Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jesus Warns You to Protect You

Eighth Sunday after Trinity
July 21, 2013
It’s a beautiful sunny day and you’re driving along, enjoying the day and the weather. Up ahead on the side of the road is a yellow sign. You know that’s a warning sign so you take note. “Slippery when wet.” Immediately you dismiss it because it doesn’t apply. Beautiful day. Beautiful weather. Dry road. You’re good to go. You can drive right on by that warning sign without taking heed to that warning.

When you get to the office building where you work and before crossing the lobby area you are met with something that normally is not there, you stop to look. It is a sign and it says, “Caution. Wet floor.” You continue on, but slowly. You know you have been warned and you know that the floor you normally stride right across is now dangerous if you’re not careful.

The first warning you rightly dismissed because the warning didn’t apply to you under the conditions. The second warning could only be described as your fault if you ignored it. And so you come to the conclusion that both warnings are good, because they are necessary when the conditions apply to the situation you’re in. Even though heeding the warning inhibits you and limits you and restrains you, it is for your good, as well as for the good of others.

If the road is wet and you continue on at an unsafe speed, you not only put yourself in danger but you put others at risk. If you waltz right across the floor like you normally do, you put the company at risk of an insurance claim. Warnings are good and heeding them is good.

The warning Jesus gives in the Gospel reading is to beware of false prophets. He gives the warning for your good: your safety, your welfare, your benefit. He gives you the warning because without it you may be unaware of the danger posed by false prophets. If you don’t know a portion of the road gets really slippery when it’s wet, you will continue on as you are and it may come to your harm and put others in danger. If you don’t know there was a spill on the floor at work, you might waltz right across and end up breaking your arm. Warnings make you aware of danger. They tell you of something you otherwise might not be aware of. Warnings are good.

How would you know of the threat posed by false teachers if Jesus did not warn you of them? They look nice. They sound nice. They speak well. As Jesus says, “They come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Outwardly, they look like true shepherds of Christ’s flock. They appear as wonderful, godly, preachers and pastors who care and love the people of God. They seem to have a heart for God and a passion for missions. They look like the very ones you would point to to show that there is a servant of God.

They are not. They are false prophets. They are ravenous wolves. They will tear you to pieces spiritually. But how do you know who the false prophets are? Jesus has warned you, beware of them. How are you to beware of them if they look on the outside like the very ones you should be listening to and taking to heart what they say and preach and teach?

Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” You can’t go on appearances. Just because a pastor says he is a faithful pastor doesn’t mean he is. Just because he sounds like a godly pastor or appears to be a faithful leader in God’s Church, doesn’t mean he is. You must look at the fruit that is produced in his ministry. If it is fruit that delivers something other than the Gospel, the man is a false prophet. If he points you to someone or something other than Jesus Christ and your hope and salvation in Christ alone, then you are hearing the words of a wolf who will destroy you, not a shepherd who will guide you and guard you.

Jesus says, “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Those who know trees can see things that those of us who don’t know cannot see. They can see disease on a tree where we just see a tree. They can see the difference between rich, lush fruit, and diseased or unhealthy fruit, whereas we just see a fruit tree. Without knowing what you’re looking for, you may miss the signs completely between was is bad and what is good.

That’s why the false prophets are so hard to spot. They look like the true shepherd. They look like the good trees. But their real actions are those of ravenous wolves. Their true fruit is bad fruit. You need to know what you’re looking for to spot them. Otherwise they will devour you. They will lead you astray and poison you with spiritual poison.

What you need to look for is doctrine. True doctrine is what delivers to you life-giving gifts of salvation. False doctrine is what destroys you and leaves you without hope and salvation. The Word of God, the Bible, is the only source God has given us for true doctrine. He’s God, so certainly He could reveal to us true doctrine in another way, or even many other ways. And if He wanted to do that, He would be in His rights to do that. He simply hasn’t shown us, though, that He has. What He has done, is reveal Himself to us in a general way through creation and each individual’s conscience. And He has revealed Himself to us in very specific ways through His Son, God in the flesh, and His Holy Word, the Bible, and in the Sacraments Christ instituted for His Holy Christian Church.

