Archive for the month “January, 2014”

Love Will Not Sustain Your Marriage

Asking a man and woman to live together—to use the same bathroom, sleep in the same bed, share the same checking account—is a request fraught with risk. What if his bathroom habits look and smell like they were learned at the frat house? What if he breaks his back every week only to discover she spent half the money he earned on shoes?

But go beyond that. What if a man and woman are asked to have sex with each other, and only each other, and never anyone else, till their dying day? What happens when she opts for sleeping over sex, and his twenty-something, flirtatious secretary keeps dropping suggestive hints about an after-hours tryst? What happens when she can’t remember the last time he got her flowers or kissed her like he meant it, but this guy at the gym showers her with compliments every day?

But there’s still more. What if a man and woman are gifted with children, but as those children grow, so grows the chasm between the two parents? She drives them to school, shivers during their soccer games, claps after their school play, gets them to piano and football practice on time. And he’s busy climbing the corporate ladder, or bouncing from one job to another, making an appearance occasionally at a child’s sporting event, all the while with his phone glued to his ear talking business. And the kids finally leave home, and home is left vacant, except for two roommates who no longer seem to have anything in common.

Marriage is asking a lot from two people. Living together for life. Sexual fidelity for life. Parenting for life. On their wedding day, they may be on top of the world, their bodies alive with an emotional high. But that high can last only so long. Emotions wax and wane with the tides of life. The love they feel for each other, no matter how strong, will be taxed to the extreme in circumstances they never could have foreseen on the day they said, “I do.” Sooner or later, they will come to realize that love, by itself, is not enough, never enough, to keep a marriage alive.  It will not be love that sustains their marriage; it will be marriage that sustains their love (D. Bonhoeffer).

It is the God-ordained union of man and woman, into a complete and lifelong unity of one flesh, that fosters love. This is no until-someone-better-comes-along mutual cohabitation. This is not an until-we-have-problems sexual partnership.  It is not living together but life together—a life begun and sustained by the God who creates it.  Marriage is an objective, created reality into which the Lord places a man and woman, not a contractual agreement or emotional bond.  It is a gift from heaven, and it is that gift that creates an environment in which love and sharing and life can be enjoyed on earth.

If I merely live with a lover, and tire of her, or she tires of me, we pack our things and go our separate ways.  The supposed “love” we shared was dependent upon two weak, selfish people, who all too easily throw in the towel. If I marry the woman I love, I step into something outside myself. I step into marriage. I become a part of something external to myself, created by God, and (when justice and common sense prevail) strongly defended by human laws.

Within marriage, I am free to love. I am free to give myself wholly and exclusively to my wife, and she to me, and we to our children. The love we share will make our marriage not a burden but a delight. And, when hard times come—and they will, they always do—it will be marriage that protects us from ourselves. Marriage will be our strength when we ourselves grow weak. For marriage is God’s doing, not our doing. It is his love, which created marriage to begin with, that makes our love possible.


What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!


A Tale of Two Sodoms: The Difficulty of Escaping from Our Past

When I walked through his back door, one glance at his deeply furrowed brow told me something was askew. I knew that aged face well. For years it had greeted me with a country howdy and near toothless smile when I stopped by to bring him and his wife Holy Communion. We’d sit in their kitchen, the air of which was heavy with a lifetime of fried meals. As we sipped coffee, we’d chat about his aching feet and her arthritic hip and their lost days of lighthearted youth. Then, eventually, we’d shove aside the week-old newspapers and piled-up ashtrays to transform the table into a makeshift altar, over which, in the King James tongue he insisted upon, I’d intone the liturgy of the Supper for these homebound saints.

But today was different. For months he’d been adjusting not so well to being a widower, passing the days in his newfound, unwelcome loneliness. But as I joined him on an adjacent stool, and he began to shake his head at the open Bible in front of him, I sensed the issue was something new. He wasn’t sad because of his loneliness. He wasn’t in pain because of his feet. No, he was awful upset, he began to explain, by a story he’d happened upon in his Bible reading. He paged through Genesis until he came to chapter 19, in which the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were charcoaled by the Almighty. But that wasn’t the account that had him all riled up; he’d learned that tale in Sunday School decades before. It was the after-story that had him shocked, the biblical postscript of Sodom’s destruction. Jabbing an indicting finger at the page, he said, “Pastor, I can hardly believe what I read this week. It says here,” he said, poking the page, “that when Lot and his daughters got up into the mountains, both of them girls got their dad drunk and had sex with him. And got pregnant!”  Then closing the Bible as if it were too revolting even to have it open to that chapter, he added, “I wish I’d never read that story.”

Dislike that tale all you want, there it is, inking the biblical skin like a tattoo gone bad. It turned the stomach of my elderly friend. Incest will do that. I don’t like it for that reason too, and a whole host of others, but undergirding them all is a deeper, darker reason. And it’s a reason that hits closer to home. You see, the story of Lot and his daughters is not just about drunkenness or sexual perversion. It is, at its core, a cautionary tale for all of us. It reveals how hard it is to escape from our own past. It shows the extent to which an environment of iniquity can seep into the souls of believers, transforming them from the inside out, so that even when they “flee to the mountains,” like Lot and his girls, they take Sodom with them.

I should know. I used to live in Sodom. In fact, I’ve lived in more than one city by that name. The first was a deeply religious city, steepled churches gracing every corner. I walked its neighborhoods, Bible in hand, cross dangling round my neck. All the streets were straight, and all the people were, too. Everyone was required to confess that they were sinners, but woe betide them if they actually sinned. For although truth and judgement were in full supply, mercy was a scarce commodity in this Sodom’s marketplace. And I was at home there, an upstanding citizen with a heart pumping Pharisee blood.

The second Sodom was a city of rebellion, neon signs winking lasciviously through the twenty-four hour night. I staggered through its slums, intoxicated by lust, living from pleasure to titillating pleasure. Streets wound in serpentine courses through a city whose infrastructure catered to citizens who loved being lost. There was unbounded freedom to be whoever, whatever, whenever you liked. The only law ever enforced was a strict code summed up in three words: follow your heart.

Perhaps you’ve lived in one of these Sodoms as well?  Perhaps another?  If you’re a refugee like I am, then perhaps you too can attest to how hard it is to leave Sodom once and for all. For it’s one thing to “flee to the mountains,” to try and leave behind the Sodoms of self-righteousness, the Sodoms of sex or drugs or alcohol abuse, but it’s quite another thing not to take bits of Sodom with you into exile. It seems to me that’s what Lot and his girls did. Their hometown may have burnt to ashes, but the fires of immorality kindled there still burned hot in the hearts of this family. I have flames that burn in my own chest. And chances are, if you’re a refugee, you do too.

We’re supposed to learn from our mistakes, but the greatest lesson to learn is that the opportunity to repeat those mistakes is never more than a heartbeat away. You may have fled from Sodom years or decades ago, but it’s only a bottle, a snort, a hook-up, a moment of hypocrisy away. To pretend otherwise is to deceive yourself, and to invite disaster into your life. That’s one reason why, though it is painful to do, recollection of past sins, and the hellish fallout from those, is a seeming necessity for refugees from Sodom. David wrote Psalm 51, his hymn of repentance, after committing murder and adultery. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that song was never far from his lips. He was forgiven, yes, but he needed to remind himself of exactly what he was forgiven, of what the grace of God had freed him from, that he might not repatriate himself to the Sodom from which he had fled. To recall our past sins is not to deny that they are forgiven, but to ready ourselves for a continual fight against their recurrence.

In this fight we are far from alone. We did not leave Sodom on our own initiative, our own will-power. Christ climbed over the city walls to rescue us, and then climbed back over, carrying us upon his shoulders. He bore us up into the mountains, and now, and always, never leaves our side. He knows the past fires that still burn in our chest, so he never tires of dousing those flames with the waters of baptism, daily drenching us with that divine dew. Sodom’s foolish ways he roots out to replace with the wisdom that comes from above, speaking his word over and over into us, to create new hearts and new minds within us, fashioned after his own, heart and minds devoted to higher things.

Most amazing of all, should we ever, God forbid, go astray with Lot and his daughters, letting a Sodom heart woo us back into its clutches, the Lord does not rain fire and brimstone down. He rains down himself. He floods us with the waters of baptism, calls us to repentance, douses the iniquitous flames again and again. For he is not a God who gives up on his children. Quite the opposite. He never wearies, never wavers, of beckoning us away from our past Sodoms, into the present of his grace, and onward to the heavenly Jerusalem, where stories like Sodom are part of past that will never be retold.

(I’d like to thank Pastor Christopher Seifferlein, who provided the idea that I fleshed out in this post.)


