Saturday, June 28, 2008

The New Obedience



Augsburg Confession (AC) article VI (The New Obedience) holds in summary that man’s good works are the product and evidence, not the cause, of his salvation. The article is corollary to the central Christian doctrine of salvation by faith apart from deeds (Rom. 3:28) (art. IV, Justification). These two articles in the AC are mediated by article V concerned with gospel delivery (Office of the Ministry). In short, once priority of the justification horse is established before its sanctification cart; the gospel does not comprehend salvation without works (James 2:24).

The scriptural tension between faith alone and obedience to Word, has long confused Christendom. Focus on faith at the expense of deeds; or on deeds as the touchstone of faith, will in either case pervert the gospel. In the first instance by antinomian antipathy toward the law and the obedience commanded by Christ; and by the second as legalism, pietism, and/or confusing new obedience for demands of old law. In any case reaching an orthodox understanding of “the gospel” continues a cause celeb of sectarian divisions.

To apprehend the gospel’s new obedience without violence to the central doctrine of justification by faith; the gospel must, in every time and place, be rightly confessed. Christendom lacks common agreement of the gospel’s significance. A competent discussion of the new obedience of AC article VI presupposes such an agreement in the gospel, which this paper renders in its catholic comprehension, i.e., what is believed and practiced everywhere, always, by all (Vincent of Lerins) encompassed in the liturgical expressions and assumptions of the Lutheran Symbols.

For many (some “Lutherans” included), “the gospel” is an amorphous truncation, permitting orthodox and sectarian alike to converse while talking past each other (the same is true of other Christian words: “faith”, “grace”, “Word”, and “sacrament”). To paraphrase O. Wilde, W. Churchill, and G.B. Shaw, “Christians are divided by a common language”.

The good news is certainly the forgiveness of sin for Christ’s sake. But If this were all, as many think, the gospel would be mere factoid, an item of information; and once intelligently processed an appropriate response might be: “Thanks God, and so long”. In fact this is a fairly common response to the objective reality of the forgiveness of sin for Christ’s sake. In such frame of mind there would be little reason to darken the doors of the church except as the ravages of sin and guilt might impel to the occasional “booster-shot” of good news. But merely processing the gospel fact in intellectual terms and responding by the “sinner’s prayer” or making “decision(s) for Jesus” have little to do with saving faith. Such limited understanding of “the gospel” wrongly sees “faith” as man’s cooperative activity with God; and abstracts God’s word from the person of Christ (the principle Protestant error).

A serious consequence in separating the word of God from the person of Jesus is an inevitable movement away from right worship (orthodoxy) to a life characterized either by antinomian episodic church attendance; or legalistic frequency (Sunday as “new Sabbath day”). Further such movement tends to worship that is more or less optional in shape and substance oriented in personal preferences.

When the gospel is reduced to being an item of information, the effect is the almost complete exorcism of God’s word from the church; and a concomitant deconstruction of her Liturgy. Essential to the objective gospel of forgiveness is that God’s word has as its natural context the Liturgy of the church. Outside of an orienting liturgical reference, God’s word and gospel cannot be rightly comprehended. In this sense, word and sacrament ministry is constitutive of the church. Far from appreciating the Liturgy as integral to the life of the church, most (and many Lutherans included) regard the Liturgy as just something so called “liturgical church bodies” happen to do. Is it any wonder that the denominations and sects adhere to a peculiar slant of Scripture’s meaning thereby rendering a common gospel understanding impossible?

A result of word of God as mere information is that congregations devolve into loosely associated gatherings without substantive unity. The question of whether to join a particular congregation becomes not so much, whether the gospel is purely preached and the sacraments rightly administered, but an array of other, tertiary, and personal concerns (“how friendly is the congregation?”, “do they conduct optional contemporary and ‘traditional’ Services?”, “is the music uplifting?, “are there children activities? ”).

But the gospel in its catholic understanding is more than informational factoid of sin forgiven for Christ’s sake. Instead the gospel comprehends the Word as power of God (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18) which is spirit and life (Jn. 6:63). By the Word, forgiveness is not obtained in an abstract, disembodied, self-serve way; but delivered as the cleansing, healing, enlivening activity of God in the flesh of Christ for his people gathered by his word and ministered in sacramental presence.

