Be On Your Guard Against False Prophets (Pentecost 9)


Be On Your Guard Against False Prophets

How do you know the difference? When I was a child we used to visit the ranch where my mom grew up. So, if you want to know what this ranch is like, picture rugged hills, sage brush, dry sun and dust. And mom would send us outside to play. But she would say, “Watch out for rattlesnakes.” And then, we’d begin to run out of the house and then she’d say, “Watch out because they can look like the sage brush and dirt.” And we were so happy to get out of the ranch house and play that we didn’t ask the simple but important question: how do you know the difference between the snake and the dirt? We have the same sort of challenge here what Jesus says to us this morning. In Matthew 7, we read: “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 CSB17)

Jesus lets us know that there are false prophets out there. And the problem is that, you’re supposed to take note of them and avoid them, but they blend in to their surroundings. They look like sheep, but on the inside they are hungry wolves. So how do you tell the difference? Jesus tells us: 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:16–20 CSB17)

Be on your guard against false prophets. And how do we know the difference between the wolf and the sheep? Jesus says, look for fruit. So what then is the fruit Jesus is speaking about? Is it figs, dates, cantaloupe, or watermelons? No it’s his relationship to what he is here to share. A prophet’s fruit is his love for God’s word. If you ask a plumber about pipes, his face will glow with joy. If you ask an electrician about lighting fixtures, you’ll hear more than we ever wanted to know about candlepower and wiring problems. If you speak to a pastor and a prophet, what should you expect to find: a love for God’s word.

And that love for God’s word should show itself in two ways. First, does he know God’s word. A prophet’s and a pastor’s life is dedicated to knowing and growing in God’s word. That’s not just his job—that’s his joy. Years ago I heard a sermon where repeatedly in the sermon, the pastor said, “well, I’m no theologian, but…’” That’s like hearing your doctor say, “Well, I’m no physician, but your heart looks too big.’” You would go to a different doctor, wouldn’t you? The same is true of prophets and pastors. The fruit you look for is not just a deep learning, but also a deep love of learning God’s word.

Look for fruit. Does that prophet or pastor love God’s word enough to know it? But also, does that prophet or pastor love God’s word enough to share it? The false prophet is the one who avoids clear questions. Now, here is where I need to give some more background and context. A pastor’s life is a little different than your own. When you get to know people, they ask what you do for a living. But I would guess that when you tell them what you do for a living you then don’t get asked a whole bunch of questions about theology. A pastor and a prophet does. And usually you get asked twelve questions in the span of of 30 seconds. So you cannot answer all the questions. But you do have to pick the one question that person needs an answer to and tackle it. And if the person who asks the question needs correction because they are wrong about a theological topic, you don’t dodge the issue, but instead you address it. And as a pastor and a prophet, you do this for two important reasons. First, you do this to warn them. In bible, the Lord pictures it this way when he is speaking to the prophet, Ezekiel: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman over the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, give them a warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but you do not warn him—you don’t speak out to warn him about his wicked way in order to save his life—that wicked person will die for his iniquity. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. 19 But if you warn a wicked person and he does not turn from his wickedness or his wicked way, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have rescued yourself.” (Ezekiel 3:17–19 CSB17)

Notice the point that God makes to us in these words. The prophet’s role is to warn people against their wicked ways. And the Lord tells Ezekiel that if he doesn’t, then the Lord will hold him responsible for their sins. Notice how that changes how we view the pastor. The pastor is not the life-coach. The prophet is your friend, but he is not your buddy. And he is not your motivational speaker. He is the watchman who has to warn you of wickedness. The same is true with doctors, isn’ it? If a doctor knows that you have cancer and then hides the fact, he will get sued, and you might die. Much worse can happen if the prophet and pastor does not love you enough to warn you.

So the faithful prophet shares God’s word by warning. But the faithful prophet also shares God’s word by saving people through it. God’s word tells us: 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:13–16 NIV11-GKE)

Notice what the faithful prophet does. With God’s word he warns people. But what does he also do with God’s word? He saves them. And that’s what happens here Sunday after Sunday. Week after week you come here, like me, with so many sins—so many times God’s word said, “do not!”—But you did. And there were so many times God’s word said, “do this!”—but you did the opposite. And what have all of your pastors done? Each of them has said, “as a called servant of Christ, I forgive you of your sins.” Each of them has baptized you and reminded you of your baptism, where in those waters of baptism God saved you from your son. Month after month, your pastor gave the Lord’s supper to you, where along with bread and wine, you received Jesus’ true body and blood. And why was that given to you? It was given to you for the forgiveness of sins.

