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Vol. 81 - No. 1
Jan 2010

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

More "Ask the Pastor"

It’s been a while since I fielded any "Ask the Pastor" questions, so I thought I would start the New Year by addressing a few. First question: How different would life be if Christ had not been crucified? Since the cross is at the very center of my own personal life of faith, let me tell you how my life would be different if Christ had not been crucified. First of all, I think I would be a much more selfish person–because I find that the one thing that motivates me to unselfishness is thinking about Christ offering Himself on the cross. I also think I would have a very difficult time enduring pain–because whenever I have to go through a painful or difficult experience, I always think about Jesus on the holy cross, and it gets me through. The question of suffering in the world would, I think, oppress me greatly–because the only way I can deal with the question of suffering is by going to the cross. "It’s a painful world," I often tell myself, "but God Himself has been touched by the pain. God Himself has been touched by human suffering." Without the assurance that God has experienced our human pain, I don’t know if my faith could endure in this anguished world. Above all, I would have no assurance that my sins are forgiven. And I also would lose the greatest expression of God’s love for me: "The love of God is shown to us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)... "the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20). If you removed the cross, there wouldn’t be much left to Christianity. Paul declared, "I resolved to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." (I Corinthians 2:2) The cross is at the very heart of our faith. So praise God that Jesus loves us so much that He was willing to endure the cross for us!

Another question: In naming the persons of the Trinity, why does the Father always come first? This gets a little technical, but the Father is the source of the other two persons of the Trinity. The Son is begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. So the Son and the Spirit depend upon the Father for their existence. The Father depends upon no one–He is unbegotten, He has no source apart from Himself. This is why the Father is always listed first. (This doesn’t mean, however, that the Father existed before the Son and the Spirit. There is no before with God–He exists in eternity, apart from time. So there is never even a split second where there is only Father and no Son. How can one thing be the source of another without existing before it? St. Augustine suggests that, to understand this, we light a match. The light comes from the fire–but there is never a moment where there is only fire and no light. Similarly, the Son comes from the Father–but there is never a moment where there is only Father and no Son).

A third question: In the Apostles Creed, it says that Jesus descended into hell. Why did he have to go to hell when he wasn’t bad and why don’t we go to hell for three days too? This is a very interesting topic, and it has been approached many ways in the history of the church. Some Christians have suggested that Christ’s descent into hell is simply a metaphor for his death. Others suggest He went into hell to suffer the full punishment for our sin. (Actually, though, when He cried out on the cross "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?", He already experienced the bitterness of hell–being abandoned by God. And when He cries out, "It is finished", that implies that He had paid the full price of our sin. So no further suffering beyond the cross is necessary). One ancient view is that the people of the Old Testament weren’t able to enter heaven until Jesus died on the cross–so He descended into hell to liberate them and send them to heaven.

The Lutheran view is that Christ’s descent into hell is an act of triumph–He displays His victory over the Devil by entering the Devil’s very headquarters to proclaim victory. "He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public display of them, triumphing over them in the cross." (Colossians 2:15). The descent into hell doesn’t involve suffering at all–it is an expression of Christ’s victory. Sin, death and the Devil are defeated, and Christ went into their very lair to trumpet forth His victory.

Final question: During Pentecost, there is a sequential series of readings from Hebrews. Are these readings and this time of year bound to one another? If so, why? Sequential readings from the epistles are used during the Pentecost season (and the Epiphany season) to give us a broader exposure to the Scriptures. Since these seasons don’t have the kind of focused themes that Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter have, they are good opportunities for us to hear large sections from the epistles read in order. I note that in the upcoming Epiphany season this year, there is a sequential reading from I Corinthians chapters 12 through 15. During this year’s Pentecost season we will have series of reading from Galatians and I Timothy. Again, the concern is not so much to express a specific seasonal theme as to give us a chance to hear sections of Scripture read in order over several weeks.

So there’s a few "Ask the Pastor" responses for this month. Let me also take this occasion to wish you a very blessed New Year. Whatever 2010 brings, I know that the Lord will be with us every day, every hour, every minute!

God loves you and so do I!

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