Behold and See

The Lord is with you this day! And a blessed Reformation Day to you!

I just returned from a visit with Pastor Heckert, and as always, it was a time of togetherness and refreshment in Christ. Of the many things we talked about, one was with regard to the Epistle reading for this Sunday from 1 John 3:1-3, the first verse in particular, which is: “See what kind of love the Father as given us, that we should be called children of God…”

In the original Greek text, the first word in the sentence is Ἴδετε, which is typically translated as “see.” Sometimes people will even translate it as “behold,” although there’s another word better translated as “behold,” and that’s ἰδοὺ. In particular, ἰδοὺ is used when something extraordinary is happening—like an angel is delivering a message, or the Holy Spirit is descending on Christ at His Baptism. It is an emphatic word calling attention to detail or a particular idea. Another way to put it is that it is the “Wow, would you look at that!” of the first century.

But in 1 John 3:1, while the Apostle could have chosen to use ἰδοὺ, he doesn’t. It certainly would have been appropriate in the sense that being called a child of God is an amazingly incredible thing. But again, instead, he chose Ἴδετε, a much simpler form which means to see something and understand—to comprehend its significance.

Pastor Heckert and I talked about this, and we came to the realization that Ἴδετε works well because the fuller context of the reading is specifically situated in Jesus Christ. In other words, certainly we can marvel that we are God’s children, but more importantly, we are to know and understand that the greatness of God’s love—and therefore our role and title and His children—is seen and understood completely in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the One who died and rose again to win for us this blessed reality. The word ἰδοὺ (Wow, look at that!) insinuates something you don’t want to miss, but Ἴδετε speaks to understanding what’s at the heart of what is before you. In this case, it is the divine love of God displayed in Jesus on the cross for sinful humanity. Yes, even while we were God’s enemies, He gave of Himself for our rescue. We see and understand this when we, by faith, look to His Son, Jesus.

Pretty great stuff.

And so, with that, look to the Son of God. See in Him God’s undeserved kindness toward you. Looking upon the cross, know and understand the price for Sin, but more importantly, look there to know and understand what Saint John calls “ποταπὴν ἀγάπην”—the sort of love (“agape” – the perfect love that only God can have)—that is located in Jesus Christ.

Looking there, the Christian is never left to wonder as to God’s intentions for humanity. In Jesus, the message is crystal clear.

What Crawls Underneath

Colette, the early twentieth century French author, wrote in her book Cheri (which, by the way, I don’t necessarily suggest you read): “A door slamming makes one jump, but it doesn’t make one afraid. What one fears is the serpent that crawls underneath it.”

Now, even though I wouldn’t endorse Colette’s volume, I do appreciate the intention of the words, and here’s why. In a simple way, they’re meant to relay that there are plenty of things that startle us in this life, things that cannot necessarily harm us. But we also know that sometimes there are things behind the door that can. What’s often most terrifying are those things that get through the door even as we press ourselves against it trying to keep them out—things like illness, broken relationships, and so many other things that do indeed happen outside of our control.

I’m starting to think that the image of the snake slithering under the door is becoming the more common of the terrors we face in this life. So much in our lives and world seem to be spinning furiously beyond our ability to keep up, and as a result, we feel like we’re hanging on. But with that, I want to tell you what Pastor Heckert tells me when I get to feeling that way—when I feel like I have too much to do and not enough time or energy to accomplish it all. (And by the way, I know when I get to feeling like this because I begin adding to my prayers a request for a cloning device so I can be in multiple places at once, as well as a teleportation device so that my clones can swiftly zip to these places and get their assigned tasks completed).

