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Testing Fruit. 8th Sunday after Trinity, 2017. Matthew 7:15-23 (Romans 8:12-17)

wormy fruitEighth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 7:15-23

August 6, 2017

“Testing Fruit”

Iesu iuva

 

A guy was sitting on the couch watching television.  His wife came in and said, “I’m going to make a fruit salad.  Do you want some?”  The husband looked up at her and said, “Sure!  Thanks.”  So she went back into the kitchen.

 

A little while later she returned with two bowls.  She handed one to him and then sat down with her bowl, eating.  The man’s eyes were glued to the tv.  He reached into the bowl and put pieces of fruit into his mouth without looking down at the bowl.  After a couple of bites he gagged and spit out the fruit onto the carpet.  Looking down into the bowl, he saw something that did look like a salad made out of fruit.  There were pieces of orange, lemon, and lime.  There were apples, strawberries and pears.  There were crabapples from the tree in the yard and some berries that looked like they belonged on a shrub or a hedge.  It even looked like his wife had cut a monkey brain fruit into pieces and thrown that in.  Then there were mushy brown bananas, half dried grapes with bugs on them, wrinkled, moldy blueberries, pieces of melon that let off a strange odor.

 

The husband looked at his wife.  She had the spoon halfway to her mouth and had stopped it there when her husband spat out the bite of fruit salad.  He said to her, “What is this?  Why did you put crabapples and moldy fruit in this salad?”

 

His wife said, “I couldn’t find enough normal fruit to put in there.  Then I figured, it’s close enough.  Fruit is fruit, right?”

 

Have you ever met a person like that, who figures all fruit is basically the same and you can just eat it all without worrying about it since it’s all going to the same place, whether it’s sweet, sour, or rotten?

 

Probably not.  Getting a fruit salad like that would be a sign you were dealing with a crazy person.

 

When I was a little kid and had to go grocery shopping with my mom, I remember her showing me how when she bought eggs she opened the carton up and examined each egg to make sure she didn’t accidentally get a bad egg or one with a crack in it.

 

We take such care to make sure that the food we put on our tables is wholesome!  Animals do this too.  When your nose smells rotten meat or vegetables, your body reflexively seizes up, pulls away; your face tightens.  We are wired biologically to run away from bad food; our nervous system knows before our brains do that bad meat, bad eggs, bad fruit have the power to kill us.

 

I think it was this week that I was walking into a nursing home to give someone the Lord’s body and blood, and I had a conversation that reminded me of this. I think it was this week, but it could have been almost any week, because this kind of thing happens to me so often.  A bunch of folks were sitting in wheelchairs outside by the door.  A lady said, “Hi, father!”  I said, “Hi!”  She said, “I noticed the Roman collar,” pointing to my neck.  I said, “I always thought it was an Anglican collar.”  She said, “You’re a Catholic priest, right?”  “No, a Lutheran pastor.”

 

“Oh,” she said.  “That’s really close.”

 

Someone says this to me almost every week, if not every day.  People from other churches say it; people from St. Peter say it.  As if the reasons the Lutheran Church and the Catholic Church or the other protestant churches are minor and obsolete.  I often just smile in response.  If I start to disagree, people quickly get a faraway look in their eyes that I know very well—the look that is probably saying, “It’s close enough.  After all, fruit is fruit.”

 

The Lord and teacher of Christians is not silent about this, though.  Don’t worry too much about false prophets; you can’t tell them by their fruit, because it’s all basically the same.  You might think that’s what Jesus taught from the way those who claim His name talk and behave today.  But actually the shepherd’s voice calls to His sheep: Beware of false prophets.  They are coming to you dressed in sheep’s clothing, when inside they are savage wolves.  You will know them by their fruit.

 

If you are like me, you might not see at first how this applies to most of the preachers you see, since most of them don’t claim to be prophets.  When we hear “prophet,” we think of a man who can see the future, who can probably work miracles, who knows things hidden from normal people.  A biblical prophet is different from a pastor in that God speaks and reveals things to him directly.  He doesn’t only learn his message from studying the Scriptures and having it passed on to him by others, like pastors today.  Often God will reveal to him something that is going to happen in the future.  But prophets and pastors have the same calling in the sense that they are called not to proclaim their own thoughts and dreams but only the Word of the Lord, so that they are like mouthpieces of God, if they are faithful.  And pastors, like prophets, also proclaim things that are hidden, that people cannot discover unless it is revealed by God.

 

When we learn the basic parts of the Christian faith and come to the second article of the Creed, one of the things we learn about Jesus is that He is called “Christ” because He was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit as our priest, as our king, and as our prophet.  Jesus is the great prophet who proclaimed and revealed in His own life what people could not discover on their own.  He revealed that God is triune—one God, yet three distinct persons. He proclaimed the true way to salvation—not a set of practices or a form of meditation that promised to unite you with God, like the Buddhists—He taught that human beings are so corrupted by sin that there is nothing good left in us.  We have no desire to come to God or know Him, and no ability to do so, and no righteousness with which to stand in His holy presence and plead our case.  And Jesus, the true prophet, revealed how we are saved, which human beings could not know unless He revealed it.  He taught that we are saved by God’s grace alone, who provides the righteousness that covers our sin.  And He revealed that righteousness in Himself—in the way He lived, with perfect love toward God and our neighbor, and in the way He died as a curse for our sins, covering our guilt and removing from us God’s just condemnation.

