Luther: You MUST experience Jesus to Have Faith in Him.
Thoughts which drive me to Jesus, and to His cross
Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Yes, Teacher,” he said, “tell me.”
41 “There were two men who owed money to a moneylender,” Jesus began. “One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. 42Neither of them could pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Which one, then, will love him more?”
43 “I suppose,” answered Simon, “that it would be the one who was forgiven more.” Luke 7:40–43. GNT
Then he said to the disciples, “Where is your faith?” Luke 8:25 GNT
A “mystery” is a hidden secret that is not known; and the “mysteries of the kingdom of God” are the things in the kingdom of God, as for example Christ with all his grace, which he manifests to us. He who knows Christ aright understands what God’s kingdom is and what is in it. It is called a mystery because it is spiritual and secret, and it remains so where the spirit does not reveal it. For although there are many who see and hear it, yet they do not understand it. There are many who preach and hear Christ, how he offered himself for us; but all that is only upon their tongue and not in their heart; for they themselves do not believe it; they do not experience it.
The Truth was hunting for those who would receive it, and relatively few did, for “many are called, but few are chosen.”
When I first started listening to language with these discriminations, I realized how thoroughly culture-conditioned I was. Talk about being conformed to this world! My use of language in the community of faith was a mirror image of the culture: a lot of information, a lot of publicity, not much intimacy. My ministry was voiced almost entirely in the language of description and of persuasion—telling what was there, urging what could be. I was a great explainer. I was a pretty good exhorter. I was duplicating in the church what I had learned in my thoroughly secularized schools and sales-saturated society, but I wasn’t giving people much help in developing and using the language that was basic to both their humanity and their faith, the language of love and prayer.
I think we need to spend some time thinking through Luther’s idea that people (and some preachers) do not believe the gospel we preach (and preach clearly and well) because we have not experienced it The faith remains mysterious to them (ok, us) because we are so caught up in the details and questions, that we fail to simply be in this intimate relationship with the Lord who died for us.
Jesus’ interaction with the “used-to-be-harlot” and Simon the Pharisee demonstrate this all too well. Simon doesn’t understand the gratitude of this lady who knows the depth of her own sin, now forgiven. But she does, she has experienced Christ offering himself for her, even before the cross. She is being made whole, she realizing that her re-creation is God re-creating her in His image once again. At least she understands this in her psyche, and the gratitude–well that is an unprovoked response to His love, to His care, ot he intimate relationship she found herself in, so different from the physically intimate relationships she surrendered herself to. Simon doesn’t think he needs to be as forgiven, so he receives little forgiveness. And the disciples in the boat, haven’t experienced it either, for if they had, their faith would be automatic, and they would be at peace!
This is what Peterson is getting at with his use of language–he elarned it was time to stop talking about Jesus, but time to demonstrate and live talking to Jesus, and hearing Him. THat’s what this pastor’s people needed, it is what my people need as well.
Experience is what Tozer is getting at, as well. Jesus didn’t say I will teach the Truth, the Way and the Life. He said He was the Truth. The Truth that frees us, the Truth that changes our lives. the Truth that is our life, as we live in Him. That is the experience that causes our faith, our trust in and dependance on Him to grow. FOr faith is not a group of beliefs, faith is a relationship you know you can invest in, because you have experienced that the other Person has done just that. Jesus is the Truth that hunted us down, and we are thankful He did!
Heavenly Father, please send the Holy Spirit to cut through our hearts and minds, cutting away all that is not of You. Help us to rejoice, to celebrate, to be in awe of the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our lives, and then guide our lives lived in awe and gratitude. We pray this in Jesus name! Amen!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 51–52.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 99.
The meaning of the empty tomb…
8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home. John 20:8-10 NLT
This changes the conversation on problems in the ministry immensely. Yet most of us still don’t get it. We keep focusing on visible things and neglect the spiritual. Ironic, isn’t it? You and I both know that most of our work involves things that are invisible, yet very real. No one has ever seen God, after all, and yet you and I daily teach and preach about him to others. We console, comfort, rebuke, and exhort the faithful using the invisible power of the Holy Spirit mediated through the word and sacraments. Forgiveness, peace, holiness, joy, consolation—all these are intangible and beyond the range of the senses, and yet our work revolves almost totally around these invisible things. It’s strange, then, that when confronted with roadblocks and obstacles in ministry we address only things we can see, touch, and measure externally.
