Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read.
As a pastor I hear these readings this week and hear a lot of warnings for myself: warnings not to speak a Word as being from the Lord that’s not, not to change the doctrines and teachings from what we have in the Word, not to be a hypocrite who sounds good talking about God, about Jesus, but who doesn’t actually trust in Him. As Paul said to Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” But that’s what I need to hear from this. While that applies to pastors, what do we do with this as Christians in general?
As I reflected on that this week I thought of a sort of threefold division to parse this out for Christians. These three parts are: first for all Christians to beware for false teachers; second for all Christians to understand how the tree and fruit imagery that Jesus talks about works; and third that we would all avoid the temptation of being those who are hypocritical, that call upon Jesus’ Name but do not do His will.
So first, the words of Jesus: Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Beware of pseudo-prophets. Beware, Christians, of those who say that they are speaking God’s Word, but aren’t. Wow, this is something there is so much to comment about. It’s one that has so many levels. On the one hand, I think we can look very specifically at a context like the Old Testament where you had people calling themselves prophets, who said they had a word directly given to them from God, but who were saying whatever they thought people wanted to hear. Or you had on the flip side of scratching those sorts of itching ears, the Pharisees that would have been in Jesus’ hearing. Now to be sure they did the same thing of making it sound like they were speaking God’s Word. In fact, they even treated some of their rules as God’s own commands. They looked down on those who didn’t keep these as though they had sinned. So you have those. Then you have Paul warning against people coming in and changing divine teachings and leading people astray in terms of doctrinal things. So how do we apply this today?
Well, closer to our time, I was reading some on Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, again this week, and was reminded of all of the ways the history of this man reflected a falseness around his teaching. Here he claimed over and over again to speak a revelation directly from God. In fact, he spoke numerous times claiming that God was giving him the words. He recorded the Book of Mormon claiming that it was the inspired word from our Heavenly Father, despite the contradictions between it and the Bible. Ultimately, the greatest fruit this has borne which shows its wolfly origin is that it speaks not of One God in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but of a Divine Godhood of those three. So not, One God, and One God alone in three persons. Not three persons and one Divine being, but three personages and one Godhood, one rule. With that there is a change who God is, and a change to what faith is. All the more the Book of Mormon teaches that one is saved by grace after all that he can do. No we are saved by grace and grace alone. But Mormons are very nice. In fact, they’re very sincere in their niceness and their faith. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t still problematic.
Or you can see this more closely associated with the Christian church in some of the TV Preachers. You have those who pick dates for the end of time, saying that the Lord gave them those dates. They’ve been proven wrong. Don’t listen to them. They’re speaking a word that God didn’t give them. They’re wolves in sheep’s clothing. Or look at someone like Joel Osteen. His message is that God wants you to have your best life now. God wants you to have that promotion or that raise. He wants to give you more wealth. Doesn’t that ring with the warning from Jeremiah: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ This is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Or I think also of those I mentioned a couple of weeks ago when talking about Critical Theory—the worldview that everything boils down to oppressed peoples and oppressing peoples. There are many in the church who have adopted this. Many who would treat Jesus as though He taught this. Now, to be clear, Jesus did speak against oppression, Jesus did speak for justice, but oppression and justice are defined according to him, not according to some of the things we speak of. In particular, if we look at something like the Black Lives Matter movement—and as I say this, I want to make a point that I am not attempting to speak politically here. It may sound like it, but it’s really a theological point. The phrase Black Lives Matter has become very politically loaded. I’m not referring to the phrase, here. I’m referring to the wolves in sheep’s clothing who have taken hold of the movement associated with the phrase. If you look on their website, one of the things they are seeking to destroy is the nuclear family. This is in direct contrast to what scripture teaches. The very thing earthly speaking that would actually be most helpful to the black community that is struggling in all the ways they are struggling is to have stable homes with mothers and