Four Branches April 2017

Jump to:


Exegetical Theology: Easter – Jesus Testifies by Sending His Disciples

As you read the Holy Week accounts in the gospels, do you get the sense that Jesus is “on the move” more and more? In Matthew 21–27, for example, I count at least 30 phrases that contain a verb of motion. Usually, Jesus is going somewhere or being led somewhere: “Jesus entered the temple courts.” “Then they led him away to crucify him.” Jesus also speaks about where he or others are headed in the end times: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory.” “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance.” Jesus is on the move. He is going places with a purpose.

After Jesus’ resurrection, there isn’t exactly a let-up in travel. On that day alone, Jesus goes and preaches to the spirits in prison, visits earthbound disciples at various times and places, and speaks to Mary about his new destination: “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” But as the ascension approaches, we notice a new theme. Jesus directs his disciples about where they are to go. His purpose? That they also might testify (John 15:27). Consider just a few examples:

  • A restorative retreat: “Go and tell my disciples to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (Mt 28:10).
  • Equipped for the task: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Ac 1:4-5).
  • Call and commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20).
  • Where to witness: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Ac 1:8).

The phone call comes on a Sunday afternoon. You see that it’s from a different area code. Even as you swipe up to answer, you’re looking for a chair and a pen and piece of paper. You answer and hear, mediately, Jesus’ invitation. Now the question is before you: should I stay or should I go? Among the many considerations that will be on your mind, let one be this: Jesus still testifies by sending his disciples. His initial call, “Go and make disciples,” has not ended; it’s still in effect. You now have the opportunity to consider whether you might testify to the truth where you are, or someplace between there and the ends of the earth. But do not fear. You have the privilege of doing so with the confidence that Jesus is with you always, to the very end of the age.


Rev. Nathan Ericson serves Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Oshkosh, WI, as the Special Ministries coordinator for the WELS Northern Wisconsin District.


Systematic Theology: What about being made in God’s image?

One doesn’t have to listen to evangelical Christianity too long today to hear a reference to human beings being made in the image of God.  This image of God, they proclaim, is a present reality.  Confessional Lutherans, on the other hand, understand that the image of God is something that all of humanity once possessed but lost in the fall into sin.  So what exactly is the image of God?

Confessional Lutherans often say that the image of God is to be holy like God is holy.  This is true, however, a deeper look at what that simple statement means gives us a deeper and richer understanding as to what the image of God is.  In Genesis 1:26 two words are used to describe Adam being created in God’s image – צֶלֶם and דְּמוּת – “image” and “likeness.” Genesis 2, then, describes a human creation living in that image.  Adam has a sinless will that is perfectly aligned with that of his holy Creator in wisdom, in desire, in relationship, in stewardship of God’s creation, in intention, in knowledge.  He is God’s representative on earth and God’s way of thinking is his.

After the fall into sin we see Adam having children in his own image (Gen. 5:3).  The surrounding text describes what characterizes that image – deceit, selfishness, hatred, sorrow, pain, murder.  It is characterized by rebellion against God and its consequence, death.  This is exactly the opposite of God’s image.

The New Testament writers describe Adam’s image as the sinful nature which is completely at odds with God’s holiness and will (Rom. 7:14-25, Gal. 5:19-21).  Only through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the sanctifying work of the Spirit is that image of God given back to human beings.  By grace Christians are credited with Christ’s own perfect image even though we still battle our sinful natures daily.

As we contemplate the Easter victory of our Savior, we stand in awe and wonder at the great lengths God himself in his supreme grace would go to renew his image in us.  We eagerly anticipate the time when it will be fully, completely and finally restored for us in the Church Triumphant.

For more reading on this topic, please see Professor John P. Meyer’s The Image of God, Genesis 1 and WLS’ Dogmatics Notes, Volume 1, “Anthropology 3: Image of God,” pp. 387-402.


Rev. Robert Wendland serves as a missionary in Malawi, Africa.

Historical Theology: Letters from Luther – A Post for a Preacher of Grace

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace.”  That was Luther’s advice to Philip Melanchthon in this letter.  It is really a statement that all those who would follow in Luther’s footsteps as preachers of God’s grace to God’s people would aspire to reach.