But if we view creation with the eyes of love, then we will understand it, despite all the evidence that seems to point to the absence of love in the world. We will understand the ultimate purpose of creation: not only the purpose of its essence, which we seem to make some sense of through the various intelligible relationships among individual natures, but the purpose of its existence in general, for which no philosophy can otherwise find a sufficient reason.
The disciples had a lot to learn, as does every Christian.
But it is not just something discovered in the classroom or found by reading blogs or listening to podcasts. Like the sermons preached every Sunday in a million churches, lectures, lessons, and the ubiquitous podcasts and blogs are heard by the intellect. The “aha” moment that struck up such a passionate response in praise on Sunday is gone by Tuesday, or perhaps Wednesday.
This was true of the disciples – they heard Jesus speak of his death and resurrection. They heard that the seed needs to fall to the ground and die, then life is given to a multitude. They heard all the parables. The Apostle John said that until the moment they entered the tomb… they still didn’t understand the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.
They had to encounter and experience the incredible love of God, at work at the cross, and then, only then, in the darkest spiritual despair, find the living Lord. The impossible had to happen – they would never understand it until it was experienced. The word of God simply points to that experience, where forgiveness, peace, holiness, joy, consolation – all these things Senkbeil points to and more, flood the life of one who knows Jesus died and rose… for them.
As we encounter Jesus, risen from the dead, life can make sense. Existence is no longer an ordeal to be navigated. It is about God’s love for us and the ability to love He enables in us. That is the ultimate purpose of Creation seen in the empty tomb… we need to know the power of His resurrection – for it is at work in us.
This was done…
The scriptures reveal this; this is what the sacraments help us experience.
We need to look in the tomb… we need to experience the death and resurrection of Jesus. We need to finally understand…He is Risen, and therefore we are risen indeed! All praise and glory to our Lord! Amen!
Senkbeil, Harold L. 2019. The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Balthasar, Hans Urs von. 2004. Love Alone Is Credible. Translated by D. C. Schindler. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Do You Understand the Love of God?
Devotional Thought of the Day:
19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:19 (NLT2)
“‘God loves you’—isn’t that the most well-worn of clichés? It’s just standard filler for the laziest, most obvious and repetitive homilies. Smile. Yawn. Everybody knows that by now, at least everybody who has ever been in a church or read a Bible.
No. Exactly the opposite. It is not familiar. It is shattering. It changes everything. And most Christians do not realize it.”
Right now on Wednesday evenings I am teaching through the Book of Revelation. It is an amazing book of the Bible, but so misunderstood. Some think it is like a mystery or a riddle that we have to figure out who the characters are. Others think that it is a prophetic calendar, that we have to determine how this is the time it is describing. Who is the beast? What is the mark of the beast? who is this who is that? Is the pandemic a sign there, what about the racial tension?
Amid all the questions, all the theories, all the guess, and hype there are two things the Revelation really does teach us. No, make that three.
1. Jesus is the LORD, He is, along with the Father and Spirit, God who is worshipped, and will be worshipped by all of creation.
2. Jesus is with us in the midst of life. Life may seem broken beyond repair, it may seem oppressed and anxiety-laden by external events, or the effect of sin. Jesus is there to save us.
3. God loves us. Not in a simplistic way that has no effect on us, but in an intimate way, where He cares for us, bringing healing and peace to our brokenness. This is what the Apostle Paul desires so much that the church experience, for we cannot understand it. It is too deep, too wonderful to be able to describe it.
Those in His presence fall in awe, with all creation they praise Him, thanking Him, in awe of His care.
In the midst of trials, we need to see this, in the midst of isolation, we need to realize He is there, in the midst of being knocked down and shattered by the world, or by our own sin, we need to experience this love of God, and that He is there with each one of us.
God loves you…. He, the Lord, is with You.
Think about that!
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 11.
Don’t Ask, “What’s Important,” Ask, “Who should be Important!”
Devotional Thought of the Day:
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors—for they will invite you back, and in this way you will be paid for what you did. 13 When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind; 14 and you will be blessed, because they are not able to pay you back. God will repay you on the day the good people rise from death.” Luke 14:12-14 GNT
656 It is through Love rather than study that one comes to understand the things of God. That is why you have to work, you have to study, you have to accept illness, you have to be sober—lovingly!
