Four Branches December – 2019

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Exegetical Theology: Three Passion Predictions from Zechariah – Thirty Pieces of Silver

The prophet Zechariah is quoted a number of times in the Passion Narratives in the Gospels. In the next three articles, we will study the Old Testament context of three Passion predictions from Zechariah. This month we look at Zechariah’s prophecy that Jesus would be sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13).

In Zechariah 11:4, God told Zechariah: “Shepherd the flock marked for slaughter.” Zechariah shepherded the people (11:7), but the people detested Zechariah (11:8). So Zechariah told them that he would no longer be their shepherd (11:9). Regarding his pay, Zechariah told the people, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it” (11:12). He then reports: “So they paid me thirty pieces of silver” (11:12).

Zechariah refers to this sum sarcastically by saying אֶ֣דֶר הַיְקָ֔ר (literally: “the magnificence of the price”; 11:13).[1] The sarcasm indicates that Zechariah considered this payment to be a small amount for the work of shepherding which he did.[2] The small payment reflected the low regard which most of the people had for Zechariah’s shepherding ministry.[3] As God directed, Zechariah “took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the LORD” (Zechariah 11:13).

Matthew says this was fulfilled when Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-15). Seized with remorse, Judas threw the money into the temple (27:3, 5). With the money, the chief priests bought the potter’s field (27:7). Matthew says: “Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: ‘They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me’” (27:9-10). This is a composite quotation of Jeremiah and Zechariah.[4],[5] 

Just like the thirty pieces of silver reflected the low regard which most of the people had for Zechariah’s ministry, the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas reflected the low regard which Judas and the chief priests had for Jesus. But even when most have no regard for Jesus, some do value him highly. In Zechariah 11, there seems to be some who did value Zechariah’s ministry: “the poor of the flock” הַצֹּאן עֲנִיֵּי (11:7, 11).[6] God grant that we be among the poor of the flock who, in humble faith, recognize the infinite value of Jesus and what he has done for us.

For further reading:

Craig Blomberg, Matthew, in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).

Thomas E. McComiskey, Zechariah, in The Minor Prophets, vol. 3, ed. Thomas McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998). 

[1] See the entries for אֶדֶר and יְקָר in Brown-Driver-Briggs, pages 12 and 430, respectively.

[2] Cf. Thomas E. McComiskey, Zechariah, in The Minor Prophets, vol. 3, ed. Thomas E. McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 1200. See also C. F. Keil, Zechariah, in Keil-Delitzsch, vol. 10.2, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 368.

[3] Cf. Eric Hartzell, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, The People’s Bible (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1991), 104.

[4] Craig Blomberg suggests that Matthew specifically names Jeremiah to make sure that his readers would not miss the part of the quotation which comes from Jeremiah. Craig Blomberg, Matthew, in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 95.

[5] The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into three parts, the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets.  Jeremiah was the first book of the Writings section.  It was common for writers to refer to the whole section of the Prophets by its first book, Jeremiah.  This is another possible explanation for the fact Matthew didn’t include Zechariah’s name. 

[6] Cf. McComiskey, 1194, 1197; Keil, 361, 367.

Rev. Daniel Waldschmidt serves at St. John’s in Burlington, WI.

Systematic Theology: Are We the Image of God? – Part 1

Are we created in the image of God today? 

In the Catechism classes you have taught over the years, the concept of the “image of God” has come up in the discussion on God’s creative power in the 1st article of the Apostles’ Creed and (in the new catechism) in the explanation to the 5th Commandment.  I’m sure you have faithfully instructed your students that the “image of God” in which Adam and Eve were created wasn’t a similarity in physical features since God is a spirit, but rather these two original human beings were holy like God – their wills and thoughts, emotions and desires were perfectly in line with the Lord’s in every way. 

But are we created in the image of God today?

As the story of the first family unfolds, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Genesis 5 reviews for us how God created Adam, but also how all successive generations were affected by the Fall into sin: “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God…. When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.”  The Holy Spirit through Moses seems to be making a very clear distinction between God’s creation of Adam and Eve in his own image and the sinfully-saturated image and likeness of Seth’s imperfect parents.  Every descendant of this man-from-dust and his “suitable helper” would forever be subjected to the awful consequences of sin from the moment of conception.

For hundreds of years Lutheran theologians have referred to this change as “losing” the image of God.  It was God’s intention that all humanity would carry on this holy “image” of its Creator for time and eternity.  But with sin came corruption.  And this perfect “image of God” was lost in the melee.  Consequently, we are not created in the image of God today – partly due to the fallout resulting from this infamous incident in the Garden of Eden, but also partly due to the fact that God hasn’t technically “created” anything since Day Six.  No one is “created” now, let alone created in the image of God.

This does not negate the work of the Lord in our existence of course.  He forms us (Psalm 119:73) and knits us together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:13), but the image of God that Adam and Eve possessed for a short time is noticeably absent at birth. 

The story doesn’t end here though.  Next month we’ll discuss whether there is a remnant of the image of God left and the month afterwards we’ll spend some time on how this lost “image of God” is being restored in us as we speak.