God has given you one pastor after another to share God’s word with you, so that you would be saved from your sins. But if you reflect on that fact at all, you end up where these next words lead us. What about all the false teachers? What about the snakes that blend into the dust, the wolves in sheep’s clothing? Who will bring them to justice and deal with their destruction? Jesus tells us: 21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matthew 7:21–23 CSB17)

Jesus asks you to look for fruit. What will he look for from every prophet on the last day? He will look for faith. Does he know them and do they know him—that’s what Jesus will look for. These are words of comfort for us when we look out and see that the biggest obstacle in the way of people getting into heaven is false teaching and false teachers. Who will bring them to justice? Who will deal with them—especially if they look so squeaky clean on the outside? God will. And these especially are words of comfort for those who have come out of false-teaching churches into faithful churches. And they are thankful that they are in solid, faithful churches. But they can’t help but look back. Who will guard God’s church against the false prophets in the church they left? Jesus will. For he tells us to be on our guard against false prophets. So we look for fruit. But he watches over his church and protects them. And on the last day, he will look for faith. Amen.

You Have Been Set Free (Pentecost 8)


You Have Been Set Free

But what does it mean? One of the interesting parts about speaking english is that you can say and use perfectly legitimate words in english, and yet, if you asked the question, “what does that mean,” you can’t really get an answer to that question. For example, if I say, “that was a redoubtable speech in every way,” you can be impressed with my words, but yet still end up asking yourself, “what does redoubtable mean?” What we love about the Holy Spirit is that he doesn’t just move the biblical authors to say a statement. No, instead, he also urges them to carefully explain what they say. So, in these words we learn that God has set us set us free. And then, Paul so carefully and eloquently explains that statement. In Romans 6, we read: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:18 NIV11-GKE)

You have been set free from sin. You have been set free for righteousness. But look at the time and care that Paul takes in explaining those facts to us: 19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.” (Romans 6:19–20 NIV11-GKE)

There was a time in your life when you were not a Christian. And in that time you were completely enslaved to sin. But even now as Christians, each of us has a sinful nature. And that sinful nature wants us to enslave ourselves to sin. And Paul wants us then to look at the kind and sort of slavery this is. He wants us to see the willingness of that slavery. He uses the picture of a free person who goes to another person and says, “Here I am; I want to be your slave and continually do what you want.” That’s what your sinful nature does to sin. Because of our sinful nature we go to sin and we say, “Here I am, I am willing to do what you want.” And in the words that follow Paul shows us what our lives look like when we go down that road of willingly, gladly following the urging and voice of our sinful nature: “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (Romans 6:21 NIV11-GKE)

Our willingness to enslave ourselves to sin leads to the results of that slavery. The first result is shame. Our sinful nature leads, urges, drives, and entices us to sin. And it so quickly leads to shame. And it’s the sort of shame we remember years later. Each of us can look back in our lives at times we lied, gossiped, and broke confidence. And it makes us ashamed even still to this day. That’s the first result. But the second result of this slavery is death. If we do not see this slavery for the sin it is then it leads and drags us to death—and not just physical death. If we do not repent of our sin and instead rejoice in it, it will lead to the eternal death of hell.

And that’s why it’s so important for us to remember that we have been freed from the slavery of sin. Our sin does not own us and we do not want it. Jesus freed us from the slavery of sin by enduring the consequences of our sins in our place. We gossip. We lie. We break confidence. But Jesus is the one who had all these sins committed against him. Jesus is the one who paid for them with his own death. And because of this we are free—really, truly free from sin. But Paul shows us another way in which we are free: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (Romans 6:22 NIV11-GKE)

We have been set free from sin. But notice what Paul teaches us here. We have been set free for righteousness. When God created faith in our hearts he gave to us a new nature alongside the old nature to wage war with it and to cling to God. And just as willingly, gladly, and joyfully as our old nature enslaved itself to sin, so also, our new nature willingly, gladly, joyfully serves God above.

