In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read. Amen.
This week I read something that resonated well with me. A pastor was talking about how he was out in the midst of the stores shopping, and at a register there was an interaction that caught his ear. The customer said “hello” to the checkout person. The checkout person looked confused. Then customer removed their face covering, to which the checkout person said, “Oh it’s you! I didn’t recognize you with your mask on!” The pastor said at that moment, he knew what he was preaching. You see our God is a God who comes to us behind masks.
In fact, we see it literally said, in the book of Isaiah, “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” He comes in masks now. I was reading a book called “The Spirituality of the Cross,” by a Lutheran writer named Gene Veith. In that book, Dr. Veith speaks of how we serve in vocations to care for our neighbors as people, and as we do that, God Himself is serving them through us as His mask and we are serving Him under the mask of those people. Or I just read a book about Faith in the midst of this Pandemic, where the author of that chapter—a professor of mine from seminary—made the point that God is working somehow under the mask of this pandemic. Of course, it doesn’t seem like such a thing is God’s work. After all, there is great suffering that is happening, but because God is in charge of all things, and because He is loving, we can know that He is working through it, and truly working His good through it somehow.
Finally, though, to tie to our Gospel lesson this morning, we see our God who hides Himself in masks in order that He might reveal Himself. It’s an odd thought, but it’s true. We can’t look upon God face to face and live, and so He covers His face that we can come to know Him and finally join Him in His eternal Kingdom. In today’s lesson, He is showing that He is revealing Himself in the mask of flesh of the man, Jesus Christ. How so? Look at the healing. Here this is clearly the work of God. The man is deaf, and God comes to Him in Christ, and He opens His ear. He looses his tongue. The man can then hear, and he can speak.
So, what do we take from this? We learn that we are wont to find God where He promises to be hiding Himself. We are so drawn to trying to find God where we think is fitting, to finding Him in our own thoughts, or feelings, in nature, and in signs that go on around us. But where does He promise to be? Well, we get a glimpse of that in the Epistle Lesson, don’t we? “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? ... So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” In other words, we find Jesus in His Word.
But what do we see in this in conjunction with the Gospel Lesson that tells us something we should learn? Of course, there are lots of things to draw from this, but hopefully you know the connection I’m going to make. Look at the Epistle. It speaks of faith coming by hearing, of that faith being in the heart, of one believing with the heart and confessing with the mouth. And what’s the connection? We need what Jesus does for the deaf man for ourselves, don’t we? We need Him to come to us, to cast His fingers into our ears, to spit and touch His tongue and to say, “Ephhpatha, be opened.”
How do we know this? Look at what we as people don’t want to hear. We don’t want to hear of our sin. We are increasingly looking around us and finding that the world doesn’t want to call sin what Scripture calls sin. Pastor Bennett talked about this last weekend. He talked about the book written forty years ago describing all of the things that were taboo then that had been driven out by what could be called a Judeo-Christian ethical worldview. But he said how, anymore, we have adopted so many of these sins hook, line, and sinker. We don’t want to hear them called sin.
We also don’t want to hear the call to repent that goes along with that. And that includes in the church as well. You can step foot in many churches, you can watch many churches on TV or online, and you can hear little to no conversation of repentance. And yet what’s the first thing Jesus said when He came on the scene in His ministry? What did John the Baptist say even to prepare the way of Jesus? Repent! We have to constantly live in repentance. As we look at Covid, as we look at race relations, as we look at the political milieu, we need to repent! As Luther said, “When our Lord and master Jesus Christ said, ‘repent,’ He meant that the entire life of a Christian should be one of repentance.” But our ears are closed to that.
And what else? Well, I touched on our political situation. I think in election years, this gets particularly bad, but we have to hear that we’re not going create a utopia on earth. The world is fallen because of sin, it’s not going to be perfect. It’s just not. It doesn’t matter if we get what we view as the perfect combination of candidates elected in all the right positions, things will still be a mess. Things will always be in tension with themselves. Health care will have its issues where someone somewhere will not get the care they need. Education will always have its gaps and sadly, the children who fall through the cracks. Immigration to a country as blessed as we are economically will always create a tension between the need to care for our neighbors broadly, and the governments call to care for her citizens. And the poor will always be with us. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve these things, but our ears have to hear that tension of needing to work to improve them and not putting our “trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation,” as we always have a tendency to do in election years.
