Saint Paul's Lutheran Church of Irvine

Reflections on “Christ Still Appears” based on 1st Corinthians 6:12-20 for January 15th, 2012


The seasons of the Church Year are meaningful. They are not tradition for the sake of tradition. The seasons are intended to keep Christ before us and to rehearse the teaching of Holy Scripture, to teach, remind, and strengthen us in our faith as we constantly review the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for our salvation from sin and death. We begin with Advent (about the coming of Christ predicted), and then Christmas (the birth of Christ), and then the season we are in now: Epiphany. It means "appearing". What appeared? The glory of Christ appeared. That is God provided signs that the One born as Savior on Christmas is truly God. His divine nature is seen through the various "appearances" (epiphanies) that prove that Jesus is more than just a man, but the very Son of God.

The epiphanies are numerous and include the Magi/Wise Men who followed the Star of Bethlehem (an Epiphany of Christ's glory and true identity) to worship the Christ child. They gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts are epiphanies of who Jesus really is: gold was for kings, frankincense reminds us of prayer and worship that rises as incense to God, and myrrh was used to anoint bodies for burial. These said to Jesus: "You our King, You are our God, and You are our Savior who will die for our sins!" The epiphanies continue in Scripture and include the baptism of Christ when heaven opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Christ, and the Father spoke of His beloved Son; and who could forget Christ's first miracle in Cana turning water into wine? Again, these were appearances or indicators of Christ's true identity.

So have the epiphanies ended? No.

Christ still appears to His people through His Word and Sacraments. These epiphanies are so powerful that the Word of God attributes God creating and working faith in our hearts through the powerful Word of Christ!

Are these the end of the epiphanies? No.

Christ also appears in His people.

1st Corinthians 6:12-20 makes it clear that His people -- by His grace -- are led to live a life in which their very bodies are meant for the Lord. How we live and how we present ourselves to the world matters! Our very lives are testimony to Christ as the One who said that He and the Father would come to the one who loves God (John 14:23)!

But recall that we spoke of the context of things last week.

How is this life of God with us (even today) sustained and cared for? Answer: through your membership in Christ's Body, the Church. Protect yourself from the crass skepticism towards "institutionalized religion." Don't let the devil cause you to throw the baby out with the bathwater! The Church is God's creation, not man's idea! We need her ministry. It is God's ministry!

In 1st Corinthians 6, Saint Paul transitions from speaking of our bodies made for the Lord -- which demonstrate our lives with Christ -- as being members of a greater body, the Church. In this Church, in this body, Saint Paul wrote, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (1st Corinthians 6:19) Simply put: God dwells in His Church, His body the Church is "a temple of the Holy Spirit within [us Christians]." Christ is in our midst. Christ appears through His Word to strengthen us, to keep us in His forgiveness, to keep us in His grace. Christ still appears. He does so so that His people who are members of His body may remain in Him!


Dr. Espinosa

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Reflections on “Connecting to Christ” (Romans 6:1-11) January 8th, 2012


I was at LAX recently and was the focus two Christian evangelists (one on the bottom floor and another on the top floor) who when they saw me with my clerical collar made a b-line to get to me! They had tracks to pass out to people and it was -- rather obviously -- clear that I needed one of these tracks! The track was entitled, "Born Again!" and expounded on six signs that one is truly filled with the Holy Spirit. The first evangelist gave me a track with a big smile on his face. Then as I waited with my son in the airport, I read the track and memorized the six points within the track. Here they are in summary:

1. Avoid active deliberate sinning.

2. Seek active righteousness by doing righteous deeds as much as possible.

3. Keep yourself pure by avoiding bad influences that would compromise your sanctification.

4. Trust in the Lord by ensuring that you have a true commitment towards Jesus and not mere head knowledge.

5. Love the brethren as Scripture commands us to love all, but especially fellow-Christians.

6. Resist worldly influences that would otherwise hurt your walk with God (this is similar to point 3 above).

Walking out of the airport, the second evangelist came up to me with a big smile on his face. This time I put my hand up and said, "Wait, let me tell you what the six points are!" I recited the points and the evangelist of course was thrilled (and perhaps didn't quite anticipate this scenario)!

The points in and of themselves aren't bad. For example, Psalm 19:13 states, "Keep you servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression."

