Four Branches February 2019

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Exegetical Theology: God’s New Thing

The Exodus from Egypt was a tremendous act of deliverance by God. In Isaiah 43:16-21 (Lent 5C), God reminds his people of this saving act (43:16-17). But then, surprisingly, God says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” (43:18-19a). Why does God tell the Israelites not to remember or dwell on the Exodus?

In his commentary on Isaiah 40-55, Reed Lessing has a helpful discussion of this question.[1] He suggests that God’s people in exile would be tempted to think, “God did wonderful things for us in the past, but he will not do anything for us now.” There is some evidence in Isaiah 40-66 that the exiles would indeed think that way (See 40:27; 49:14). Therefore God tells them, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” (43:18-19) The new thing God would do would be to raise up Cyrus to send the exiles home to rebuild the temple (Isaiah 41:2-4; 42:28; 45:1-7).[2] God would “make a way in the wilderness” for the exiles to travel home (Isaiah 43:19).

In Isaiah 51:9-11 and 63:11-64:4, the Exodus from Egypt is appealed to as “the ground for the present pleas for mercy and deliverance.”[3] In 43:18, then, God does not intend that his people never think of the Exodus again. Instead, he wants to focus their attention on the new thing he is doing: bringing them back from captivity in Babylon.

God created his people so that they would “proclaim” (יְסַפֵּרוּ) his praise (43:21). In the Piel, סָפַר means to “recount, rehearse, declare.”[4] When the Israelites declared the great things God had done, they would be able to add a new thing to the list: release from exile in Babylon. When we proclaim the great things God has done, we can proclaim the fulfillment of the redemption from sin which God promised in the Old Testament. God did a new thing when he redeemed us from the guilt of our sin through Christ’s death on the cross. He did a new thing when he raised Christ from the dead. These were promised in the Old Testament and have now been accomplished in Christ. God has done a new thing!

God still has new things to come in the future. Christ will return and transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body (Phil 3:21). God promises also to “create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17). Peter quotes this verse when he says that “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13; see also Romans 8:19-23).[5]

God’s blessings, brothers, as you proclaim the new things God has done and the new things he promises still to do.

[1] R. Reed Lessing, Isaiah 40-55, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 316-319.

[2] Cf. August Pieper, Isaiah II, trans. Erwin E. Kowalke (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1979; trans. of Jesaias II, 1919), 227.

[3] Pieper, Isaiah II, 638.

[4] Brown-Driver-Briggs, סָפַר Piel, p. 708.

[5] Cf. Lessing, Isaiah 40-55, 301-302, 319.

Daniel Waldschmidt serves as pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Burlington, WI.

Systematic Theology: God’s Love and God’s Jealousy

“Jealous Husband Cuts Off Wife’s Hand,” a recent headline read.

In our world jealousy is a very unflattering personality trait, revealing itself in a variety of ugly ways. Rage, paranoia, insecurity, and irrationality are all byproducts of this nasty human characteristic. As a result, jealousy is almost never thought of in a positive light.

But God is jealous. In fact, God famously says about himself in the Ten Commandments, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). Moses even says that God’s “name is Jealous” (Exodus 34:14). Of course, God does not have a problem with rage, paranoia, insecurity, or irrationality. He is certainly jealous, but only under the umbrella of his love.

This is the last of three articles on the love of God displayed through his hatred, his anger, and now finally his jealousy. And as was true in the first two, God’s attribute of jealousy is not at odds with his attribute of love; instead jealousy highlights his love in a unique way.

God is frequently referred to as the husband of his bride, the Church. But he is a jealous husband, meaning that he loves us and cares for us so intensely that he does not want us to give our love to anyone else but him. And so when his chosen nation in the era before Christ was unfaithful to him and went after false gods, he was upset with them with a “jealous anger” (Ezekiel 23:25) and punished them because, as Moses reminded that nation, “The LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24). God’s jealousy for his people even drove him to send them away into captivity. But he did this only because he loved them and wanted them to come back to his waiting arms.

God’s jealousy – prompted by love – never ends in rejection. God’s jealousy always ends in restoration. “The LORD will be jealous for his land and take pity on his people” (2:18) Joel predicted. Hundreds of years later God spoke through the prophet Zechariah, “I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her” (Zech. 8:2). And so the Lord rescued his people and ultimately sent them a Savior. He was so jealous that he was not going to let them be harassed and abused by their enemies forever. He was going to forgive them through Christ and one day bring them home.

God’s jealousy is an aspect of his holy love. God’s anger and his hate are inextricably linked to his love as well. And so although God can be filled with jealousy and anger and hatred at times, they will always be governed by who he really is: “God is love.”

Open Zechariah chapter one for a closer look at God’s love wrapped up in his jealousy as you soak up the amazing attributes of God and the ways in which he cares for you and for all of his people.

Pastor Matthew Frey serves Living Word Lutheran Church & Preschool in Montrose, CO, and as chairman of the Colorado District Mission Board.