Clothing for the Naked Eye: Seeing Things as They Really Are

A cemetery is a hard place to confess.  It may be an easy place to open your eyes and weep, to open your mind and reminisce, to open your arms and receive an embrace.  But it is not an easy place to open your mouth and say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  A cemetery—that place is a hard place to confess.

Why is that?  Is it simply because our emotions get the best of us?  Is it merely because we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, so we don’t say anything at all?  Perhaps.  But I suspect there’s more to it than that.  I suspect a cemetery is a hard place to confess because that place, more than any other, seems like the enemy’s public trophy case.  Every tombstone appears to be another medal on death’s uniform.  There it seems that no matter how valiantly we fight for life, death always comes out on top.  He always throws the knock-out punch.  He always wins the gold.  A cemetery is a hard place to confess because the cemetery itself seems to confess, “You, O mortal, have lost.”

That, anyway, is the way it seems to be, the way it looks to the naked human eye.  Looks, however, can be quite deceiving, can’t they?  The naked human eye sees the cemetery, the coffin, the corpse, and man is easily deceived into thinking death has won, once again.  Ah, but therein lies the problem:  the naked human eye.  What that naked eye needs is clothing, the kind of clothing that will enable it to see through the deceptions of death, to see beyond the cemetery, the coffin, the corpse, to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  What that naked, human, easily-deceived eye needs is to be clothed with these words from mouth of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”  A cemetery may be a hard place to confess, but with that simple confession, a cemetery is no longer seen as a place of defeat but a place of victory in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Just ask Mary and Martha.  These two sisters, both friends of our Lord, sent for Him when their brother Lazarus fell ill.  They waited and they waited, and finally He came.  But it was too late.  Lazarus was already dead.  The sickness had moved too quickly, and Jesus had moved too slowly.  Or so it seemed to these two grieving sisters.  Little did they know that Jesus had purposefully delayed coming until Lazarus was not only dead, but buried and in the tomb four days.  Little did they know that their Lord was allowing death to suck their hearts dry, that He might fill those empty hearts with the fullness of faith in Him.

When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, it seemed that everyone was pointing an accusing finger at Him.  Three times Jesus was told, “If only you had been here, Lazarus would still be alive.”  First from Martha, then from Mary, and finally from their friends.  Martha, at least, holds out a tiny hope that Jesus might still do something, anything, to help.  She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  When Jesus tells Martha that her brother shall rise again, she responds, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  In saying this, Martha confessed the truth, but she did not confess the whole truth.  For the whole truth of the Christian faith is not just in something that will be, but in someone who is, not just in a distant hope but a present reality, not just a salvation of the future, but a salvation in the here-and-now.  The whole truth of the Christian faith is an embodied truth, a flesh-and-blood truth in the Man who says, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

Dear Martha, for all the correctness of her confession, demonstrates the tendency that plagues us still today:  the tendency to divorce Christ from His gifts.  What I mean is this:  all too often we think of salvation or forgiveness or resurrection as “things” that God gives to us.  As a groom gives his bride a wedding ring, so God gives us the ring of salvation.  He gives us a “thing,” something external to Himself, like the groom gives the ring.  And, to be sure, God certainly does give us things.  But the things that God gives are things like our body and soul, eyes, ears, clothing, shoes, house, home—daily-bread type things.  But salvation, forgiveness, resurrection, and the like are not mere things external to God.  Instead, they are God Himself.  God Himself, the Man Christ Jesus, is your forgiveness; He is your salvation; He is your life; He is your resurrection.  When He bestows these gifts upon you, He is not like a groom placing a ring on the finger of His bride the Church; He is rather the Groom who is giving the Bride His body.  All that Christ is—your embodied salvation, your embodied forgiveness—all that Christ places within your body.

To Martha, to Mary, to their friends, and to us, who Christ is becomes abundantly clear in that cemetery near Bethany.  Martha still didn’t quite get it.  She didn’t want the stone rolled back; no need to let loose the stench of her brother’s decomposing body.  But at Jesus’ insistence, she relents and the tomb is open.  There, time ceased to matter.  The Eternal One was present.  There, death ceased to matter.  Life Itself was present.  There was no need to wait for the Last Day for the resurrection of the body, for here stood the One who is the Resurrection and Life.

Truth be told, in the midst of that crowd gathered at the cemetery, the only one who completely believed in Christ was the dead man.  He alone truly heeded the voice of Christ.  Mary had heard, Martha had heard, the crowd had heard, but their hearts were still crowded with doubt and grief.  But the dead man, he believed; Lazarus heeded the Word of Christ.  “Lazarus, come forth,” Jesus called out.  And so he did.  The dead man was ripped from the arms of death by the One whom death could also could not hold in the tomb.  He who is the Resurrection, who is resurrected, raised Lazarus.  That dead man who now lived was as a living trophy of Christ’s victory over the enemy called death.

A cemetery is a hard place to confess, unless standing beside you is the One who stands triumphant upon the neck of death.  That place of graves is a hard place to confess, unless He who rose from His own grave lives within you and in the one whose body is laid to rest.  And not just in the cemetery, but any place in this fallen world in which we stare the enemy face-to-face, in which we see with the naked human eye only loss, heartache, and defeat—in those places that naked, human, easily-deceived eye needs to be clothed with these words from mouth of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”

He is not only the one who is crucified to earn our forgiveness, who sheds His blood to acquire our salvation, and who exits the tomb alive again to provide us with the hope of the resurrection.  He is also the One who is our forgiveness, who is our salvation, and who is our resurrection.  It is this One who constantly surrounds us with Himself as we face the enemies in this world.  As it has been so beautifully expressed in the ancient prayer of St. Patrick:

Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise.

May this Christ, who the Resurrection and the Life, continue to grant you Himself now and unto all eternity.


“The King of the Cross Crowns Us with Life”: An Anniversary Hymn for Crown of Life Lutheran Church

Thirty years ago, a small group of believers began to gather for Divine Service in northern San Antonio.  Today, that congregation, Crown of Life Lutheran Church, currently served by Pastor Mark Barz, will celebrate three decades of God’s grace in Christ.  I am truly blessed to be a part of their fellowship.  It was also my privilege to pen a hymn for our anniversary celebration, which will be during today’s Divine Service.

It’s always difficult (for me, anyway) to write a hymn that is both specific for an occasion and catholic in its confession.  I’ve tried to do that.  Here are a few particulars about the hymn that make it “specific” to this congregation.

1.  The most obvious is the inclusion of the language of crown of life.  E.g., “the King of the cross crowns us with life,” and “Lord Jesus, Your saving life of love, Crown always this congregation!” 

2.  The anniversary year:  “In this holy place for thirty years Our Lord has bound up the broken.”

3.  Directly outside our sanctuary is a very tall cross, now covered in rust, which visually proclaims the centrality of Christ crucified in this congregation.  Thus, the line in the hymn:  “The height of God’s golden love for us, Our tall rusted cross betokens.”

4.  San Antonio is a military city.   There are a large number of men and women in the congregation who do serve, or have served, in the military forces.  Thus the line, “For soldiers and students, young and old, For all faithfully confessing….”

5.  Finally, Crown of Life is located atop a hill, overlooking the Stone Oak area of San Antonio.  Thus, “From high on this hill Your grace resound, The Good News of new creation.”


30th Anniversary Hymn

Crown of Life Lutheran Church

San Antonio, TX

Tune:  Den Signede Dag (LSB #503, “O Day Full of Grace”)


“The King of the Cross Crowns Us with Life”


The King of the cross crowns us with life,

Our lips sing in exultation,

For Christ who has conquered sin and strife,

Has placed on our brow salvation.

We rise and rejoice for His rich grace,

This day of our celebration!


In this holy place for thirty years

Our Lord has bound up the broken.

To hearts racked with guilt and plagued by fears,

Forgiveness and hope He’s spoken.

The height of God’s golden love for us,

Our tall rusted cross betokens.


For shepherds who guide Your baptized fold,

For teachers Your Word professing,

For soldiers and students, young and old,

For all faithfully confessing,

We give You, O Christ, our thanks and praise,

O Source of our every blessing!


From high on this hill Your grace resound,

The Good News of new creation,

That all who in chains of death are bound,

Be freed from sin’s condemnation.

Lord Jesus, Your saving life of love,

Crown always this congregation!

A Lamb and a Dove

Last night, how many men shoved a blade or shot a bullet into the back of some passerby for a few measly bucks?  How many sixteen-year-olds conceived babies that will soon fall prey to the abortionist’s knife?  How many children finally fell asleep after listening to the screams of their bruised and battered mothers?  How many lonely wives tossed and turned, fumed and wept, wondering in whose arms their absent husband lay?  How many porn sites were visited last night, how many families ripped apart, how many put the bottle to their head and pulled the trigger?