 

Jesus is the true prophet; all other true prophets are reflections of Him.

 

And the wonderful teaching tucked away in the questions and answers our synod adds to the Small Catechism of Luther is that Jesus continues to be our prophet.  He continues to proclaim the Word of God to us today from heaven, so that we might know the truth, and the truth might make us free.  You and I have never seen Jesus’ face, but you have heard His voice, because Jesus continues His prophetic office from heaven by sending ministers who proclaim not their own words, but His.  When a minister absolves you of your sins, it is not him loosing you from them—it is Jesus your prophet; and when a minister faithfully proclaims the Word of Jesus recorded in Scripture, it is not him you hear, but the same Jesus who taught in the synagogues, the temple, in the wilderness among great crowds.  When the pastor baptized you, Jesus called, “Come, follow me,” just as He said to Peter and Andrew as they mended their nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

 

Jesus speaks through the ones He sends who are faithful to His call, whether they are apostles, prophets, evangelists or simply pastors, teachers.  Apostles were called directly by Jesus, and prophets receive a direct revelation from God.  Pastors are called to their ministry indirectly; God calls them through people.  Yet all are called by God.

 

But there are preachers and prophets whom Jesus calls false.  They may be called by God, or they may pretend to be, claiming a vision and deceiving people.  Either way false prophets and false teachers come with a word that is not God’s.  And Jesus warns to beware of them, be on guard against them, because they are like greedy wolves, although they look like they are sheep of Christ’s flock.

 

This year as we commemorate the 500th year of the Reformation, we cannot avoid the painful reality of what the Reformation represents.  The Roman Church at that time regarded Luther as a false prophet who led entire nations away from the true Church, and away from Christ and the possibility of salvation.  On the other hand, we regard Luther as the reformer of the Christian Church, raised up by God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we are justified and saved not by works, but solely by God’s grace, solely through faith in Christ, who alone atoned for our sins.  But if we are right, it means that for centuries the true Gospel of Jesus was buried under false teaching.  It might have been taught here and there by laypeople or priests who told troubled dying people to look to Christ crucified and trust Him alone for salvation.  But the official teaching that the Church proclaimed, taught the priests, and that the priests taught the people, was that Jesus did not do enough to save us.  We must contribute our obedience and good deeds if we want to please God.  If what we believe is true, then for hundreds of years even in the visible Church most people were damned and lost, because false prophets had suppressed the truth.

 

If that is true—and it is—we cannot afford to fall asleep, or let the clergy worry about doctrine.  We must watch out for false teaching and false prophets.  You must watch and be certain that what I or any other pastor preaches to you is not his word but God’s in every part.

 

You must examine the fruits of those who preach.

 

You can’t tell a wolf if it looks like a sheep until it eats you.  But you can tell what kind of a tree you have by the fruit it bears.  Nobody gets clusters of grapes out of a thicket of thorns and briars, Jesus says.

 

You can’t tell whether a preacher is faithful by his life, unless he is an obvious unrepentant sinner.  But if he is imperfect, that is no different than every Christian.  You have to examine his fruit.  The fruit of a preacher is his teaching.

 

I am always amazed at how some people can go into a grocery store and pick up a plum or a mango or an avocado and determine by touch and maybe by smell whether it is too ripe, too underrripe, or just right.  To me, you know a fruit is good when you bite into it.  The problem with this method is obvious.  And the same thing is true with testing the fruit of preachers.  You don’t want to eat the fruit of a false prophet—to hear it, take it into you, believe it, live according to it.  Sometimes people say that they listen to preachers who teach false doctrine, like just about every preacher on the radio and television, and discern the good from the bad.  It may be a useful way to practice discernment occasionally.  But would you eat an apple that is full of worms and try to eat around the worms?  Jesus doesn’t say, “Listen to every preacher and take the true and throw out the bad.”  He says a prophet or preacher is either false or true, good or bad.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Good fruit is not when a pastor preaches some of God’s Word purely with only a little error.  Teaching is either God’s Word or it isn’t.  If I tell you everything in the Bible is true except for the part where it says God created the world in 6 days, I am telling you the Bible is not true.  A false prophet bears bad fruit even when some of what he preaches is true and seemingly just a little is false, just like a beautiful, sweet apple with just a few little worms in it is no longer a good apple.

 

But just like you can’t tell a false prophet by how they seem or how they make you feel, you can’t tell their fruit by how they make you feel either.  In the grocery store, people test fruit with their nose or their fingertips, but a preacher’s fruit is tested by God’s Word.