fathers in them. To take a movement and claim that it’s helping a group when it’s destroying the greatest help outside of Christ is to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In fact, I encourage especially those of you parents with kids of school age to make sure to familiarize yourself with this Critical Theory that you can help your kids understand how it is incompatible with the Christian Worldview. So you can teach them how it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Having said that, very clear examples of wolves in sheep’s clothing, I want to also give some help to when you can know a sheep in sheep’s clothing, or even a sheep that might be portrayed as being in wolves’ clothing. As I was reading this week about this, there were some good insights. First, was that the most important factor was not viewing worldly success. Just because a teacher has a large following does not equate with truth. Second, it said that this also shouldn’t focus per se on a hypocrisy, or a contrast between words and acts. Sometimes right preachers get caught up in sin, sadly. This doesn’t excuse it, but it also doesn’t negate their message. So it hones in on their message. The fruit to be examined is the message. You see in I Corinthians 14 that right preaching brings upbuilding or edification in the faith, it brings encouragement, it brings consolation. It also brings conviction. As a commentator I read noted, it aligns with the rock of Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It says that Jesus is the son of God, God in the flesh with us, Immanuel. It also teaches that He came to us for what reason? To save us from sin. This means it teaches real sin according to God’s Law. It teaches real rescue from that sin by the death of Christ on the cross for your sin, that you would have life in His resurrection. Properly it also tells you that Jesus delivers this life won for you on the cross in His Word, in Baptism, in His Body and Blood in His Holy Supper. This is that whole counsel of God that Paul spoke to the Ephesians. So that’s the first part of this: being aware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Now I’ve gone on about that portion for a pretty long time, so I’ll be a bit briefer for the next two. The second, then is about trees and fruits. Jesus talks about this with regard to teaching, that the teaching of those who say false things shows forth things that are false. A false teacher is going to draw out false belief. However, this illustration of trees and fruits is something I think also helpful for understanding why not all good citizens go to heaven, or why someone can be so sinful, but still convert at the last and enter that eternal life. It’s because of the kind of tree we are. You see Paul says it clearly that everything that does not come from faith is sin. Anything that does not flow forth from this faith in this One God in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, this is sinful. That means no matter how much earthly good it does for an Atheist to feed masses of the hungry, that is still tainted with the violation of the First Commandment. It’s sad, it should grieve us, but that’s the reality. It also doesn’t make sense according to our eyes, but we live by faith and not by sight. It is in fact that faith that courses through our roots, our trunks, our leaves, our very veins as good trees. In other words, our works as Christians are good in God’s eyes, not because we are good in ourselves as people, but because the evil of our sin has been forgiven and because we are made anew in Christ’s goodness. We’re all born the bad trees, but new life comes from Christ from His blood shed, from His resurrection. We are only good trees in faith in Him. That’s the second thing: a good tree is a good tree by faith in Christ.
And to piggy back on that, the third thing, then is to realize that we want to guard ourselves against being bad trees that are really good about looking good and talking about Jesus. As Jesus says, “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.’” This is a warning that we would do the will of God. And what is that? It goes along with the good teaching. It’s that we would repent of our sin—we would turn away from that sin, we would restrain it, discipline it, kill it, and that we would trust in Christ for His forgiveness.
Or as I was rereading Afraid for our discussion this week, Dr. Bennett makes the point over and over in there that when people are struggling spiritually or attacked demonically, the best place to be is in church. Now I know we’re in unusual circumstances that prevent that as it would ordinarily be right now, but heed his point. Avail yourself to the Word of God which gives Jesus’ holiness to you. If you don’t feel comfortable being in church call me to set up a time to receive Jesus’ body and blood. This is our antidote for sin. This is how our Lord crushes that lawlessness in us by which He would turn us away. Positively, this is how He gives us that very faith by which we call upon His Name properly, pray praise, and give thanks. This is in short how we deal with all of this: How we are not hypocritical, how we are good trees, how we avoid those false teachers, those wolves in sheep’s clothing.