And worse yet, how many of us really care?  After all, we have our own problems and we get tired of hearing about the problems of others.  We lose sleep over our dwindling bank account but yawn over the news report of a hundred people murdered.  Is it not true?  We throw our pity-parties for the slightest amount of suffering and our temper-tantrums when life just doesn’t go our way.  We want families without problems, jobs without stress, old age without arthritis, roses without thorns. 

Behold, the sin of the world, that takes away the Lamb of God!  Behold our cold nails of lovelessness that pierce His wrists, our thorns of apathy that worm their way into His skull, our lashes of lust that plow crimson furrows upon His back.  Behold, the sin of the world—our own sin—that takes away the Lamb of God and hands Him over to the butcher’s blade.

But do not behold Him as One who wants our pity.  He doesn’t desire your sympathy; He simply desires you, your repentance, your trust.  That is why He came.  He came down from heaven for every person on earth.  For the thief and murderer, abortionist and adulterer, holier-than-thous, and all us who wag our fingers at them.  None are so bad that He did not die for them, none so good that they do not need Him.  For all have sinned and fallen long into the gory pit of sin.

So all, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  Let your eyes follow the pointing finger of John the Baptist, singling out the One who comes as the sole sheep of the Father’s flock.  He is the only Lamb of God.  He is the Sacrifice appointed from time immemorial.  When our first parents transgressed, there stood the Lamb, between the wrath of the Judge and the all-too-guilty sinners, ready to take away the sin of the world.  When Cain murdered, Noah got drunk, Moses got mad, and David got Bathsheba, there stood the Lamb, His fleece as white as snow, ready to be reddened to take away the sin of the world.   Then He came.  Mary had a little Lamb.

John points Him out.  He is the Lamb upon whom the Spirit lands like a dove.  Why like a dove?  Why not a sparrow or cardinal or eagle?  For in the days of Noah, when the waters of the flood had receded, the dove became a preacher.  He preached the end of the outpouring of divine wrath, the end of punishment, and the beginning of a new life.  The sermon of the dove was a homily of peace—peace between God and men, peace in the midst of waters. 

So on the Lamb of God the feathered Spirit lands and remains.  For when the Lamb stands in the waters of the Jordan River a new Flood has come, like unto but greater than the one in Noah’s day.  For Jesus is the stand-in for all humanity.  In Him is the murderer, pervert, liar, and cheat; you are in Him.  One for all.  And when John pours the baptismal flood over His head, He is a sponge, soaking up divine wrath for you.  In Him is the end of punishment.  In Him is the beginning of a new life.  He is the Lamb of God who takes up the place of the world in the Jordan flood; takes in your guilt and shame and death; and takes it all away.  All this that He might take you, cleansed and made alive, to His Father in heaven.  So the Spirit dove lights upon this Lamb.  That you might know peace and safety are found only in Him.  That you might actually have that peace and safety by being baptized in His flesh and blood.

He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, that takes away your sin.  And if He takes it away, it is no longer yours but His.  Your sins, whatever they be, belong no longer to you but to Jesus.  Your apathy is now His.  Your lies are now His.  Your pettiness or your prostitution; your murdering or your murmuring.  It matters not.  They no longer are your property.  They have transferred ownership.  Jesus has owned up to them.  He has taken them away.  And into your empty hands He has put peace, righteousness, goodness, grace.  All the good He has is yours for all the bad you had is His.

He has done it.  He does care.  He was ready and willing to be taken away by the sin of the world that He might take away your sin in the process.  Behold the Lamb of God.


A Time for Everything

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh . . .

But in the beginning there was a time to be born but no time to die; a time to live but no time to kill; a time to laugh but never, ever a time to cry.  For there was a time when all God could say is “good” as He gazed upon a creation where no grave-diggers spade had ever stabbed the soil of earth.

But for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.  And there came a time when every matter under heaven was under hell, under the ancient serpent who wrapped his coils around our first parents’ soul, and strangled the life out of them. There came a time when men learned to sing dirges, when she who was called woman came to be called widow, and the bodies of loved ones were laid to rest six feet under a slab of granite with two dates chiseled therein:  one a time to be born and the other a time to die.

And pious hearts raised the mournful cry, “Oh when shall I behold the face of God?”  And heaven said, “Wait.”  And still they cried, “Oh when shall I behold the face of God?”  And heaven said, “Wait.”  And still more they cried, “When, Oh when, shall I . . . . “

Then the angels put their fingers to their lips, saying, “The time has come.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”  And we beheld the face of God in the countenance of Mary’s Son.  Yes, there was a time to be born, even for God.

Mary had a little Lamb to make us white as snow; a little Passover lamb who would drain His blood on the accursed tree that we might be washed therein and come out as white as wool.  The Virgin had a Paschal lamb whom God so freely gave us; a Lamb whose blood is painted on the door posts of our lips and the lintel of our tongue with the paintbrush of the chalice.

For if there was a time to be born for God, then likewise there was a time to die; a time to walk through the valley of the shadow of crucifixion all alone; a time for His head to be anointed with His own blood; a time for the Shepherd to die for sheep that love to wander.  And this He did all for you.

But weep not, O sinner, for today is no time for tears!  For the Marys found no corpse to anoint with spices; no cold flesh to warm with their tears.  Toward the dawn of the first day of the week, the angel rolled back the stone to reveal a tomb spic and span, ready for occupancy, but not by our God.  For He who at the beginning had said, “Good,” had come to say it again.  He had come to create afresh, to rebuild a fallen creation with His resurrected flesh and blood.

Therefore, O Christian, for you there is now a time to be born and a time to be born anew, born anew from the womb of holy water, born anew to love the habitation of Christ’s body, the place where His glory dwells.  For His Word is firmly set in our flesh and blood.

O sheep of the Shepherd, draw nigh to the manger and see the table He has prepared, a table of flesh and an overflowing cup of blood, that you might taste and see that the Lord is good to you.


If you enjoy my writings, please consider purchasing my recently published book, The Infant Priest:  Hymns and Poems.  This poetry gives voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world.  Whether you weep, rejoice, struggle, or hope, through these hymns and poems you can speak to God with honesty and fidelity.  By buying a copy, you will also aid mission work, for 25% of the proceeds from book sales go to benefit Lutherans in Africa.  Click here to purchase your copy.  Thanks!

“Follow Your Heart”: The Most Dangerous Advice You’ll Ever Receive

I have a dog who walks me.  What this Dachshund lacks in size, he makes up for in the vigorous pursuit of the adventure ahead.  Incapable of, or unwilling to, walk in a straight and narrow course, he pulls the long leash to its limits and winds up corkscrewed around mailboxes, trees, and my legs.  In the park he will race off the trail toward grazing bucks who could wield their antlers to impale his tiny body with the ease of a swordsman.  He seems particularly to enjoy discovering random piles of feces and busting a move thereon in an impressive twerking, breakdancing routine popular among canines.  What his master deems frustrating, dangerous, ill-advised, and just plain gross, to the dog Justice seems quite natural.  Justice is doing what dogs do.  He is acting according to his canine nature.  He is following his heart wherever it leads—even if it leads to rolling in a pile of dung.

I can’t be too hard on Justice, I suppose.  To begin with, as much as we like to treat our pets like little people, they are and will always remains animals.  And animals sometimes act in rather beastly ways, doing everything from rolling in poop to killing their own, even their offspring, at times.  My Granddaddy, who raised Greyhounds, told me of an occasion when one of his dogs tried to jump over the kennel fence one night but his leg got caught in a stray wire.  He hung suspended there, hurting and helpless, no doubt whining and whimpering in pain as the other dogs gathered round about him.  By the time my grandfather discovered him the next morning, there wasn’t much left to be found.  That dog’s body had been ripped to bloody shreds.  Perhaps these dogs too were following their hearts, doing what dogs sometimes do, even if that meant baring their teeth, sinking them into a brother, and tearing him to pieces.

A short piece of advice, a mere three words, has so thoroughly permeated our culture that, if there is any adage that encapsulates the supposed “wisdom” of this age, it is this:  follow your heart.  Students are told to do this when choosing everything from careers to sexual orientation.  This maxim pours out of the radio in song after song, regardless of whether your station is country, rock, or rap.  We tell our friends this when they’re struggling to decide where to go to church, who to marry, whether or not to divorce, and just about any other situation in which significant, often life-changing decisions, must be made.  Follow your heart, and all will be well.  But will it? 

In everyday life, doesn’t it make sense that we should scrutinize our leaders, analyze their counsel to us, and refuse to follow them if we perceive that they’re guiding us into harm’s way?  Similarly, if I am to follow my heart, is it not reasonable to ask whether my heart is a wise, trustworthy guide who’s leading me down the right paths, or a wolf disguised as a seeing eye dog who’s shepherding me toward a feast in which I am the main dish?  If we are to follow our heart, we better know what kind of heart we have.