 

This is why we learn the catechism, and why we need to keep it in front of us.  The catechism is a summary of the Bible.  But the catechism is not the Bible; its authority comes from being faithful to Scripture.  In order to be able to recognize the bad fruit of false prophets, we need to know the summary of the teaching of Scripture in the Catechism, but we also need to constantly hear and read the Scriptures.  A preacher is not only false when he teaches against the main doctrines of the Bible, but when he contradicts it at any point, because when a preacher does this he contradicts God.  He is no longer acting as God’s mouthpiece and saying the Words of God, but adding his own words.  Similarly, a preacher is not true and faithful if he holds back part of the teaching of God’s Word and never talks about certain doctrines.

 

Even though a true preacher must faithfully teach all of the doctrine in God’s Word just as God gives it—and that means you must know that doctrine and grow in the knowledge of the Scripture if you are to guard against false teachers—all good fruit, all faithful teaching shares certain things in common, and so does all bad fruit and false teaching.

 

To see this, consider with me please the preaching we have recorded in Scripture of the man Jesus called the greatest of all the prophets who came before Him.  That is John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin.  I refer to him because a few chapters before the Gospel reading in the third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we hear John use the exact same words Jesus uses in this reading when He says: Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  (v. 19)

 

In chapter 3, Matthew records that John appeared in the wilderness of Judea, preaching.  His message was, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.

 

Matthew tells us that John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. (3:4)  John does not have the pleasing appearance many people probably expect from a preacher.  His way of life is a little frightening, off-putting.  If a man wearing a camel hair garment in the desert, eating only grasshoppers and wild honey came and preached to you, besides thinking that he was crazy, you probably would also be afraid that he might call you to live a similar kind of life, where you have to give up all kinds of comforts.

 

Nevertheless, we are told Jerusalem and all Judea…were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

 

Then we hear that the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were the normal religious leaders in Israel that people normally listened to, also came out to John’s Baptism.  John does not smile and feel flattered about this, or try to thank them for coming, or even welcome them.  He says You generation of vipers?  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  (3:7-10)

 

Finally, John’s sermon ends with another proclamation different than his strict call to repentance that we have heard up until now.  He says, I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  (3:11)

 

John is a true prophet.  He bears good fruit, even though one can hardly imagine him smiling a lot, even though his message is strict, even harsh.  He is not polite and nice like we expect preachers to be, welcoming and sweet.  He is strict in his preaching and strict with himself in his mode of life.  He doesn’t fit in in society.  These are not necessarily qualities a true preacher must have—but they show that common expectations of preachers among us are not proofs that a prophet is true or false.  If John is any indication, a preacher can be what we would call “mean”, “harsh”, and yet be a true and faithful prophet.

 

But John’s fruit is his teaching.  What do we hear him teach?  What is the pattern of his preaching?

 

First, he calls people to repentance, to a change of mind.  He preaches that people are by nature children of the devil, even the people that seem most religious and good.  Faithful preaching does not build up people’s trust and confidence in their own goodness; it doesn’t make them feel good about themselves and tell them that the way to have a blessed life is to follow a few rules from the Bible.  Instead, faithful preaching confronts us with God’s judgment that is upon us and destroys our sense of ease and comfort with the way we are.  It tells us, Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Faithful preaching calls us to repentance, which means not merely that we recognize that nobody is perfect; it means that we hear from faithful preaching that we must become good in God’s sight, that we must do not only outward good things, but that these must come from a clean heart that loves God in reality and truth.  Faithful preaching makes it clear that this repentance, this fear of God’s wrath, this wholehearted turning away from our love and trust in ourselves, is not just a matter of the mind and understanding.  Faithful preaching tells us our whole selves must change from pride to fear of God, from self-will to fear of God, from self-love to love of God and our neighbors, and this cannot just be a matter of talk, but must show itself in our lives.

 

But John also preaches something else as well.  He baptizes those who are trembling over their sins with the promise that they are cleansed and forgiven.  And he proclaims one coming after him who “is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  He points them to the one whose power and glory will come to help them.  He preaches Jesus, who gives us not only outward cleansing, but the Holy Spirit, who imparts true righteousness, holiness, who renews us, and as Paul says, does not make us slaves of fear but makes us confident that we are children and heirs of God.

 

False prophets, on the other hand, teach people, one way or the other, that there is good in them, and that they must contribute something besides Jesus to their salvation.  This is why on that day, the day of judgment, many will say to Jesus, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons, and do many miracles?  And Jesus says, I will say to them, I never knew you.  Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness!  False prophets on the day of judgment will try to tell Jesus how much they have done for him, because they do not know him, nor He them.  We know Jesus when we know ourselves, when we see that his suffering and agony was the price to redeem us from sin; and then we know Jesus, not as the one who we do things for, but as the one who has done everything for us.

 

Our time is full of doctrinal indifferentism.  That means people think it doesn’t matter much what doctrine you hold.

 

But our Lord is not indifferent.  He is full of zeal for our salvation.  In reality and truth He bled and died for our sins.  In reality and truth He feeds us with His own body and blood.  He does not trade in lies or appearances, but realities and truths.  He feeds you the body and blood that cancels your sins and in reality and truth pours out His Spirit on you, the Spirit who cries out, “Abba, Father” not out of sentiment, but because He has made it so.   And because He is not indifferent to our well-being He tells us the truth and tells us to avoid the lies false prophets tell in His name.  He tells us the truth of our helplessness in sin, and He tells us the wonderful truth, sweet and blessed, that we are sons and heirs of God through His pain and agony alone.