In fact, in short as we look at these three parts, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the good and bad trees, and those who call upon Jesus’ name properly, that’s the solution. The Word of Jesus in the Scriptures. The Word that is God’s hammer of His Law crushing our sin, and that Word that is life in Jesus’ resurrection, giving us new life by His grace and forgiveness. That is our hope in this and in all things. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, the feeding of the Four Thousand.
In the ministry of Jesus, it’s not uncommon to see Him stealing away for some time to Himself. The demands of His ministry clearly weighed on Him and He sets a great example for us in the realization that we sometimes just need to seclude ourselves from the demands of the world and take a breath. It appears that today’s Gospel lesson may actually have occurred at just one of those pauses. Here Jesus is and Mark tells us that “again a great crowd had gathered” and where are they? They are in the wilderness, in the “desolate place.” Why, we could ask, are they in a desolate place? Well, it would seem that our Lord was doing just what I’m describing, and getting some peace and quiet for prayer. Or at least He was trying, until the crowds followed Him and gathered around Him as they were wont to do. And so much for quiet rest for the Lord. Already stretched, here He was stretched again.
I think our circumstances right now are putting many of us in a similar spot. Perhaps it’s different in that since we’re shut in our homes and secluded right now, it’s not as though we can’t take some moments and really appreciate the quiet of reading God’s Word and praying—which if you’re stressed about all that’s going on right now and you’re not taking time do that, do it. Reading the Bible is something all Christians should be doing. I marvel at the knowledge of some of our older members when it comes knowing Scripture. What a blessing—something that can be intimidating for those who are younger, but know that they older folks didn’t get there overnight. Like they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But I digress. In any case, our circumstances certainly are drawing us out, aren’t they? It seems that just when we think we’ll be able to get used to one thing, something else comes along. And when we sort of acclimate to that, everything shifts and we have to rebalance. Between viruses and pestilences and unrest and dust storms and hurricanes and murder hornets this time is constantly burdening us with more stress to the point it’s easy to want to break.
A brother pastor noted this on his Facebook page this week, saying that he doesn’t expect things to get all that much better soon. It’s weighing on him. Thankfully, he noted, he knows that the reality of the situation isn’t dependent upon his thoughts and opinions, nor upon how he feels about all this. Instead, it’s reliant up on the truth of our Lord’s authority over the entirety of heaven and earth. But still it bears its weight upon our shoulders doesn’t it? In that, I think we can relate to our Lord’s need to get away that we see in the Gospel Lesson.
Or better yet, we can see that our Lord can relate to us. As we consider these people who have gone out so far to hear the teaching of Jesus, we can make an analogy to their journey home and our own journey in this life. We can see that Jesus speaks of them going on their way. He worries, “they will faint on the way.” They’re in this desolate place, and some of them “have come from far away,” and so they won’t make it if they’re not cared for. So also, we journey. We journey on the way from our first death in baptism, the death of our sin, to the death of our bodies. And that journey bears its difficult moments for us, it bears those moments where we get weighed down.
But what does Jesus say about those He sees in this state? Like I said, He can relate to us, and that’s the joy, right? What does He say? I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. I have compassion on the crowd. I mention this word with some regularity, because it gets to the heart of our Lord’s love and care for His people, but this is that word for compassion that comes from the guts. Jesus feels this compassion for these people in His guts. He sees that their journey is long, He sees that they could easily faint on the path and it pains Him. He doesn’t want their harm, He doesn’t want their demise and He feels that in His guts.
It’s interesting how the Scriptures describe emotions. Sometimes things we get emotional about or things that we get riled up about, Scripture gives insight to show that this is less than desirable. Emotionalism and raw feeling aren’t where our Lord’s desire is for us. Passions and the drive from pure emotion is to be tamed. But when it comes to the aching we have for our neighbor, when we see them suffering that’s something that should hit us in the gut, because that’s how our Lord experienced it. And you can see it because He cares enough to provide for the needs of these people.
