The Maker's Mark
In the days of handcrafted things, the maker would put a mark on his work identifying himself. You know this or that person made an item because he left his mark on it. Does our Maker have a mark?
What a wonderful God is described in our Explanation to the First Article of the Apostle's Creed. He creates me giving me body, soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses. The wonderful gifts of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste are mine because in grace God gives them to me. What a wonderful Maker!
But there's more. Not only does He create, He preserves. He gives me the gifts of body, soul, eyes, ears, reason and senses, AND He still takes care of them! Yes, we confess in the Creed that God gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land animals and all that I have. Richly and daily God does this we confess. We have closets full of clothes and shoes; pantries and refrigerators loaded with weeks worth of food; houses and home that more than meet our needs; and we have spouses and kids that love us. When we say that God richly and daily provides for us we are not overstating the case, are we? When we say that He gives us ALL that we need to support this body and life, we are not exaggerating, are we?
What a wonderful Maker! He creates us; He provides for us, and He preserves us! We confess in the First Article that He defends us against not just some danger but all danger. Moreover, He guards and protects us from not just this or that evil but all evil. Go ahead say that to yourself slowly: I'm defended against all danger. I'm guarded and protected from all evil.
Having confessed that we have such a wonderful God, where does such a God leave His mark? If you watch nature shows, science shows, or discovery shows, you might be tempted to say that He leaves His mark in the world around you. How intricate the human body is! Surely it testifies to our Maker. Surely the seasons, the water cycle, and botany in general testifies to how our God provides for us. And cannot His protecting mark be seen in every missed accident, every averted disaster, every lifesaving surgery!
But if I look around me, I mean really look, I don't see the Maker described in the Explanation to the First Article. O yes, He have given me eyes, ears and all my members, but there are many who don't have eyes, ears or all their members. Yes, I have my reason and all my senses, but there are people who don't. Furthermore, while my closets and pantry are full the majority of the world's closets and pantries aren't; some are empty. And yes, I've been defended from the danger of hurricane and flood but others have been blown or washed away. I've been protected from the evils of cancer and accidents but millions have not.
So where is the Maker's Mark? I can see the mark of a powerful Maker and wise Maker but I really don't see the mark of a gracious and giving Maker. Far from it, I see in hospitals the mark of an apparently evil Maker who lets children be born with out eyes and ears. I see in nature the mark of a Maker who sends famines and earthquakes. In the obituaries, I see the mark of a Maker who apparently abandons people to disease and tragedy.
If we continue to seek our Maker's mark in the world about us, we are going to miss Him, or even worse, we're going to conclude we don't have a loving Father for a Maker but a cruel tyrant. Psalm 77:19 would rescue us from such a Maker by telling us the true God doesn't leave His footprints in nature. St. Paul says about the same thing in Romans 11 when he says His ways are beyond tracing out. When you see children born with deformities, when you see towns leveled by tornadoes, when you see CAT scans clouded with cancer, you are not seeing your Maker's Mark!
Jesus is the Maker's mark. You can only see the mark of God your Father in God the Son. Colossians 1:15 says Jesus is the exact image of the Father. When St. Philip wants Jesus to show them the Father, what does Jesus say? "Have I been so long with you, and you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father." People always want to ascend to heaven and look at God even though He doesn't want to be known that way. In heaven, God wraps Himself in light and fire and clouds, so that no mortal can ever see Him. On earth God wraps Himself in malformed children, famine, and disaster. Philosophers try to unwrap God with their high and lofty reasoning. Ordinary people try to unwrap God by explaining why this or that had to happen.
But God doesn't wish to be known in any way or manner other than through His Son, Jesus born of the Virgin Mary. In John 1 we're told bluntly, "No one has seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son of God who is in the bosom of the Father has made Him known." That phrase "He has made Him known" literally says, "He is the exegesis of the Father." In Bible class I study the Greek text and give and exegesis of it. Those Greek words mean nothing to you. They are just marks on the page. I look at those marks and explain what they mean.
This is what God the Son does for God the Father. He does an exegesis of the Father's marks in the world. If only we would look at what the Father did in the world like we do at the Greek text. If only God's marks in the world meant nothing at all to us. But no, we foolishly think we do know what it means when a child is born without eyes, when drought strikes, when accidents happen. But we don't. Not at all. We are only guessing, and that poorly. Jesus is the exegesis of God. He alone can tell us what God is thinking and doing.
