader officiating.

At Paul's request, his body was donated to Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Mo.


*Seminex is short for “Seminary in Exile.” During the 1960s and 70s some pastors and professors in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod were adopting the presuppositions and methods of Bible interpretation known as Higher Criticism. This approach denied many, if not all, the miraculous reports of the Bible. Yet they tried to retain the spiritual truths. For more on this see two short videos I made:  Part One  Part Two

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Setting Our Minds on the Things of God

This is an excerpt from my sermon this morning titled "Setting Your Mind on the Things of God Not the Things of Men."

When Jesus rebuked Peter in Mark eight, He showed us that the evil of our own hearts, of our families, of our church, and of the world can only be conquered by looking to the things of God rather than than the things of men. 

The things of men are what we can get by our selves - by our logic, our strength, our efforts, etc. These are not bad things. But they are insufficient to conquer evil and Satan. That can only be done by the things of God. These are His righteousness, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness. As Jesus descended to death on the cross to defeat evil so also we descend in repentance to destroy evil. As He rose from the dead, so also we arise to a new life.

The following is the last part of the sermon in which I applied this principle to one of the most serious political problems of our day…

One more important application of thinking the things of God has to do with our current political situation. We recently finished one of the most popular Bible class series that we have ever had at Good Shepherd by comparing the Christian faith to the faith of Islam. No two faiths could be further apart when it comes to Jesus’ saying that we should take up our crosses and follow Him. Muhammad clearly said to take up the sword. In fact the Quran calls for violence 45 times, a fact that no Muslim can deny.  Some Muslims say these only applied to specific situations, but many radical Muslims do not agree. They say it means what it says.  I’m glad there are peace-loving Muslims who try to soften the sayings of their prophet and inspire their people to peace instead of fighting for their faith. But that is having no affect on the radicals. In fact the radical Muslims think that the peace-loving Muslims are as much infidels as Christians and Jews.
How are we, as cross-bearing Christians, to think of the radical Muslims who are committing terrible atrocities every day?  The answer is not as simple as, “Send in the Special Forces and Marines and wipe them out.” That is the thinking of men, and it’s not working so well. What would be the thinking of God?  Martin Luther faced the exact same situation in his day. The Muslims were fighting at the gates of Vienna. Germany was on the brink of disaster. Luther reminded his people that the Muslims or Turks, as they were also called at that time, would have no power unless God had allowed it. Therefore he said:
But since people (ignored the Gospel) in the course of time and many heresies arose, the blasphemous Mohammed came with his Koran... After our time punishment will come upon Germany and other countries, too, because of the terrible ingratitude and contempt for the dear, saving Word which was preached to them purely and abundantly.1
The Turk, you see, is our “schoolmaster.” He has to discipline and teach us to fear God and to pray. Otherwise we will do what we have been doing—rot in sin and complacency. If we really want help and guidance, let us repent and change (our) evil ways…”2
Cross-bearing Christians who set their minds on the things of God turn to God in evil times.  The first evil they consider is that of their own hearts. In repentance and forgiveness that evil is destroyed. Then they humbly pray to God, “Deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever” (Matthew 6.13). They know that God will deliver whatever needs to be delivered for the sake of His kingdom. They pray for their own nation that it would turn from its sinful ways, because only then can the discipline of God be removed from the land. Finally they pray for strong and courageous soldiers who put their trust not in themselves but in God and say with the Sons of Korah:
For I will not trust in my bow, Nor shall my sword save me. But You have saved us from our enemies, And have put to shame those who hated us. In God we boast all day long, And praise Your name forever. (Psalm 44.6-8).

O Lord, You carried the cross for us to defeat Satan and to forgive us and save us. Help us now to take up our crosses in repentance and faith. Help us defeat temptations. Help us to endure hardships, slander, abuse, even suffering, persecution and death if necessary for Your sake. You will always be our help and our shield. Amen.

1Plass, Ewald M., What Luther Says,” p. 533.

2Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 43: Luther's works, vol. 43: Devotional Writings II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (224). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.