Of course, that’s what our God does. His desire is that He would be our God and we would be His people, because as our God, His heart is to give to us, to provide for us, to care for us. Look at how you see this play out in the Old Testament. To draw a very direct parallel, think about the Israelites on their path, on their way from the Red Sea to the Promised Land—something I often point to as a picture of the Christian life: baptized in the Red Sea, cared for by God, and sustained unto life in the Promised Land, the Inheritance. And what does the Lord do for the people in the midst of that? Just as He gives bread to them in the wilderness in the Gospel Lesson, He provides bread for the Israelites. And how so? Miraculously. Manna. Appearing day in and day out. Miraculous care for them, making sure they’re provided for. Making sure their bellies will be sustained, that their shoes will not wear out and their clothes will not tatter. This is the heart of this God incarnate, “enfleshed” in Christ.
And lest we think that’s a unique circumstance, you see it again and again and again. You see it with Elijah fed by ravens. You see it with the judges and kings God gave to Israel, providing good kings after their kings would turn, or good judges redeeming the people when the people had rebelled. You see it with Daniel in the lion’s den, with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego whom He preserved in the fiery furnace. Over and over and over.
And you He provides for you. He takes your sin upon Himself on the cross. He dies for it. He provides for you the perfect life you need for eternity in heaven. And just as the wages of sin is death, He steps in front of the bullet of death in your place. He didn’t deserve the death, but He took it for you. He didn’t deserve the discomfort of this life, but He took it for you. He felt your suffering in His guts and He took it and worse that you would have an eternal home with Him in the New Heavens and the New Earth; a new life where you are raised in His resurrection. Provided for, cared for, loved for eternity.
And as I say all of this, this is eternal. If you watched my devotions this week, you heard me mention about the creation of Adam in Genesis. I spoke about how in this creation there is this man, this “living creature,” as it’s translated; nephesh in the Hebrew, or psyche in the Greek Septuagint. Why do I give you the words? Well, I mentioned the Greek because psyche is where we get the word in English, psyche and psychological. It’s also the word that’s often translated soul. So it’s easy to hear this and think this is just about the soul, about the immaterial eternal. And as I’ve been talking about this, as I said, I’ve been talking about the eternal. But that translation is great. This Adam is not just created to be an immaterial soul as we would call it. He is a living creature; a whole being body and soul. God created Adam body and soul. And in the Garden you see care for body and soul. You see the trees which sustain the body and the Tree of Life by which Adam communes with God and you see care of the soul.
As you journey in this wilderness of this broken and fallen world, He does the same for you. Just as Jesus fed those four thousand in the wilderness, He feeds you. He feeds your soul with His Word, with His forgiveness, with His body and blood in His Supper. He feeds you and sustains you with that life giving word that as you trek on day by day, hour by hour, you might be prevented from growing faint. This is why I say that about reading the Word. You’ll look around at the circumstances that will exhaust you in the worries they bring. And the Devil will try to burden you all the more with them, but the Word tells you that the sin that creates all this stress has been forgiven. It tells you that the devil who brings all this tyranny into the world, who entices man into it that man would be kept in tyranny by his own will, that devil has been defeated. He has been overcome. He’s lost. The cross has set the trap for him and the resurrection shows forth the victory. That victory, again, given to you in the Word and Sacrament to sustain you.
And yet I said you can see this care in soul and in body. In eternal and temporal. While the Word and Sacrament bring eternal care to temporary contexts—that is, they bring the eternal victory to help sustain us in this temporal life—our God still cares for our temporal needs too.
That’s something that is so comforting in this passage. You know, it’s easy to analogize this from the long journey home that these people had to take to the long journey we endure until we reach the Promised Land of God’s eternal kingdom, and that’s not wrong for us to see. However, there’s still this really comforting reality: Jesus actually gave them temporal bread for their temporal needs. Why is that so comforting? Well, in reality it’s never as comforting as the eternal promises in Jesus. But it is comforting because as we are stretched thin by things, by the goings on around us, we can fear for the needs of the body.