Historical Theology: Defending with the Christological Controversies

Our libraries (and I would imagine our reading plans) give due regard to Reformation and post-Reformation authors. Most of us have read good amounts of Luther, as well as portions of the major Lutheran authors following him – Chemnitz, Gerhard, and Walther among others.

As you read those authors, does their familiarity with the church fathers impress you? Our Lutheran predecessors’ ability to quote the fathers at will in a pre-Logos Software age is not only remarkable, but it also (I daresay) may betray our own lack of familiarity with the theological writings of the church prior to the Reformation.

That shortcoming can leave us ill-equipped to provide our people knowledge they can use to defend their faith in this present age. Secular historians delight to treat modern Christianity as something that arose centuries after Christ and his apostles. A familiarity with the fathers and their history enables us to show that the Christian faith hasn’t evolved over centuries of theological development but came from Christ himself, even as the church’s teachers had to learn to articulate that faith in new ways to defend against false doctrine.

During the Christological Controversies, for example, theologians didn’t always agree on what terms were appropriate to describe the person of Christ. The theologians of Alexandria taught that Christ had one nature (physis). Meanwhile, in Antioch, their counterparts insisted that this Alexandrian terminology didn’t reflect the fact that Christ was both God and man. It was a valid concern, but at least for a time, that position led them also to deny the term God-bearer (theotokos) to describe the virgin Mary because they reasoned a human being could not “bear” the deity. In their zeal to emphasize Christ’s two natures, they were dividing the God-man into two persons. Not until the Symbol of Union in 431 did the Antioch party accept the term theotokos and the Alexandrians agree to the two-nature terminology which orthodox teaching has used ever since. Together, they confessed the truth that Christ and his apostles had passed down through the inspired Scriptures. Though we may not be proud of the politics and personal rivalries (sometimes bitter ones) that infiltrated this history, an understanding of it allows us to counter the arguments that an orthodox doctrine of Christ didn’t exist prior to this period or that the “winning” side got to define for the centuries that followed what the church would teach.

An understanding of this history has practical application to 21st-century ministry. Consider the confused college student whose Western Civilization class treats Christianity as nothing more than a historical mishmash of thoughts and ideas. Consider the Jehovah’s Witness in Bible Information Class who insists that the orthodox doctrine of Christ wasn’t settled doctrine for four centuries. Among an increasingly-educated populace, it is essential for shepherds of God’s flock to have a good grasp of the church’s history, especially as it relates to our teaching. Looking for a place to brush up? Here’s one great resource.

Jacob Behnken serves as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Midland, MI.

Practical Theology: Dear Pastor, God Did Not Give Us a Spirit of Timidity

I parked blocks away. I was prayerfully preparing for the conversation down the street. I asked for Nathan-before-David courage to say what needed to be said. Finally, I drove to the home and knocked on the door.

Ministry is filled with tough conversations. As we apply the keys and faithfully preach the Word, we will have many delicate and difficult opportunities to correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and careful instruction.

I wish I could say that my paralyzing timidity was an isolated incident. Too often, tough topics and crucial conversations are met with a spirit of procrastination and avoidance.

Dear pastor, God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and sound judgment.

As we conclude our series listening to what church members want their pastor to know, God’s people ask us to take on tough topics and delicate conversations. We do so, with the power, love, and sound judgement the Spirit supplies through the Word. We speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit. We minister, with clean hearts and clear consciences given through the Spirit’s work in baptism.

Dear pastor, your members want you to know:

  • Unpopular topics should not be avoided because some people will disagree. E.g. abortion, homosexuality, women/men roles…”
  • “People DO have questions about doctrines, teachings, society, and more. Ask your members to anonymously write down their questions and spend time…answering these questions using God’s Word to build faith, comfort, and confidence.”
  • “I don’t know how to spread the Word in today’s anti-Christian world… I don’t know if that’s a lack of courage or lack of Christian education. How do I speak to atheists, agnostics, to the average 20-40-year-old American?”
  • “The Lord’s prayer says to forgive those who sin against us. This is difficult for me…I need continual reminders that God wants us to forgive each other as he has forgiven us.”
  • “There is a need for pastors to know how to discuss other denominations with extreme tact…to be able to point out how WELS teachings hold to Biblical truths without being ungracious or excessively critical of other denominations.”
  • “Don’t lose grace. I left a church where we were beat over the head every Sunday with where we fall short. The gospel isn’t a hammer; it’s a healer.”

As we conclude the series, a member shared this anecdote. His grandson was getting ear infections. Doctors treated the problem by putting tubes in his ears. The treatment was a double blessing. Not only did the infections subside, but the toddler’s speech improved. Clearer hearing can lead to improved speaking. Pray for these same blessings upon your ministry and upon our entire pastorate. May God open our ears to hear his Word and better understand the people we serve. And then, may God open our lips to declare his praise!

Rev. Joel Russow serves Faith Lutheran Church in Tallahassee, FL