What Lutherans call “means of grace” can never be separate from the objective reality of justification come as the reign of God in Christ with his new Israel. It is in the delivery of gospel word as “means of grace” that we begin to see “works” or “deeds” come into view. They are not yet works of our “doing”; instead the gospel speaks to the “marvelous” (Acts 2:11), “mighty” (Mt. 11:20) works of God in Christ. The première work of God by his word is that of saving faith so that our salvation has nothing to do with our efforts, intellectual or otherwise. By God’s powerful, active, spiritual word of life we are drawn by and to the gospel, i.e., to the person of Jesus and the works of his crucified, resurrected, and ascended flesh. Drawn, Magi like (Mt. 2:2) by the Word, God comes sealing our incorporation into his life by Spirit and Word in Holy Baptism.

At the baptismal font we are brought into Real Presence communion and participation with Jesus’ death and resurrection; and by the binding of God to us in the physical wounds of Jesus, we also die to self and rise to God as new creation in the gift of the Spirit. All this is to say, that the received gospel is of faith which is saving in its relationship with Jesus, the temple and abiding place of God (John 2:19, 21). Jesus’ work is our faith which he alone establishes to make us holy and participatory in his abiding presence with the Father.

There is continuity in faith wrought by gospel word; when we are faithless, Jesus reamains faithful. There is nothing occasional or episodic about the baptized life. Jesus in word/sacrament physically embraces us who are bride in his flesh, making us like himself: holy with access to our heavenly Father oriented to a new obedience.

The nature of the Baptized life of faith and new obedience is that our gospel forgiveness, eternal life, and holiness is continually accessible in the person of Jesus as he establishes his presence in lordly prerogative, and not, “everyman doing whatever is right in his own eyes” (Deut. 12:8) as “in those days [when] there was no king in Israel” (Judg. 17:6). The new obedience thus fully anticipates receipt of the gospel in the manner by which he promises to be graciously with his church; i.e., where the Liturgy of the Word calls to faith and to Baptism, bids to reception of Holy Absolution for forgiveness and pastoral care, and invites to the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper for forgiveness in feeding from his bloody wounds and on-going union as one in his flesh (Gen. 2:23) from Lord’s day to Lord’s day.

Having distinguished the gospel to be more wonderful than a Protestant abstraction; and less confused than Rome’s synergy of faith and deeds; we explore the nature of the new obedience in its gospel context, homiletically informed by a Liturgy of Time, i.e., through Easter and Pentecost themes.

Holy Thursday of the Easter Triduum, John 13:1-17, 31-35; Something New:

During the Passover supper, Jesus pauses to wash his disciples’ feet. Dispatching Judas from their company, our Lord then speaks to the remaining apostles of something new; something in which Judas cannot participate. First Jesus explains that now both he and God are glorified in each other (an unusual statement at this point as St. John identifies Jesus’ glorification with being lifted-up on the cross—see discussion on “time” below) and then says to them, “A new commandment (entolen) I give to you; that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you love one another” (v. 34). What is new? Certainly Jesus’ word is new compared to the Old Testament word, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The implicit suggestion is that Jesus loves us in greater degree than we are capable of loving ourselves. This is true, but by Jesus’ command we come face to face with a new obedience to love as he loves. It sounds as though Jesus is out-doing Moses; intensifying the demands of the law. To the contrary, the newness of Jesus’ command is not an added burden of the law. Jesus’ new commandment is pure gospel; and new in the context of a new thing happening in the background of our text.

Two events are in play to explain Jesus’ singular “new commandment”: the foot washing and the Passover meal being reinterpreted in order to reconstitute Israel (represented by the 12 minus 1 apostles) in the new reality of salvation, the New Testament in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus.

Earlier it was asserted that, “God’s word has as its natural context the Liturgy of the church. Outside of an orienting liturgical reference, God’s word and gospel cannot be rightly comprehended. In this sense, word and sacrament ministry is constitutive of the church.” This is the point of the new commandment and our new obedience: Jesus’ referents are two new foundational things of the New Testament: Holy Baptism and Lord’s Supper, new means of God’s gracious salvation in Christ. By these means, our gospel salvation is participatory in a heavenly communion of Christ’s flesh and blood.