Think about it, how short of a time ago we were worried about the temporal needs of toilet paper and of meat shortages. Now that’s calmed, and there’s all this unrest, which if taken to the final end of those leading some of the charges could result in revolution. There would be real risk to bodily care. But Christians, Jesus fed the four thousand. Jesus had compassion on the four thousand. Jesus looked at them and He ached in His guts for them.
And so also He aches in His guts for you. He sees you and how thinly you get stretched. He knows that exhaustion and more. He knows the needs you have of food and shelter. And he knows how to ensure you get them.
As a close, I remember hearing a story when I was in college of some missionaries who had hit the point where their bank accounts were drained, they weren’t sure when they would have money to buy food again, and they weren’t sure how they were going to get by. But one evening having come home from their work they found their counter filled with groceries. The person telling me the story said the missionaries claimed that no other person knew of their need. But the Lord did, and He provided for them. Whether He did this miraculously or by natural means doesn’t matter. The reality is true. He cared for them. And He will care for you. Just as He has created you, created you, body and soul, so He will care for you, care for you, body and soul. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This morning we meditate on the gospel lesson, previously read.
I know those of you who have been around Lutheranism for a long time have heard that old go to phrase over and over of “Law and Gospel.” I know I’ve even joked about how Jessica teased me when I went to seminary that I started sounding like every Lutheran pastor she’d ever known as I would talk about this Law and Gospel distinction. And of course as we hear that in our day, it can be easy for our eyes to glaze over and we start to drift off thinking of things less abstract. Because it is fair to say that when we speak of these terms “Law” and “Gospel,” we are talking about conceptual things. We are talking about things that are not concrete. No they’re ideas, they’re abstract. This abstract idea about this Law, these commands that God speaks to us, and the abstract idea that this Law is given that we would be restrained in going too far in sin, but be helped by it to maintain some order in society. Then that this Law would come and show us our sin, also abstract. Finally, that it would tell us how we ought to seek to live our lives as Christians. All of this is very abstract. Then, the Gospel is very abstract too. This abstract idea that Jesus, who is very God in the flesh of a man, would take the punishment for sin upon Himself that we could live by His resurrection.
This is all abstract, it’s conceptual, and didactic. In our day, I think that’s hard, because we have a mindset that is grounded in concrete pragmatism. And to be a pragmatist as a Christian can be great. After all, Jesus was often pragmatic. He often would teach very concretely. Look at His parables. Those are often quite concrete. But today’s Gospel Lesson is one is very abstract in a lot of ways. It’s about concepts. So in view of that, I’m going to talk about this abstract idea of Law and Gospel in light of what Jesus says about it in the Gospel Lesson. I ask for your patience, and your effort in concentrating to follow me as I do so. I will try to make this as concrete as I can, but sometimes we have to follow our Lord’s lead in dealing with things conceptually.
So to start, I think that we need to look at what Jesus says about the Law, about God’s commands—and as we see the Old Testament reading is the Ten Commandments, we have a good opportunity to make the point that this is the epitome, the summary of God’s Law. If we want to know all that God commands, we can look there. Look at the Ten Commandments. Know them as Christians. Know the order, the numbers, learn Luther’s explanations of them from the Catechism. This is what God calls us to in His will for us. He takes it most seriously. Look, in fact, at what Jesus says: 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. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
So, hopefully you hear the first point I want to make here about the Law: God takes the Law seriously. He takes it so seriously that He says that if anyone lessens it, he will be called the least in the Kingdom Of Heaven. Now, to give some context, you see this was a problem for the Pharisees who were in Jesus’ hearing for the Sermon on the Mount here. We’re going to talk more about them here in a second, but you have to understand that the Pharisees were viewed as the uber-pious folks. The Jews who wanted to be faithful at that time likely were watching the Pharisees to get their cues for piety. But the problem was that they lessened the Law. On the surface it didn’t look like it. It looked like they tightened it. They added rules here and there, and made laws where God hadn’t. So, it looked like they were especially strict, but what that actually proved was the opposite. It proved that they were making less of God’s Law. How’s that? Because they were treating it like it was something you could attain. They were creating their checklists and their rules of how many steps you could take on the Sabbath so they could assure themselves that this Law of God was something they were keeping.
