Prayer of a Preacher for Himself and his Hearers
Eternal, almighty God, I heartily beseech You on behalf of all whom You have committed to my care of souls and intercession. Lend them Your grace and Holy Spirit, that they might savingly know You and Your beloved Son, daily increase in true faith, fear, and love, and in firm hope with a Christian, repentant life remain constantly in Your will and obedience until their blessed end. Grant also to me, O most holy God, that I may fruitfully light the way before them with pure doctrine, a good and edifying life, and befitting faithfulness in office. Grant that we all guard against false religion and an ungodly walk that we might attain eternal blessedness, through Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Redeemer. Amen.
8th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 7:15-23
July 26, 2015
Whose word belongs in the Church?
Who do you come to Church to hear?
Jesus put this question to the crowds about John the Baptist: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”
The answer was that they had not gone out to see a man in soft clothing, nor a reed blown about by the wind, but a prophet.
That is what we go to church to hear. Not the voice of a therapist sitting in an office in soft clothes, nor the voice of a talk-show host, espousing easy worldly wisdom that changes with the seasons. We go to Church to hear God speak. God’s Word is the only Word that belongs in the Church. And the only kind of prophets that there should be in the Church are true prophets, men who faithfully deliver the Word of God.
But Jesus warns His Christians. He says the days are coming when you will go to Church to hear God speak and to escape the lies in the world, and you will not get what you are looking for. You will get a false prophet instead of a true prophet. And the false prophet will bring the lies of the world and the devil into the Church and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”
In the Epistle reading historically appointed for this Sunday, from Acts chapter 20, Paul warns the pastors of Ephesus: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31)
Why for three whole years did Paul exhort the Ephesians with tears stinging his eyes, choking his throat? Because he knew the day was going to come when he would no longer be among them. Then the false prophets would come. They would attack the flock from within, seeking to deceive, scatter, and destroy the Church of God. So Paul wept and pleaded with the Ephesians to be on guard against false prophets.
I want to plead with you today like Paul pleaded, but I have a hard heart and don’t know how to cry. But if I did I would cry today as I plead with you that you be on guard against false prophets and false teaching. There are many things we worry about in the Church. There is never any lack of things to irritate us with one another and cause us to quarrel. But there really is one truly needful thing: that we receive the pure Word of God and remain in it. If you have God’s pure Word you have everlasting life and you are defended against everything the devil would like to do to you. Our chief concern should be not just to have the Word enter our ears, but to have it so rooted in our hearts that it can’t be taken away by false teachers, or tribulation, or the terrors of death. This happens not by any human schemes. It happens by studying the Word, giving attention to it, learning it, and testing the preaching and teaching of God’s Word against the Scriptures.
It is vitally important that we learn to recognize false prophets and have nothing to do with them; that we not listen to their lies nor support them in their preaching false doctrine. That should be what we guard against.
Jesus gives us the key to recognizing false prophets in this Gospel reading.
False prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing. That means you can’t tell by their actions that they are not Christians. But they are also like trees. They always expose themselves for what they are by the fruit that they bear. Maybe not right away does the fruit appear for what it is. But with a tree eventually you always come to know what you’re dealing with because finally its fruit has to appear. Eventually the crabapple tree will bear crabapples, not cherries. Plum trees bear plums. And inevitably preachers will bear their fruit too.
What is within them will come out. And the fruit is chiefly their doctrine or teaching.
Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew a faithful prophet named John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing by the Jordan River. The evangelist tells us that “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to his baptism.” But they were hypocrites. They weren’t there as lost sinners looking for grace. So John cried out to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance! …Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-8, 10)
Now the Pharisees and Sadducees probably didn’t expect to hear such a sermon. They were, after all, religious leaders. But they came to John, and John was a true prophet. That meant that they were going to hear from him not worldly wisdom acceptable to men, but the word of the living God. And the word of God to the Pharisees and Sadducees was the same as to the tax collectors and harlots, for God is no respecter of persons. God said they must repent not only for show but in reality, that they must become poor wretched sinners. Although they may have been religious people in the sight of men they were wicked in the sight of God.
A true prophet preaches repentance first. This is his first fruit. Repentance, true repentance, is not just giving up certain sins. It is becoming an entirely new creature that is dead to sin, alive to God, and fruitful in good works. The preaching of repentance is first of all the preaching of the law of God found in the ten commandments. It is a terrifying and unpleasant sermon because it sentences our sinful flesh with all its works and ways to death. It tells us we can’t go on in our natural state, that we are guilty not only because of our sins that are visible to others, but because of the secret sins that arise secretly in our hearts. Lust, greed, anger, pride. The preaching of repentance commands us to become new creatures in God’s sight, that inwardly we are filled with faith and love that move us to good works. But that is not something we are able to do. It’s like asking a crabapple tree to become a plum tree.