Finally, we don’t want to hear that we aren’t in control, and our safety isn’t in this world. We look around at all of this and in our sin, we begin to think that we are God. We think that if we just figure out the right formula we can prevent suffering death, even risk. We can work all things to just how we think they should be. Of course, there’s obvious conflict there, because should things be as I think, or should they be as you think? Right? And certainly I know better than you, don’t I, or you know better than I, right?
We need to hear all of this. But our ears are naturally closed to it. They’re closed to hearing sin and the call to repentance. They’re closed to hearing that God is God and we’re not, that He knows what’s best and we don’t. They’re closed to hearing that we aren’t ultimately going to find ultimate safety or security or utopia in this life.
But Jesus comes. He comes to you. He casts His fingers in your ears. He spits and touches your tongue. And He sighs—which, by the way, I thought this was neat. This word for sighing is the same word for the groanings of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8. If you remember that passage, it says that creation groans under the curse of the fall, it says that we as Christians groan in awaiting our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Then, it says that in that groaning when we don’t know what to pray, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with “groanings too deep for words.” That’s the sigh here from Jesus. He puts His fingers in your ears, He grabs your tongues, and He sighs, He groans in view of sin, and He speaks. He says, “Ephphatha… Be opened.” Ears, be opened. Ears hear the truth.
And your ears hear the truth. They hear the truth that repentance isn’t this horrid oppression of self-denial, but the freedom to acknowledge that sin binds and overwhelms us. They hear that this Jesus is the One who frees from bindings, just as He released the tongue of the deaf man. They hear that as we acknowledge our sin, there is comfort. Why? Because this Jesus came to save sinners. He didn’t come for the righteous but the unrighteous. He didn’t come for the healthy. Look at Him! He’s healing the sick! That’s who He came for. He came for you. To open your ears that they would hear this message and the message that utopia isn’t in this life, but is certain and promised in His Eternal Kingdom. In that Kingdom there are no sojourners, but it is the eternal home of those who immigrate there by His blood. In the resurrection of the body there, there is no need for medical insurance, medical care. In the worries we have about education now, there will be complete knowledge for everyone gathered around His throne. And there will be no more poverty. The poor we will always have with us now, but there all the children of heaven will enjoy the riches of His provision and care. They will need for nothing. Even He Himself will come to them and wipe away every tear as they have suffered in this life. There will be hope fulfilled, salvation, joy, comfort, peace.
But as I say all of this, I said that we saw Jesus in the lesson accomplishing this for the man in the mask of the flesh of man. Where is the mask by which He does this for you? I mentioned the mask of the Word, and that is foremost. He comes to you in the Word of the Scriptures. He comes to you under the mask of this book with its pages and words. He comes to you in the preaching of that word. He comes to you under the mask of this poor vessel standing in front of you preaching. Not that He dwells in me as Christ, not that I am God in the flesh, but that His Holy Spirit promises to be with me in the work of proclaiming that Word—again not by my sufficiency but the grace of His promise. He comes to you in the waters of baptism, the mask of lowly water as many of you were infants. And then just as He touched the man’s ears and tongue in the lesson, He touches you with His body and blood. He contacts you with the body and blood on your tongue under the mask of lowly bread and wine.
And in this He looses that very tongue. He opens your ears with His Word, looses your tongue that you would proclaim Him to the lost and broken world. He makes you a mask by which you serve your neighbor in your vocations, in your care for them. He makes you a mask by which He makes Himself known as you too speak that Word to the world. In other words, He makes you a mask for Himself by which He visits the world as well.