A question of time inserts. Jesus institutes his Supper with the commands, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me” and "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance nd “of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24, 25). Since Jesus’ crucifixion does not occur for several more hours, we naturally inquire: when was his body “broken” to be Passover food for this First Supper?

According to the dominical words of the First Supper the apostles received in their mouths precisely what the church catholic has ever since confessed its communicant believers receive in every Lord’s Supper (Mass) thereafter; i.e., the same body Mary held in her hands and that same broken body hung on the cross for the sin of the world. This is to say that, when time and space interfaces with eternity, we may not view events in simplistic linear sequence. Supper, Passion, and Resurrection are a single complex event, each aspect of which looks to and assumes the others. The prominent example of this kind of complex oneness is the Trinity, which from our human vantage is incomprehensible. The church recognizes a simple complexity of the salvation event in celebrating an extended single Liturgy (The Easter Triduum) over the period of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter (vigil and day). The merits of cross and resurrection are the intended application of the church’s Liturgy of the Supper. The church does not travel back 2000 years in her imagination (Pietism’s approach) to participate in the benefits of cross and resurrection. Rather our ascended Lord, powerful eternal Word, in his person is both host and spiritual food in the Supper for new Israel, his church. So also at the First Supper our Lord by his dominical word sacramentally manifested his eternal and then fleshly presence in the bread and wine, all the while also locally present with the apostles. If simultaneous local and sacramental presence, the latter of which assumes a future event (the cross), at the First Supper is beyond our ken, so be it, it is nonetheless, the promise and word of God.

These two new things, Baptism and Lord’s Supper, both at once are established from the cross and by word as work of Christ and the Spirit. At the cross Jesus is baptized (Lk. 12:50) in the propitiating fire of God’s Spirit, utterly consumed a whole burnt offering for sin in his zeal to be the place of God’s dwelling (Ps. 69:9). In our text Jesus points to our associated baptisms by washing the apostles’ feet hinting to the "washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5) to flow from his torn side on the cross as water, Word, and Spirit for the birthing and life of the church.

These new things Baptism and Supper coming into being and in the background of our text are the content and context of God’s New Testament love. Jesus can command his followers, “love…as I have loved you” which is a new thing in Christ; for the love we extend is not of ourselves; but of God in Christ imparted through reception of means: Word, Baptism, and Supper.

Though salvation and our reception of the God’s love is entirely the work of Christ, it is also apparent that Jesus’ command, to love as he loves, is a “hard saying” (Jn. 6:60, 66) from which many will turn away. Jesus’ new commandment is co-ordinate with his warning in the Sermon on the Mount, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mt. 7:13, 14). If Jesus’ flesh is dwelling place of God, he is also the gate to the household of God (Jn. 10:9). Jesus’ new commandment to love as he loves requires a new kind of obedience. The new obedience, is that we “enter by the narrow gate” of his work and not by our own efforts or abilities. This narrow entry to God of obedient faith is nowhere else than through Jesus’ crucified flesh as we are washed by the water (Baptism) poured from his side, and receive a cleansing in the blood of the Lamb (Supper), i.e., the new things of the New Testament to make us holy.

Jesus’ crucified flesh as gateway to God is prefigured in the Old Testament Passover meal commanded by God (Ex. 12). The blood of sacrificed Passover lambs was smeared on the household wood lentil and door posts (thereby making the sign of the cross over the house) identifying the entry to the communal meal (of roast lamb) for salvation from the wrath of God’s passing-over angel.

At his Supper, Jesus re-presents and reinterprets the bread and wine, as the same flesh and shed blood which would be nailed and painted on the wood of the cross to precisely and clearly mark the narrow entry into God’s dwelling place. It is through this narrow entrance alone that one participates in the new things of salvation.

Only by our participation and union in Jesus’ torn flesh and shed blood are we able to “do” as he commands, i.e., “that [we] love one another as [he has] loved [us].” Partaking of his Flesh for the forgiveness of sins, we also bear his love in our flesh, united in the only flesh which at one and the same time defeats death; and has fully obeyed the perfect will of God in our place.