But false prophets don’t preach repentance like this. They tell their hearers that repentance is something they can do on their own. They flatter their hearers, even though they may require a lot of works. False prophets tell people that they are free and that there is some good left in them that is able to choose what is right and earn God’s acceptance. Some churches do this in an obvious way, like the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches its members that they earn God’s favor by cooperating with Him and doing good works. Other false prophets are more subtle in the way they undermine repentance, like those churches that teach that you are born again and saved when you make a free decision of your will to accept Jesus as your Savior. False prophets don’t tell you that you are dead in your sins and can’t get yourself out. And in the rare cases where they do say this, they don’t show you where to go to have your sins removed and a new heart given to you.
The second fruit of a faithful preacher, which is closely connected to the first fruit, is that a faithful preacher preaches Christ. A faithful preacher proclaims that you must become a different kind of tree that produces good fruit, but you are unable to do this. Then He directs your faith to Jesus Christ. Everyone who believes in Him becomes a good, fruit-bearing tree. He is counted righteous by God. His sins are forgiven, because Jesus made satisfaction for them with His blood.
Also the person who believes in Jesus begins to bear good fruit because Jesus gives him the Holy Spirit. John preached this to his hearers who were stricken and humbled by the call to repentance—He preached Jesus to them, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in us that we believe in Jesus and are counted righteous for His sake. He also works in us that we begin to trust in God from our hearts, that we begin to love Him because He has loved us. He works in us that we begin to gladly do God’s will because we are thankful that He has redeemed us. We begin to bring forth good fruit that pleases God.
This is the chief mark of a faithful prophet. He preaches that you can’t get yourself out of your sins, but that Jesus already has, through His death and resurrection. He preaches the good news of Jesus to those stripped of all hope by the law of God. He preaches the sweet news that Jesus, incarnate God, was cut down and thrown into the fire of God’s wrath for us on the cross, and that we are counted and become fruitful trees through believing that we are justified in Him.
The world does not accept or tolerate this preaching any more than the call to repentance. It is nonsense and unacceptable to the world that a sinner can be righteous before God by the obedience of someone else in his place. But to Christians this fruit of true prophets is sweeter than any fruit the world can offer. This preaching of Christ crucified is the fruit of the tree of life.
But false prophets don’t bear this life-giving fruit. They bring forth the wormy, rotten fruit of the flesh and its righteousness. So they preach that Christ died and rose again, and call Him Savior. But they don’t preach that He is Christ for us, on whom a poor sinner may rely alone without any works and be assured of salvation. And if they do preach that, they undermine that good news by other false doctrines that teach that we find Christ and salvation not in the Word and Sacraments but in our emotions, decisions, and experiences. In this way they undermine a repentant sinner’s confidence that his sins are forgiven. False prophets don’t preach Christ as a true Savior for those who look inside themselves and find nothing good, only unbelief and evil desires contrary to God’s law.
But that is who Jesus is. He is a true Savior for those who are dead in their trespasses and sins. He has redeemed us from sin and justified us even while we were dead in sins. He is our righteousness, so that whoever only believes in Him is righteous, but whoever trusts in another righteousness is condemned. Everyone who believes on Him has done the will of the Father, because in the good news about Jesus the righteousness God accepts is revealed.
But false prophets demand something other than faith in Christ. They make our salvation depend not only on faith in Jesus but the fruits that come from faith, such as an experience of salvation, or a decision to follow Jesus, or other works. They confuse justification and sanctification. Our righteousness before God is not our experience of salvation or our decision to follow Jesus. Our righteousness before God is the obedience of Jesus unto death on the cross, received by faith alone. False prophets mix our works, what happens within us, with the work of Jesus that was finished on the cross.
So you see that true prophets and false prophets always give themselves away by their fruit. Like trees, they bring out what is in them. In faithful prophets’ hearts Christ alone reigns as Savior from the sin that lives in their flesh. So that is what faithful preachers proclaim. In false prophets’ hearts is faith in the corrupt righteousness of the flesh. So that is the fruit that their mouths eventually bear. They end up preaching not Christ but human works. This kind of preaching is acceptable to human reason and the sinful flesh, and the flesh loves it. But Jesus says to beware of those who preach it.