Of course, on the last day, many will look at His return and say, “O Lord, with your mask on I didn’t recognize you.” But by His grace He has opened your ears to Him now. Cling to the word He speaks then as that Word brings you freedom, brings you healing, brings you the promise of eternal life. Cling to that Word as you seek to cling to Him, because it is the mask He wears to hide so that He can reveal Himself to you. Cling to that Word that would know Him that you would be with Him forever in His Kingdom. Amen.
Grace, mercy, 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.
Throughout history you see moments again and again that are often called “watershed moments.” Named after the divides that you see in nature where water flows one way on one side of the divide and a different way on the other side. In US history you could see this with the gunshot in Concord Massachusetts, that moment when the tension building began to spill over and the dam of the American Revolution started to burst open. Or there would be the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Before that, the US was hemming and hawing about what should be done with WWII. After it, there was no question. I was reading online something that was saying that we are experiencing even experiencing a watershed moment right now.
In the Gospel Lesson, we see Jesus describing a watershed moment. I don’t mean the cleansing of the temple, though that certainly is important in His ministry. No, I’m talking about what He says in His sorrow over Jerusalem: “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.’” I am assuming you hear what He’s describing. He’s describing not the cleansing of the Temple, per se. No, He’s talking about the coming destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. by the Romans.
If you aren’t familiar with that, you see what happened was that the Judeans, the Jews living near Jerusalem at that time, often pushed against the rule of the Roman Empire there. They wanted their freedom, they wanted to have autonomy, and the Empire wouldn’t allow it. In some ways, although they had allowed the worship in the Temple to continue relatively freely, they still required oversight of it and pressured against it in many ways with taxes and the like. Things kept building until finally the army was sent in and in 70, the Romans destroyed the Temple altogether. And they did so like Jesus said. There was no stone left upon another. The Romans tore things apart thoroughly—not just in anger, but because there was a lot of gold in the Temple, and they wanted to get it out.
This was a watershed moment. This Temple was the heart of worship for the Jewish People. This was where they offered sacrifices to the Lord. This is where they came to pray—as it says in the reading this is a “house of prayer.” This in fact, the Old Testament said, was where the Lord would meet with them, where He would bless them as their God with them as His people. Since that Temple has been destroyed in 70 A.D. it has not been rebuilt. In fact, on the mount where it once stood, as I’m sure most of you know, there now stands the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim mosque. Before the destruction of the Temple, the Jews worshipped there, now they worship in synagogues. Before it, the water flowed one way, now it flows a different way.
Of course, as we look at Jesus’ words, what does He say about this watershed moment in the destruction of the Temple? Why did it happen? Because they “did not know the time of their visitation.” So what does that mean? What is this visitation? This visitation is when God came to them, when God visited them. How so? In the flesh of Christ. You see they went to the Temple because they heard God’s promise to meet them there. In the flesh of Christ, He met them there in a way that no one alive had experienced. In the flesh of Christ, He came to them in the fulfillment of His greatest promise to them. And what was that promise? That promise was peace. In the flesh of Christ, He came revealing ,” the things that make for peace!” as Jesus put it. But they didn’t see it as such.
You see, the Jews at the time were so consumed in their expectation that the Messiah would come and save them politically, that He would bring to them earthly peace, that they completely overlooked what His real job was: to bring peace with God by the forgiveness of their sins. Look at what Zechariah said when he sang about God’s promises with John the Baptist: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people… And you, child [that is John the Baptist], will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Do you hear that visitation in there? Visitation for what? For redemption, for salvation, for the forgiveness of our sins, because of God’s mercy, bringing us light in the darkness and in the shadow of death. And guiding our feet where? Into the way of peace. This is Jesus, coming to the people, visiting them to bring the peace, not on earth, but peace with God; peace in the forgiveness of their sins. Why? Because that’s the problem. Ruthless rulers, oppression by outside forces, poor leadership from the government, that’s not the problem. Are those problematic? You bet! Should they exist? No! But what’s the real problem? Sin. Sin is the problem. And what’s the solution? The forgiveness of that sin in the visitation of Christ.