In the general ways, creation and conscience, we see evidence that there is a god. But we don’t find out who or what the god is. It is only in the Bible that we find that the true God is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Only the Bible makes known to us that there is one true God and who exactly He is. It is in the second Person of the Triune God, Jesus, that we see God’s revelation of Himself primarily in God’s action of becoming flesh. God humbling Himself to become a man was His amazing decision to save us from our sin and condemnation. As God, He certainly could have chosen to do it in a different way, but He didn’t. He did it in this way. In His Son; in Jesus, the Word made flesh. True God becoming true man. The second Person of the Trinity taking on human nature and dying in the place of all who have been created by God but sadly who have fallen into sin.

God has given us this doctrine, this teaching of who He is and that we are sinful and that He has accomplished salvation in His Son, to us in the Bible. Any doctrine that is taught that goes beyond the Bible, or takes away from the Bible, or alters the Bible, is false doctrine. Any pastor who teaches such doctrine is a false teacher, a false prophet. We have been warned. We need to be on the lookout. We need to be aware. We need to go forward not with abandon but with caution. When we hear false doctrine we must confront it. When we are taught false doctrine we must resist it.

The purpose of this is the safety of the flock. A true pastor, a shepherd God has called to tend the flock, guides and protects the flock. The teaching and preaching of true doctrine not only delivers salvation to the people of God but also protects them from Satan, who seeks to devour. It is true that it is the responsibility and the duty of a pastor to preach and teach faithfully. It is also true that they are sinners as we all are. It is true that many of them are not faithful and are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Therefore, it is true that all of us need to be on guard. We need to heed the warning our Lord gives us. Beware of the false prophets. Beware of the ones whose fruits do not comport with their appearance. Of the ones whose teaching and preaching points us to someone or something other than Christ alone for salvation.

There’s another reason. And that is for the sake of the false prophet. If you do not make known to the false prophet his error you are aiding and abetting it. That means we all need to vigilant in keeping our pastors accountable on the basis of the Word of God. If a pastor is preaching and teaching false doctrine, he needs to be called on it. He needs to be given the opportunity to repent of his error, for the sake of his soul and for the sake of his hearers.

Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” These men Jesus is referring to are false prophets; ones who continued on in their error without repenting. Was it because no one had called them to repentance? Was it because people had, but the false prophets refused to listen and refused to repent? Regardless, we must call false prophets to repentance on the basis of the Word of God. They call Him “Lord,” they prophesy in His name, they cast out demons in His name, and they do many mighty works in His name. But He will cast them out into utter darkness and flames of fire. He will say to them, “I never knew you, you are a worker of lawlessness.”

It’s never easy to confront those who stand in the place of God and speak the opposite of what God has called them to speak. That is why God has given us His Word. It points us unwaveringly and manifestly to Christ and salvation in Him alone. The Bible is clear. There is one man who died on the cross for the sin of the world, and that man is Jesus, the one born of Mary and begotten of the Father. He is the Savior of the world. He is your Savior. He sends pastors out to be true prophets. Hear them as though you were hearing your Lord and so you also will be warned of those who point you away from Christ. His warning is to protect you, just as His Gospel is to save you. Amen.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Seeing All of God’s Blessings

Seventh Sunday after Trinity
July 14, 2013
There is universal truth and there is truth that is appropriated. Universal truth is a fact. Something that is true is true, whether you believe it or not. But even though it’s true, if it is not appropriated by you, it doesn’t do you any good. It is good, in and of itself, but it still doesn’t do you any good personally.

The sun rises every day. That is truth, and it is universal. But what if you close your eyes to that fact, literally. What if you say, “I am going to cover my eyes my whole life just to prove that the sun doesn’t rise every day. I can’t see it rise every day, and therefore it is not true.” The truth remains, but you have not appropriated it. The fact of the sun rising every day is not a fact, a truth, for its own sake. God didn’t create the sun to operate that way for the simple action of it rising every day. He created the sun to shine its light. The sun rises so that we may see and work and enjoy the beauty of this world. Making use of the sun’s light, opening your eyes and using them, appropriates the truth of the rising of the sun to your personal life.

It is universal truth that God has accomplished salvation for everyone. It is also true that not everyone is saved. The reason is that the universal truth of God’s salvation for everyone is a fact, but it is not appropriated by everyone. Just as a person closing his eyes to the rising of the sun does not get the benefit of the rising of the sun, so the person closing his eyes to God’s salvation doesn’t receive the benefit of that salvation.