 

Just as Jesus wants you to be certain of your salvation, He also wills that you be certain that you have the truth of His Word, and that the one who preaches to you speaks not the words of men but only the words of Jesus.  He doesn’t want you to eat rotten fruit, pick it from a rotten tree, or treat the savage wolves who come from Satan to destroy you as though they’re no different from His faithful servants.  May God work in us this certainty during this year of the reformation, and give us zeal to know the truth that makes us confident that we are not lawless but righteous and heirs of His kingdom.

Amen.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

“The Law and the Gospel”–Trinity 18 2014.

October 19, 2014 Leave a comment

 

18th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 22:34-46

October 19, 2014

“The Law and the Gospel”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Every week the catechumens are supposed to write a worship report where they summarize the sermon. At the end of it there are two questions: “How did the sermon proclaim the law?”  And, “How did it proclaim the Gospel?”

 

The Gospel reading for this week shows us an example of this distinction between the law of God and the Gospel of God. So, I hope the catechumens are paying attention!  I know a lot of you still have trouble telling the difference between the law and the Gospel.  And oftentimes older Christians struggle with it too, the distinction between law and Gospel.  And even those who know the difference between law and gospel still struggle with applying the law and the gospel in their lives.  And yet our salvation depends on the law and Gospel being rightly applied to us.  We teach this to kids, but it is not child’s play!

 

In this Gospel reading we can see the law and the gospel in the questions asked by the Pharisees and Jesus. The Pharisees ask about the law of God: “Which is the greatest commandment?”  But Jesus asks the Pharisees about the Christ.  And the Gospel of God, His good news, is good news about the Christ, the Messiah.

 

The Pharisees ask Jesus this question about the law to see if they can get Him to say something wrong. They knew that no part of God’s law could be set aside or minimized.  But because Jesus was so friendly and gracious to sinners they couldn’t imagine that He would uphold God’s law.

 

But Jesus did. In fact, earlier in St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus had said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”  (Matthew 5:17-18)

 

Jesus was kind and compassionate to sinners, yet He did not relax any of God’s laws. This was hard for the Pharisees to comprehend.  And it’s hard for us to comprehend in our time.  We think mercy and compassion means you set aside the strict requirements of the law.  So when people find it too difficult to wait until they’re married to have sex, people think it’s mercy for the church to overlook it and not insist on the 6th commandment too strictly.  Or they think it is merciful to no longer say homosexual activity and lust is sinful.

 

But Jesus was compassionate toward sinners without relaxing the law of God in the least. His answer to the Pharisees about the great commandment of the law was one with which any traditional Jew of his time would have agreed.  Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the prophets.”

 

The first great commandment which Jesus quoted was actually part of a creed or prayer that Jews were supposed to say every day. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

 

It was something they were supposed to say every day. But saying it is one thing, and doing it is something else.  This is what the law does and teaches.  The law says what we are supposed to be and to do to be pleasing to God.  What if you fall short of it?  The law doesn’t make any exceptions or give any breaks.  If you want to be pleasing to God you have to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  If you don’t love the Lord your God that way, God says in His law that you are a sinner and condemned.

 

The Pharisees asked about the great commandment of the law. But it didn’t occur to them that even if they knew it and said it every day they didn’t keep it.  This is the way people naturally think.  They figure that God wants us to be good and do good, but they also figure God’s standards for being and doing good aren’t so high that we can’t reach them.  They figure God’s requirements are within the reach of human beings.

 

But the Law of God exposes this as falsehood. It says, “Unless you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul, you are displeasing to God and a sinner.  God will not accept you as you are.  He wants His commandment kept.”

 

Think about what it means to love God with all your heart. If we suddenly got a check, unexpectedly, for 20,000 dollars, who wouldn’t be on top of the world?  It would be hard not to tell everyone about it.

 

But at Church we hear the Gospel that God is pleased with us and has given us eternal life. We receive the body and blood of Jesus that take away the sins of the world.  And yet it barely affects us.  What does this show us?  It shows us that we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  If we did we’d be far more happy to receive God’s grace than a check for a big sum of money.

 

But we are fallen and unable to love God above all things. Adam and Eve were that way, but we are not.  And as long as we are the way we are we are transgressors of God’s commandments.

 

If the Pharisees had taken this to heart, they wouldn’t have been so eager to ask Jesus about the great commandment of the law. They would have been asking, “How can I be saved when I can’t do what the creed I recite daily says?”

 

This is the law’s work. It exposes sin.  It reveals that we are sinners; it exposes God’s holiness and it terrifies sinners.  It shows us what is good and pleasing to God.  But we are not able to fulfill it.  That’s why people always try to relax the law and make it so that we are able to fulfill it.  But God’s law, when it is preached correctly, doesn’t allow that.  It holds us captive and condemns us, even when our sin is not murder, adultery, or stealing, but simply that we don’t love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.