There’s the real watershed moment. Before Christ comes, there’s only the hope of this Savior to come. After He comes, the old age of sin, of death, of the tyranny of the devil. All of that is done. All of that is crucified with Him. All of that is buried in His rock hewn tomb, laid to rest on the Sabbath after that Good Friday. All of that is overcome in His resurrection on Easter. There’s where the water flows the other way. It now flows in life, in peace, in victory. Even still it doesn’t look like it at times. We look around and it looks like it’s still flowing the old way. It’s like one of those pictures where something looks like it’s bigger or smaller than it is. I saw something like that on Facebook this week: two people throwing a ball. The one looked huge the other diminutive. Then they switched places and the person who looked huge shifted to looking diminutive and the small person looked twice as large as the other. It was a matter of perspective. Our perspective now is twisted. These things of God seem to be hidden from us. But this watershed moment is the reality.
In fact, as I say this, I think this a good time to address this issue of how all of this, this visitation, this watershed moment there, and the watershed moment of the destruction of the Temple, how does this apply to us? Well I think we can learn from it. Even though 70 A.D. was almost 2000 years ago, it has something to tell us. It can serve as a warning not to ignore our own watershed moments.
What do I mean? I said that I’ve heard people say we’re experiencing a watershed moment now. Is that it? Well, I think we could apply it to this. Sure. In particular, that comment was made about race relations, and as I’ve said before, it’s good for us to take the opportunity to make sure that we’re caring for our neighbors. The Old Testament Lesson makes that point: “truly execute justice one with another… do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place… do not go after other gods to your own harm… [do not] trust in deceptive words to no avail… [do not] steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known.” That warning was from the Lord with direct attention to the Temple, but it’s true no matter where we are. This is good for us to be reminded of this call, and to hear you need to do this. Do it.
I’ve also heard some people saying that this could be a watershed moment indicating the return of Jesus is coming. They’ll look at things like Revelation and Jesus’ words and say that it sure sounds like it is. We’ve got pestilences and earthquakes. Disasters upon disasters. And I say, I won’t tell you that it certainly must be, and I’ll say that the Church throughout her history has always thought their time was when Jesus would be coming. But I will say we should follow suit and look as though it could be.
But I’ll say all the more, we should look at this in view of our own watershed moment—and pardon the bad pun here, but I mean a literal watershed moment: your baptism. What does your baptism tell you? Think about what Luther says: “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” It tells you that as Jesus visited to you in those waters with the Word, you should be aware of the peace that He brought to you. That Word speaks to you that you, even you, would know on this day the things that make for peace!
In other words, it tells you to learn from the lesson of the Israelites. Look at that lesson. They were crushed in judgment because they rejected the visitation of Christ, the true Temple. Learn not to do that. Examine yourself, repent yourself of all the ways that you don’t live according to His words, that you don’t bring justice to the world and care for the oppressed. Repent and do those things. Repent of how you look at politics and expect the messiahs to arise there and save you. Repent of how you don’t trust that this Jesus will give you the comforts you want in this life, or the care you think you need from the coronavirus, or the wealth you want from your career. Repent of how you worry about comforts, coronaviruses, and careers more than you consider with joy of the visitation of this Lord for you. Repent of not wanting to be with Him when your life ends, but being more concerned with being with loved ones. Repent of not wanting His return because you fear His judgment. Repent of not trusting Him and that He is good and knows what is best for you.
That’s the reality that we all face isn’t it? We fear this visitation because we fear judgment—rightly so because of our sin. But we don’t trust that watershed moment, where He said to you that you are His, that His cross was death for your sin, that your life is in His resurrection. It’s not in these earthly things, it’s not in all of the things I listed, but in Him. That’s what He wants for you Christian and it’s good because He is good. He wants you to trust Him. He wants you to rest in that. He wants you to know the things that make for peace. That is, He’s telling you look to the moments around and think the He could return at any moment. And He wants you to look at every watershed moment as one pointing you to that hope. That’s what it is, the greatest hope of all. It is the hope that will carry you over that watershed moment of His return, when everything will be so totally different than it is now. But it will be different in the ways that are joyous and best for you. That will be the watershed moment, where all water flows from His eternal river of life, giving life to you in Him forever. 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 previously read.