And this is a problem for us now too, isn’t it? Think about how many churches are out there giving series on Twelve Steps to a happy marriage. Now that’s great to give good marriage advice. It’s great to encourage healthy marriages. God has given us marriage, but when that becomes the focal point of my sermons as a pastor, I’ve ultimately missed the point of the Law. The Law isn’t given to us that we can have a happy and fulfilled life with our spouse. Don’t get me wrong, the Sixth Commandment telling me to not commit adultery goes a long way in teaching me how to love my wife, which helps to make our marriage a lot happier. But that’s not the goal. The goal finally is that we would live how our God calls us to live—which to be clear is to love. Or beyond that, the goal is to see my sin. Paul says in the letter to the Romans “No one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the Law”— that is, no one’s getting to heaven by their good works—“rather through the Law comes consciousness of sin.”
You see, now that we’re fallen in sin, God makes sure you hear His commands and He does so to the point that you would see how sinful you are and that you would turn to Jesus for help. Twelve steps to a better marriage, that’s still Law, but it’s law that’s lessened. It won’t kill you that way that it should, it won’t stab your delusions of being good enough to get to heaven right in the heart. As a professor of mine from seminary always said, it will just gum you to death. It will be slow and soft and maybe you won’t realize what it’s done till you’ve become self-righteous or despaired that you’re not following the twelve steps as well as you ought.
This is the lessening of the Law. Don’t do it. And as I say this, I haven’t forgotten to make the point that of course pretending things that are sinful aren’t is a problem too. Pretending it’s OK to harm our neighbor, or sleep around, or steal, that’s lessening the law too, but it’s a bit clearer that way. Jesus wants to make the point that we can’t lessen it to think we can attain it.
And we can see that in how Jesus doesn’t soften murder but ratchets it up to where you can’t think you’re innocent even if you’ve only spoken harshly to your neighbor in anger. We can also see it in what He says next: I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
If you remember, I just said the people saw the Pharisees as examples of piety. You can imagine, then how this would be heard. “I’ve got to be better than those guys? I’ve got to be more pious than they are? I’m in big trouble!” In our day it might be like how people often view pastors. “I’d have to be more pious than the pastor?!” Of course, if you’ve ever known a pastor well, you know that we’re not special when it comes to holiness and piety. But there’s that perception.
But what’s Jesus saying? Well, He’s making the point that because the Pharisees have lessened the Law as I was just describing, they’re not righteous as they’re called to be. We can see something similar to this today in the calls of righteous indignation that flood the internet. There is a call for a righteous standard. And portions of it align with the righteousness of God’s commands. When we hear of justice for all peoples, that’s consistent with God’s Law. But our righteousness must surpass those calling. Our righteousness in fact must far surpass that. It must align with God’s righteousness.
And here is where we’ll loop back to the purpose of the commands: to give us a mirror that shows us every last pimple on the attempts we make to stand before God as though we’ve been good enough. Who has never been angry with someone? Who has never in that anger spoken harmful words, or at the least thought them? You too stand liable to judgment. Your righteousness does not surpass that of the Pharisees.
And lest you think that it’s possible to attain this if you try hard enough, look at when the Law fights with itself. Look at how the Fifth Commandment has been at odds with itself with the Coronavirus. You want to love your neighbor? Love him by not getting him sick. Good. Now love him by caring for his needs, which God provides through economic structures. Now love him by caring for his mental health in the midst of all this. And these can’t all be done. It’s impossible the Command itself is pulling you every which direction, and you can’t always keep it.
