Four Branches – February 2020

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Exegetical Theology: Three Passion Predictions from Zechariah: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will be Scattered

Jesus told his disciples, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (Matthew 26:31; See also Mark 14:27).

That quotation is from Zechariah 13:7. As we study the Old Testament context of this quotation (13:7-9), the LORD is the doer of the action in these verbs. In verse 7, the LORD issues a command (עוּרִי, an imperative) to a sword to awake against his Shepherd.[1] In the second part of the verse, the LORD issues another command to the sword to strike the Shepherd (הַךְ, another imperative).[2] In Matthew and Mark, this imperative is changed to a first person singular verb, “I will strike the Shepherd” (Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27).

Why would the LORD command that his Shepherd be struck? He was struck as the ransom price which atones for our sins (Matthew 20:28; 1 John 2:2).

One immediate result of the striking of the Shepherd is that the sheep scatter (13:7). Verse 8 says that two-thirds of the people in the land will die, and one-third will be left. Verse 9 says that the LORD will test and purify the remaining one-third. “This third I will put into the fire” (13:9). Once again, the LORD is the doer of the action. The verb וְהֵבֵאתִ֤י is a causative hifil. Why would the LORD cause his believing remnant[3] to go into fire? The next words give the explanation: “I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.” This is reminiscent of 1 Peter 1:7, “These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

The testing in Zechariah 13:9 causes the remnant to cry out to the LORD. “They will call on my name and I will answer them” (13:9). The people of God are refined and purified through trials. The disciples learned this on the night their Shepherd was struck. But Jesus promised them, “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee” (Matthew 26:32). As the risen Shepherd, he would gather his scattered sheep back to himself. God’s blessings, brothers, as you proclaim the struck and risen Shepherd this Lent and Easter.

[1] Cf. Thomas McComiskey, The Minor Prophets, vol. 3, ed. Thomas McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 1223.

[2] I certainly do not mean to suggest that the LORD is morally responsible for the evil actions taken by the Sanhedrin against Jesus. A helpful distinction when discussing divine providence is made in John Schuetze, Doctor of Souls: The Art of Pastoral Theology (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 2017), 136 n.28.

[3] Cf. McComiskey, The Minor Prophets, 1224.

For further reading:

Craig L. 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), 91-93.

R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 996-999.

Rick E. Watts, “Mark,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 232-233.

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

Systematic Theology: Are We the Image of God? – Part 3

How Is the Image of God Being Restored in Us Today?

Adam and Eve were created in the image of God.  Due to the fall into sin however, none of us have had that privilege.  The image of God was effectively “lost” at the base of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  There isn’t even a remnant of the image of God left in us by nature.  Yet the image of God is being restored in us today through faith.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:24, “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  And in his parallel letter of Colossians 3:10, “Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

At that moment when the Holy Spirit penetrated your heart through the gospel (most likely through baptism) and you were given the gift of faith, the “image of God” that had been lost so long ago was revived in you. It’s a faint image compared to what it once was; it’s a hazy and muddled likeness that serves as a sad reminder of how far we have fallen.  It is the image of God nonetheless.  After all, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17)!  Amazingly, when God looks at you, he sees a perfect, holy, righteous child of God, even though this “image” in us is far from it.  How gracious he is!

Your catechism students need to hear this “rest of the story.”  It would be misleading to comfort them with the claim that they are created in God’s image, but it would be wise to remind them that through faith in Jesus as their Savior, the “true righteousness and holiness” of this image is being renewed and restored in them every day.  As their faith matures through immersion in God’s Word, this image will grow clearer and more distinct, becoming more evident in the way they speak and act and live.

This image of God will not be completely restored in us on this earth of course.  We will always be an imperfect representation of what we were originally supposed to be.  But we can look forward to the day when this image is perfected in heaven – the moment when our thoughts, emotions, and desires correspond exactly with our Savior, just like it once had been in the Garden of Eden. 

So that you are aware of how many Christians misapply and then overemphasize the “intrinsic worth” of the image of God, look at the following video from the popular series: The Bible Project.

There is plenty with which we would find fault, but it is what your visitors and members and catechism students are watching. 

The Lord bless your preaching and teaching of God’s image in us!

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

Historical Theology: Confirmation Class with Chemnitz

We get a fascinating glimpse into what church life was like for early Lutherans through Martin Chemnitz’s Church Order, composed for his work as Superintendent of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel.[1] Though it was printed in 1569 and only a few decades after Luther’s death, many of Chemnitz’s instructions for the congregations he was responsible for overseeing sound familiar. Consider, for example, the direction he gives on confirmation.