 

Then Jesus turns and questions the Pharisees. He doesn’t ask them about what God has commanded.  He asks them about what God had promised.  And what had God been promising all the way through the Old Testament?  Alongside the law which Jesus has just summarized here, God always had the prophets deliver His promise that He would send the Messiah, or Christ, who would deliver people from the curse and condemnation pronounced by the law.

 

This is the question the Pharisees should have been asking. “Who is the Christ?”  Because actually without answering that question they can’t begin to keep the great and first commandment, “Love the Lord your God.”

 

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”  The Pharisees say, “David’s Son.”  That was right, as far as it went.  The Messiah was supposed to come from the house and lineage of David and reign on his throne forever.

 

But there is more to the Christ than that. Jesus quotes a psalm to them, where David wrote: “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”  And He asks them, “If David, speaking by the Holy Spirit, calls the Christ Lord, how can He be David’s Son?”

 

Why does David call the Christ “Lord?” Because the Christ is equal to God. God has Him sit at His right hand and puts His enemies under His feet.  God is a jealous God.  He doesn’t put a mere human being at His right hand.  He doesn’t make an angel or a human or some lesser being equal to Him.  The Christ is David’s Lord because He is the LORD, YHWH.

 

He is David’s Lord and David’s Son, being born of a virgin betrothed to one of David’s descendants. This is the Gospel, God’s good news.  God’s good news is the Christ, who is true God and true man.  Why is that good news?

 

Because the law condemns us for not loving God with our whole heart. But here in the Christ God comes to us and becomes one with us under the law.  He takes on our flesh and blood.  He takes on our human nature.  And He comes to fulfill for us the law in its entirety.  He is what the law commands us to be.  He loves God with all His heart and all His soul.  He loves us, His neighbors, as Himself.  Soon the priests will be plotting to kill Him.  Judas is only a matter of hours away from betraying Him.  And Jesus, the Lord and the Son of David, is preparing to lay down His life to cover and atone for all our transgressions of the law.

 

What the law commands and we have not done, Christ is coming to do on our behalf. The Son of God dies for our violation of the law.  He has made our enemies—sin, death, and the devil—His enemies by becoming the Son of Man.  He has already defeated those enemies in His death on the cross.  And He reigns at the right hand of the Most High until all those enemies are put beneath His feet forever for our sake.

 

It is the LORD who has come to our rescue. In the Gospel, He proclaims us released and forgiven of the sin that remains in us.  He proclaims us free from the law’s condemnation.  He proclaims that we are counted as having fulfilled it for His sake.  He fulfilled it and by faith His obedience and His death for sins are counted to you.

 

Now do you grasp the distinction between the law and the Gospel? I hope so.  In the law God proclaims His requirement and command that we love Him with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves.  He exposes our sin and our powerlessness to keep the law.

 

The Gospel is when God proclaims His promise to cover our sins for the sake of the Messiah, who is true God and true man. He has fulfilled the just requirements of the law and justified the lawless by being put to death for our sins and raised for our justification.

 

There is one thing that remains to be said, and that is about the proper application of these two words from God. Who is to hear the law and who is to hear the Gospel?

 

The law should be preached to everyone, but especially to the godless and unrepentant. That includes people who are living in sin and committing great crimes and who are not worried about their souls.  But it also includes those who look righteous to the world, who live upstanding lives, and yet they do not love God with all their heart.  The law reproves the whole world and shows it that everyone is godless and wicked who trusts in their own righteousness while they don’t love God with all their heart, soul, and mind.  It proclaims the coming wrath of God on all breakers of His law.

 

But the Gospel is for repentant sinners, for those who are terrified because of their sins. The good news is for those who are condemned by the law and fear God’s punishment.  To them God wants the Gospel to resound, so that they hear that “while we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5).”  To repentant and terrified sinners, God wants them to hear nothing but the good news that Christ was crucified for them.  That the true and living God became flesh and blood for them, served under the law for them, fulfilled it in their place, and gave Himself up as the atoning sacrifice for their sins (1 John 2).

 

To crushed and terrified sinners God has only this word to say to them: “Be of good cheer. The Lord God of hosts, your Lord, has become man to cover your ungodliness and to blot out your transgression with His blood.”

 

This Gospel is truly good news. In the Old Testament, the people of God only heard again and again that the Christ would come to redeem them from their transgressions.  But they had to believe and wait in faith and hope for His coming.  Today God’s good news to us is that the Christ has come and that He has redeemed and justified us from the curse of the law by His one sacrifice on the cross.  Now He reigns at God’s right hand to put all our enemies under His feet—to put sin, death, and Satan under His feet and ours.  It is not just good news that is to come—that we will reign with Christ in innocence and blessedness and no longer have sin.  But it is good news that has already come—that our sins are already blotted out and not counted to us by His one sacrifice on the cross.

