Four Branches April – 2019

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Exegetical Theology: Stay Close to This – The Near Demonstrative in Acts 13:15-39

The Spirit opens your mouth to declare the wonderful story of “Love divine, all love excelling.” We care beyond words about what we get to say in the pulpit. So also, when the apostle Paul stood to speak upon invitation in Pisidian Antioch’s synagogue, he jumped at the chance to speak about This.

Acts 13:15, 16a, 26-33 is the First Lesson in Christian Worship (extended to verse 39 in the Hymnal Project) for Easter 4C. Paul exhibits that his sermon is Christocentric through forms of the “near demonstrative” pronoun οὗτος in reference to Jesus.

You may remember that demonstratives are pointing pronouns used to help the reader/listener keep track of “who’s on first.” οὗτος points to something nearby (spatially, in the writer’s mind, or nearby in the text – usually aforementioned); ἐκεῖνος, by contrast, points to something more distant.

You may also remember that regarding personal pronouns in Greek, the third person pronouns (he, she, it; they) have been lost, and instead forms of the demonstrative regularly substitute as third person pronouns in the nominative case (οὗτοι = they), and forms of αὐτός regularly take their place in the oblique cases.

Now take out your Greek text for Acts 13:15-39. As Paul traces God’s promise from Abraham to David, his sermon goal is to announce that from the seed of David “God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised” (13:23, NIV). Verses 24-25 demonstrate how the ministry of John the Baptist also serve the proclamation of this Savior Jesus. Starting in verse 26, Paul aims to bring this saving Gift to his hearers.

But look at τοῦτον in verse 27: οἱ γὰρ κατοικοῦντες ἐν Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες αὐτῶν τοῦτον ἀγνοήσαντες… “for the inhabitants in Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize [τοῦτον]…”

When you go fishing for the antecedent of τοῦτον (masc., acc., sing.), what do you find?

  • Is it ὁ λόγος (v26) – “[they] did not recognize the message of this salvation”?
  • Is the antecedent τὸν θεόν (also v26) – “[they] did not recognize God”?

The answer is neither, however, since verses 27-29 clearly refer to Jesus’ passion history. τοῦτον must refer to Jesus.

So why didn’t Paul simply say αὐτὸν, the default personal pronoun in such a case (and forms of αὐτός are used frequently in verses 27-30)?   Well, despite the new section at verse 26 and the nearby presence of other masculine singular sermon participants like λόγος and θεόν, This Savior Jesus (v 23) remains at center stage. This use of the demonstrative continues to communicate nearness, only with a more thematic function.[1] It keeps Jesus “front and center” so-to-speak. No matter what part of Paul’s sermon, Paul never moves far from This. As a bonus, see how Paul does the same thing two more times in verses 38-39: διὰ τούτου and ἐν τούτῳ, respectively.

Blessings as you stand in your pulpits, dear brothers. Whatever your sermon titles, I know the theme will be This.

Further study:

[1] See Chapter 18 – “Near/Far Distinction” – in Steve Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament.

Rev. Daniel Bondow serves as pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, WI. He also serves the Urban Conference as worship coordinator and on the Communication Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project.

Systematic Theology: Soul Sleep?

On some level it makes sense: Outside the confines of time, does the passage of time mean anything?  “For a thousand years in [God’s] sight are like a day that has just gone by” (Psalm 90:4).  One of the most common metaphors for death is sleep, and Daniel’s prophecy could be taken to mean that the existence of now-departed souls is something less than fully conscious: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will arise” (Daniel 12:2).  Are souls sleeping until judgment?  When we die, will time pass so quickly that our first conscious recognition is the Last Day?

Rather than speculate, let the clear Word of God speak.  Perhaps the most familiar portion of Scripture that might provide a glimpse beyond death is Luke 16, the rich man and Lazarus.  Possibly a parable, but not explicitly labeled as such, these words of Jesus tell of the transition to glory or suffering for the souls of a believer and an unbeliever, respectively.  The (once) rich man has left his earthly life, but is conscious and aware, not only of his own suffering, but of that which awaits his brothers.  His tormented soul cried out for relief but found nothing so happy as Lazarus’ bliss at Abraham’s side.  Their bodies may have slept in dust, but not their souls.

The Apostle John also had the privilege of seeing the veil lifted in his visions of heaven, where he notes his observation of the “souls that were slain for the Word of God” in chapter 6 of the Revelation, and later mentions “souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony” in chapter 20.  Even as John witnessed the multitudes, he sees their number growing in chapter 7 as “the ones coming out of the great tribulation” (present tense in Greek!).  Far from unconscious, they wear white robes, wave palm branches, and cry out songs of worship in a loud voice.  They are not sleeping.

As Saint Paul neared the end of his life, he weighed the possibilities before him.  Even though he had the “desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far,” he knew that the Lord had work for him to do here yet (Philippians 1:23-24).  He also encouraged the Corinthians with his inspired message that “to be away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord”—no sleeping, no waiting, no gap in between.  The Thessalonians, too, received the assurance that “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thess. 4:14); though their bodies sleep, their souls come down from heaven, not up out of the ground.

Finally, let us teach and let us cling to the compassionate words of Christ as he neared his own death.  Like the thief hanging alongside his king, we may one day close our eyes praying, “Jesus, remember me.”  His answer to us will echo the reply he gave on Good Friday.  “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Rev. Eric Schroeder serves as pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa, WI.


Historical Theology: The Hidden Reformation, part 2

“Scripture says that faith alone justifies because it is that through which alone I cling to Christ. By faith alone I am partaker of the merits and mercy purchased by Christ’s blood. It is faith alone that receives the promises made in Christ. Through our faith the merits, goodness, grace, and favour [sic] of Christ are imputed and reckoned to us.” (Robert Barnes, A Supplication to King Henry VIII, Justification)[1]

But Robert Barnes’ confession was not always so concrete and clear.