While Chemnitz disavows the “child’s play and sorcery” that characterized Roman Catholic confirmation, still he judges it a “beneficial ordinance” to uphold and maintain. He considers it a primary responsibility of parents to see to it that their children receive instruction in Christian doctrine and therefore to “urge the youth…to classes.” At the same time, he recognizes the role of the “entire church…moved by this endeavor to the love and joy of true piety” to ensure that young people are learning the Word.

In recognition of the importance of confirmation, Chemnitz offers some specific directions. He urges that children who do not yet partake of the Lord’s Supper attend classes so that they can learn the faith into which they were baptized. He urges that these children would receive regular examination to measure their progress. When they have learned the catechism “well,” Chemnitz encourages that they be publicly examined and confirmed on a “designated Sunday.”

While class time may have looked much different and Confirmation Sunday may not have included Hallmark cards and corsages, the pattern Chemnitz lays out sounds much like what most of our own congregations have practiced for many years.

I bring it up because if your experience is at all like mine, you’ve probably faced at least one challenge or two in keeping up with confirmation. Especially outside the context of the Lutheran Elementary School, just finding a time during the week when students can gather for confirmation can be nearly impossible. Once they’re at church, asking students to memorize the catechism and Scripture passages can seem like a lost cause. Young people just don’t learn how to memorize anymore and encouraging parents to support a rigorous catechism curriculum is by no means a guarantee. I think all of that can present a real temptation to give up on confirmation, perhaps not entirely but at least to the point where what remains is a shell of what once was. 

Maybe hearing Chemnitz’s voice from all those years ago can serve as an encouragement for us to keep fighting the good fight. No doubt, Chemnitz and the pastors he oversaw experienced difficulties in their work too, and no doubt, nothing will be perfect or easy on this side of eternity. Of course, times and circumstances may require us to modify the way we do certain things, and we don’t hold to past practices with stubborn refusal ever to change anything.  We can still appreciate the good practices that have lasted the centuries and keep working at them because we see how they blessed generations of our forerunners in the faith and can continue to be a blessing into the future.

[1] Martin Chemnitz, Church Order for Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, Volume 9, Chemnitz’s Works, Concordia Publishing House, 2015.

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

Practical Theology: Dear Pastor, Keep It Simple, But Don’t Forget the Mature

The four-to-six-year-olds on my soccer team were practicing dribbling the ball. I was practicing an exercise in patience. Neither one of us was succeeding. I used technical phrases like, “Keep the ball two to three feet in front of your cleats.” I made gestures with my hands to show them how far that was. But each time they ignored my instruction and kicked the ball as far as they could.

Another coach on a nearby field yelled to his team, “Soccer players, keep your puppy on the leash.” His way of teaching was simpler than mine. Just as a leash keeps the puppy close to the one walking the dog, his young players understood to keep the ball close to their feet. It worked and I borrowed it.

There is something to be said about teaching with simplicity. This is the final article of this series in which we listen to what church members want their pastors to know. God’s people encourage us to preach and teach the truths of salvation with simple language. Yet they also caution us against only serving spiritual milk when we can and should serve solid food to the mature.

Dear pastor, your members want you to know:

  • There is a wide spectrum of Bible knowledge among congregants. Do not take for granted that we know what you know. Explain even the most fundamental concepts in detail so that it will be review for many and an enlightenment for others.”
  • Try to keep it simple especially for the newbies.”
  • “During Bible studies remind us of why each book of the Bible was written and by whom, add some historical perspective, etc.”
  • “Bible study has got to be frustrating for a pastor as so many folks aren’t interested in attending Bible studies. But those who are interested in digging deeper….really are! Please offer Bible study for all ages and levels of Christian maturity.”
  • “Pastors often underestimate their congregations’ appetite to go into the incredible depth and complexity of scripture. Sermons and Bible study rarely go very deep, and it can get stale and repetitive. EG: we could read only John 3:16 for the rest of our lives, but should we?”
  • “As a general rule, preach to a 6th to 10th grade level. We know you have lots of education, but don’t get too intellectual.”

My youth confirmation students complete a few “sermon summaries” each year. The assignment is aimed at encouraging active listening on their part and it provides good preaching feedback on my part. It’s humbling to learn when I thought I was keeping the message simple, I wasn’t. Ask your confirmation students this week about your sermons and see if you are keeping things simple. Ask some mature members if you are bringing out treasures old and new. God bless these listening conversations and your continued proclamation!

Rev. Joel Russow serves Faith in Tallahassee, FL.