I know what kind of heart I have.  And, all too often, it has more in common with my dog Justice than the virtue after which he is named.  Shall I follow my heart when it directs me to formulate a master plan of revenge against someone who’s stabbed me in the back or slung mud on my reputation?  Shall I follow my heart when it escorts me to a liaison with a woman at work who showers me with affirmation and engages in “innocent” flirtation?  Shall I follow my heart when, like my grandfather’s dogs, it entices me to adopt the pack mentality and turn on the weak, the fallen, the wounded?  Shall I follow my heart when it inclines toward the easy instead of the right, the selfish instead of the sacrificial, the fun instead of the faithful?  I know what kind of heart I have.  And it is not to be trusted.  In fact, what the divine Master of my heart deems frustrating, dangerous, ill-advised, and just plain gross, is very often that in which my heart delights the most.  I may not roll in dung like my canine friends, but I’ve found plenty of other ways by which to soil my soul in the grime that my heart tries to convince me is gold.

So if we don’t follow our hearts, then what—or who—do we follow?  If the question with which I’m struggling has its answer in the Word of God, then that is what we are called to follow.  And we do so not simply because “that’s what the Bible says,” but because we are the children of God, baptized in his name, called to imitate him as those who bear the image and likeness of his Son.  And “what the Bible says” describes what the life of divine imitation looks like.  It is a life that frequently involves standing against cultural tides—standing for human life and dignity, standing against immoralities parading themselves as choices, and standing alongside all who suffer, even when they brought upon themselves the sufferings they now experience.  We can only “follow our hearts” if those hearts are fully cleansed, claimed, and permeated with divine truth and love, which, unfortunately, never happens completely in this life.  Instead, we follow our Lord, who in his word directs us down paths that are true, straight, and narrow, and lead to a life of self-giving love and service for all.

But the Bible doesn’t give us all the answers to the questions with which we struggle in life.  God doesn’t tell you which individual you should woo and wed.  The Bible never tells you which school you should attend or the career you should pursue.  What to do then, when faced with questions about which the Scriptures give us no direct answers?  Is it safe then to “follow your heart”?  Why not, instead, follow your reason, the rational mind with which God has endowed you, instead of the heart that is a den teeming with emotions and desires, many of which guide you down self-destructive paths?  Listen to the advice of older, more experienced family members and friends who know you, who have probably made mistakes that they can steer you clear of.   And, above all, when making any decision, ask yourself if the direction you are leaning toward will serve you or your neighbor best.  If the choice you are about to make is not prompted by love of God and love for your neighbor, but only by what makes you happy and self-satisfied, you can be certain it is the wrong one.

“Follow your heart”?  No, rather, let us follow our Lord of love, who loves us enough to rescue us from ourselves, to forgive us when we follow our hearts down paths in which we become entwined in a myriad of sins, and to assure us that his heart is full to the brim with nothing but mercy and compassion for us, his beloved children.


Chewing on the Bible

When I was a child, there was occasionally a frightening and disgusting dish placed on the table before me.  No, it wasn’t meat loaf.  Nor was it Brussels sprouts.  It was fish.  Fish presented a moral dilemma for me.  Like many boys, I loved to grab my rod and reel, dig up a few worms, and walk down to the local lake.  I’d hook no trophy mounts, but I could usually fill a stringer in a couple of hours.  The issue then became what to do with them.  If I took home my catch, we’d have to clean them.  Then we’d have to cook them.  Then—Lord have mercy—we’d have to eat them.

My parents, with very good intentions, had warned me of the danger of fish bones.  Over and over, they’d caution me that I needed to chew eat bite thoroughly before I swallowed, because, if I swallowed a fish bone, I’d choke on it and die.  Ok, maybe those weren’t their exact words, but that was the dire impression I received.  So every bite I chewed and chewed and still chewed more, until the inside of my mouth felt like I’d taken a drink from a dirty aquarium.  Then, fearing that this might be my last moment on earth, I’d swallow the masticated mess, praying that no bones had escaped by tongue’s detection.  The only pleasure in this meal was knowing that I’d lived through it.

In later years, I was to discover another food that I was also urged to chew and chew and still chew more.  But unlike fish, there was actual pleasure in the prolonged chewing of this food.  For the longer it remained in my mouth, the better it tasted, the more pronounced became its flavor, the more nourishment I received from each bite.  This food is the bread on which Jesus survived during his forty days of temptation in the wilderness.  It is the food that comes directly into our mouths from the very mouth of God.

There is certainly good to be gained from reading extensive portions of Scripture.  Perusing a whole narrative, or even a short book, like Ruth, is beneficial.  But sometimes we bite off more than we can chew.  Of even greater benefit (at least, in my opinion), is the taking of a single bite of Scripture—perhaps a verse or two, or even a phrase within a verse—and savoring it.  Chew on it.  Chew on it some more.  Repeat each word slowly, pausing over each one, exploring its depths, its nuances, its flavor and feel and taste.  Then move on to the next and do the same.  Then mix all these words together and discover new delights.  Only after prolonged meditative chewing should you swallow and move on to the next verse.

Indeed, that’s what I’m endeavoring to do this year.  I will take a verse a day and make that my meditative meal.  I will not so much read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest (as a common prayer phrases it), as read, chew, chew some more, and still chew more, and then inwardly digest what I’ve learned.

Perhaps you too, dear reader, wish to join me at the table. 


Samson: A Testosterone Poem

Samson was a big, strong man,
A big, strong man was he.
He killed a lion with his hands
Like one would squash a flea.
With but a donkey’s jawbone
He whacked a thousand men
And iced yet even more
When foes set fire to kin.
He trapped three hundred foxes
And set their tails ablaze
And though men gouged his eyes out
Their temple Samson razed.

But Samson was a small, weak man,
A small, weak man was he.
Just one hot-bodied damsel
Could squash him like a flea.
A rendezvous of passions
Would make his manhood rise
While limp his soul would plummet
Betwixt her willing thighs.
That chink in Samson’s armor,
Of hips and lips and breast,
Is a hole through which the blade
Has pierced the church’s best.

Samson was a strong, weak man,
A strong, weak man was he,
But erect betwixt two pillars
This blind man came to see.


This poem, along with many others, is included in my recently published book, The Infant Priest:  Hymns and Poems.  This poetry gives voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world.  Whether you weep, rejoice, struggle, or hope, through these hymns and poems you can speak to God with honesty and fidelity.  By buying a copy, you will also aid mission work, for 25% of the proceeds from book sales go to benefit Lutherans in Africa.  Click here to purchase your copy.  Thanks!

Baptism Foreshadowed in the Old Testament: A Treasury of Quotes from the Church Fathers

Several years ago, I began compiling quotes from various church fathers (as well as Martin Luther and early Lutheran pastors) regarding how Baptism is foreshadowed in various Old Testament narratives.  Since many churches will be celebrating the Baptism of our Lord this coming Sunday, and pastors may be looking for homiletical ideas, I’ll post the quotes here.

At a bare minimum, there’s enough material here for 157,784 sermons on Baptism.

Christ and His Baptism Foreshadowed

  • Water of Creation (Genesis 1) – New Creation in Christ and His Baptism
  • Flood (Genesis 6-9) – Killing and Vivifying Flood of Baptism
  • Circumcision (Genesis 17) – The New Circumcision in Christ (Colossians 2)
  • Israelites Cross the “Font” of the Red Sea (Exodus 14) –
  • The Bloody Font of Waters at Marah (Exodus 15) – The Sweet Tree of Life in Baptism
  • Water-Rock (Exodus 17) – The Water-Giving Rock was Christ
  • Tabernacle Washing (Leviticus 14:6-7) – Bodies Washed with Pure Water
  • Red Heifer (Numbers 19) – Cleansing from Uncleanness
  • Crossing Jordan (Joshua 3) – The New Joshua Baptized in Old Jordan
  • Elijah’s Sacrifice upon Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18) – Fire out of Water
  • Naaman’s Leprosy (2 Kings 5) – Cured by a Greater Elisha
  • Elisha Lifts Axe-Head from Water through Wood (2 Kings 6) – Christ Lifts Us from Death through Water and the Wood of His Cross

 Water of Creation (Genesis 1) – New Creation in Christ and His Baptism

Tertullian – De Baptismo IV (ANF 3:670) – “[The primary principle of Baptism is that] the Spirit of God, who hovered over (the waters) from the beginning, would continue to linger over the waters of the baptized.”

St. Ambrose – From Shadows to Reality, 74 – “Why are you plunged into the water?  We read:  ‘May the waters bring forth living creatures (Gen 1:20).  And the living creatures were born.’  This happened at the beginning of creation.  But for you it was reserved that water should bring you forth to grace, as that other water brought forth creatures to natural life.  Imitate this fish, who has received less grace.”