Fifth Sunday of Easter, John 14:1-14; A House United:

Jesus says, “In My Father’s house are many mansions” (v. 2). More precisely there are many “abiding places”. These places are not dormitories, grave like places of slumber or richly appointed retreats in which to idly wile away this life and eternity. In Christ the new obedience calls us to works and deeds oriented by the identity of the Householder and the purposes of his household. Thus like any good works project the church’s efforts are unified and directed. The Householder is the Father whose purposes are accomplished through his Son (v. 10). It is our unity with Jesus by a baptismal-Eucharistic faith which brings us into the loop of Christian good works (v. 12). And so Jesus promises his church, “greater works than [the works that I do] [the believer] will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do…If you ask anything in My name I will do it” (vv. 12-14).

Christian prayer from time to time tests Jesus’ promise in order to secure some questionable benefit for self or others. Disappointment is the most probable outcome from prayer grounded in a “theology of glory”. “Christian” nations war against each other and ask Jesus to vanquish the other. In these regards is it important to observe that Jesus’ promise to do anything asked in his name, is not a blank check to spend in the cosmic toy store of man’s will.

The promise is to the church (nascent by the apostles) about to be birthed from his crucified side in the water, the blood, and the Spirit poured out for the life and continuance of his church. Note that Jesus’ death and resurrection is not directly for the salvation of the world, but specifically for the world’s salvation through his church. Axiomatic among the church fathers was, “Outside the church, no one is saved” (Origen); and “You cannot have God as father unless you have the church as mother” (Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage).

The Baptized life is maintained in a unity of the Spirit expressed in the activities of the church; “[continuing] steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of [the] bread, and in prayers…Now all who believed where together , and had all things in common…So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47). The Christian faith relationship is not a “me and Jesus” affair so prevalent in the American Protestant mentality; nor a laity distanced from God by an intercessory Roman priest class. Instead the relationship is the priesthood of the baptized (Ex. 19:6, 1 Peter 2:5, 9) in union with Jesus, our High Priest. This priesthood is not a gathering of discordant individuals; it is instead a ministerium which acts and believes in the unity of the Spirit of truth (Jn. 14:17).

St. Luke described the church’s activity (i.e., doctrinal catechesis, Supper, prayers, agape hospitality and meal sharing, and witness by public comportment in the new love) as occurring, “daily with one accord in the temple”. No doubt Herod’s stone temple is a referent here; but more salient is St. John’s Gospel commentary on Jesus’ own reference to the “temple” (Jn. 2:19), “He was speaking of the temple of His body…When He had risen…His disciples remembered that He had said this to them” (Jn. 2:21, 22). It is Jesus, who places his church in the “mansions” of his Father’s house so that the primary referent of the church’s unity and accord must be the “temple” of Jesus’ risen and ascended flesh. And St. Paul confirms the church’s Eucharistic unity which discerns Supper reception as “the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:29). In discerning the character of her new things, Baptism and Supper, the church instantly recognizes that she has a new locus of her continuing and eternal existence, whether in this world or in heaven. The church is not to be found in a geographic “Land”, buildings, church bodies, denominations, synods, or “here and there” with charismatic personalities and preachers; but she is found manifest in the constitutive marks of her existence, i.e., where the word is purely preached and the sacraments rightly administered, and thereby is the Real Presence of God in Christ with his people.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, John 14:15-30; New Obedience as Gospel Reception:

Jesus exhorts his church, “If you love Me, [you will] keep (teresete) My commandments (entolas) (plural)” (v. 15). This is distinct from his command, “to love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34). In fact, since Christians abide in Jesus and Jesus in us and the Father (v. 20), our love of one another is equated with loving Jesus (Mt. 10:40; 25:40) in whom disciples abide by word, Baptism and Supper. Love of God is essentially a part of abiding and possessing the words of Jesus. Keeping Jesus’ words (logon, v. 23) is so utterly essential to the welfare of his disciples that Jesus promises to send the Spirit of truth to teach, bring to remembrance, and help rightly interpret his word (v. 26).

When Jesus urges his church to “keep [his] commandments” we are compelled to inquire, which are these? In fact, the disciples do not yet know all of Jesus' commands or words as some will be conveyed following his resurrection. We observe that the immediate context of Jesus' repeated urging to keep his commands is the welling sense of dread in the disciples at his imminent departure to the Father. It is in the church’s possessing, keeping, and guarding his words and commands that she has her security, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you” (v. 27). By this gospel assurance we begin to comprehend that Jesus’ commands are not to be taken on a par with the Old Testament law, demanding obedience for the sake of God’s holy ethic and prescribed worship. The commands which Jesus is leaving his church, far from being law-commands, can only be described as gospel-commands which in the possessing and keeping result in God’s service to us in application of his grace, merciful forgiveness, and abiding love for Christ’s sake.