True prophets, on the other hand, preach what is unacceptable to reason and the flesh. They preach that we are by nature evil, but that Christ has justified us by His suffering and death. Because what true prophets preach is unacceptable to the flesh, it’s often the case that false prophets have many hearers and true prophets few.
So what should you do? Discern between false prophets and faithful ones. Judge their fruits. False prophets make themselves known by denying Christ in their teaching. They contradict what Jesus has said and they don’t put Him forward as our righteousness before God. When you encounter false prophets, you should reject them. Don’t participate in their falsification of God’s Word by listening to them, giving money to them, attending their churches. Rather you should flee from them as a lamb runs from a wolf.
But what happens when you encounter a faithful preacher? Then you should cling to him as one sent to you by God. You should bear with his faults and support his ministry with your prayers and offerings, because Jesus says of faithful preachers, “The one who hears you hears me.” (Luke 10:16) You should give obedience to whatever faithful preachers preach in accordance with God’s Word, because you are not hearing a mere man, but you are hearing God speak when a faithful prophet speaks.
But you must always test the fruit of your preachers against the Scripture and the catechism as a summary of Scripture. And then when they preach what is true it will be a joy both to you and to them. You will rejoice to find that your preacher is really speaking the words of the living God, the words that give eternal life. And the preacher will rejoice that you are learning to cling not to the testimony of men but to God’s testimony. This means you are becoming mature in Christ, and that is what all faithful pastors wish for their hearers. They wish them to mature to the full stature of Christ so that they bear much fruit unto eternal life.
Soli Deo Gloria
J. Heermann (1585-1647)
Lord Christ! From the beginning of the world, through all time, You have given teachers and pastors, to teach Your congregation to keep all that You have commanded. I also have been called by You through means of people, that I should be for the service of Your Church and Your Word, advance Your glory with all might, and should lead Your lambs, purchased with Your rose-red blood, to You in eternal blessedness. Dearest Jesus! It is of Your grace that I am what I am, for I am the weakest of Your servants, such that I am not worthy that I should be called Your minister. I am of impure lips. I am slow of speech and have an uninstructed tongue, and I have never been eloquent. So endue me now with power from on high to carry out this holy office as You require. Give me through Your Spirit what I should think and say, that I teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners be converted to You.
Lord! Give me, according to Your promise, a mouth and wisdom. Open my understanding, that I may understand the Scripture, and grace me with an instructed tongue, that I know how to speak to the weary at the proper time. Lend me courage and strength, that I lift up my voice as a trumpet, and show my parish children, the rich as well as the poor, their misdeeds, without timidity and respect of persons, and keeping quiet about nothing. Grant that I show favoritism neither to the rich or the poor for the sake of a handful of barley and a bit of bread, so that thereby the godless may not be strengthened in their sins and in the future their blood be required from my hand. Help that I preach Your Word with all candor and withhold nothing from all the counsel of God, that I also do not cease day and night with tears to admonish, that I may be pure from all blood-guilt, and so rescue my soul and those of sinners from destruction.
Lord Christ, the matter and the office is Yours. Give me grace to convert many souls. Through my foolish preaching, create laud and honor to You and great and rich profit in Your Church and congregation, that I may exhort and rebuke the bad, bear the weak, and instruct with a meek spirit those who are overtaken in a fault. Thus may I serve God with a pure conscience and lose nothing which You have entrusted to me. Let me not talk into the wind, and my work in the Lord be in vain, but let it save myself and those who hear me. Teach me, Lord, Your way, that I walk in Your truth, and what I teach others out of Your Word, do myself; that I give no one offense, nor be to anyone an example and an excuse to sin, but instead in all things demonstrate myself to be a servant of God. Grant that I may do the work of an evangelical preacher, that I may cause all laboring and heavy-laden hearts and troubled and anguished consciences to stand upright through the staff of Your Word; that I use sharpness on the unrepentant, according to the power which the Lord has given me to build up and not destroy. Grant me to rightly carry out my office.
But when I, like Jeremiah and all prophets and apostles, will be derided by everybody and become the world’s curse and spectacle, then let me not become languid and impatient in my spirit, nor depart from my service and apostleship, like Judas Iscariot, on account of the world’s thanklessness and for the sake of temporal things, but instead in faith and patience hope for and await the eternal reward. Grant also, that I do not seek glory and honor before men, but rather honor with God, and confess Your Word, which is a Word of the Cross, confidently before the evil world. Then I will be recognized by You, Lord Christ, before Your heavenly Father, and all holy angels and saints on that day, and as a faithful servant may enter into Your eternal glory and perfect joy, for Your own sake. Amen.
