Sundays:  Pastor's Class 9:00 AM (Ephesians)
               Divine Liturgy 10:30 AM

Wednesdays: Pastor's Class 10:00 AM (Psalm 119 deep dive)
                    Divine Liturgy 7:00 PM




March 9, 2024 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills

LORDS SUPPER BEAUTIFULLENT 4/B (03/10/2024): Numbers 21:4-9; Ps. 107:1-9 (ant. 19); Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14:21


[B]y grace, you have been saved through faith; and this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God … (Eph. 2: 8).

This is the Christian faith, the gospel in simplicity. Now, for a chicken or egg question, or in theological lingo, which possesses priority: God’s word or his gospel? Scholars posit this question under the moniker, “gospel reductionism”. The distinction between word and gospel was at one time held by many in the LCMS infamously resulting in the walk-out of professors and students from the St. Louis Seminary.

To be sure gospel reduction understands the good news to be authentic; but all the rest, all of Scripture is open to human question, critique, and judgment. Today’s Gospel and OT lessons are instructive. Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover when out of the night Nicodemus, a teacher of Jewish orthodoxy approaches.

OT Israel understood themselves as children of God by relation from Abraham’s seed through God’s covenant of circumcision. Jesus and JB now advanced another adoption inclusive of not only Jews in the flesh, but a new Israel of all men and women accepting God’s Son in faith. Was God shifting the goal posts; not at all, as we shall see from our OT lesson God’s graciousness had been prophesied.

The HS descend at Jesus’ Baptism, JB announced him God’s sacrificial Lamb for the sin of the world, and the Father from heaven declared Jesus his “Son”. Jesus, incarnate Word, Son of God, Lamb for the sin of the world, new temple dwelling of God, and Light of the world, who speaks with the voice of the Spirit was now ushered on mission for teaching a new orthodoxy.

Considering the mission, sonship with toward God would no longer be oriented in Abraham’s physical lineage. Henceforth, God’s sons and daughters would be those spiritually begotten in Baptism, “from water and the Spirit” (Jn. 2:5).

Nicodemus had already reduced Jesus to a man he could understand and approve. Jesus tells this “the teacher of Israel”, he must discern, the dawning of a new salvation by the Spirit, by faith alone, apart from the physicality of Abraham. Jesus explains, “[J]ust as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, in this way it is necessary that the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes might in him have eternal life,” (Jn. 3:14, 15). Alas, Nicodemus’ stranglehold over Scripture would not allow for Jesus as his “Teacher”.

“Gospel reductionism”, mostly among the higher critics of the “denominations”, in one way or another denies the efficacy of Holy Baptism. The problem is a false choice when men exert dominion over God’s word, yet “claim” to leave the gospel unmolested. But “Scripture cannot be set aside” (10:35). The gospel and God’s word are of a piece, never separated.

Jesus desires his people to know and see him for who he is. You have come to his Light; you hear and see our proclamation; on every side not only in word and sacrament but by the Church’s crucifix we declare our Lord’s exulted identity, the Crucified One sent by our Father for the life of the world.

Pastors teach and proclaim God’s word. Note, preaching and teaching, intimately related are not identical activities. You don’t expect me to conduct a Bible Study from the pulpit. No, that goes on at 9:30 a.m. in the community room; here you expect and deserve law and gospel proclamation emanating from the Church’s assigned Lections.

We attend St. John, “And so he [God] gave the Son—the only one—so that whoever believes in him might not perish but rather have eternal life … But whoever does not believe is condemned already, since he steadfastly refuses to believe in the Name of the only Son of God. This is the judgment—that the Light has come into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the Light …”

Christians sometimes respond to preaching with a cavaliere insouciance, as though they have heard it all before, that it is de rigueur. This is problematic, as St. James points out, a belief apart from a habitus toward the will of God is devilish. As John announced, Judgment does not wait on a future Last Day; for unbelievers and those indifferent to the gift of faith, crisis is now, they are “condemned already”. St. Paul affirms, saying we “were dead”, “sons of disobedience”, and “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1-3). But the gift of God is Baptism (v. 5).

Jesus tells Nicodemus of God’s new orthodoxy, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is begotten from water and [the] Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). Jesus employs the OT desert caduceus (Num. 21:4-9) to teach Baptism’s new begetting; Baptism and faith both are of Christ and the Spirit, hand in glove.

Refusing a gift in most instances is irrational, so also is sin which prefers darkness to the Light. Look to the wilderness rebels who epitomize disaster when men abstract God’s word from his promise. The rebels prayed God’s grace on being afflicted by venous snakes. In a prophesy of Christ crucified, Moses fashioned a bronze serpent affixed it to a pole raising it in the congregation. Anyone who looked on the serpent in faith would live; if any refused, perhaps considering such word to be foolishness by their own lights, they died.

Men may believe what they will about Baptism, but God’s word stands, “unless one is begotten from above by water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”; thus, do those being saved discern word and gospel as one and unbreakable, that “by grace, you have been saved through faith.” Amen.