Now you see where the Gospel comes in. 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. Now to be clear, Jesus is talking about fulfilling the Old Testament here. He’s making the point that He is what the Old Testament is all about. Look in your Old Testament and see it’s about Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate King David, the ultimate Moses, the ultimate and best Adam. How? Because He fulfills it all. All of those commands that we heard in Exodus 20, those commands summarized by the command to love, as Paul says, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” That command to Love, that fulfilling of the Law is found in Jesus. And it’s found where you haven’t done it.
Your righteousness is to surpass the Pharisees. It doesn’t. But His does. His does in that perfect life He lived, and it does in the death He died for your sin. The wages of sin is death. He didn’t deserve that, but in His love, He suffered that death, even the eternal death of hell on the cross, that you wouldn’t have too. That’s the perfect righteousness. That’s the perfect love. That’s the love of the Perfect Lover loving the perfectly un-loveable.
And in even more love, He gives that righteousness to you. He baptized you in it. He speaks it into your heart as He forgives your sin. He feeds it to you on your very tongue.
And in this we see this abstract concept made concrete. It’s concrete in the death of this body of Christ. It’s concrete in how He gives you this righteousness in concrete means. Word. Water. Bread and wine. And furthermore, as He gives you new life, He calls you live in the life of the commands He speaks. He calls you to this baptismal identity Paul spoke of in Romans. And that’s concrete. Love God by not having other gods, not misusing His Name, honoring preaching and His Word. And loving your neighbor, honoring authority, honoring marriage, honoring property and reputation. That’s all concrete. But it’s all Law and Gospel. And it’s all Jesus’ Word, and in His grace done for you by Him. Finished, not abolished, but fulfilled. Amen.
Saints in Christ, purchased and won from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with Christ’s holy, precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death: Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. The Inspired Word of God comes to us today from the Gospel according to St Luke chapter 5.
Considering the text for today I unofficially designated today fish lovers Sunday. I thought about making it fishermen’s Sunday, but that excluded those who like to eat fish. Some of you like fish stories, eating fish, and watching people catch fish; others do not. Today you will hear a fish story with eternal consequences.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were partners in a fishing business owned by Zebedee, the father of James and John. When you think of calling a pastor, even a second career pastor, usually you don’t think of commercial fishermen. Adjectives associated with commercial fishermen are: rough, uneducated, undisciplined, hot headed, and foul mouthed. Plus, they smell like fish. But, Jesus did unusual things. Choosing four commercial fishermen as disciples was one of them. Why did Jesus pick these guys versus recent graduates of rabbinical school? Today’s text sheds light on this.
Jesus was out and about teaching. According to Scripture a large crowd gathered. Such a large crowed that Jesus was forced to use Simon’s boat as a pulpit. The boat provided Jesus with a good position to preach from.
After the sermon Jesus told Simon to go out onto the lake and drop the net in deep water. Now this is the trust point, and the point of the miracle. Simon may not know much, but he does know a thing or two about fishing. Simon didn’t use a depth finder or a fish finder. Simon used basic fish catching knowledge. Simon knew that the best fishing was done at night, when the fish are bold and hungry and come to the shallows to feed. He knew that if you don’t catch anything at night, you may as well tend your nets and cut your losses and hope for better the next night. Simon knew it didn’t make much sense to put out into the deep during the day when you didn’t catch anything in the shallows the previous night. Simon also knew when Jesus said something it paid to listen. Simon replied: “…nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”
Throughout our lives we encounter crisis points. We face tough decisions. Many day to day choices are simple; what to wear, what to eat, what to do on a day off. Also, like Simon, must make tough choices. Usually we consult somebody concerning the more difficult choices. How often do we call out to Jesus for help? Do we trust Jesus enough to take Him at His Word, even when He asks the counterintuitive thing, the unreasonable thing, and the outrageous thing? Or, do we follow our sin tainted human reasoning? Jesus used this opportunity as a faith building lesson. If they trusted Jesus with catching fish, they would learn to trust Jesus with catching people. If they trusted Him with the little things - their livelihood, they would trust Him with the big things - forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Actually, when you think about it, it was nothing for Jesus to say, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Who needs fish finding sonar when you’re the Lord of creation? Jesus spoke the Word that created fish on the fifth day. Jesus knows where all the fish are, because He’s the Creator in the flesh. That day the fishermen learned a valuable lesson. As they pulled their filled to the point of breaking nets into the boat, more boats were called to help out. Sometime during the action Simon Peter fell down Jesus’ feet. In an act of worship and confession and Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Peter sounded a bit like the prophet Isaiah when he caught a glimpse of God on His throne in the year that King Uzziah died. Isaiah saw the Lord in His glory with the six winged seraphs flying around singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” Isaiah said, “I’m dead. I’m a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips. I’m a sinner among sinners.”