 

This is the good news that the most Holy God wants proclaimed to those who feel the law’s condemnation. He wants them to hear His good news and believe it and live in confidence because of it.  His good news is that the Lord Himself has become man and freed us from the guilt of our sins by His obedience and death.  He covers the sin that remains in us while He daily puts to death our old nature until we come into the fullness of our inheritance and are wholly in the image of Christ.  The Pharisees were busy asking about the great law, but Jesus was eager to proclaim the good news of the Christ and to fulfill that good news by going to the cross.

 

So be comforted by the Gospel, all sinful, anxious hearts! It is the Lord of heaven and earth who became man to save you.  It is the Lord who was born of a virgin who died to blot out your transgressions!  You are wrapped in the Lord’s own righteousness and cleansed with the Lord’s own blood.

 

Amen.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Before You Leave Seminary

September 20, 2013 Leave a comment

walther pointing to bibleThis is a passage to read, read, and read again.  I am grateful for the education I got at seminary.  But some of the pastoral wisdom Walther displays here would have been very helpful.  And the assertions he makes about hermeneutics at the end…some of my professors would have argued with them.  But I think Walther is right.  Ambiguity and failure to distinguish law and gospel clearly is responsible for so many failures in caring for souls.

 

Twentieth Evening Lecture

(February 27, 1885.)

 

My Friends:–

            When a place has been assigned to a Lutheran candidate of theology where he is to discharge the office of a Lutheran minister, that place ought to be to him the dearest, most beautiful, and most precious spot on earth…  Do not the blessed angels descend from heaven with great joy whenever the Father in heaven sends them to minister to those who are to be heirs of salvation?  Why, then, should we poor sinners be unwilling to hurry after them with great joy to any place where we can lead other men, our fellow-sinners, to salvation?  

            However, though great be the joy of a young, newly called pastor on entering his parish, there should be in him an equally great earnestness and determination to do all he can to save every soul entrusted to him.  Frequently it may seem to him that the majority, if not all members, of his congregation are still blind, dead, unconverted people.  That observation must not make him morose or discourage him, but rather fill him with an ardent desire to rouse them out of spiritual death through the divine means of grace and make them living Christians.  Spite of the devil he should take up his work in the power of faith.  If he observes that some members of his new charge are even living in manifest shame and vice, he must not despair, but bear in mind that he has a powerful Word by which he can make an effort to liberate these slaves of sin.  If he observes that his congregation is on a low level as regards the knowledge of salvation, that his people are still sadly ignorant of what the Gospel really is, he must cheerfully resolve to take up the task of instructing the poor, ignorant people with patience and zeal, until they will see the light.  Or he may notice that there are people in his congregation who are sincere, but disposed by their Pietistic schooling to be legalistic, who, therefore, regard some things as sinful that are not sinful.  In that case he must resolve to forego exercising his Christian liberty lest he offend souls that regard as sin something that he feels free to do.  On the other hand, he may discover in his congregation members of an Antinomian tendency, who are inclined to go too far in the exercise of their Christian liberty, because they are not accustomed to have the Law preached to them in its severity.  In such a case he must not decide forthwith to oppose them with all his force and preach nothing but the sternest Law to them for a whole year.  No, he must go after them gently and gradually make them see the stern demands of the Law.  For the Apostle Paul says concerning himself: “I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some.”  1 Cor. 9, 22.  This statement he wants every servant of Christ to take to heart.  Its import is that a minister must not be satisfied merely with proclaiming the truth; he must proclaim the truth so as to meet the needs of his people.  He may have to defer saying many things until his people have gained confidence in him and his teaching and he knows that he may frankly tell them anything without fear of repelling them.  Briefly, he must resolve to turn his congregation from a dreary desert into a flourishing garden of God.

…Blessed is the minister who starts his official work on the very first day with the determination to do everything that the grace of God will enable him to do in order that not a soul in his congregation shall be lost by his fault.  Such a one resolves that by the grace of God he will do all he can, so that, when the day comes for him to put down his shepherd’s staff, he may be able to say, as Christ said to His Father: Here I am and those that Thou gavest me, and none of them is lost.  Even the blood of those who shall stand on the left side of the judgment-seat, he resolves, shall not be on his hands.

            But now the question arises: What is the matter of chief concern to a minister who wants to attain this glorious object?  He must approach the Lord with heartfelt prayer and earnest entreaties in behalf of his congregation and, when preaching the Word of God with great zeal publicly and privately, jointly or severally, rightly divide the Word of Truth.  For that is what Paul demands 2 Tim. 2, 15, saying: “Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”

            During your present year at the Seminary this very thing, you know, is the subject of our study—the proper division of the Word of God, of Law and the Gospel.  These two are the cardinal doctrines of all the Holy Scriptures, which are made up of these two.  Any passage of Scripture, yea, any historical fact recorded in Scripture can be classified as belonging either to the Law or to the Gospel.  No one should be permitted to graduate from a school of theology who is unable to determine whether a given passage of Scripture is Law or Gospel, or whether in any compound clause of Scripture the protasis is Law and the apodosis Gospel, or vice versa.  It is your duty to become perfectly clear on this subject.

 

C.F.W Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, pp. 207-210.