And that leads us to ponder a profound truth: How can serving others be fulfilling? As Christians, we lead a life of service—or to use Paul’s words here, a willing slavery.1 For us, as Christians, we gladly give up our freedom to follow ourselves solely and exclusively, because, to us, it’s actually fun. When I think of this I think of the guy who had a little girl. And he wanted to spend time with his daughter. But he didn’t have enough in common with her. So what did he do? When he realized that she needed someone to braid her hair, he went “all in” and went to cosmetology school. And before he had a daughter he would have never thought of doing this. But after he has his daughter he gives up his time. He gives up his life. He gives up his freedom, for one reason: He loves his daughter. And the same is true with us. When the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts; When we see what Jesus has done to pay for our sin and what our Father has done to care for us, his great love for us moves us to serve him willingly, gladly, and joyfully. And that service—that slavery becomes fulfilling and even fun.

And so, my dear friends in Christ, it is so easy to throw those words around, “you have been set free.” But look at what they mean. Paul summarizes all these thoughts with these familiar words in verse 23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NIV11-GKE)

What you get from sin is death. But what you get as a gracious, undeserved gift from God is eternal life. With all this in mind, continue to run away from sin because you have been set free from its slavery. And continue to serve God by serving others. For you know the God who has set you free. Amen.

1 “ⲇⲟⲩⲗⲱⲑⲉⲛⲧⲉⲥⲇⲉⲧⲱⲑ̅ⲱ̅” (Romans 6:22 GNT-ALEX)

Can My Wrath Be Righteous (Pentecost 7)


Can My Wrath Be Righteous?

There’s always someone who does it better. If you put on your best shirt to and come to church, there always seems to be that guy who not only wears a shirt, but it’s the sort of shirt that has some fancy bible passage on it. If you make it through catechism class and barely memorize the Apostle’s Creed, she has both the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene memorized. If you bring a box of donuts to the potluck, that other person always seems to bring the homemade cake, made from scratch. There’s always someone who seems to do it better. That’s the place where these words begin in Matthew 5. We read: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20 CSB17)

It was hard to beat the Pharisees. If you fasted, they fasted longer. It was hard to beat the Scribes. If you memorized a part of the bible, they had vast portions of the bible already memorized. And in these words, Jesus was telling his people that their righteousness needed to go way and above the righteousness of the Pharisees and Scribes. And with these words, Jesus was showing them that the right attitude was far, far more important than the right action. What happens in the heart is far more important than what is done with the hands. And in all the words that follow he makes the point with a real-life example. We read: 21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire.” (Matthew 5:21–22 CSB17)

Can my wrath be righteous? That’s the question that Jesus makes us ask ourselves. Can we ever be angry and be right at the same time. And the simple and clear answer is: yes. I remember when I was in catechism class. And we public school kids hadn’t memorized anything before we entered catechism class. And week after week for about a month we put in half-hearted work with sad results. And our pastor, who was this kind and amazingly patient man, one day lost all that patience. And in a rare outburst of anger told us that we needed to learn our parts of the catechism. His anger burned. And what made it burn so brightly and why I still remember it today is because every word he said was right and righteous.

Can my wrath be righteous? The answer is: yes. But notice that here in these words, the answer can also be no. The Pharisees and Scribes did not murder with their hands. But they did murder with their hearts. They would not lay a hand on those around them to hurt them or harm them. But they hated them. And so, Jesus teaches them that righteousness is first and foremost a matter of the heart, not a matter of the hands.

And where does that leave us here this morning? It is impossible for us to look at these words and not see our sin. There have been times in our lives when we should have had righteous wrath. But we didn’t. And, yet, there have been times where the opposite was true. There have been times when we had wrath—so much wrath. But it wasn’t righteous wrath. There were those times when we murdered—not with our hands, but instead, with our hearts.

Jesus preaches these words to us destructively and deliberately. These words are not soft punches. These are hammer-blows meant to crush us. Jesus preaches these words so that each of us would realize that we cannot win. We cannot manage our anger appropriately. There are times that we should have righteous wrath, and it’s not there. There are times that we have wrath—but it’s definitely not righteous.

