Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
God is the Giver of all that we are and have. Every good thing given comes to us from above, from God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth — our Father, who art in heaven. We are the blessed recipients of His gifts.
And yet, we still need to confess our sins. Despite everything God gives to us, we are still ingrates, not “a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (James 1:18b). We want more than what God has given to us. We do not always live with thankful hearts before God. Instead of being quick to hear and slow to speak, we are quick to speak and slow to hear. When we get angry, our anger is not always righteous. We get mad because someone has inconvenienced us or bruised our egos, and our anger — the anger of man — “does not achieve the righteousness of God” (v. 20b).
We continue to show our lack of gratitude to God as we continue to break His 10 Commandments. We are not meek but filthy and wicked, “for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment” (Luther). We are poor, miserable sinners who deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.
We have ever-offended God, not only by our thanklessness for His good gifts, but also for His perfect gift: His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Our sinful pride doesn’t want to hear that we cannot, by our own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him, nor “earn” our way into heaven, leaving us with nothing in ourselves to boast about.
When we get a gift, we like to tell others about it, as long as we like it and it’s important to us. God has given us many good things, giving us this day (and every day) our daily bread. God has given us an even greater gift, the greatest gift of all — so great that it’s perfect: His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Jesus came down from heaven to be born in our likeness (in human form), to bear our sins and to be our Savior. God’s love for us is so great that He offered up His own Son to be the payment for our sins. How is this the perfect gift? In the Greek, the word for “perfect” shares the same root with the word Jesus spoke just before He died on the cross: “It is finished.” That one Greek word can also be translated to “It is completed” or “It is perfected.”
Only Jesus could make and be the perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins and the sins of the whole world. Only Jesus paid for those sins, giving His body over to be crucified and shedding His blood to be the atonement for our sins and for the life of the world. His blood, and His blood alone, cleanses us — purifies us — from the curse of sin.
Even more, Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day to give eternal life to all who believe in Him, opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers. That life is for you and me. Christ Jesus rose to give you His perfect gifts: forgiveness and life in His Name.
The writer of James tells us every perfect gift is from above. This is most certainly true because your Lord and Savior Jesus, comes to give you His perfect gifts, the perfect gifts God first gave you at your Baptism, given again in His Absolution, placed into your ears as His Word is proclaimed in your hearing, and touching your lips with Jesus’ body and blood.
Hear what Doctor Luther once preached in a sermon almost 500 years ago:
“When you are baptized, partake of Holy Communion, receive the absolution, or listen to a sermon, heaven is open, and we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father; all these works descend upon us from the open heaven above us. God converses with us, provides for us; and Christ hovers over us — but invisibly. And even though there were clouds above us as impervious as iron or steel, obstructing our view of heaven, this would not matter. Still we hear God speaking to us from heaven; we call and cry to Him, and He answers us. Heaven is open, as St. Stephen saw it open (Acts 7:55); and we hear God when He addresses us in Baptism, in Holy Communion, in confession, and in His Word as it proceeds from the mouth of the men who proclaim His message to the people.”
So “Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:6 ESV), for He comes down from heaven to you, for you, and for the life of the world, the perfect gift come down from heaven for us, for me, for you, for the life of the world, thanks be to God!
Mark Schlamann is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Tooele.