Far too often we define our faith by the set of doctrines we believe. As if we could ever completely understand the mysteries of God. As if our logic, through enough study, could transcend the gap between the human and the divine.
That isn’t how we were saved in the first place, (our small catechism reminds us that it isn’t “by our own reason or strength”) so why do we think it is the proper process for our growth in our dependence on God, on growing in our awe at the love of God.
Please here me, meditating on the word of God is important! Studying it with other believers is important as well. But it is not enough on its own, we simply cannot know enough.
We have to experience that love, we have ot come to know it, as Jesus does exactly what He tells us to do. He invites us to feast with Him. Not the angels and archangels, but the broken sinners, the ones who are not holy (yet), who are not just in how they deal with others, the ones who are weak, the spiritually blind, the ones everyone else writes off. He invites us to share in His body and blood, showing us the love, bringing us the experience that fills in all of the gaps where we simply can’t understand the mysteries of God.
It is that love as well, extended through us to others who are just as broken, just as blind, who also struggle with sin and its constant partners, guilt and shame. As we are conduits of that grace, as we reveal their need for God and God’s response to that need, we find our understanding of God’s mysteries growing. It is an amazing thing to witness the glory of God at work, to see the Holy Spirit bring to life the one who was spiritually dead.
That is why St. Josemaria says that understanding comes from love, not just from the study (though he mentions study again). It is seeing God’s care for the broken that we were to understand what we can’t, the incredible love, that is beyond our ability to understand but not to experience.
May Paul;’s prayer for the
17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots
Ephesians 3:17-19 (TEV)
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2753-2755). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The Proper Distinction/Tension of Knowledge & Experience
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! 5 Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. 7 Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. 8 Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NAB)
The experience of the beautiful love of God in a personal and communal encounter with Jesus Christ is the engine of Christian creativity for the announcement of the Good News.
Second, justifying faith apprehends all those things not as simple history, nor only insofar as they are in themselves true in general, but in such a way that it specifically includes the person of the believer in that promise of grace, so that each believer apprehends and receives Christ in the Word and the Sacraments with true confidence of the heart as given personally to him, and applies them to himself individually. And though this faith is often attacked by various temptations and of itself is weak and languid, yet it surely is faith by which each one specially or warmly21 believes and trusts that sins are forgiven him by God for the sake of Christ, that he is received into grace, [and] that he is adopted into the sonship of God. Jn 1:12; 3:15–16; Ro 1:16; 3:22; 4:16, 23–24; 5:1–2; 8:35, 38–39; 10:4, 9; 1 Ti 1:16; Mt 9:22; Lk 7:50.
In the last forty years, we have often heard people warn against trusting experience and emotion. We can’t trust them, not our heart. We need to have a logical approach to scripture, one clearly documentable, tried and true.
On the other hand, our forefathers often talked about the frailty and insufficiency of human reason in regards to faith. Luther even mentioned this in his training of the youngest in the faith, explaining that it is not by our reason that leads us to faith, for it cannot. It is spun around, confused by Satan and his minions, challenged by our self-interest and the sin that so easily ensnares us.
So, if we can’t trust our experiences/feelings or our intellect/knowledge, how can we be sure of our salvation? How can we be sure this isn’t all some dream or some deviants scam?
Simple – we let Him work in both. We let Him give us the mind of Christ, we let Him change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh where the Holy Spirit dwells.
We keept them in tension, for it is using all of that and more that we love God, and receive and this message of salvation, this relationship God gives. Melancthon makes it clear, it simply isn’t about knowledge, yet knowledge confirms the message is true. It does include the heart and soul, for that is where relationships are found, that is where love is noticed and that is where the joy of being loved begins.
Moses refers to the same thing, as he talks about these words being committed in our hearts. ( the NAB using words instead of commands, for Moses is talking about the entire LOGOS – the entire covenant – not just the terms that bind us) The entire thing, yet he also knows that is not enough, so he gives us ways to bring them to mind, talking about them, putting them in conspicuous places like the entrance to our homes, our hands, and right between our eyes.
For we need to know God is our God, there is no other, we need not put our hope and trust in any other hands, including our own. Rather, we need to let God minister to every part of us, and through every part of us.
Seeing that, freed from guilt, from worry, we dwell in such peace that loving Him, treasuring His love and work in our lives becomes our life Alife where our hearts and minds work together, loving Him, and through Him, loving those the world considers unlovable.
This is our blessed life, our entire life in Christ.
Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.
Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.