The Gospel for Today – and Always

Mark Harstad (1948-2015)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

As he began intensive treatment for the cancer that was to take his life four months later, Prof. Mark O. Harstad (1948-2015) conveyed to the faculty his reflections on his many years of teaching in the Religious Studies Division at Bethany Lutheran College. His summary of the essential content of his teaching, and theirs, became a profound confession of the faith that sustained him through his final days. We can think of no better concise statement of the message all of the Conference presenters are striving to convey through their work with media and technology. — the editors
We have revelation from God which is clear, authoritative, powerful, and sufficient. Our religion is a revealed religion. We are not simply dependent on reason and the senses to draw logical conclusions about questions pertaining to our relationship with God and build on them. Rather the opposite, as we sing in one of our hymns: "All our knowledge, sense, and sight, lie in deepest darkness shrouded," when it comes to spiritual matters. Reason, human will power, and mystical experience do not yield truth about God which can save us eternally.

The profound nature of our alienation from God and hopelessness of our condition must simply be acknowledged on the basis of the Word. This is the work of the mirroring and smashing function of the Law which exposes and breaks down all human pretentions to love God and fellow man in such a way that we might have hope of redemption in ourselves.

Then come those core concepts of the Lutheran tradition, the workings of the Holy Trinity for our salvation. And you simply will not find this structure in place in the same way in any other system of religion/theology. This is the core of our heritage.

God sent his son into the world in the miracle of the incarnation, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved on the basis of his perfect life, his sacrificial atonement for all sin, and his victory over death. Salvation has been won perfectly. It is finished. All of our theology connects here.

But the Son of God did not simply leave this finished salvation floating freely out there somewhere for us to find by our own devices. Our Gospel is not just about the availability or possibility of redemption. Christ instituted the Sacred Means of Grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, to bring it to us wherever and whenever people live from the beginning of the world to the end. By these means he purposes to bring to us and powerfully give to us all the benefits of salvation: freedom from sin, Satan, the curse of the Law, and death. Christ has established the office of the Holy Ministry among the faithful to administer these things.

At this crucial point we don't talk about decisions as to whether you want this salvation or not, or have it within your powers to get it, or the necessity of "doing your part." God bestows faith when and where it pleases him through the means appointed to give it. From beginning to end our salvation is his work.

We present the nature of the Christian life in its many facets in the realistic way in which Scripture presents it. A fascination with achieving immediate success and glory through our faith is not our heritage. That is the delusion of much contemporary religion and worship of God. We emphasize the saint and sinner nature of the Christian life down to the grave, the struggles of life under the cross, working humbly in our Christian vocations for the benefit of others and ourselves, the command and promise of God regarding prayer, and the joy of the Gospel in the midst of many sorrows in the knowledge that the Savior has overcome all.

And finally we have hope and live in anticipation of the resurrection. We know of a sleep in Jesus' name from which we will be awakened by the voice of God on the last day to find fullness of joy in the presence of God and the saints.

In our confessional heritage outlined above we have that which serves us in our spiritual need. I can attest to that in a very personal way at the present moment as two forms of cancer rage through my body to destroy it. The heritage based on the rock solid foundation of Sacred Scripture is summarized in our confessional writings, and enshrined in the historic liturgy of the Christian Church, and its treasure trove of hymns.

May the blessing of God rest upon BLC now and always.

Mark H

Used with permission of the Harstad family and the Bethany Lutheran College Religious Studies Division

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Nancy Roebke (Lutheran Mission volunteer, missionary wife) 2019-10-22 12:38:51pm
Thank you for sharing this summary of confession of God’s story of Salvation in Christ. May it guide our discussions here and in real-life
Colin Anderson (Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary) 2019-10-24 2:14:04pm
Thank you for giving us the Gospel message that not only purchased salvation for us, but also gives us the means to that salvation! I miss the sainted Mark Harstad. He was a wonderful teacher and theologian!
Gediyon Tadesse (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-10-28 11:56:58pm
First, I would like to say thank you for sharing your teachings and reflection on the Gospel and its core concepts. I found it interesting, the point you made about how God sent his only son, Jesus in order for us to be saved and not condemned. God chose to save us when he could have damned us for how much we have as you say "alienated him and his word. Furthermore God has made it so simple for us to receive his salvation, we simply need to accept it, there is no punishment for us as Jesus has been carried the burden for us.
Chris Lopez (BLC D.E. Student) 2019-11-05 12:20:09am
Amen. In this corrupt and sinful world there truly is nothing of greater value than Jesus and his sacrifice to us. Now thanks to that salvation through Jesus, even if our lives are in shambles, or if we are suffering from infirmity, we have hope that after we fall asleep, we will have eternal life through Jesus. I am blessed that Professor Harstad could remind me of such because it is definitely a message that is greatly important to know in this day and age.
Morgan M. and Harold (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2019-11-10 6:37:43pm
Wow! This was really great to read, thank you so very much for sharing! This for sure got my partner and I really thinking on some great aspects; especially in the manner of salvation in Christ our Lord!
Nathan Sargent (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2019-11-11 8:14:49pm
This message was such a good reminder that we do not have the power to come to God or understand him except through faith. He gives us faith to believe the things that we can't fully comprehend because we are sinful. It's so important to emphasize that we are both saints and sinners in God's eyes and that we have salvation thanks to Jesus' death on the cross. I really appreciated how straightforward the message was with emphasizing how the law should knock us down so the Gospel can build us back up through faith in Christ.
Tyree Marquis (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2019-11-12 3:35:59am
Firstly, I'd like to thank you for a great message. This was a great topic because often I think people do not look into or pay enough attention on salvation and how we are saved through Jesus.