For the sake of clarity, an example of law-command would be, “‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5:27, 28). But there is something entirely and qualitatively different when Jesus says, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk. 8:21). And most “gospel” of all Christ's words are his commands in the background of our text, which are context for his words urging our “love”, to wit, “Take, eat; this is My body…do this…This cup is the new Testament in My blood. This do…” (1 Cor. 11:24, 25).

When speaking of Jesus’ gospel-commands we must consider the mandate that his church “will keep (teresete)” his New Testament commands, in a different light than when considering the Old Testament law as foundation of Sinai’s Covenant.

At Sinai, God “cut a covenant” with the Hebrews, promising to be their God. In making his Covenant the LORD revealed to this people his essential otherness and holiness by delivery of his Ten Words or Commandments. His people became known by a new name, “Israel” which God had bestowed on their father Jacob as a sign of blessing in God’s holiness. By our obedience (or failure) to the revealed ethic of God’s holiness we speak of the law functioning as matrix of curb, mirror, guide. Aspiring to God’s holiness in the “old obedience” profits nothing other than what we are otherwise obligated to keep in view of God’s perfect holiness. Jesus says, “[W]hen you have done all these things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (Lk. 17:10).

But in the New Testament in Jesus’ blood, God reveals himself more profoundly, i.e., in his grace and mercy for Christ’s sake. If we are to participate in this covenant by “keeping” Jesus’ commandments we must do so from a gospel orientation. To view the model for obedience of gospel-commands requires a return to pre-Fall Eden. “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Adam and helpmate Eve were not farmers. “Tend and keep” (or “serve” and “guard”) is tabernacle/temple liturgical language (see Num. 1:53; 3:7,8; 18:3-7; 31:30). Adam and Eve were called to a priesthood, an order of holy and princely children of God most High. It is in the garden where Adam was most intimately priest of God, icon in God’s “image” and “likeness” (Gen. 1:26) representing him in the creation. In the garden Adam and Eve “kept” communion “in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8), i.e., the morning Service abiding with the Word, the pre-Incarnate Christ.

In Christ (second Adam) we have been restored to the station of children and our family vocation of believing priests, ordained at our Baptisms. In this gospel context “keeping the Word” is not an alien occupation, but one in communion with God as a part of the woof and warp of our Christian being. This is not to say we do not grapple with our sin nature; we do, and the law of God’s ethic and holiness condemns us. But by the gospel’s forgiveness for Christ’s sake we keep Jesus’ commands, especially those which are means of grace, very close indeed, that is to say we, “hear the word of God and do it”. According to St John Chrysostom, hearing Jesus’ words in faith is the essence of our loving him and co-ordinate with “keeping” his word (The Father’s of the Church, St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, CUA, Washington. DC, 1959, Homily 75, pp. 306 & 308), i.e., “doing” the word of God and “loving” Jesus is one and the same thing, faithful receptivity of his Divine Service; our new obedience whereby in Christ, “God is all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

If Jesus’ words (remata, Jn. 6:63) are “spirit and life” then Christians can do no other than to obey his commands (entolas), for example, the command of Christian confession, “whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:32). Peter, given the option of continuing in the presence of the living God or departing from Jesus with the crowds, gives voice to the believer’s faith imperative of keeping (i.e., continuing to abide) in the word by his confession on behalf of the apostles, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words (remata) of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Jn. 6:68, 69). Of Jesus saying, “If you love Me, keep My commandments (entolas)”, Chrysostom expresses the new obedience this way, “In truth, it is not enough merely to have[Jesus’ commandments], but we also need to observe them carefully” (Homily 75, p. 305).

Day of Pentecost, John 7:37-39; Baptismal Origin for the New Obedience:

Jesus stands in the temple on the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast recalled and re-presented God’s wilderness ingathering of Israel; to tabernacle with them and be their God. Morning and evening God graciously sustained his people by his Divine Service from his altar (Ex. 29:38-46).