We look at ourselves and we see how much and how often we have sinned in both ways. And if, like me, you look at your soul and ask, “how can I get out of this trap,” then lift your eyes up and look to Jesus. There are times I should have had righteous wrath, but didn’t. But Jesus, he is the one who had perfect wrath in our place. Do you remember the time when he drove the money changers out of the temple. What always amazed me most about those words is the time involved. This wasn’t a sudden outburst of anger. No, it was a slow boil. He took the time to walk through the temple courtyard. And he took the time to slowly weave a whip. And when he saw how God’s people could not worship his Father anymore, he unleashed his wrath. But his anger was perfect. And what gives us so much comfort and hope is that his wrath was perfect in our place.

But what about the times we were full of wrath. But it was not righteous wrath? Then look to Jesus on Good Friday. Here in these words Jesus mentions that whoever hates his brother enough to say, “moron” to him is in danger of hellfire. But who is the one who endured the hellfire for all those people he was speaking to? Jesus was. We so very often cannot manage our anger. And even more so, we cannot master it. But Jesus had righteous anger in our place. And Jesus endured the righteous wrath that we deserved in our place to pay for our unmanaged and unmastered anger. But where do these words go from here? 23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him to the court, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:23–26 CSB17)

Can I have righteous wrath? As repentant children of God who know our sins are forgiven, notice what Jesus does. He gives us perfect and practical advice for our daily lives. So if we ask the question, “can I have righteous wrath,” the answer first of all is, yes. years ago I went to a wedding. And the pastor conducting the wedding gave one of the most muddled and confusing wedding sermons I had ever heard. And so, after the sermon, he offered up a prayer. And by that point I knew that from the lack of substance in the sermon the prayer wouldn’t be much better, so when all the others bowed their heads in prayer, I sat there in the back studying the people in the pews. The pastor opened up his prayer by calling on the “God of our many understanding.” In other words, he was saying that we all have different views of who God is and each is equally valid. Yikes! But it got worse. He told us, the congregation, to gather up our positive memories and energies and pool them together as a wedding gift to the bride and groom. And it only got worse from there. And what was amazing to see was one by one, Christians of different denominations lifting up their heads and refusing to pray with that pastor. I remember a dad looking up with this look of wrath and anger in his eyes and then reaching over to grab the hands of his children to make them stop praying. Those Christians, all at once, together, were so angry at what the pastor prayed, they all stopped together. But my friends in Christ, how did they know? How did they know that they had the right to be angry? How did they know if their anger was righteous anger? They heard the Good Shepherd’s voice speaking to them in his word. They read their bibles. They heard solid Christian sermons. And so they could be sure that their wrath was right and righteous. And the same is true for you. How do you know if your wrath is righteous? Read your bibles, come to church as your are right here.

But, my friends in Christ, what if the opposite is true. What if you lash out in wrath, but your wrath is unfounded? Then, take the advice Jesus gives here: be reconciled to your neighbor. And notice the urgency in these words. Jesus tells them to leave their gift right there and be reconciled to their neighbor. What does that mean for us? If you have wronged someone—you are in the wrong. And if you hold wrath and anger in your heart, then what should you do? Be reconciled with the person you have wronged. And when that happens, you will face the temptation to delay. You will want to find the right words. You will want to find the right time. No, instead, rush to be reconciled. Lay your sin at their feet. And, let me tell you as one who has had to do this more than once in my life, there is such shattering vulnerability in that action. But know this: The same Savior who died for your unrighteous wrath will be there for you and with you when you repent and try to reconcile with your brother or sister in the faith.

Can my wrath be righteous? Read God’s word and then the answer will be, “yes.” And for those times you fail, reconcile with the one you harmed. For your Savior who forgives you will shelter you and watch over you too. Amen.

All This Happens At God’s Word (Pentecost 6)


All This Happens At God’s Word

It went where I did not expect. We have a new house. And the previous owner planted a bunch of plants in the ground. So there are flowers I don’t know the names of blooming around our house. But in the front, there’s this bush. And seemingly, everywhere I look, it grows in directions I did not expect. Five, almost ten feet away, it’s sprouting up volunteers. This morning in Luke’s gospel we don’t look at a weed or an invasive bush. Instead we see the same pattern with God’s word. When God’s word is preached and heard is silently and hiddenly goes in many different directions. And so, in Luke 5, we read: 1 As the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear God’s word, he was standing by Lake Gennesaret. 2 He saw two boats at the edge of the lake; the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the land. Then he sat down and was teaching the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing. But if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.”” (Luke 5:1–5 CSB17)