First, he reminds me that I don’t have to keep up. God is in control. This always reminds me of what Pope John Paul was once quoted as saying: “It’s your church, Lord. I’m going to bed.” Second, he reminds me that even as I may think I’m losing grip on Christ and His promises, the Lord is holding onto me with both hands—and His grip is the strongest. And lastly, he reminds me that quite often it’s those times when I have absolutely no control over the situation that I learn to trust Christ more intently. And he’s absolutely right. It’s during those times when it seems like the situation couldn’t get any more hopeless—that there doesn’t seem to be a way out—that we see the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in all its glory as the ultimate deliverance from the terrors of this world. With this Gospel beaming in and through us, all terrible things behind the door—even the things that get through—have no footing for snatching us from the One who loves us enough to die in our place. In this, there’s always hope.

Take this Gospel message into yourself today. Savor it. It gives life, and it’s yours as one baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Tragedy in Las Vegas

Last night in Las Vegas, a gunmen on the 30th floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino opened fire on an outside gathering of concert goers below. The last I heard, 50 people were killed and over 400 were seriously injured. The news report I was just listening to said that even as this is already the largest mass-shooting in America’s history, with the condition of many of the injured, most likely the death toll will continue to rise.

Why…?

What…?

How…?

We’re left breathless and without words.

Just this morning, I was sitting with the school staff, and after reading a portion from Ephesians 3 (v. 16 in particular, where Paul speaks of the strength given by the power of the Holy Spirit), these were the words from Luther that I shared as they related to the text:

“Worldly people are full of courage and of high spirits, and so are Christians. Christians are much stronger through the Holy Spirit, for they fear neither the world nor the devil, neither death nor misfortune. This is called spiritual strength… Worldly courage endures no longer than there is some earthly good on which to rely; but the true courage trusts in God alone and has no other good or gold than God alone; in Him it withstands all evil and wins an altogether different heart and courage from that of the world.”

It would seem that we need that unearthly courage more than ever before these days.

I read another report from, of all places, CNN, which is a news network that is typically hostile to Christianity. Interestingly, the reporter was speaking with a survivor of the incident whose words came back as rather startling, “I arrived at the concert an agnostic. I’m leaving a believer.” While I don’t know the fullness of what he means, I’m going to assume from the context that his agnostic beliefs—that is, the belief that it’s impossible to know whether or not there is a God, and so the person neither claims faith or disbelief—this man’s agnostic position changed to one that admits God is real. Whether he saw God at work through the people involved in the rescue and caring for others (Matthew 5), or he’s willing to admit that only devilry could move a heart to such darkness, thereby inferring such evil must have an opponent, either way, this man took a step toward recognizing this world is coming undone and it needs rescue.

Yesterday, Sunday, those of you who made it to church, you heard of that rescue. You met with and received from the One who provides that rescue. You were forearmed for today’s news. You were fed by His Word and Sacraments for the courage Luther described in the portion above. This supernatural food met you where you were, and it instilled the very message that supersedes the world’s hope and gives true Christian hope. You heard, quite literally that Christ, on the cross, gave Himself over—horrifyingly, grotesquely, vividly. He plunged into Death’s mouth, down its throat, and into its belly to be digested. From there, he was the poison that killed Death. And then He tore back up and out of Death’s corpse by way of His resurrection at Easter. You learned that never before has there ever been someone who could contend with the terrors of this world, namely Death, and win. And yet, the Gospel declares that the day has come, and that One is Jesus.

My prayer for you—dearest Christian of Our Savior Lutheran Church and School—is that even as you watch and listen to the newscasts, as you behold the sadness, the terror, the hopelessness, that you would first be calmed by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel—a message not just of God’s existence, but one that actually displays and works His wonderful love revealed in Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. Sturdied by this, emboldened by this, made courageous by this and by this alone, go out into the world to be salt and light. Be the ones whom God will use to show a suffering world that He exists, He loves us, and He has reached out to us in our greatest need. In Him, no matter the terrors that appear to consume this fallen world, we are and have been well cared for in and through Jesus Christ.

This is who you are in the Savior, someone with a resilient hope that not even a barrage of bullets can kill.

Share that hope with others right now. We all know they need it.