St Ambrose – De Mysteriis III (NPNF Second Edition 10:318) – “Consider, however, how ancient is the mystery [of Baptism] prefigured even in the origin of the world itself. In the very beginning, when God made the heaven and the earth, ‘the Spirit,’ it is said, ‘moved upon the waters.’ He Who was moving upon the waters, was He not working upon the waters? But why should I say, ‘working’? As regards His presence He was moving. Was He not working Who was moving? Recognize that He was working in that making of the world, when the prophet says: ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all their strength by the spirit of His mouth.’ Each statement rests upon the testimony of the prophet, both that He was moving and that He was working. Moses says that He was moving, David testifies that he was working.”

St. Jerome – Homilies 10 (FC 48:74 and ACC OT 1:6) – “In the beginning of Genesis, as it is written:  ‘And the Spirit was stirring above the waters.’  You see, then, what it says in the beginning of Genesis.  Nor for its mystical meaning—‘The Spirit was stirring above the waters’—already at that time Baptism was being foreshadowed.  It could not be true baptism, to be sure, without the Spirit.”

Ephrem the Syrian – Commentary on Genesis (ACC OT 1:6) – [The Holy Spirit] warmed the waters with a kind of vital warmth, even bringing them to a boil through intense heat in order to make them fertile.  The action of a hen is similar.  It sits on its eggs, making them fertile through the warmth of incubation.  Here then, the Holy Spirit foreshadows the sacrament of holy Baptism, prefiguring its arrival, so that the waters made fertile by the hovering of that same divine Spirit might give birth to the children of God.”

Gerhard – Comprehensive Explanation, 53– “Just as the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters of the first creation and in the same way [thereby] made them fruitful, Gen. 1 and 2, so also God the Lord once more ordained the water for the regeneration [rebirth], which is at the same time the ‘other’ creation [‘new creation’] , and which through the power of the Spirit is made into a saving means of rebirth and renewal.”

Flood (Genesis 6-9) – Killing and Vivifying Flood of Baptism

1 Peter 3:18-22, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; [19] in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, [20] who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.[21] And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you– not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience– through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, [22] who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.

Justin Martyr – Dialogue with Trypho (CXXXVIII 2-3) – “In the Deluge was accomplished the mystery of the salvation of men.  Noah the just, with the other men of the Deluge, that is, his wife, his three sons and the wives of his sons, formed the number 8, and so showed the symbol of the eighth day on which our Christ appeared risen from the dead and which is always, as it were implicitly, the first day.  For Christ, the first-born of all creation, became in a new sense the head (arche) of another race, of that which was regenerated by Him, by the water and the wood which contained the mystery of the Cross, as Noah was saved by the wood of the ark when he was carried on the waters with his family.  When, therefore, the prophet says:  ‘In the time of Noah I saved you,’ as I have said already, he spoke also to the faithful people of God, to the people who possess these symbols . . . . As the whole earth, according to Scripture, was flooded, it obviously was not to the earth that God spoke, but to the people who obeyed Him when He had prepared a place of rest in Jerusalem, as He showed beforehand by all these symbols of the time of the Deluge; and I mean those who are prepared by the water, the faith, the wood, and who repented of their sins, they will escape the judgement of God which is to come.”

Tertullian – De Baptismo VIII (ANF 3:672) – For just as, after the waters of the deluge, by which the old iniquity was purged away—after the Baptism, so to say, of the world—a dove was the herald which announced to the earth the assuagement of celestial wrath, when she had been sent her way out of the ark, and had returned with the olive branch, a sign which even among the nations is the fore-token of peace; so by the self-same law of heavenly effect, to earth—that is, to our flesh—as it emerges from the font, after its old sins, flies the dove of the Holy Spirit, bringing us the peace of God, sent out from the heavens, where is the Church, the typified ark.”

Cyril of Jerusalem – Bible and Liturgy (82) – “Some say that, just as salvation came in the time of Noah by the wood and the water, and there was the beginning of a new creation, and as the dove came back to Noah in the evening with an olive branch, so, they say, the Holy Spirit came down on the true Noah, the Author of the new creation, when the spiritual dove came down upon Him in His Baptism to show that He it is Who, by the wood of the cross, confers salvation on believers, and Who, toward the evening, by His death, gave the world the grace of salvation.”

St Ambrose – De Mysteriis III (NPNF Second Edition 10:318) – “Take another testimony. All flesh was corrupt by its iniquities. ‘My Spirit,’ says God, ‘shall not remain among men, because they are flesh.’ Whereby God shows that the grace of the Spirit is turned away by carnal impurity and the pollution of grave sin. Upon which, God, willing to restore what was lacking, sent the flood and bade just Noah go up into the ark. And he, after having, as the flood was passing off, sent forth first a raven which did not return, sent forth a dove which is said to have returned with an olive twig. You see the water, you see the wood [of the ark], you see the dove, and do you hesitate as to the mystery? The water, then, is that in which the flesh is dipped, that all carnal sin may be washed away. All wickedness is there buried. The wood is that on which the Lord Jesus was fastened when He suffered for us. The dove is that in the form of which the Holy Spirit descended, as you have read in the New Testament, Who inspires in you peace of soul and tranquility of mind. The raven is the figure of sin, which goes forth and does not return, if, in you, too, inwardly and outwardly righteousness be preserved.”

Luther – Flood Prayer in Baptism Liturgy (AE 53:107-108). – “Almighty, eternal God, who according to Thy righteous judgment didst condemn the unbelieving world through the Flood and in Thy mercy didst preserve believing Noah and his family, and who didst drown hard-hearted Pharaoh with all his hosts in the Red Sea and didst lead Thy people Israel through the same on dry ground, thereby prefiguring this bath of Thy Baptism, and who through the Baptism of Thy dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, hast consecrated and set apart the Jordan and all water as a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins:  We pray through Thy same boundless mercy that Thou wilt graciously behold this N. and bless him with true faith in His spirit so that by means of this saving flood all that has been born in him from Adam, and which he himself has added thereto, may be drowned in him and engulfed, and that he may be sundered from the number of the unbelieving, preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom, serve Thy name at all times, fervent in spirit and joyful in hope, so that with all believers he may be made worthy to attain eternal life, according to Thy promise, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.”

Luther – Lectures on Genesis (AE 2:153) – “Baptism and death are interchangeable terms in Scripture…In accordance with this meaning, the Red Sea is truly a baptism, that is, death and the wrath of God, as is manifest in the case of Pharaoh.  Nevertheless, Israel, which is baptized with such a baptism, passes through unharmed.  Similarly, the Flood is truly death and the wrath of God; nevertheless, the believers are saved in the midst of the Flood…The Flood that Noah experienced was not different from the one that the world experienced.  The Red Sea, which both Pharaoh and Israel entered, was not different.  Later on, however, the difference becomes apparent in this: those who believe are preserved in the very death to which they are subjected together with the ungodly, but the ungodly perish.  Noah, accordingly, is preserved because he has the ark, that is, God’s promise and Word, in which he is living; but the ungodly, who do not believe the Word, are left to their fate.  This difference the Holy Spirit wanted to point out in order that the godly might be instructed by this example to believe and hope for salvation through the mercy of god, even in the midst of death.  For they have Baptism joined with the promise of life, just as Noah had the ark.”

Gerhard – Comprehensive Explanation (17-18) – “Gen. 7 describes the Flood [German:  “Sin-Flood”], through which all flesh on earth perished.  It is a type of Baptism, as perceived from Psalm 29:10. . . Gen. 8 reveals that Noah, along with a few others, was preserved in the ark during the time of the Flood.  Also, [it reveals] how he let a raven fly out, which never returned; contrarily, a little dove returned to the box with an olive branch, v. 8.  This is a type of holy Baptism.  1 Ptr. 3:20-21, ‘Through which (Noah’s ark) a few, that is, eight souls, were kept by means of water; so also water now saves us in Baptism, which is signified by the former.’  Just as only those who were kept alive through the Flood, while contrarily all the others perished, so also we may be preserved to eternal life only through the Sacrament of holy Baptism, since we become members of the Church through it.  So also the hellish, black raven of the devil must abandon the baptized person; and conversely, the Holy Spirit comes upon him and brings peace and comfort to his conscience—just as he descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove at His Baptism, Mat. 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:32.”

Deluge as Prefigurement of All Salvation History:




Sinful humanity drowned THE Sinner drowned The Old Adam drowned
Preview of Final Judgment Final Judgment Final Judgment
Noah (and family) saved Christ (2nd Noah) resurrect. Raised from water alive
Eight people saved Christ raised on 8thday Christian raised into new cr.
New Creation in Noah New Creation in Christ New Creature (2 Cor 5)

Circumcision (Genesis 17) – The New Circumcision in Christ (Colossians 2)

Cyril of Jerusalem – Bible and the Liturgy (63) – “After faith we, like Abraham, receive the spirirtual seal (sphragis), being circumcised in Baptism by the Holy Spirit.”