7th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Mark 8:1-9
July 19, 2015
“Going Without For the Sake of God’s Word”
Beloved in Christ:
You can see in the Gospel reading how far above human power true and living Christianity is. There we see a group of four thousand people go out to Jesus in the desert to hear His Word. They stay so long listening to His Word that they run out of food and become so weak from hunger that they are sure to faint on the way home.
That is the way true Christians act. They love and desire the Word of God and are willing to give up comfort and health and even risk their lives for it. No one forced these people to stay so long listening to Christ preach. They did it willingly.
True Christians hunger for God’s Word. They love God’s Word. They don’t love it perfectly, because they still carry the sinful flesh with them. But they have begun to desire God’s Word. First of all because in the third commandment God requires that we “not despise preaching and His Word, but gladly hear and learn it.” True Christians repent of their laziness and unwillingness to hear God’s Word, which comes from the sinful flesh they inherited from Adam. They fear God’s wrath because of their despising of God’s Word.
True Christians also love the Word of God because it contains great treasures. It proclaims God’s free and gracious forgiveness of all our sin through Jesus’ suffering on the cross. And Christians hunger and thirst for this forgiveness. They daily feel their sins, and they long to hear the Gospel that declares that Jesus has borne God’s wrath against those sins.
Because of this Christians are eager to hear God’s Word. They are eager to support the preaching of God’s Word by their offerings and their service and by speaking it to the people around them. They hunger to grow in knowledge and faith in God’s Word. And they are willing, if necessary, to lose earthly comforts and things in favor of having God’s pure Word. They are willing, for instance, to make less money so that they are free to hear God’s Word on Sundays. They are willing to drive a longer distance to church in order to get to one that preaches God’s Word purely and faithfully. They take time away from other activities to teach their children the Word of God, to bring them to catechesis and church.
This is different from the children of the world and from false, hypocritical Christians. False Christians and unbelievers don’t care about God’s Word. This may be obvious, like when people simply don’t come to hear it preached, don’t read it at home, allow themselves to be cut off from contact with the Word of God. Or it may be more subtle. False Christians may hear the preaching of God’s Word even on a regular basis, but they neither tremble at their sins, nor hunger and thirst for forgiveness, nor believe in the good news of God’s forgiveness for the sake of Christ alone. And because they are not much concerned about their sins, false Christians can’t imagine giving up earthly comforts and things for the sake of God’s Word. They often think that true Christians are overly pious or fanatical.
We should be on our guard against despising God’s Word. We should repent and turn from it each day. What do you think would happen in most LCMS churches if a group of visitors showed up to worship, and after the service was finished, they said, “No, we can’t leave yet. We want to hear more of God’s Word!” What do you think would happen? Maybe some of us would be put to shame by their hunger for God’s Word. But there would also be some who started looking at their watches, annoyed at the pastor for allowing money to be spent keeping the lights on for such “fanatics.”
But Jesus doesn’t respond this way to the crowd who comes to Him. He doesn’t shorten the sermon and say, “Now get home before you faint on the way.” He sees how hungry the people are for God’s Word and He has compassion on them. He keeps preaching and teaching even though the food has run out. As long as the people are spiritually hungry, Jesus will give them what is His—the Word of God which proclaims Him and the forgiveness of sins at His expense. Jesus doesn’t say, “Now it’s not sensible that you should listen so long to God’s Word that you run out of food.” It is sensible in Jesus’ eyes. He knows how much we need the Word of God. We need it more than food, more than clothing, more than air. Food, clothing, and air give temporary life, temporary comfort. God’s Word gives eternal life, eternal comfort, eternal joy.
So Jesus has compassion on those who long for God’s Word, not contempt, like the world does. He fills the hungry souls with the living and abiding Word of God. Then He also sees that their earthly needs are met and that they will not die of hunger. He multiplies the loaves and the fish so that everyone eats and is satisfied and the disciples pick up seven large baskets full of broken pieces.
We now live in a time where to receive God’s pure Word may come at the expense of earthly comforts, pleasures, even needs. There are normal things that people have always had to give up for God’s Word. You don’t get to sleep all day on your day off. You have to get up and go to Church. And if you want to be a faithful hearer of the Word you have to give to support its preaching, when it is already difficult to afford all we need and want for ourselves and our children. But these are sacrifices Christians have always had to make for the sake of the Word of God.