In these words the disciples are at the beginning of their long journey of learning God’s word from Jesus. And Jesus is teaching the people from the boat. And these four disciples hear Jesus as they are fishing beside the boat. But at the end of his teaching time with the crowds, he tells Peter to put the boat out into the water and catch some fish. And Peter’s words here are fascinating. He tells Jesus that all throughout the night they didn’t catch anything. But—But, at your word, I will put out the nets again.1 These are some amazing words. Because at God’s word, faith was created in their hearts. And that faith naturally and beautifully followed. It might seem like a simple fact to focus on in a sermon. But it’s not. Every time a person across the street or on a bus confesses Jesus as his or her Savior, that is a reason for us to rejoice. For that faith did not come from them. Instead, it came from our Triune God. At God’s word Peter and his friends were given faith that followed. But what else happened? 6 When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’s knees and said, “Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man, Lord!” 9 For he and all those with him were amazed at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s partners.” (Luke 5:6–10 CSB17)

At God’s word they were given faith that followed. But what happened next? At God’s word, they failed. These words are shocking to us because they happend just the opposite of the way we might expect. We would expect that Peter would see this miraculous catch of fish and conclude, “If Jesus can do that to provide for my physical needs, just think of what he can do to provide for my spiritual needs.” But he does not. Instead of being convinced of forgiveness, he is convicted by fear. And when this happens, he begs Jesus to go away from him.

Peter failed. He had faith in Jesus, but it was a faith that needed to grow. It was a faith that needed to thoroughly understand the difference between Law and Gospel; sin and grace. In fact, it failed so much that he even accused himself of sins that he didn’t even commit. The words that Peter uses here for “sinner” is the the word for a “professional sinner.”2 It was the word used for those who, in order to make a living, directly and deliberately, went against God’s clear word, like tax collectors and prostitutes. Peter was a fisherman. There was nothing wrong with his occupation. It’s one thing to confess our sins. But it’s something else entirely to confess to sins that we are not guilty. And that’s where we are quite able to fail right along with Peter.

And so, let me ask you, how do you know? How do you know if you are feeling bad for a sin that is really a sin? Do you trust your conscience and your feelings? They can be misguided. Do you trust the power of your own reason? It can be mislead. How do you know if you have the right to feel guilty for what you are actually guilty of? the simple answer is this: study God’s word.’ Years ago there was a pastor in Utah I met. He shared God’s word with Mormons. And he told me that, more than anything else, the people who joined his church, loved to study the ten commandments. Month after month, and even year after that is what they loved to focus on. Why? Imagine if most of the sins you were told your entire life were not really sins? Imagine that you were told that drinking caffeine was a twisted, wicked sin. Wouldn’t you want to know what the truth was? So they studied God’s word with their pastor. And you have that same privilege.

So how do you know if that sin is really a sin? Study God’s word with your pastor. But also talk to your trusted friends. And here what I mean is people who read God’s word and know you and know God’s word well. And where there there are those times you are in doubt, as iron sharpens iron, so they will sharpen you with the truth you need to hear. And all of this happens at God’s word. At God’s word faith follows. At God’s word there are times that we fail. But, finally, what else happens at God’s word? 10 “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus told Simon. “From now on you will be catching people.” 11 Then they brought the boats to land, left everything, and followed him.” (Luke 5:10–11 CSB17)

At God’s word, Jesus removes our fear. Listen to those beautiful words that Jesus says to Peter: “Do not be afraid.” These are not wrath-filled, condemning words. Instead, these are words of comfort and compassion. These are words they would hear so many times throughout the next years. When they were terrified that Jesus would leave them as orphans, Jesus said, 1 “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1–2 CSB17) When Jesus rises from the dead and they are frightened and fearful that their sins are still not paid for and not forgiven, again they hear the words, 5 “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:5–6 CSB17)

Jesus removed their fear. And Jesus removes our fear. But after that what does Jesus do? He trained them and taught them to remove the fears of others—to properly apply law and gospel. And he does the same for us. Some months ago I saw a mom. And she had a bunch of children. And as little children do, they got into a number of disagreements throughout the day. And one after another, she would tell her children, “what do you say? Say to me, ‘I am sorry, mommy.’” And when they said this, she said, “I forgive you.” What was she doing? Just as surely as Jesus was training his disciples to set aside their expertise in applying nets to fish and instead, apply God’s word to people, this mom was doing the same. She making sure that when they felt bad, they felt bad for the right reasons. And, then, when they did, she made sure that she removed their fear of punishment. And one by one, child by child, when she said those words of forgiveness, they ran off without a care, sins forgiven, and even forgotten.