Asterius of Amasea – Bible and the Liturgy (65) – “Why did circumcision take place on the eighth day?  Because during the first seven, the child was wearing swaddling clothes, but on the eighth, freed from these bonds, he received circumcision, sign of the seal (sphragis) of the faith of Abraham.  And this also typified the fact that, when we have carried the seven days of life, that is to say, the bonds of sin, we should, at the end of time, break these bonds and, circumcised by death and resurrection, as if on the eighth day embrace the life of the angels.  And it was to teach Christians that, even before they wrap them in swaddling clothes, they should mark their children with the seal (sphragis) by Baptism in the circumcision of Christ, as St. Paul says:  ‘In Him you were circumcised with a circumcision not made by the hand of man, buried with Him in Baptism, as in the circumcision of Christ,’ [Colossians 2:11-12].”

Luther – Lectures on Genesis (AE 3:87) – “Christ is baptized, not in order to be made righteous. . . but as an example, so to speak, for us, in order that He may precede us and we may follow His example and also be baptized.  In almost the same way circumcision is a sacrament for the descendants of Abraham because, since they have the promise, they are made righteous by believing this promise and making use of the sacrament in faith. . . Thus circumcision was enjoined upon Abraham in order that for his descendants it might be a sacrament through which they would be made righteous if they believed the promise which the Lord had attached to it.”

Gerhard – Comprehensive Explanation (13-14) – “A circumcision without hands occurs, for the circumcision in the OT was a type for holy Baptism.  Just as God the Lord established a covenant with the one who was circumcised, Gen. 17:10, so also Baptism is a covenant of a good conscience with God, 1 Ptr. 3:21.  Just as the Lord God in the outward circumcision simultaneously also inwardly cut off the heart’s foreskin, Deu. 30:6, so also is our sinful flesh at the same time inwardly subdued and killed through the outward water of Baptism.”

Israelites Cross the “Font” of the Red Sea (Exodus 14) – The Bloody Font of Christ

1 Corinthians 10:1-3, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; [2] and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; [3] and all ate the same spiritual food; [4] and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.

Tertullian – De Baptismo IX (ANF 3:673) – “How man, therefore, are the pleas of nature, how many the privileges of grace, how may the solemnitities of discipline, the figures, the preparations, the prayers, which have ordained the sanctity of water?  First, indeed, when the people, set unconditionally free, escaped the violence of the Egyptian king by crossing over through water, it was water that extinguished the king himself, with his entire forces.  What figure more manifestly fulfilled in the sacrament of Baptism?  The nations are set free from the world by means of water, to wit:  and the devil, their old tyrant, they leave quite behind, overwhelmed in the water.”

Didymus the Blind – De Trinitate II:14 (Shadows to Reality, 178) – “The Red Sea receives the Israelites who did not doubt and delivered them from the perils of the Egyptians who pursued them: and so the whole history of the Flight from Egypt is a type of the salvation obtained through Baptism.  Egypt represents the world, in which we harm ourselves if we live badly; the people are those who are now enlightened (=baptized):  the waters, which are for these people the means of salvation, represent Baptism; Pharaoh and his soldiers are the Devil and his satellites.”

St Ambrose – De Mysteriis III (NPNF Second Edition 10:318) – “There is also a third testimony, as the Apostle teaches us: ‘For all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized to Moses in the cloud and in the sea.’ And further, Moses himself says in his song: ‘Thou didst send Thy Spirit, and the sea covered them.’ You observe that even then holy baptism was prefigured in that passage of the Hebrews, wherein the Egyptian perished, the Hebrew escaped. For what else are we daily taught in this sacrament but that guilt is swallowed up and error done away, but that virtue and innocence remain unharmed?  You hear that our fathers were under the cloud, and that a kindly cloud, which cooled the heat of carnal passions. That kindly cloud overshadows those whom the Holy Spirit visits. At last it came upon the Virgin Mary, and the Power of the Highest overshadowed her, when she conceived Redemption for the race of men. And that miracle was wrought in a figure through Moses. If, then, the Spirit was in the figure, is He not present in the reality, since Scripture says to us: ‘For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’”

Luther – Flood Prayer in Baptism Liturgy (AE 53:107-108; for full text see above under “Flood”) – “Almighty, eternal God . . . who didst drown hard-hearted Pharaoh with all his hosts in the Red Sea and didst lead Thy people Israel through the same on dry ground, thereby prefiguring this bath of Thy Baptism . . . .”

Luther – Lectures on Genesis (AE 2:153) – “Baptism and death are interchangeable terms in Scripture…In accordance with this meaning, the Red Sea is truly a baptism, that is, death and the wrath of God, as is manifest in the case of Pharaoh.  Nevertheless, Israel, which is baptized with such a baptism, passes through unharmed.  Similarly, the Flood is truly death and the wrath of God; nevertheless, the believers are saved in the midst of the Flood…The Flood that Noah experienced was not different from the one that the world experienced.  The Red Sea, which both Pharaoh and Israel entered, was not different.  Later on, however, the difference becomes apparent in this: those who believe are preserved in the very death to which they are subjected together with the ungodly, but the ungodly perish.  Noah, accordingly, is preserved because he has the ark, that is, God’s promise and Word, in which he is living; but the ungodly, who do not believe the Word, are left to their fate.  This difference the Holy Spirit wanted to point out in order that the godly might be instructed by this example to believe and hope for salvation through the mercy of god, even in the midst of death.  For they have Baptism joined with the promise of life, just as Noah had the ark.”

Gerhard – Comprehensive Explanation (9-10) – “The word ‘Baptism’ is also used [in relation to] the deliverance of the children of Israel from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, which the Lord God carried out for them through Moses.  The action is called a ‘Baptism’ first and foremost because it was a type of our own Baptism.  For just as the Israelites were led out of the land of Egypt through the Red Sea, so also we were rescued from spiritual enslavement to the hellish ‘Pharaoh’ through the salvation-giving water of Baptism.  Conversely, just as Pharaoh and his whole horde were drowned in the Red Sea, so also the Old Adam with all his lusting and doings is drowned in holy Baptism.  Subsequently, this leading out of the Red Sea is called a Baptism because the Israelites became bound by faith and obedience through this wondrous action by God and by His servant Moses.  So also, in similar fashion, we became obligated to a life of service and obedience to Christ our Savior through holy Baptism.”

Vigil of Easter – Lutheran Worship Agenda (82) – “O God, You once delivered Your people Israel from bondage under Pharaoh and led them in safety through the Red Sea, thereby giving us a picture of our Baptism.  Grant that we may ever be faithful to Your baptismal promise, live in its grace, and show forth to all people Your desire that all should be made the children of Abraham; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

Waters at Marah (Exodus 15) – The Sweet Tree of Life in Baptism

Tertullian – De Baptismo (ANF 3:9)  “Again, water is restored from its defect of ‘bitterness’ to its native grace of ‘sweetness’ by the tree of Moses.  That tree was Christ, restoring, to wit, of Himself, the veins of sometime envenomed and bitter nature into the all-salutary waters of Baptism.”

St Ambrose – De Mysteriis III (NPNF Second Edition 10:318) – “Marah was a fountain of most bitter water: Moses cast wood into it and it became sweet. For water without the preaching of the Cross of the Lord is of no avail for future salvation, but, after it has been consecrated by the mystery of the saving cross, it is made suitable for the use of the spiritual layer and of the cup of salvation. As, then, Moses, that is, the prophet, cast wood into that fountain, so, too, the priest utters over this font the proclamation of the Lord’s cross, and the water is made sweet for the purpose of grace.  You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes; that which is not seen is more really seen, for the object of sight is temporal, but that other eternal, which is not apprehended by the eye, but is discerned by the mind and spirit.”

Johann Gerhard — Comprehensive Explanation (18) – “In Exo. 15:25 Moses sank a [piece of] wood into bitter water.  The water turned sweet and refreshed the Israelites in the arid desert.  In varying degrees, this could also be likened to Baptism, for Christ, the Tree of Life (Rev. 22:2), similarly sinks Himself with all His merits into the water of Baptism.  Thereupon, it becomes a rich-in-grace Water of Life that is able to quench our soul’s thirst.”

Water-Rock (Exodus 17) – The Water-Giving Rock was Christ

Tertullian – De Baptismo (ANF 3:9) – “This is the water which flowed continuously down for the people from the ‘accompanying rock;’ for if Christ is ‘the Rock,’ without doubt we see Baptism blest by the water in Christ.  How mighty is the grace of water, in the sight of God and His Christ, for the confirmation of Baptism!  Never is Christ without water: if, that is, He is Himself baptized in water; inaugurates in water the first rudimentary displays of His power, when invited to the nuptials; invites the thirsty, when He makes a discourse, to His own sempiternal water; approves, when teaching concerning love, among works of charity, the cup of water offered to a poor (child); recruits His strength at a well; walks over the water; willingly crosses the sea; ministers water to His disciples.  Onward even to the Passion does the witness of Baptism last:  while He is being surrendered to the cross, water intervenes; witness Pilate’s hands:  when He is wounded, forth from His side bursts water; witness the soldier’s lance.”