“More Joy Over One Sinner”. Trinity 3 Sermon. June 16 2013

 

And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing...St. Luke 15:1-10

And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing…St. Luke 15:1-10

Trinity 3

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 15:1-10

June 16, 2013

“More joy over one sinner”

Jesu juva!

INI

 

Look at this guy.  He’s soft on sin.  He’s not showing proper honor for God’s holy law.  That’s what the pious people were saying, the really strict zealots and the experts who could quote chapter and verse from the Bible.

 

The law God gave to Israel was from a holy God.  You weren’t free to pick and choose which parts you’d follow.

 

And the law wasn’t about forgiveness.  It did provide for atonement for sin.  But there were sins that the law would not forgive.  For instance if you slept with your neighbor’s wife, or you lay with a man as one lies with a woman, or if you practiced witchcraft or communicated with the dead, or led other Israelites to worship an idol.  There was no forgiveness provided by the law for these things—just death.

 

And if you had leprosy or some other contagious skin disease, you were cut off.  You could not live with the community of Israel, because God is holy, and what is unclean can’t be in His presence.  “But I didn’t choose to have leprosy!” we’d protest today.  That didn’t matter.  You were still unclean.  When you got rid of your leprosy, a sacrifice could be offered and you’d be accepted again.  But until then you were out.

 

God is holy.  What is unclean can’t be in His presence.

 

Now the grumbling is that Jesus is having fellowship with those who are unclean.  They are either sinners for which the law provides no sacrifice which will make them clean again, or else they are sinners who have not yet separated themselves enough from their sin.

 

Most of us are quick to write off the Pharisees and scribes here as just being self-righteous.  But first you should understand where they’re right.

 

Sin needs to be punished in this world.  By nature the only thing that keeps people from doing evil is that they don’t want to pay the price for it.

 

One hundred or so years ago people seldom got divorced.  Why?  Was it because they loved God and loved their spouses so much?  No.  It was because the law made it very hard to get a divorce.  It was because if you got a divorce people would view you with suspicion.  It was because generally speaking if you were the guilty party in a divorce not permitted by God’s word (you divorced your spouse for a reason besides adultery, or abandonment, or your life being endangered by the spouse), you would come under church discipline.  You would be suspended from going to communion, or even excommunicated, where the church would exercise the binding key of the law in accordance with John 20: If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.  If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

 

And what happened when divorce became socially acceptable, and when the law changed to permit no-fault divorce?  Now half of marriages end in divorce.  And God says in the book of Malachi that He hates divorce.

 

So, the threat of punishment in earthly things is necessary and good, because without it people let themselves go.

 

So why was Jesus eating with people who had sinned publicly and grievously?

 

Jesus is not playing down God’s holiness.  God is indeed holy.  Nothing impure can ever enter His presence.

 

And yet God and His court, the holy angels and the saints, have a different set of priorities than the devil and his court, the demons and the unbelieving.

 

The devil rejoices in destruction and death.  The true God rejoices when what is dead is raised to life again, when the damned are forgiven, when the lost are found.

 

That is heaven’s highest joy.  There is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner becomes repentant than over the children of God who don’t go astray.

 

God is love, says the Scripture.  Love, God’s love, has this character: when it sees someone in need, even if it’s their own fault, it spares no pains to help that person.  Love puts all of itself into the service of the one who is in need.

 

This is not how you are by nature, is it?  If someone you have treated well turns their back on you, curses you, and then goes off and gets in trouble, what’s your first inclination?  To say, “I’m going to give up my comfort, my happiness, my wealth, and my good name, to go help that person?  I’m going to sacrifice what I have to bring them back and restore them to what they were before?”

 

No, that’s not what comes naturally to you.  Even if you say, “I’m supposed to love my enemies,” your heart is not eager and joyful and zealous to go seek the lost sheep.

 

But for heaven, that’s how it is.  There is nothing more important than that.  Everything else gets interrupted so that there can be rejoicing over the lost sheep that is found.

 

That’s because God looks at those who belong to Him as treasured possessions.  A woman sweeps the house to find her one coin because it is valuable.  A shepherd who loses a sheep leaves the 99 and goes after the one, because if it is his sheep, he not only cares about it, but it is his livelihood.

 

If you drop a one hundred dollar bill, you grieve over it.  You say, “How could I be so stupid and irresponsible as to lose a hundred dollars!”  And if you find it, you’re overcome with relief and joy.

 

That is how God looks at His baptized children who go astray.  That’s how it is for Him when someone wanders away from Christ and gets lost and becomes prey to the devil and eternal death.

 

Now when someone falls into open, unrepentant sin, they are giving public testimony that they have wandered away from Christ.  If they are living in adultery or fornication, if they despise preaching and God’s Word, these are all open sins.

 

Now how does God the Father deal with those who are in those sins?  He spares no pains and goes with anxiety and love to find the lost sheep.

 

And that is how His law commands us to love our neighbor.  When we see our brothers and sisters in the church fall away, we must hate their sin and not excuse it, but we are commanded to love them as we love ourselves, and do for them as we would want done for us, which is to go seek them and reclaim them.