Scripture clearly teaches us to avoid active, deliberate sinning!

On the other hand, context is everything, and we are to keep all biblical teaching in the overall context of Scripture. These points on sanctification must be properly presented in the context of the rest of the story. We had better not isolate the points and reduce our sanctification, our being born-again, to merely these points.

Romans 6 won't permit it.

Our new lives are first of all defined not as our work, not what we do, but what God does. How does this new life begin? Did it begin with your resolve? Did it begin with your conviction? Did it begin with your commitment? No, absolutely not. It all began with God connecting you to His Son, Jesus Christ. Our justification AND our sanctification is bound to the work of God: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." (Romans 6:3-6)

It is dangerous to put our sanctification on ourselves. God doesn't do that. The above text from Romans 6 shows just how passive we are in sanctification:

1. [We have] been baptized into his death.

2. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.

3. We have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

4. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing.

Notice in all of these descriptors you aren't doing anything. God is the worker. You are the receiver.

If we forget this fact, then our attempts to be "good Christians" will leave us in guilt and defeat; or we might become delusional and actually think that we really are better than other people thank you very much (and in this way take on Pharisaical pride).

The six points for "born again" are insufficient. These must be empowered, embedded, and created through the work of God through the Word and the Sacraments of Jesus Christ. Context is everything. Your sanctification, your being born-again, has a context. It is in Christ.

Dr. Espinosa

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Reflections on “Christmas: When The Faith Came” (Galatians 3:23) presented on January 1st, 2012


Galatians 3:23 states, "Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed." 

Exactly what did you celebrate this past Christmas? Did you celebrate release from captivity and prison? There is a good chance that that is not how you would put your Christmas celebration. And yet this is a very accurate and biblical way of describing what we should celebrate on Christmas. The wording that Saint Paul uses is fascinating. He speaks about "the faith" that came. Faith is used in two major ways (in the positive) sense in Scripture: 1) faith in the sense of our personal believing, the trust in Christ that is created by God through the Word in our heart; 2) faith in the sense of the objective truth and teaching of God's Word. This latter concept is what the former concept is built on. That is you cannot have a saving personal faith if not for the objective faith that is given to you through the Word of Christ.

This latter sense, "the faith" that is the foundation of what we believe in which Luther spoke of in terms of "here I stand!" is something however that is wrapped in the revelation and person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In a sense, this saving faith did not come apart from the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. If no Jesus, there is no saving faith! The faith, the saving faith required the coming of Jesus Christ. Faith here -- with the definite article -- is "the doctrine," or "the fulfillment of the promises of God." And all of these refer back to the coming Seed, that is, to Jesus Himself. What Christ brought with Him was our salvation, the source of our forgiveness and eternal life. It can be said that Jesus is "The Faith" and without Jesus there is no "The Faith"! Furthermore, without Jesus, the other kind of faith (trust in the heart), has nothing to trust in for salvation. Without Jesus, there is no salvation period.

So what prevails if there is no faith and no Jesus? Answer: imprisonment and captivity. If there is no faith, we are left captive to sin, death, and the devil. We would be eternally stuck in these overpowering forces and powers. What is it like to be in prison? If you've never been, it is probably impossible to answer. But we've all seen footage of released prisoners/hostages. They are overjoyed to be free. Sometimes they will get down when they reach their home to kiss the ground! Freedom is something we take for granted, but when it is taken away and we get it back, overwhelming joy is experienced. This -- on a much larger scale -- is what Christmas is about.

When the faith came, when Jesus brought salvation, He brought liberation from the prison of sin, from captivity to the devil. We were set free to be the people of God. This is what Jesus brought on that first Christmas!

The old captivity under the law is specifically addressed in Scripture. Romans 10:4 states, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."

This means among other things that we are called to give up the old "religion" of the law, which is the most popular religion in the world: the idea that we can make ourselves righteous and liberated by what we do. This terrible captivity of the law is so serious that people respond to it with different and desperate approaches to it:

1. Some ignore it as if the law was insignificant and in this way they never confront their spiritual prison.

2. Some mistreat it as if it was the key to their salvation and in this way become either deluted with self-righteousness or become overwhelmed with despair.

