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What does this mean? That’s what the people on Pentecost said when they heard Galileans speaking in all kinds of different languages proclaiming the wonders of God. It’s also the phrase that Luther used in the Catechism. It’s a theme we are going to be using over the next few weeks as we take a look at several parts of the Catechism.
Today we are looking at the first article of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” What does this mean?
The first words of our text give us a warning. Don’t be deceived my dear brothers. Don’t be deceived about what? About who God is, what he has done, and what he continues to do.
James was facing the same complaint that we sometimes face today. People say, “If God is the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and he’s supposed to be a good and loving Father, then why is there evil and why is the world in such a mess?” They conclude that either God does not really exist and that everything happens by chance like modern atheistic evolutionists; or they conclude that God is either not almighty or not loving. James responds, God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire he is dragged away and enticed.
Those of us who know what God has revealed to us in the Bible realize that evil is a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden. We realize that evil is our natural state, inherited from Adam and Eve. Don’t be deceived. Anything that is evil in this world comes from Satan and our own sinful nature, not from God. Whatever is good in this world comes from God. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Luther invites us to consider God’s good and perfect gifts to us. First of all, he is our maker. You and I are his special, unique creation. He created Adam and Eve as the crown of his creation, the last thing he created. He made them rulers over everything else he had made. Everything he made was for their use and enjoyment. We are his creation still today because his creative word to Adam and Eve still stands- be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. It is God who has made you; it is God who has given you your “body and soul, eyes, ears and all your members, you mind and all your abilities.” As a result God says to his people through Moses, You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.
Don’t be deceived. You are not an accident, a chance mistake of an evolutionary process. You are a special creation of God to whom he has given unique gifts and abilities. Give him the honor, thanks and praise he deserves for you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
God not only made us who we are, but he still preserves us. Normally he does this in ways that seem natural and normal. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall. He gives the seed that is planted in the ground, that looks dead and lifeless, the ability to sprout and grow and produce fruit. Without him none of these things would happen. Imagine what would be on your table if God would not provide sunshine and rain and seed that can sprout and grow- there would be nothing on your table, in fact there wouldn’t even be a table. God continues to preserve us, “providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home, spouse and children, land, cattle and all I own and all I need to keep my body and life.”
Sometimes, when necessary, God provides for his people in supernatural ways. He provided manna and quail and water from a rock for his people as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. He caused ravens to feed Elijah during a famine and made sure the widow’s oil and flour didn’t run out. Jesus fed 5,000 with two fish and five loaves of bread. And there are lots of stories of people who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from experiencing things like receiving an unexpected check in the mail, or having grasshoppers swarm to them when they were trapped behind enemy lines in the jungles of Viet Nam, or having a neighbor show up with a meal. God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.
Don’t be deceived. God will keep his promise to provide for you all that you need for life; not all you want, but all you need. When we realize that all we need is something to eat, even if it’s just bread and water; a change of clothing, not a closet full; and something to shelter us from the weather, not a large house with central heating and air–remember that Israel lived in tents for 40 years; we conclude with Luther that God provides for us “richly and daily,” all that we need and much more.
In addition to providing what we need to survive– food, clothing and shelter– God also gives us the gift of protection. The world is evil, just watch the news. Accidents happen all the time. People do terrible things to other people all the time. Most people realize that there have been many times when something bad could have happened to them and it didn’t. Imagine how many times we might have been in danger and didn’t even know it because God was “defending us from all danger and guarding and protecting us from all evil.” Almost every Christian has a story about being protected by God’s angels, for he gives his angels charge over us to keep us in all our ways. Sometimes he does let harm come to us, but when he does, he promises to use it for our good, to draw us closer to him and to strengthen us in our faith.
Don’t be deceived, God does not change like shifting shadows. He’s not like us. He doesn’t kick the dog and snap at the kids because he’s had a bad day. He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. You always know what to expect from God. He will always be faithful to his word; he will always do what he said.
As you study the Old Testament you see that God’s faithfulness includes his faithfulness to his promise to bring judgment on those who forsake him. As Luther reminds us in what he called the explanation to the commandments, “God threatens to punish all who transgress these commands.” God does not change like shifting shadows. What he calls sin will always be sin, no matter what so-called Bible scholars say or society does. As much as we might wish that God would make exceptions to his rules at least in our case; that he would look the other way when it comes to our sins, he can’t. He does not, he cannot change like shifting shadows.
The fact that God does not change depending on the wind of popular opinion, or because we want him to, is frightening when we think of his promise to punish those who transgress his commands; but it becomes a wonderful comfort when we hear his promise to execute that punishment on Jesus instead of us.
If God were to change like shifting shadows when it comes to his law and what he calls sin, then we could never trust him when it comes to his promises about how to have eternal life. If God were to change like shifting shadows how could you ever be sure that you were saved through Jesus? When it comes time for you to meet him he might have had a bad day and decide that no one is getting in to heaven that day.
What a blessing that God does not change like shifting shadows! He provided a way of salvation and proclaimed it to Adam and Eve as soon as they sinned. He has never changed his promise that salvation is a gift received through faith in the seed of the woman who came and crushed the head of Satan by his life, death and resurrection. How thankful we are that God has not and never will go back on his promise. We can trust the way of salvation he has provided.
Every good and perfect gift is from above. It’s interesting that the word that James uses here is the same word that Jesus used when he told Nicodemus that he must be born again, or from above. I don’t know if that’s what James was thinking about as he concluded this section, but the Holy Spirit moved him to mention the most important Gift that we have from God. He chose us, God chose us, we didn’t choose him. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth. This new birth that comes from above, that we need to have if we are going to be saved, comes through the word of truth. Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ, the good news about all that Jesus has done for us. Through the gospel at our baptism and as we have heard and studied Scripture, God has made us a first fruit of all he created. He has made us his chosen people, his royal priesthood so that we might declare the praises of him who has called us out of darkness, the darkness of sin and unbelief, into his wonderful light.
Don’t be deceived about who God is, what he has done, and what he continues to do for you. He made you. He preserves you. He saw to it that you became his child not just by birth, but by rebirth. There is no better conclusion to all these things than the one Luther wrote: “All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it. For all this I ought to thank and praise, to serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”