 

If we see a city or a nation or our family members abandoning Christ and His church, we should hate their sins, and not excuse them.  But our hearts should burn with compassion for them so that we cannot rest, cannot stop praying, and lovingly seeking their salvation, until they are back home feasting in the Father’s house on His saving Gospel.

 

But our hearts are not eager to do this.  Sometimes we know we should and we want to, but we are slow because we are afraid and we care more about being good people than about the lost sheep.

 

Other times, we just have no desire to do it.  “They just hate God.  It’s their problem.”  Or, “Ah, God understands.  It doesn’t matter.”

 

Secretly our flesh rejoices in the falls and the sins of others because it makes us look better.

 

But all of that which is in our hearts is transgression of God’s holy law.  It is uncleanness that cannot enter His presence.

 

Our lack of love—our hatred, to put it a different way—makes us unclean.  The lack of love in our hearts is not cause for us to be thrown out of the visible church on earth, just like it was not enough for the Pharisees to be cut off.  That lovelessness is in the hearts of true Christians as well as hypocrites.

 

But it is enough that it cannot stand in God’s presence.  It must be forgiven, and cleansed, and taken away.

 

And this is too much.  You can quit committing adultery or stealing (although it may be hard).  But no one can eradicate lovelessness from their hearts.

 

The repentant sinner over whom heaven rejoices is not the person who cleans up his act, but the one who believes in Jesus Christ.

 

Who believes God receives and forgives and cleanses Him apart from the law.

 

That is what it is to go from being lost to being found.  Not moral improvement, but a new creation.

 

Thus Jesus comes and proclaims to us crushed by the law: “Your sins are forgiven.”

 

He has fellowship with us, not by tolerating our sins, but by taking away our sins apart from the law, by grace alone.

 

Atoning for them with His blood on the cross, and bestowing the forgiveness of sins in His word and sacrament.

 

If you are a lost sinner with no hope of cleaning yourself up, rejoice!

 

If you are a Pharisee who wants to trust your own righteousness, rejoice!

 

Jesus receives you at His table, and the Father rejoices over you.

 

Then He teaches us to rejoice in what gives Him joy—not finding money or getting things for ourselves, but rejoicing in the sheep being reclaimed.

 

This is what gives our savior and the holy angels joy, and this is the joy he is working in us.  It is true and lasting joy.

 

The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

SDG

 

Satan is raging and angry, but God is kindly disposed. Luther.

June 14, 2013 3 comments

27_martyre_saint_etienneFor God does not afflict the godly; He permits the devil to do this, as we see in the case of Job, whose children are killed by fire and his cattle by storms, not because God was angry with him, but because Satan was.

 

Therefore when a plague and other misfortunes assail us, we, too, should say that these are the works of Satan, that Satan is raging and is angry, but that God is merciful and is kindly disposed toward us because we believe in His Son.

 

And in this manner the saintly martyrs overcame death and all dangers; for they were sure that God was kind to them.  But they concluded that their tortures and afflictions were due to magic and the devil, and were permitted by God for the purpose of testing their faith.  Therefore they even rejoiced in their adversities and scoffed at Satan.  We should do the same thing; but we are very frequently overcome by weakness, as the examples even of great saints prove.  For Paul, too, is filled with fears and regains his courage when he sees the brethren (Acts 28:15).  Such fear is not felt by the ungodly, for they are sure of God’s favor.  Accordingly, even though some adversity befalls them, they smugly attribute this to Satan.

 

…these truths should be carefully impressed and taught, lest we yield to the flesh when we are tried or to our reason when we disregard the Word.  For it is not God who torments you if you believe in Christ; it is the devil.  He hates you and looks for opportunities to trouble you.  But you will say: “I realize that I am a sinner.  Therefore I am not a Christian.  Therefore if any evil befalls me, it is sent by an angry God.”  But this conclusion is false, for those who believe in the forgiveness of sins are Christians.  Therefore if you believe in Christ, if you gladly hear His Word and receive it in faith, you are a true Christian, and your sins do not stand in the way.  Hence if any misfortune befalls you, conclude boldly that it is from the devil and does not mean that God is unfriendly toward you, except insofar as He lets this happen as a trial, in order to put your faith to the test for your own good.

 

Learn from your own enemies and from the enemies of God that although the threats properly apply to them, they do not recognize this fact but appropriate, and comfort themselves with, the promises.  You, too, must do this.  For it is a disgrace for you to be ignorant of the true doctrine which you profess.  You fear God and believe in God; therefore not the Law but the Gospel applies to you.  But you forsake the Gospel and appropriate the Law, which concerns not you but the obdurate and the smug.

 

This is a spiritual weakness of which all the saints complain.  Yet it is useful for repressing pride, in order that we may not put our trust in ourselves but may humble ourselves and learn to trust solely in the grace which God offers us in His Son.  It is most certainly true that God is not angry with us; otherwise He would not give us the most excellent knowledge of His Son.  Nor would He give us the Holy Spirit, whose first fruits we have received.

 

Luther, Genesis Lectures (19:14), AE 3: 264-265

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