3. Some reject it and treat it as if it was no longer relevant and in this way permit themselves to sin without restraint and the prison walls just get tighter.

4. Or they fully recognize it, but they remain miserably in prison, because they fail to see what God has done to release them from prison (this is what Cain did in Genesis, what King Saul did, and what Judas Iscariot did).

Instead of taking these tracks, we are to trust in what God has done with the Law in Christ! In Christ -- when He came -- Jesus 1) fulfilled the Law, kept it all perfectly FOR YOU; and 2) took the Law's condemnation for OUR SIN upon HIMSELF out of His great love for you. Because of Christ's saving work, the faith has come, salvation has come, the prison of the law that shows sin and death has been dealt with and the end result for those who have faith is RELEASE from prison! You are no longer captive to sin. You are forgiven in Christ! The faith has come. You are saved!

Dr. Espinosa


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Reflections on “Christmas Is Our Birthday,” December 25th, 2011


On Christmas Day, our guest preacher was A.J. Espinosa, 2nd year seminarian at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. He preached a fantastic sermon and I've asked him to provide some of the highlights here on our website. Let me turn things over to A.J.! In Christ, Dr. Espinosa

“Happy birthday Jesus.” I’ve seen it on billboards, heard it in children’s messages, and even sung it at party in a church fellowship hall. Even a child can point out what’s strange about this phrase though–if Christmas is Jesus’s birthday, why do we get all the presents, and not Jesus? This question ‘presents’ us with an opportunity for reflection.

A birthday is a celebration of life, a celebration of family. Jesus, however, is God’s Son. He’s God’s Word. John 1:1 tells us that “in the beginning the Word already existed” (GW translation). God’s Word already had life and a family. As God, He already had life in the truest sense, and as God’s Son, he already belonged to a family in the truest sense. Jesus didn’t get life and family on Christmas–we did. John says that Jesus “was the source of life, and that life was the light for humanity” (v4). He goes on to say that Jesus “gave the right to become God’s children to everyone who believed in him” (v12). We get the presents of life and family on Christmas, so Christmas is really our birthday.

On Christmas, we get another present too: God’s glory. Not even Moses got to see God’s glory. He asked, but all he got to see was a sliver of God’s back while hiding inside the crevice of a cliff (Exodus 33:18-23). Although he didn’t get to see God’s glory, he got to hear God make this declaration about Himself: Yahweh is “a compassionate and merciful God, patient, always faithful, and ready to forgive” (Exodus 34:6). This last phrase, “always faithful and ready to forgive,” is a translation of the Hebrew רַב־חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת (rav-chesed we’emet), which when literally translated word-for-word is “full of grace and truth.” This phrase appears only one other time in the Bible, and that’s in John 1:14. John says, “The Word became human and lived among us. We saw his glory. It was the glory that the glory that the Father shares with his only Son, a glory full of grace and truth.” With this phrase, John declares again that Jesus is Yahweh. Moses would have died if he had seen Yahweh’s face, so he had to settle for Yahweh’s back (Exodus 33:20). God became human, so we got to see God face-to-face. When Moses saw that sliver of God’s back, he gained life to last him 40 days and 40 nights without food or water. We saw God’s face, and He injected His life directly into humanity through Jesus. We saw God’s glory, and we gained life to last us for eternity.

We see God’s glory in the way Jesus has lived. Jesus lived a life of faithfulness and forgiveness. As Yahweh was faithful when Israel was faithless, Jesus was faithful when we were faithless. Jesus obeyed his Father’s will to the point of death, the shameful death of a common criminal on a Roman cross. And the death of this perfectly faithful human being, who was ready to forgive even the people who nailed him to that cross, served as the sacrifice which purifies us from sin once and for all.

This is the glory that Jesus has shown us, and it’s the glory that he continues to create in us. Jesus is creating in you a new, eternal, and glorious life of faithfulness and forgiveness. When God the Creator joined Himself to His creation, our re-creation began. Through the birth of God’s Son, humanity’s re-birth has begun. Through God’s presence with us in Jesus, we get presents: eternal life, re-birth into God’s family, and God’s glory. Jesus gives you his presents/presence, and Jesus has come to wish you a happy birthday. Amen.

In Christ,


A.J. Espinosa



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