St. Gregory of Elvira – Tract. XV, pp. 165f –  “When the Israelites were thirsty in the desert, Moses struck the rock with his wooden staff and water gushed forth; and this foretold the sacrament of Baptism.  The Apostle teaches that the rock is a type of Christ, when he says:  They drank of the rock which followed them and that rock was Christ.  This water which gushed forth from the rock was a type of the water which was to issue from the side of Christ (John 7:37) in the sacrament of Baptism to be a saving refreshment to those who were thirsty.  We know that Our Lord, the fountain of living water, springing up to eternal life, when he hung upon the cross, not only shed his blood from his pierced side but also a torrent of water: he indicated in this way that his Bride the Church was formed from his side, as Eve was formed from the side of Adam . . . .”

Johann Gerhard – Comprehensive Explanation (18-19) – “In Exo. 17:6 the water springs out of the rock so that the Israelites could be quenched of thirst and be vitally sustained.  To some extent, this can also be [a type of] Baptism since the Rock was Christ, 1 Cor. 10:9.  Out of Christ’s side flowed blood and water, John 19:34, thereby signifying both Sacraments.  Since all of Baptism’s power originates from Christ’s merit, we are shielded from eternal thirst through the water of Baptism.”

Luther – Sermons on Exodus (St. L. Ed. III) – Luther links the Rock with Christ (quoting 1 Cor 10), and says that when Christ was pierced, out flowed grace and the Holy Spirit. He also notes that the rod is preaching, which must be active to release the benefits of Christ for the life of the world.

Tabernacle Washing (Leviticus 14:6-7) – Bodies Washed with Pure Water

Hebrews 10:19-22, “Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, [20] by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, [21] and since we have a great priest over the house of God, [22] let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

John of Damascus – Orthodox Faith 4.9 (FC 37:346) – “A first baptism was that of the flood [of Noah] that cut away sin.  A second was that by the [Red] Sea and the cloud, for the cloud is a symbol of the Spirit, while the sea is a symbol of the water.  A third is that of the [Levitical] law, for every unclean person washed himself with water and also washed his garments and thus entered into the camp.  A fourth is that of John, which was an introductory baptism leading those thus baptized to penance, so that they might believe in Christ.”

Johann Gerhard — Comprehensive Explanation (19) — “In Exo. 30:18; 38:8; 40:7 God directs Moses to craft a brass hand pan with brass feet, set it between the tabernacle and the altar, and place water in it so that Aaron and his sons might wash in it whenever they wanted to enter the tabernacle so that they might not die.  To some degree this can also be [a type of] Baptism.  For just as none of the priests was to enter the tabernacle back then unless he had first washed with this water, so also anyone who wants to enter the eternal tabernacle must first be washed from sin through holy Baptism.”

Johann Gerhard – Comprehensive Explanation (20) – “In 1 Kings 7:23 Solomon made a huge cast sea in his temple since Moses in his day let a brass hand basin be made.  It was for the specific purpose that the priests wash themselves in it whenever they wanted to go into the temple to perform offerings.  The sea, or huge water tub (for the Hebrews call any large accumulation of water ‘a sea’), is also a type of holy Baptism.  In Rev. 4:6 a glassy sea like unto crystal was before the throne of the lamb.”

Red Heifer (Numbers 19) – Cleansing from Uncleanness

Bede – On the Tabernacle 2.11 (ACCS III:237) – “Now [Moses] declares that the ashes of the victims (which ought to be taken as a great mystery) are ‘the sprinkled ashes of a red heifer,’ which (as the apostle also bears witness) sanctified ‘those who have been defiled, so that [their] flesh is made clean.’  He also understands that the sacrament of the Lord’s passion, which saves us by purifying us forever, is prefigured in these ashes.  Thus the burning of a red heifer designates the actual time and event of Christ’s passion, and the burnt ashes which were kept for the cleansing of those who were unclean suggest the mystery of that same passion which has already been completed, by which we are daily purged from our sins.”

Cyprian – Letter 69.12 (FC 51:254) – “‘The water of sprinkling is a purification.’  From this it appears that the sprinkling with water is also equal to the life-giving bath.”

Johann Gerhard – Comprehensive Explanation (19-20) – “In Num. 19:2 God commands that a red cow be slaughtered and totally burned.  This burned cow’s ashes were then mixed with flowing water to make a sprinkling-water which would purify the unclean.  This sprinkling-water is also a model of holy Baptism, for the blood of Christ, which was roasted on the stem of the cross in hot love, is sunk with all its power into Baptism’s water.  Thus it becomes a wholesome sprinkling water through which we are washed from all uncleanness.”

Crossing Jordan (Joshua 3) – The New Joshua Baptized in Old Jordan

Origen – Homilies on Joshua IV:1 (Shadows to Reality, 269) – “And you who have just abandoned the darkness of idolatry, and wish to give yourself to the hearing of the Divine Law, then it is that you begin first to leave Egypt.  When you have been included in the number of the catechumens and begin to obey the precepts of the Church, you have passed over the Red Sea.  And if you come to the sacred font of Baptism and if in the presence of the Priests and Levites you are initiated into those venerable and noble mysteries which are known only by those permitted to know them, then, having passed over the Jordan while the priests are ministering, you shall enter the land of promise.”

Cyril of Jerusalem – Bible and Liturgy (101)– “Jesus [=Joshua] son of Nave, in many ways offers us a figure (typos) of Christ.  It was from the time of the crossing of the Jordan that he began to exercise his command of the people:  this is why Christ also, having first been baptized, began His public life.  The son of Nave established twelve (men) to divide the inheritance:  Jesus sent twelve apostles into the whole world as heralds of the truth.  He who is the figure saved Rahab the courtesan because she believed; He who is the reality said:  ‘The publicans and courtesans will go before you in the kingdom of God.’  The walls of Jericho fell at the mere sound of the trumpets at the time of the type; and because of the word of Jesus:  ‘there shall not remain one stone upon a stone,’ – the temple of Jerusalem is fallen before our eyes.”

Gregory of Nyssa – De Baptismo (Shadows to Reality, 271-272) – “Too long have you rolled in the mire:  hasten—not at the voice of John, but of Christ—to my Jerusalem.  For indeed the river of grace flows everywhere.  It does not rise in Palestine to disappear in some nearby sea:  it spreads over the whole earth and flows into Paradise, flowing in the opposite direction to those four rivers which come from Paradise, and bringing in things far more precious than those which come forth.  Those rivers carry perfumes, the fruit of the culture and the germination of the earth:  this river brings in men, begotten of the Holy Spirit. . . . Imitate Jesus, the son of Nave.  Bear the Gospel, as he bore the ark.  Leave behind the desert, that is, sin:  cross the Jordan, and hasten to the life according to the commands of Christ; hasten to the land which brings forth the fruits of joy, where flow, as was promised, milk and honey.  Overturn Jericho, your former way of life, and do not let it be built up again.  All these things are types for us, all prefigures truths which are now revealed.”

Luther —  Exposition of Deuteronomy (AE 9:42-43) –  “The fact that Moses does not cross over the Jordan to the land of promise but is commanded to turn it over to another leader is an outstanding hidden lesson to the effect that the law leads nothing to perfection, as it is said to the Hebrews (7:19). For the law does not give the spirit of grace, and therefore it does not lead into the kingdom of God, where the true inheritance of the Lord is. Moses kills two kings on this side of Jordan; that is, the law humbles sinners, shows them that they are slain, and leaves nothing alive, that is, no trust in anything, since it leads to hell and is the ministry of death. Cattle and goods, however, are safe; they come in as booty. For the law does not kill the man bodily, but it kills the trust of his heart; when that is dead, then a man surrenders whatever he is and has into the service of the law as booty, and the miserable wretch lives with all his powers as a captive of the law.  But since the Law does not preach forgiveness of that sin which it had provoked through its ministry, therefore it is forced to die in the land of Moab outside the kingdom of God. Since it is not right to teach the demand of the killing Law among the people of freedom, but the gift of the life-giving Spirit, therefore the whole Law collapses here, so that nothing is left of it, and man does not even know where it is buried. Joshua, however, denotes Christ, because of his name and because of what he does. Although he was a servant of Moses, yet after his master’s death he leads the people in and parcels out the inheritance of the Lord. Thus Christ, who was first made under the Law (Gal. 4:4), served it for us; then, when it was ended, He established another ministry, that of the Gospel, by which we are led through Him into the spiritual kingdom of a conscience joyful and serene in God, where we reign forever.”