This letter was written in response to theses produced by Karlstadt and disputed on two occasions.  Those disputations focused on the topics of celibacy for priests and monks and then on matters concerning the Lord’s Supper.  The first couple pages of the letter give insight into Luther’s own developing thoughts on these matters.  Therefore, at least, they would be worth a quick read and review.

The real reason to give these few pages a read comes almost as a postscript at the end.  It begins with the words cited above, and it contains his often talked about advice to “sin boldly”.  It should be obvious to those who have read only a little in his writings that Luther did not offer such advice because he was an antinomian or because he wanted God’s people to sink to new depths of wickedness and impiety.  So why would he say such a thing?

Luther went on to write, “If the grace is true, you must bear a true, not a fictitious sin.  God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners.”  Luther knew all too well how an overly sensitive conscience could see sin everywhere and in everything.  His advice is to make sure you are dealing with real sin and not just a devilish invention of your imagination.

One might also add that a preacher of grace will be confronted with monstrous sins at times.  Will you, preacher of grace, proclaim that love of God, which no one deserves, in all its fullness even then?  “Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small?”  Do not offer grace in dribbles and trickles.  Do not preach Gospel with limits or conditions.  “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly!”

Consider giving this letter from Luther a quick read.  You will find it in Luther’s Works Vol. 48, pp. 277-282.

If one wants a more complete explanation of this topic, it would be helpful to read W.H.T. Dau, Luther Examined and Re-examined.  He discusses this letter on pp. 125-127, but the whole section on Luther: A Teacher of Lawlessness is worth reading, pp. 111-129.


Rev. Jason Oakland serves Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Neenah, WI.


Practical Theology: Three Keys to Recruiting Volunteers – Clear Vision

Recruiting volunteers is connected to three things: permission, a clear vision and systems to carry out that vision.

In last month’s issue, we touched on the importance of getting permission from your volunteers to ask for their help.  Instead of a standard sign-up sheet, I suggested a simple “Step Up” sheet that runs in the bulletin for about three weeks that identifies current needs and has brief job descriptions. We just ran it again last month for three weeks and filled a number of critical volunteer positions.

The second thing you need to recruit volunteers is a clear vision.  Don’t worry, I am with you, I am about sick of hearing about vision, mission, and strategies.   However, let me break it down in a simple way to show how important vision is.

The need for vision

In February, I went on cruise/vacation for my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary. The possibilities are just about endless for what you can do in Florida and for how much you can spend.  While I was pretty sure this was going to be the vacation of a lifetime, I really had little interest in paying for it for a lifetime! My vision was simple: enjoy as much as we could as cheaply as we could. So, before we left, I brainstormed with my wife and kids about what they wanted to do and what they wanted to experience (yes, this is dorky).  In short, we had to brainstorm and figure out how their vision (Universal Studios, Disneyworld, & Cruise) fit in with my vision (cheap).  To make both visions possible, we had to make choices:

  • We took the vacation in February instead over the more expensive spring break.
  • I got a Southwest credit card and was able to buy our plane tickets with bonus miles
  • We had to leave on a Wednesday (cheapest) and come back on a Tuesday (cheapest).
  • I have a better understanding of Sheol after a 3-hour timeshare presentation so we could stay three nights free before we left for the cruise.
  • We didn’t buy a drink package.
  • We didn’t buy excursions.
  • We bought groceries and packed lunches for the theme parks.

Ok, my wife balked at taking public transportation around Orlando (the rental car was a good call).  What’s the point? The more we clarified the vision, the easier it was for EVERYONE to get on board with the vision and to help make that a reality.   Your volunteers can’t read your mind, just like my kids can’t read mine. So, once you have their permission to ask for help, you can keep them engaged by clearly defining the end goal, why you are doing it, and how their volunteering helps connect people to Jesus.


Rev. Jared Oldenburg serves Eternal Rock Lutheran Church in Castle Rock, Colorado, and is the author of the e-book “Who Is Jesus?”