Now we can see the sun rising each day. There’s not much faith involved there. I know it rose today, just as it has every day of my life, and I am confident it will rise again tomorrow. I am equally confident it will continue every day for the rest of my life. Now somewhat more difficult to grasp this is with the person who is blind from birth. This person has never seen the sun rise. He must take it on faith that what everyone tells him about the sun, that it rises every day and gives light to the world, is true. The fact of it is true even though that person cannot see it. It is also true that that person cannot appropriate the truth of it as far as some of the benefits of it, as he cannot see to make use of the light. The warmth of the sun, the balance it gives to the maintenance of the solar system, those are benefits even the blind person receives even though he has never seen this thing we call the sun.

Regarding the universal truth of salvation, we are not just blind—like a person who is blind and cannot appropriate some of the benefits of the sun—we are utterly blind in that we cannot appropriate any of the benefits of the salvation God has secured for us. The blind person can’t see by the light of the sun, but can live comfortably because of the warmth of the sun. We are spiritually blind from birth and therefore not only cannot see the light of salvation, we can’t experience any of the warmth or balance it provides for our life now and eternally. Far from being blind and not being able to get around as easily in this life, spiritually we are blind and in a cave with no way to get out and no source of any help or benefit.

This is the universal truth, and most people deny it. Truth be told, all of us deny it, for we are sinful from birth. Our sinful nature does not see this truth and does not wish to acknowledge it. The disciples exhibit this in their response to Jesus. He knows the people are hungry. They’ve been with Him for some time. They’re hungry, they won’t be able to make it back home unless they are fed. The problem is that they are out in a place where there’s no food. The disciples recognize the simple fact that there’s no way these people can be fed in this situation.

But Jesus truly sees. He is spiritually aware. The disciples are blind. They are seeing things in their sinful flesh. They deny the plain truth that Jesus is Lord and brings salvation. He tells His disciples that He has compassion on the people. God’s salvation for everyone is in body and soul. It is with temporal blessings as well as eternal. It is with the things we need in this life as well as for what we need eternally. He has compassion. This is how God sees. He sees in compassion. We see through our sinful eyes, which means we don’t see at all. We deny the plain truth of God’s salvation in His Son. “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” the disciples said to Him.

What Jesus does next is feed the people. Here you see that your spiritual blindness can only be conquered by the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Here you see that in taking a few loaves of bread and a few small fish, your inability to feed yourself, both physically and spiritually, can only come by your Lord feeding you. It is when those who don’t believe in Jesus deny this that they do not appropriate the truth of it. In other words, they go along in this life, perhaps even just fine by human standards, but never receive the benefits of what their Lord gives in salvation. They will claim, I am able to feed myself by having a job and working and doing what is necessary to live a very good life. And that is true as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go very far, because it goes only as far as themselves. Or perhaps even as far as all people in history. But the fact is, what they are denying is the God who brought them into existence. The God who created them and gave them all the blessings of this life. Without Him and without His creating all of this, those people would have nothing.

So often we who should know better take for granted the blessings God gives to us in this life. Yes, we do all the things we do to eat and make a living. But it is all from God. It is because of His compassion on us, His love for us. His salvation of us is not just far off into the future, it is here and now. It is in body as well as soul. He gives you food. He gives you a home. He gives you leaders. He gives you family. He gives you many blessings in this life. It is all from Him. Anything we do to bring these things about is also from Him. He gives us the ability to do what we need to do to take care of ourselves and our family.

There’s another blessing that comes along with this and it is one our sinful nature also does not see. It is that because our Lord gives us so much that our focus and energy does not constantly need to be on ourselves; what we need, what we need to do. It can be on others. It can be on helping and serving others. It can be on giving to others in their needs. If my focus is always on myself, what I do to provide for myself, then I am denying that it is my Lord who gives me everything I need. If my focus, rather, is on my Lord, who gives me what I need, I can see from that Light that there are many people in this world who have needs and who need help and that God calls me to serve and love them.