Following his arrest for his Christmas, 1525 sermon, Barnes agreed to recant the statements deemed to be offensive in it. With great ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral – in which Barnes’ sermon and Martin Luther’s theology were reproved as heretical – Barnes knelt and asked forgiveness. Remanded at Fleet Prison, London, six months later he was released to the Augustinian priory in London.

However, Barnes continued to espouse Lutheran theology. And later, while under house arrest, Barnes distributed Lutheran books and sold copies of Tyndale’s (prohibited) English Bibles. For this, he found himself at the displeasure of Cardinal Wolsey, again – this time condemned to be burned. Forewarned by a friend, in November, 1528, Barnes left a fallacious suicide note and slipped to the Continent. He wouldn’t return to England until December, 1531 – and that in an entirely different position.

In the meantime, Barnes met the Lutherans first-hand. Over three years, he developed close relationships with leaders of the Reformation. He enrolled at the University of Wittenberg under the pseudonym Antonius Anglus. In Wittenberg, he lived in the home of John Bugenhagen for some time, frequenting the house of Martin Luther as guest, and developing a friendship with Philip Melanchthon. In the shadow of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, he could discuss their content with the Lutherans who produced it.

More importantly, Barnes grew as a theologian with the godly desire to bring Evangelical theology to his homeland. In 1530, while living in Bugenhagen’s home, Barnes published his first work, his Sentences, which bear a striking resemblance in content to the Augsburg Confession. A year later he wrote his most important work, A Supplication to King Henry VIII. In this he made a defense of his personal loyalty to Henry VIII, the suggestion that Lutheranism is compatible with the English monarchy, and an appeal to Lutheran reformation in England. His Lutheranism is evident throughout.

One other association from this time also bears mentioning. During his exile, Barnes worked with the Lutheran pastor in Hamburg, John Aepinus. Aepinus would be a key figure in the interactions between Henry VIII of England and the Lutherans for the next several years. In 1534, Aepinus would lead the delegation of theologians who visited Henry VIII to advise him on his divorce and the Reformation on behalf of the Lutherans. Barnes was in prime position to facilitate this relationship and further the cause of Lutheranism in England.

[1]The Reformation Essays of Dr. Robert Barnes, Neelak Tjernagel, Ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1963), 36.

Did you miss out on part 1? Check out The Hidden Reformation part 1.

Rev. Matthew Kiecker serves as pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Lomira, Wisconsin.

Practical Theology: Genre-specific preaching – Apocalyptic Literature

I often wonder what WELS will be like in ten, twenty, or forty years. Rev. Jon Hein’s report makes that more vivid: we could lose half our congregations in two generations.  Living and working in a progressive, secular university city, I’m reminded we’re living in the last days.  It feels like we’re losing.

That’s why the church needs apocalyptic preaching.  Despite society’s fascination with Y2K and X-Men: Apocalypse, apocalyptic literature is arguably the most neglected (or at least under-represented) genre in preaching today.  David Helm asks why, and he answers with what most of us are already thinking: it’s too hard for people.[1]  But do we avoid preaching on apocalyptic texts because we lack confidence, or do we lack confidence because we avoid preaching on them?

Christian Worship: Supplement added apocalyptic texts to enrich the variety of WELS preaching.  Apocalyptic genre has the following characteristics:

  1. Visionary literature: Apocalyptic texts reveal transcendent truth, but with graphic visions that command attention and left the original audience speechless.
  2. Crisis literature: Daniel and Ezekiel were written during the exile, Zechariah after the exile, and Revelation during Domitian’s persecution.
  3. Polemic literature: Spiritual reality is not gray.  This is an epic battle between good and evil, Jesus and Satan, light and darkness.  Contrary to cultural accommodation, you are on the side of Christ or not.
  4. Gospel literature: Jesus is everywhere – in the son of man of Daniel 7, the clean garments of Zechariah 3, and the Lamb of Revelation.
  5. Practical literature: G.K. Beale laments how Revelation has been the subject of such narrow interpretation and obsessive focus on the future that we miss the great truths of discipleship in the present.[2]

Therefore, apocalyptic preaching embraces the following characteristics:

  1. Drama and vividness: It’s impossible for apocalyptic preaching, done well, to be boring and lifeless.  It needs to be intense, with the appropriate flare of the dramatic.
  2. Winning and losing:  Sermon themes need to capture language of the spiritual conflict taking place, all while assuring hearers they are ultimately on the winning team.
  3. Difficult exegetical questions: One can’t avoid topics like the identity of the woman (Revelation 12) or the thousand years (Revelation 20).  Without proper exposition, hearers will be lost.  Preachers ought not be afraid to present arguments for various sides and then resolve it.
  4. Christ, the Savior and Lord of all: Apocalyptic preaching has gospel gems and emphasizes how Christ’s rule for the church is an under-emphasized aspect of the gospel.
  5. Discipleship and perseverance applications: A fatal flaw in apocalyptic preaching is only asking hearers, “Are you ready for Jesus to return?”  It primarily asks, “Are you ready to stare persecution in the face?”  These are golden texts for preaching discipleship and the theology of the cross today.

Other resources:

[1] David Helm, “An Approach to Apocalyptic Literature: A Primer for Preachers,” (Chicago: The Simeon Trust, 2009), 3.

[2] G.K. Beale and David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 1.

Rev. Jacob Haag serves at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor, MI and on the Michigan District Commission on Worship.  He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree with a concentration in homiletics.