Of all of the parables that our Lord Jesus speaks, I think we can agree that this is one of the most, if not the most puzzling of them all. Usually, as we hear a parable, we can fairly easily draw from it a lesson to apply without having to wrestle too much with what’s being said. This isn’t so much the case for today’s. And why?
Well, it’s not so much the parable that’s hard to understand, is it? Not really, right? After all, let’s consider this. There’s this man who’s been cheating his boss. His boss finds out and is going to fire him, and so he cheats him more to make himself look good and give himself a golden parachute when he leaves. That’s not so hard to understand, is it? No. That’s business. In fact, you can see that a bit in the master’s response, in that the master commends the manager. You can hear his understanding, “It’s not personal, it’s business.” Right? But what’s shocking is that our Lord Jesus, the perfect sinless man, the holy God in the flesh of man is using this manager as a positive example. It doesn’t seem right at all, does it? So, what’s with that?
Well to start let me dig into this a bit more in terms of things we should notice. First of all we see that this landowner must be wealthy. That’s probably not a shocking insight, but the signs are that this is a really large scale operation he’s got here. You see it in the large amounts of debt—over 800 gallons of oil from the first debtor, over 6,500 gallons of grain for the second. I saw figures in reading about this that would have said the grace shown by the manager to the debtors would have equated to the daily wages of one worker for about three years, just for these two debtors. And it’s clear there’s more. So this is a large operation, you can see it from that, you can see it from the lack of oversight of the manager. It seems like he’s got housing provided for. He’s got his residence given to him, since he has to find a new house to live in. And apparently he has status here too, since begging would be such a shift for him. So there’s that context. There’s also the context there of this owner.
Look at how owner deals with the manager. He gives the manager time to get the books together—which is when the manager pulls off his shenanigan. The owner also doesn’t get angry about it. He maybe is upset, but it’s not as though he pursues his right to legal action against the manager. And this would be perhaps be logical because managers had often been raised in the households of their landowner. They were trusted by the owners—that’s why it makes sense that there’s a lack of oversight too. These two were likely close. So the manager and his relationship to the owner is important.
Then you have the outcome. This is a win, win, win. It’s a win obviously for the manager. He gets his safety net, which motivated the whole thing in the first place. He wins. The debtors win too. They get the break on their debt. The owner gets a bit of a win too. Even though his business might suffer now, this can help in the future. It could pay big dividends for people who might want to do business with him. Or if these are internal debtors, those living on his land, that might motivate them to want to reap greater harvests for a kind owner. So, it helps his reputation too. So that’s all contextual stuff, that makes sense.
But what about the part that doesn’t? What about the part where our sinless, holy Lord is commending—or seemingly commending this behavior? Well, let’s consider what he’s actually saying? Is he telling people to go out and defraud their employers? He’s actually not. He’s not telling them to steal, he’s not telling them to abuse those in authority over them. No, what does he say? The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. Ok, but what does that mean?
It means that he’s telling the disciples to look at how people use wealth to protect their own interests. How this manager was shrewd enough to manipulate the system of his master’s wealth to make sure he was taken care of. This manager got these guys a good enough deal that he’ll have people to live off of for a long time if need be. They’ll be glad to see this shrewd man one after another. If he outstays his welcome in one place—and as a note hospitality was a really big thing in that culture. If he exhausted the hospitality of one, he had another place to go. And another. And another. Jesus is saying, look at how much shrewdness he was able to apply to that.
In our day, we could perhaps make the example of how we are wise about our earthly resources. Sometimes, to a fault we are good about taking care of ourselves materially speaking. How many of us in our day and place—and maybe even personally amongst the church—how many of us make sure we put our contribution to our 401k before we donate to the proclamation of the Gospel or to those who have no food? How many of us make sure we pay cable bills before we give to the Lord and His kingdom?