Elijah’s Sacrifice upon Carmel (1 Kings 18) – Fire out of Water

Gregory of Nyssa – On the Baptism of Christ (NPNF 2nd Series, 5:522) – The marvelous sacrifice of the old Tishbite [Elijah] that passes all human understanding, what else does it do but prefigure in action the Faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and redemption? For when all the people of the Hebrews had trodden underfoot the religion of their fathers, and fallen into the error of polytheism, and their king Ahab was deluded by idolatry, with Jezebel, of ill-omened name, as the wicked partner of his life, and the vile prompter of his impiety, the prophet, filled with the grace of the Spirit, coming to a meeting with Ahab. He withstood the priests of Baal in a marvelous and wondrous contest in the sight of the king and all the people. By proposing to them the task of sacrificing the bullock without fire, he displayed them in a ridiculous and wretched plight, vainly praying and crying aloud to gods that were not. At last, invoking His his own and the true God, he accomplished the test proposed with further exaggerations and additions. For he did not simply pray and bring down the fire from heaven upon the wood when it was dry, but exhorted and enjoined the attendants to bring an abundance of water. And when he had poured out, three times, the barrels upon the cut wood, he kindled at his prayer the fire from out of the water, that by the contrariety of the elements, so concurring in friendly cooperation, he might show with superabundant force the power of his own God. Now herein, by that wondrous sacrifice, Elijah clearly proclaimed to us the sacramental rite of Baptism that should afterwards be instituted. For the fire was kindled by water thrice poured upon it, so that it is clearly shown that where the mystic water is, there is the kindling, warm, and fiery Spirit, that burns up the ungodly, and illuminates the faithful. Yes, and yet again his disciple Elisha, when Naaman the Syrian, who was diseased with leprosy, had come to him as a suppliant, cleanses the sick man by washing him in Jordan, clearly indicating what should come, both by the use of water generally, and by the dipping in the river in particular. For Jordan alone of rivers, receiving in itself the first-fruits of sanctification and benediction, conveyed in its channel to the whole world, as it were from some fount in the type afforded by itself, the grace of Baptism. These then are indications in deed and act of regeneration by Baptism. Let us for the rest consider the prophecies of it in words and language. Isaiah cried saying, “Wash you, make you clean, put away evil from your souls;” and David, “Draw nigh to Him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed.” And Ezekiel, writing more clearly and plainly than them both, says, “And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be cleansed: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I give you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh, and my Spirit will I put within you.”

Naaman’s Leprosy (2 Kings 5) – Cured by a Greater Elisha

Origen – Homilies on Luke 33 (Bible and Liturgy, 111) – “No one was purified except Naaman the Syrian, who was not of Israel.  See that those who are washed by the spiritual Elisha, Who is our Lord and Savior, are purified in the sacrament of Baptism and cleansed of the stain of the letter (of the law).  It is you to whom it was said:  ‘Arise, go to the Jordan and wash, and your flesh will be renewed.’  Naaman arose, departed, and, when he had washed, carried out the figure (mysterium) of Baptism.  And his flesh became like that of a child.   Who is this child?  He who is born in the bath of regeneration.”

St Gregory of Nyssa – Bible and Liturgy (112) – “When Elisha sent Naaman the leper to wash himself in the Jordan, and when he cleansed him from his sickness, he suggested what was to come, both by the general use of water and by the special baptism in the river.  In fact, alone among rivers, the Jordan received the first-fruits of sanctification and blessing, and poured out, like a spring, the grace of Baptism on the whole world.”

St Ambrose – De Mysteriis III (NPNF Second Edition 10:318) – “Lastly, let the lessons lately gone through from the Kings teach you. Naaman was a Syrian, and suffered from leprosy, nor could he be cleansed by any. Then a maiden from among the captives said that there was a prophet in Israel, who could cleanse him from the defilement of the leprosy. And it is said that, having taken silver and gold, he went to the king of Israel. And he, when he heard the cause of his coming, rent his clothes, saying, that occasion was rather being sought against him, since things were asked of him which pertained not to the power of kings. Elisha, however, sent word to the king, that he should send the Syrian to him, that he might know there was a God in Israel. And when he had come, he bade him dip himself seven times in the river Jordan.  Then he began to reason with himself that he had better waters in his own country, in which he had often bathed and never been cleansed of his leprosy; and so remembering this, he did not obey the command of the prophet, yet on the advice and persuasion of his servants he yielded and dipped himself. And being forthwith cleansed, he understood that it is not of the waters but of grace that a man is cleansed. Understand now who is that young maid among the captives. She is the congregation gathered out of the Gentiles, that is, the Church of God held down of old by the captivity of sin, when as yet it possessed not the liberty of grace, by whose counsel that foolish people of the Gentiles heard the word of prophecy as to which it had before been in doubt. Afterwards, however, when they believed that it ought to be obeyed, they were washed from every defilement of sin. And he indeed doubted before he was healed; you are already healed, and therefore ought not to doubt.”

Gerhard – Comprehensive Explanation (20) – “In 2 Kings 5:14 Naaman, upon the bidding of the prophet Elisha, washed himself in the Jordan, and was cleansed of his leprosy because of that.  This is a type of holy Baptism for Christ, the Head of the Church, let Himself be baptized in the Jordan . . . and thereby sanctified the Jordan and all other water so that it washes us from sin in holy Baptism.”

Elisha Lifts Axe-Head from Water through Wood (2 Kings 6) – Christ Lifts Us from Death through Water and the Wood of His Cross

Justin Martyr – Dialogue with Trypho LXXXVI 6 (Bible and Liturgy, 109) – “Elisha threw a piece of wood into the stream of the Jordan.  By this means, he retrieved from the water the iron of the axe with which the sons of the prophets wished to cut the wood to build their house.  So our Christ has ransomed us at Baptism from our heaviest sins by His crucifixion on the wood and Baptism in the water.”

Irenaeus – Against the Heretics V 17:3 (ANF 1:545)– “By means of a tree we were made debtors to God, [so also] by means of a tree we may obtain the remission of our debt.  This fact has been strikingly set forth by many others, and especially through means of Elisha the prophet.  For when his fellow-prophets were hewing wood for the construction of a tabernacle, and when the iron [head], shaken loose from the axe, had fallen into the Jordan and could not be found by them, upon Elisha’s coming to the place, and learning what had happened, he threw some wood into the water.  Then, when he had done this, the iron part of the axe floated up, and they took up from the surface of the water what they had previously lost.  By this action the prophet pointed out that the sure word of God, which we had negligently lost by means of a tree, we should receive anew by the dispensation of a tree.”

Tertullian – Adv.  Jud. 13 (ANF 3:170) – “Again, the mystery of this ‘tree’ we read as being celebrated even in the Books of the Reigns.  For when the sons of the prophets were cutting ‘wood’ with axes on the bank of the Jordan River, the iron flew off and sank into the stream; and so, on Elisha the prophets’s coming up, the sons of the prophets beg of him to extract from the stream the iron which had sunk.  And accordingly Elisha, having taken ‘wood,’ and having cast it into the place where the iron had been submerged, forthwith it rose and swam on the surface, and the ‘wood’ sank, which are the sons of the prophets recovered.  Whence they understood that Elijah’s spirit was presently conferred upon him.  What is more manifest that the mystery of this ‘wood,’ –the obduracy of this world had been sunk in the profundity of error, and is freed in baptism by the ‘wood’ of Christ, that is, of His passion; in order that what had formerly perished through the ‘tree’ in Adam, should be restored through the ‘tree’ in Christ?”

Didymus the Blind – Bible and Liturgy (109) – “By Elisha, the man of God, who asked:  ‘Where did the axe fall in?’ is prefigured the God coming among men Who asked of Adam:  ‘Where are you?’ By the iron fallen into the dark abyss is prefigured the power of the human nature, deprived of light.  By the wood taken and thrown into the place where lay the object of the search is symbolized the glorious Cross.  The Jordan is immortal Baptism.  Indeed, it is in the Jordan that He Who made the Jordan deigned to be baptized for us.  Finally, the iron which floated on the waters and came back to him who lost it, signifies that we mount by Baptism to a heavenly height and find again the grace of our old and true home country.  If anyone argues that this passage is not prophecy of Baptism, what purpose, then, did the sacred writer have in writing down the passage?”

Gerhard –Explanation (239) – “As the children of the prophets wanted to fell some trees, the iron [head of the ax] fell into the water; thereupon, the iron floated to the top.  The entire human race had fallen into deep, eternal damnation and was unable to rescue itself.  Christ, the heavenly Elisha, came with the wood of His cross and lifted us up again.”


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