In the temple background, associated with the morning Service, was performed the Feast’s water ceremony. Priests lead a celebratory procession from the Altar of Presence down to the Pool of Siloam and with a golden pitcher drew out water. The party returned circling the Altar seven times as the grain offering and lamb sacrifices were being laid on the Altar where God was present by the perpetual fire. The people sang psalms and liturgical songs, as “‘YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’ Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:2, 3). Two silver funnels were at the Altar. Into one the wine drink offering was poured and into the other the priest with the golden pitcher poured a water libation; thus the living water along with the wine, and the daily sacrifice issued from the Altar as congregation food from the Lord.

The water ceremony in view, Jesus shouts, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me…out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (vv. 37, 38). St. John provides the interpretation that the “living water” is reference to the Holy Spirit (v. 39). Chrysostom more particularly understands the “living water” as the “grace” of the Spirit (Homily 51, pp. 36 & 38). By his words Jesus invites all to “thirst” in faith after him and to “drink”, i.e., to partake of his sacrificial work (prefigured in the water ceremony) of forgiveness on the cross through Christian Baptism.

God is the source of all life and wellness in the congregation. As fountainhead of “rivers of living water”, Jesus is laying claim to being that God with his people present by the fire of the Altar. He is also announcing that the Altar of Presence will soon move from the precincts of the temple to the wood of the cross where en-Spirited water and blood will issue from his body, a whole burnt offering for the sin of the world and birth of new Israel.

In the new obedience of “hearing” and “doing” the Word in the Christian Liturgy, the congregation’s Altar is central. The Altar is the platform on which word as Scripture properly rests to be taken up by the Office of Ministry, delivering the words of Jesus in the en-Spirited Pentecost fire of preaching. By the fire of abiding Word in the congregation unbelievers are drawn to faith and Baptism; and the priesthood to their rightful food on the Table at Jesus’ consecratory commands of the First Supper. In this communion of God with his church, Jesus is the on-going giver of his Holy Spirit to hydrate and enliven his church by his righteousness.

The Holy Spirit as “living water” is unceasingly active in welling-up out of believers’ hearts (Homily 51, pp. 36, 38) that they might be the vehicles of God’s love and work in Christ to the world. Affairs and concerns of this world make believers forgetful and so for the sake of holiness we are in unceasing need of hearing Jesus’ words as the “Spirit of truth” instructs (Homily 51, p. 43). The church is holy because her Lord is holy who has given himself to make us so. It is gospel-imperative that his holiness is obtained where his word is purely delivered and his sacraments rightly administered. By word and sacrament, in which Christians are privileged to participate, are accomplished the “marvelous”, “mighty” works of God, i.e., salvation by faith in Christ alone apart from the deeds of the law.

As participants in his saving work, Christ the source of “rivers of living water ” gives us abundant supply. In God’s Old Testament household, it was the prophets on whom the Holy Spirit rested for the delivery of God’s word. Moses was the prophet of Israel. But his burden was exhausting and God called 70 elders to share in the Holy Spirit for prophesying his word. Complaint was made that two men, absent from the anointing ceremony, were also prophesying in the camp. Moses responded, “Oh, that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num. 11:29). Pentecost is God’s answer to Moses’ prayer. On Pentecost day the gathered people of God (120 persons, 12 [church] x 10 [perfection and power]) received the Spirit of truth to know Jesus’ words aright and to participate in his marvelous works in the continued, out-pouring of the Spirit’s abundant grace.

The picture of Jesus as fountainhead for “rivers of living water” flowing from believers’ hearts draws us to the picture of Eden’s garden, “Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads” (Gen. 2:10). The four rivers (Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates) flowed out from the place of God’s life giving presence as living water to hydrate the four corners of the world.

The effect of sin is death. When Adam fell and was expelled from the garden’s hydration in the Spirit, so also the world suffered and shared in the withering loss. The church’s new obedience to Jesus’ commands establishes her to mission purpose. To this end she is obedient and faithful in continuing to hear and do her Lord’s post resurrection gospel-commands; “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven” (Jn. 20:22, 23) and “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded (entellomai) you” (Mt. 28:19, 20). The church’s participation in God’s salvation, far from suggesting righteousness by our own works; instead is the new obedience which is fruit and evidence of our restoration to priestly and prophetic works in Christ.

Rev. Peter E. Mills
Presented, June 28, 2008
Second Annual Conference on the Augsburg Confession
At Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Marion, Ohio