The Bible says that for us Christians this begins with the Household of Faith. If we cannot love and serve our own brother and sister Christians, how do we expect to love and serve those outside the Christian Church? As a congregation, this begins with our own congregation. We love each other. We help each other. We pray for each other. We encourage each other. We use the time God has given us to do these things, the talents He has given us, and the treasure He has given us. Individually, we cannot carry on the mission of Prince of Peace. But collectively, we can. Each of us giving of our offerings enables the mission and ministry of Prince of Peace to continue. Because God has blessed us so much, our focus doesn’t always need to be on ourselves individually, but rather, it can also be on us collectively, as congregation.

That’s where it starts, with the Household of Faith. It continues on from there. We love and serve our family members, our neighbors, those in this community, those we work with, those we socialize with, and many other people in our lives and who come into our lives. Whether they see it or not, God is working through us to love and serve them. Just as Jesus used simple things like bread and fish to feed many people, He uses simple things like our time, our talents, and our treasure to feed people physically and spiritually.

All of this is God in action. When He looks out at the people He has created, He has compassion on them. He loves them. He serves them. He feeds them. He nourishes them. Jesus came for this purpose. When He fed the crowds that day, He showed that this is why He came. They were unable to feed themselves, because they had been taking in the Word as He was preaching and teaching it to them. The disciples did not see that His salvation He was making known was all-inclusive. And so He feeds the crowds with food. How much more was He yet to give! His very life. His very body. His very blood being shed.

Looking back on it now, we see that it was a great miracle Jesus did in feeding thousands with a little bit of food. We see it was a wonderful blessing, as He desires to feed us in our need, and have us live a life in which we may enjoy His blessings. Looking back on it now, we see with new eyes, new sight; eyes that have been enlightened by the Light of the World. Our sinful flesh having been crucified with Christ. A new man rising forth. We now become a new creation in Christ. As Jesus fed thousands with a little bread and fish, He has fed everyone with Himself, He has given His life on the cross for our sin.

As He gave His life on the cross He continues to feed and nourish us. With simple bread and simple wine He feeds us with His body and blood. He nourishes us with Himself, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World. Now we can see what He sees. Opportunity. Blessings. Gifts received, gifts to share. Eternal life even in the midst of this earthly life. Blessings in body and soul. Amen.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

What God Demands, He Gives

Sixth Sunday after Trinity
July 7, 2013
What God demands He gives. He demands more than you can accomplish but gives in abundance.

There are many things we could say about God. We could talk about how He is almighty. He can do anything. We can marvel at His work of creation, bringing everything into existence. And doing so by the simple speaking of His word. We could talk about His love, His abounding mercy and grace. We could talk about His eternal nature, that He is without beginning and without end.

And as Christians, we do in fact spend a good amount of time talking about these things. We marvel at them, rejoice in them, confess them, and praise Him for them. As Christians we should in fact do this. There is indeed much to say about God and we should continue to say it.

But at the end of the day, there really is one thing to say about God, about which if we do not say it, none of the rest of it matters. The one thing we must say above all others about God is that He has given us His Son. His primary way He has revealed Himself to us—that is, everyone—is in the person of Jesus. To understand the one true God who demands much apart from Christ is to not understand God at all. To try to praise God apart from the salvation given and accomplished in the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, is to give praise to a false god. To try to come to terms with the true God who is holy and who condemns sinners for their sin apart from God’s answer to our sin and our condemnation is to remain in our sin and end in condemnation. His answer is His Son.

It is not working it out. It is not trying harder. It is not in feelings or emotions. It is not in philosophy, or psychology, or spirituality, or morality, or any other attempt at goodness. It is solely in salvation from God. His salvation is solely in His Son.

God demands perfection of you. He demands perfect righteousness. He holds a place for you in heaven only if you have satisfied the requirements of His holy Law. His Law is laid down nicely in the Old Testament reading, which we are very familiar with. The Old Testament reading relates to us the Ten Commandments. The well-known demands of God. You shall not do this and you shall not do that. If you do what you shall not do then you will forever be separated from God because your righteousness, your holiness, your goodness, is anything but that. With God, His demand is perfection, not just ‘good enough’.

And so any attempt at knowing God, believing in Him, following Him, that rests in any notion that you are good enough, or that at least you’re trying, is an attempt that damns you. People across the ages have tried this. They still do. It’s very appealing. Don’t we all want others to live in such a way that they’re trying to be good people, that they are wanting to be better and better people? Yes, of course we do. To a certain extent, it enables living a better existence in this life.