But now we have more sacrifices that we may be called on to make for God’s Word. To hear God’s Word proclaimed purely and faithfully may cost us at work and in our children’s activities. Want your kids weekly to hear God’s holy Law and His life-giving Gospel (as you should)? That may cause your kid to sit on the bench during a game or not even be on the team at all. Don’t hide that you are an orthodox Christian at the company you work at and you may be skipped over for promotion or required to attend sensitivity training.
As a church we risk losing earthly comforts for the sake of having God’s Word preached in its purity. Many people don’t want to be members of a Church that wants to be faithful to God’s Word and therefore doesn’t allow people of a different confession of faith to receive Jesus’ body and blood. We may in time lose our tax-exempt status if we continue to hold with the Word of God that homosexual lusts and acts are sinful. People outside and even inside the community of the visible congregation may call us fanatics, intolerant, bigoted, unchristian, unloving, and worse.
And it may get even worse than that. We will probably live to see the time when hearing and remaining faithful to the Word of God will alienate you from members of your family. You can already see this starting to happen in the lives of people in this congregation. Maybe we will live to see the day when faithful preachers and hearers of God’s Word will go to prison.
That’s a lot to risk for the sake of God’s Word. And the world and false Christians don’t understand why you would. Why not just compromise? Don’t insist so strictly on the difference between God’s Word and falsehood. Make sure your meals and shelter and entertainment are lined up and then, if you have anything left over, worry about hearing and supporting the preaching of God’s Word.
No, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ! Don’t listen to the mockery of the world and the whispers of your flesh. Jesus’ Word is the true treasure. Whoever has it can rest assured knowing that it is the truth, that it is infallibly true because it comes from God Himself, no matter who it offends or how lightly the world regards it. When it gives commandments, we aren’t simply hearing human ideas about morality, but the commandments of the all-knowing, all-righteous God. The Word reveals the true and living God to us—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which no human reason could have ever attained. No one would know God if He didn’t reveal Himself in His Word. And the Word of God is the true treasure because it makes known the way of eternal life. It proclaims the forgiveness of the Holy God even to those who have sinned and are unable to keep His laws. It declares to the trembling and contrite sinner, even the one who has despised God’s Word and sees his flesh working daily to make him despise it, that He is righteous for Christ’s sake, who died and was condemned for him. It declares you righteous today for Christ’s sake.
This is true treasure. Jesus wants to give it to you in the Word. And it is worth having even if we lose our lives and everything else in the world, as the great reformation hymn sings:
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife
Though these all be gone
Our vict’ry has been won
The Kingdom ours remaineth.
Jesus has compassion on you who hunger for His Word. Just as He did on the 4000, so He cares for you. And because He has compassion on you, He will sustain you. He will not only give you His Word that brings with it all the treasures of heaven. He will also sustain your life in this world. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The Lord promises to hear this prayer that He taught us and give us food, clothing, wife, children, friends, good reputation, house, home, money, goods, good government, good weather—everything that we need for this body and life. And if He ever allows us to go without something for the sake of His Word, He says that no one who has to leave “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel…will not receive a hundredfold now in this time…and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Just as He had compassion on the crowd, so He has compassion on us. He will sustain us in this world and comfort us when we are dying.
So Christians, eagerly desire the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow up in salvation. Many Christians begin well. They are brought to repentance when they hear the law of God, when they hear that God will judge men’s secrets on the day of Jesus Christ. They are comforted by the good news that all our sins, even those only known to our conscience, all these sins have been punished and taken away in Jesus’ crucifixion. But then they stagnate. They do not go on and progress in knowledge of God’s Word. They remain spiritual infants, and when persecution or hardship comes they fall away.
Repent of your lazy flesh’s wickedness, its attempt to use the Gospel as an excuse not to grow in God’s Word, not to support the preaching of the Word. Your sinful flesh was crucified with Christ when you were baptized, and you belong to Him who rose from the dead and lives in the presence of God the Father, hearing His voice forever. Be what you are, children of God who hunger for and delight in His Word. Take every opportunity to be instructed from God’s holy Law and to be blessed and forgiven by His holy Gospel. You will not fail to receive great treasure through God’s Word. You will be strengthened in faith and hope and the assurance that when you die you will not come into judgment but have eternal life. That is great spiritual treasure. But you will be supported also in earthly things until the Lord Jesus comes and gives us our inheritance in heaven.
Lord, Your mercy will not leave me
Ever will Your truth abide
Then in You I will confide.
Since Your Word cannot deceive me
My salvation is to me
Safe and sure eternally.
Soli Deo Gloria