In the meantime, a good short article by J.P. Meyer entitled “The Image of God” is worth the read.  You can find it in Volume II of “Our Great Heritage” or online in the WLS essay files. 

Rev. Matthew Frey serves at Living Word in Montrose, CO.

Historical Theology: An Early Lutheran Catechism and Its Significance Today

The first part of what would eventually be called the Lutheran Confessions available in print was Luther’s Small Catechism. That isn’t surprising, given that Lutherans have always considered education, particularly education of young people, a critical aspect of the church’s work.

What is perhaps somewhat surprising is that, at least initially, Luther delegated the task of producing those materials. In response to one written request for guidance on the instruction of children in 1524, Luther replied that Justus Jonas and John Agricola were working on some materials for the purpose. The result of Luther’s decision to delegate meant that his own Small Catechism would not be published until five years later in 1529.

In the intervening years, a forerunner to Luther’s catechism appeared, a work called A Booklet for Laity and Children. How involved Luther was in its production is unknown, but it is significant for Lutheranism historically because it represented the first time the “parts” of the catechism appeared together, along with explanations for each of those parts. It was also an important work for Lutherans of its own day, as illustrated by the fact it was printed no less than 26 times between 1525 and 1530.[7]

What does that little booklet’s popularity teach us? Clearly, our forerunners cared about passing on the truths of Scripture, but beyond that, it’s worth noting that this early catechism was more than just a reference or instructional book.

More than anything, A Booklet for Laity and Children was a devotional resource. It instructed in the context of the Christian life, in teaching Christians how to get up in the morning, go about their day, and go to bed each night as a child of God. With headings like “A blessing for when one arises in the morning” and “An evening blessing when one goes to bed,” it reveals that its creators intended Christians to make use of it in a life rich in devotion and prayer.

Recognizing the place of that early catechism among early Lutherans can enlighten our use of our own catechism in the 21st century. With the rapidity and busyness of life robbing many Christians of experiencing the blessings of simple habits and routines that can help keep our lives centered in the good news of Jesus, what a better time for a renewal in the daily use of our catechism!

By God’s blessing, several recent efforts among us are making that goal even more accessible. Our Synod’s new catechism, in addition to being an excellent instructional tool, offers practical ways of making use of it as a lifelong devotional tool. Likewise, several of the auxiliary products of the current hymnal project promise rich resources in that regard as well. As we reflect on how our Lutheran forerunners used the catechism in their life, may we look for ways to emulate them today.

[7] For a deeper look at this history, see Sources and Contexts of the Book of Concord, Robert Kolb and James A. Nestingen eds., Augsburg Fortress, 2001.

Rev. Jacob Behnken serves at Good Shepherd in Midland, MI.

Practical Theology: Dear Pastor, Love Them

A seasoned pastor commented, “The best thing about the ministry is… the people.” In the next breath, the pastor added, “And the worst thing about the ministry is…the people.”

Do you have experience with this? I once opened my e-mail inbox after a busy Sunday. I read two new messages one after the other. One was a thank-you. The person thanked me for the impactful sermon on Sunday. The other message was a complaint and the person included a few stinging shots at the minister. One of those messages was two lines long. The other was nearly two pages long. I’ll let you figure out which was which.

Sharing the Word as a sinner among sinners is full of joys and frustrations. Some moments you are rejoicing with the angels and celebrating with the Father. Other moments you are in the pig slop with the prodigal or pleading for God’s mercy upon your own wayward heart. And yet through it all, we rely on and rejoice in our Savior’s amazing love. Christ’s love, which led him to die for us and for all, also compels us in our love.

This series of articles a year ago (December 2018, January 2019, February 2019) shared some survey results listening to what church members wanted their pastor to know. A second look at those responses prompted a new set of articles and provides the opportunity to grow by listening.

Dear pastor, your members want you to know:

  • “Love us. Try to give a little attention to as many members as possible, (not just “good Lutherans”), ask how they are doing, and be interested in their stories.”
  • “We want you to be a part of our lives. Not some guy we see once a week who lectures us, but someone we want over for dinner in our messy house.
  • “Reach out to widows, the divorcees, the singles, the single parents, and to the members where only one spouse is a member or attends church. It can be a struggle to do church alone, with or without family.”
  • “Smile, show the congregation a friendly and personable pastor at every opportunity.”
  • “Get to know people. Ask questions, have interpersonal conversations with them. Show you care. I believe this is important in the work of spreading the gospel. Together (called workers and lay people) are a powerful team that can bring the gospel to many others by creating a loving, caring atmosphere within the church.”

Dear pastor, as a branch connected to the Vine, you have the incredible privilege of sharing and reflecting Christ’s love in your ministry. Take time with your members on Sundays, in their homes, at their workplaces, and at their events. Reach out to someone in your church after reading this that you haven’t reached out to in a while. Continue to love the people you serve, frustrations and all, with the same love you receive from Jesus.

Rev. Joel Russow serves Faith in Tallahassee, FL.