However, even Jesus doesn't tell us why this or that thing happened. Ah, but we can look at Jesus in the Scripture and find out everything we really need to know about God. Jesus only does what the Father wants, He tells us time and again. When we see Jesus healing the blind and deaf, He is doing what the Father wants. When we see Jesus calling the little children to Him, He is doing what the Father wants. When we see Jesus kind and forgiving toward sinners, we are seeing how the Father really is. We must stop making conclusions about our Maker based on marks that we cannot really understand, and watch Jesus instead. He is the exegesis of the Father.
There we see a God who is so much in love with His creation that He wouldn't let it go even when it was hellbent on pushing Him away. When our puppy starts growling and snapping the kids will often shove him away saying, "If that's the way you're going to be, then go." It is hard to love a snarling, snapping puppy. This is how sinners are toward God, but still He came down into this world putting Himself under the Law in our place and being punished for us. Can you see such a loving Jesus going through maternity wards ripping ears and appendages off children? Then don't see God that way. Can you see Jesus hurling lightening bolts from heaven? Then don't see lightening bolts as marks of your Maker. Can you see Jesus abandoning sheep to wolves? Then don't see God that way.
But there is a problem. Human reason stumbles at seeing Jesus as the Maker's mark. Although all the fullness of the godhead dwells bodily in Christ according to Colossians, reason says that the Man Jesus cannot contain all of God. To human reason, God remains largely invisible. It doesn't see Him in Baptism forgiving sins. It doesn't see Him in the Absolution personally forgiving sins, and it certainly doesn't see Him in the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion. No, to human reason God remains wrapped up in light unapproachable and in fire consuming. Reason says, "We can't really know all of God in Jesus. His very body and bodily actions can't really teach us about God."
Even when Jesus walked the earth people stumbled at His body. Jesus taught them, and they were thrilled and amazed at the words of grace pouring out of His mouth. But they didn't think Jesus showed them the far reaches of heaven or the depths of God. No, they just wondered where did Jesus get such wisdom? We know His mother, brothers and sisters. He could speak godly things, but He couldn't speak as God.
Lest you think this opinion is no more. Beware. I've found it among God's people. In adult confirmation, during the class on the Trinity, I will say that Jesus is God. "No," someone will say, "He is the Son of God, not God." This is wrong dear friends. Not only is Jesus true God, He is the only God we can know. He is the only mark the true God and Maker makes Himself known by. Let me put this in terms of the Creed. In the First Article we speak of God the Father, the Creator. In the Second Article we speak of God the Son, the Redeemer. The only way to know the Father we confess in the First Article who creates, provides and preserves us is through the Son of the Second Article.
Part of the problem is that we in Western Christianity have emphasized distinguishing the Persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Eastern Christianity, on the other hand, makes it a point to emphasize the unity of the Godhead. Luther, in some sense, did the same thing. He says repeatedly, "We know of no God apart from Jesus Christ." Or, "Jesus is the only ladder God ever put down from heaven. If you try to climb up to heaven another way, you will find yourself looking into hell."
Do you know why there is such a hesitancy to look to Jesus as the Maker's mark? We stumble exactly where the clergymen did the first time Jesus came. His weakness, His suffering. If only Jesus had come down from that cross, then they would have believed on Him. Likewise it is more intellectually and spiritually pleasing to us to think of God as invisible. How offensive it is to think of God being born of a virgin? God with diapers on? God drooling? God needing to be fed. God being cared for by sinful parents? This doesn't make sense. No Christian ever said it did.
The mark of the Maker seems very weak in Jesus, but what good news, what great news, what comforting news this is to weak sinners like us. Lightening and earthquakes are not forgiving or tenderhearted towards sinners, but God in Christ is. They shake and bake sinners. Jesus being tempted in every way like we are, yet without sin knows how frail we are. In Jesus we see a God who is tenderhearted toward even those who denied and betrayed Him. He brings up Peter's sin only to forgive it; He calls Judas a "friend" even while Judas is betraying him.
Our Maker knows how weak in the faith we are. Though we boldly say, "I believe" in the Creed, let a disaster or sickness or tragedy happen, particularly at this time of year, and we are foundering in doubt. Thankfully are God, our Maker is One who will not quench a dimly burning wick. Better than that; He is One who even pulls brands from the fires of doubt even if it means burning His own fingers.
Let others speak of God in grand lofty terms. Let the philosophers and theologians put God far, far away wrapped in fire and light. We will take our Maker up close and personal. We will see His marks in such ordinary things as a manger, a Man who heals, suffers, and dies; a Man who is risen from the dead and live and reigns to all eternity. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek (12-13-00) First Article