That’s how it is when you come face to face with the Lord. It’s not “shine, Jesus shine, oh we’re so happy to be here and you should be too,” it’s “Lord, have mercy, I’m a dead man.” Jesus may have looked plain and ordinary enough, like any other local in Galilee. But it dawned on Peter that there was more to Jesus than met the eye. Peter realized this when the HS made him aware of his own sin. Peter’s instant reaction was to have Jesus go away. The man who possessed the Creator’s authority over the fish in the sea was simply too much to bear. Peter understood that his sin and God’s presence were not compatible.
A miraculous catch of fish, water changed into wine, sicknesses healed with a word, and casting out demons. All were tremendous acts of love; yet, all were frightening to experience. This is how near God is to us in Jesus. Jesus knows the location of the fish, not to mention the birds and the ants. Jesus knows the number of hairs on your head, and the number of your days. Jesus knows your sin, everything you do, think, and say. Jesus knows our deepest darkest secrets. We do well to say with Peter, “Lord, depart from me. Don’t come near me. You are holy, I am anything but holy. You are God’s sinless Son, and I’m a poor, miserable sinner. You are the Lord of creation, and I am your disobedient creature.”
The most astonishing fact is that this same God of power is a God of mercy and forgiveness. God took a burning coal and burnished the lips of His prophet with words of forgiveness: “your guilt is taken away, your sin atoned for.” He called fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James, John, sinners, none of them “worthy” on their own to be His disciples. These men became Jesus’ apostles and first pastors of His church. Jesus’ two words, “Follow me,” are disciple making words. With the same words Jesus calls sinners to repentance. With the same words Jesus calls sinners to His own death and resurrection. That’s where His sheep follow Him, through death to resurrection and life. His path is their path. His life is their life. His forgiveness covers their sin. Jesus gave those fishermen a new life and a new vocation. Jesus said, “Fear not; from now on you will be catchers of men.” Previously they used nets to catch fish. From that day forward they used a different net. They used God’s Word.
Net fishing is “catholic,” universal, indiscriminate. Nets catch anything and everything. Nets capture what you want and things you don’t want. Fish, old tires, you name it. The mission of the church is like net fishing. The true Church is a boat. The proclamation of God’s Word is casting out a huge net. The casting of the net is not luring people into the kingdom, but sweeping them in, capturing them in the gracious net of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Not discriminating, picking and choosing, deciding which are the keepers and which to throw back. Similar to fish caught in a net, a lot of people don’t want to be there. As the net tightens around them they always look for a way to escape. But the paradox is that the way to save your life is to lose your life.
We follow the Word of Jesus, the Lord of creation, the Savior of all, the Lord of the Church. “Make disciples of all the nations.” Go fishing in the deep water. Cast out your nets, the net of the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Baptize and teach, and in the baptizing and teaching, Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Go fishing, the Lord says to His church. Cast the net of Jesus’ resurrection wide and deep into the waters of the world. And whether we haul in a boat load or a few, that’s the Lord’s business, and He knows best. The catch, the growth of the church, is His, not ours. God blesses the catch. God blesses us with all things. The greatest catch is right here.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.