The problem with it is that it robs God of His glory. His primary way of making Himself known to us is His Son. Any attempt on our part to be right with God takes away what Christ has already accomplished for us. He alone gets the glory, not us. Should we try to be better people? Of course! Should we seek to do what is right? No doubt. But the reason is because of Christ. The reason is that whatever good we do is brought about by Christ. The righteousness we have is the righteousness of Christ.

The way we view God is skewed. It is skewed because of our sin and our fallen nature. We look at Him through our sinful eyes and we think that the good we do should count for something. If we step back though, and view Him the way He ought to be viewed, we can see that He is by nature not a God who demands but who gives. His creation was perfect. His love and gifts upon His people were in abundance. There were no constant demands on Adam and Eve because there was no need for it. It wasn’t only until sin entered the world that the need for demands came in.

But though He was now making demands, He was still by nature the God who gives; and who gives in abundance. Knowing the demand of perfect righteousness could never be met by us, He gave once again. He gave the promise. It was the promise of the Savior. And when the time had fully come He gave that Savior. He gave His Son. Here was His gift, perfect righteousness, for that is what Christ is. He is righteousness in the flesh. God alone is holy. He alone is without sin. He alone is perfect in righteousness. And so His gift was Himself, God in the flesh. Righteousness, in the flesh.

God demanded righteousness, He gave righteousness. He required we be like God, He gave us God—giving us Himself in the person of Jesus. God demands, yes. But God gives. What He demands, He gives. That is why He gave His Son. Jesus didn’t just pay for our sins. He didn’t just pay the penalty for our sins. He didn’t just receive the punishment for our sins that we rightly deserve. He accomplished what God demands. Perfect righteousness. Look at the Ten Commandments. Christ alone has kept them all. Perfectly. Look at the demands of God. Christ alone did what was demanded. And He did it freely. He did it joyfully. He did it out of love. Out of love for you and me and the whole world.

Jesus said our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. You’d be hard put to find others who were more righteous than they were. They were upstanding people, good people, taking God’s Law very seriously. Exceeding their righteousness would be exceedingly difficult. In fact, there is only one way it can be done. It cannot be done in the way they sought to be righteous. For them, they saw righteousness as abiding by the letter of the Law. You shall not murder? Got it. Haven’t taken the life of anyone unjustly. You shall not commit adultery? Good to go. Have not had an affair with anyone. You shall not steal? No problem. Haven’t taken anything that is not mine. And they would just go right down the list, confirming themselves in their righteousness.

Many people do this same kind of thing, but we must remember that most of us don’t take it nearly as seriously and nearly to the extreme that the scribes and Pharisees did. They were righteous! And everybody knew it. So how in the world can our righteousness exceed that of theirs?

There is only one way. When it comes to adultery, Jesus ups the ante. We’re not just talking about having an affair here, but what is in your heart. The lust that consumes you. When God’s Law prohibits stealing, Jesus raises the bar. We’re not just talking about physically taking someone else’s stuff, but conniving and taking advantage of a person. And He goes on down the list, showing that the Ten Commandments is not just a list of certain actions we should and should not do, but a matter of the heart. It is out of the heart that come our evil thoughts and desires.

The Gospel reading today addresses the Fifth Commandment, You shall not murder. You haven’t unjustly taken the life of another person? That’s good. But what about the vengeful thoughts in your heart? What about the grudge you are holding onto? What about your refusal to reconcile with the person who has sinned against you? The Ten Commandments show you that, in the final analysis, your righteousness does not simply not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, it shows you that you are utterly unrighteous. They were too, by the way, but were too full of their own righteousness to see it.

There is only thing you can say at this point. Only one hope and solution when you have come to this realization. It is Christ. It is Christ alone. He is perfect righteousness, and God declares you righteousness. You who are unrighteous are given what He has demanded, the perfect righteousness of His Son. While He took all of your unrighteousness on Himself, He has given you His perfect righteousness. He who exceeded all righteousness suffered what justly we ought to have for our unrighteousness and receiving the wrath of God upon sinners. At the cross, it was Christ alone suffering, the righteous for the unrighteous, His death for your life.

God demanded righteousness, holiness, perfection. He gave His Son. He gave Him to you. He has given to you what He has demanded, perfect righteousness. And in that is eternal life. Amen.