Or look at our reactions to the coronavirus. So many are terrified of the consequences of it. I want to be clear I am not advocating that we not wear masks, or follow things that seem to aid in the care of our neighbor, protecting them from infection. But look at the fear that surrounds this all over. Where is our hope? Is our hope in the temporal or in the eternal? Christians, if we die starving to death, we have the eternal feast with our Lord. If we die at the hands of a virus—or even cancer or a heart attack, or whatever will finally be our end since it’s inevitable—we have the promise of the resurrection of our very body. Is that our hope or not?!
Again, I’m not advocating that we be totally irresponsible. I have seen how making sure there is a savings for retirement can help care for the neighbor, or looking at things like social distancing, how it prevents the spread of a serious illness. But look at what our Lord is saying! Serve Him and His ends. Use even your earthly resources to do so.
As I say that about our hope, look even more at what He says: No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. As he speaks of money there, I’m extrapolating that to the temporal versus the eternal, but it’s true in either case. You can’t serve two masters. You can’t serve the earthly and eternal. Cling to one and despise the other.
To think of those words a bit, you will grab on, you will latch on to one for comfort, for hope, for security. The other one you will look down upon and despise. You will hold fast to one. You will concern yourself with it. You will cleave to it. The other you will not be concerned with. You will look down on it. You will regard it in an unseemly fashion.
Think about that in these terms. When you love money and cling to it, what happens when you hear your Lord telling you to be generous? On the one hand you probably feel guilty that you’re not generous enough. At that point do you despise the money, or do you despise Jesus for telling you to give more away. Or what about time? How do you use time? When you hear the call to hear His Word to take time for prayer and devotion. Do you despise the lack of time you have, or despise the call to take limited time for something seemingly so impractical and ineffective—or maybe just seemingly boring. Or what about pleasures? Do you despise that Jesus calls you to not get drunk, or not commit adultery, or not partake in over-indulgence, or do you feel guilt about how you do?
It’s very convicting, isn’t it? It’s convicting because of where our hearts should be, but where they aren’t. I say that because the reality to all of those questions is probably mixed. Sometimes, I probably despise Jesus that He calls me to take time, to take money, to deny myself for the sake of His kingdom. Other times I feel guilt and shame for it. So what are we to do?
Well, as I have been talking about the context of the story, there’s one thing I haven’t emphasized. I’ve alluded to it, but haven’t mentioned it outright. That’s the mercy of the owner. The owner is merciful, and he likes that reputation. You can tell it. You can tell it because he’s slow in taking the books back from the manager. You can tell it in that he doesn’t pull back on the mercy that the manager shows the debtors. In fact, although it’s not Jesus direct point in the story—Jesus’ direct point in the story is for us as Christians to use money to be generous to others that they would be willing to hear of the mercy of our Father in heaven—but the point could be extrapolated for us to trust in the mercy of God just as the manager trusted in the mercy of the landowner. He played this situation in such a way that he knew would work because of the owner’s mercy. He knew the owner well, and he knew the result that would come.
How can we have hearts that aren’t drawn away from the temporal concerns that can so easily wear us down—wear us down in the midst of viruses and economic concerns and political unrest? We can see that the things of this world are to be despised, and that we should use them as means to gather treasure where it really matters. We can see that the things now are only on loan from the One who made them in the first place. How can we have hearts that are drawn away from the temporal concerns? By having hearts that rely on the mercy of our Father in heaven who rightly owns everything.
And how do we have those hearts? When we hear of His mercy over and over and over. When we hear of how gracious He is to us. When we hear that He is the One who in Jesus could have enjoyed palaces and riches and feasts, but sacrificed that life that we could enjoy them eternally with Him. In other words, when we hear of the God who knew our selfishness, our inclinations to cling to the world despising Him, but despised all of that to cling to us. He clung to us even unto His death on the cross, rising again for our eternity.
Yes Christian, He has despised all of that to cling to you. And He clings to you as He absolves you. He clings to you as He baptized you, making you His own. He clings to you as He feeds you with the foretaste of that eternal feast in His body and blood. Cling to this One, this owner, this merciful one. Cling to Him and despise the world. Cling to Him in His mercy. Cling to Him and despise the temporal things that will pass away. Cling to Him because He clings to you. 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, 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.