Look what happens at God’s word. At God’s word, by this miracle of faith, we follow. At God’s word, sad to admit, but true, we fail to apply it properly. And at God’s word, just as Jesus removes our fears, so to, we also remove the fears of others. Amen.

1 “ⲉⲡⲓⲇⲉⲧⲱⲣⲏⲙⲁⲧⲓⲥⲟⲩ” (Luke 5:5 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲁⲛⲏⲣⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲱⲗⲟⲥⲉⲓⲙⲓⲕ̅ⲉ̅” (Luke 5:8 GNT-ALEX)

Our Savior Loves Lifers (Pentecost 5)


Our Savior Loves Lifers

What about the other people? In Sunday school and in sermons we learn about a guy by the name of Naaman. We are told that he was a big man.1 2 Kings 5:1}} But he had leprosy. And we learn how he went to the man of God thinking that God would heal him because he was a big man. But, through Elisha, the Lord taught Naaman that healing and forgiveness is a gift from God not something earned or bought from God. We teach this to our children. We hear it preached in sermons. But what about the other person? At the beginning of this part of God’s word there is a slave girl. She lives in the northern part of Israel. And then what happens? There are raiding bands that go out from Aram. And they capture her family. And we don’t know what happened to the rest of her family. Did they die? Were they sold off into slavery to different people just as she was? In either case, she is left there alone with no family as a slave to a new master. And instead of running away or hating her master Naaman and God above, what does she do? She works hard to create a new family. She works hard so that her master Naaman knows the Lord just as much as she does. Where is her sermon? There are people in God’s word that get the spotlight. And there are others that fall into the background. Last week we had the opportunity to see our Savior’s love for the lost son. But what about the son who was not lost? So, in Luke 15, we read: 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in.” (Luke 15:25–28 NIV11-GKE)

Notice in these words that our Savior doesn’t just love the lost. He also really, truly loves lifers too. When I say, “lifers”, what I mean is long-time or even life-long Christians. And that is important for us to see because this is a man who needs our Savior’s love. The lost son comes home. He confesses his sin publicly and desperately in front of so many people. The father forgives him and embraces him. And then the party begins. But when all this was going on, where was the older son? He was out in the field.2 He didn’t see his brother’s confession. He didn’t see his Father’s care and compassion. He gets to the edge of the property, and he hears the sound of happy musical instruments and singing. He gets a little closer and he sees people dancing. So he calls over a servant boy and asks him what is going on. The servant shares the father’s joy and says that the brother was lost and now is found. And then, when the brother hears about this, what does he do? He does nothing. He just sits there. In my own mind I picture this at night. And I picture this big house in the middle. And there is the brother sitting there on the fence just where the light fails and the sound dims. He’s just sitting there sulking.

This is a man who needs to see our Savior’s love for him. For this man, just like us, is a lifer. And we see in him a progression from bad to worse. The first sin he committed is one of omission. He left out the good he should have done. If he had a problem with his father or with his brother he should have been a grown up and gone in and talked to his brother. But he didn’t. He just sat there on the fence and refused to go in. From that the second sin started: the sin of bitterness. The more he sits there the more he stews. And he hates his brother and even his father more and more.

It’s important for us to look at this older son—this lifer. For his sin is the same sin that tempts us today. The longer we are Christians the more of a temptation we have toward entitlement. We too commit this sin of omission. When people, our fellow Christians, say words that we do not like and they offend us, we owe it to them and to our God above to reach out to them and speak to them face-to-face. God’s word says, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:19 NIV11-GKE) Notice the point: a witness—someone who speaks about an issue face to face. God’s word says, ““If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” (Matthew 18:15 NIV11-GKE) Again, notice the point: we speak to each other face to face. And the great temptation we have as lifers—those who have been Christians for a long time if not even our entire life, is to conclude that these words don’t apply to us. And technology has not helped us in this area. You can go on Facebook and hear strange rants that go like this: “I wish some people would realize that hymns that are 1000 years old should stay 1000 years behind us.” Or you can hear the opposite, “I wish some people would realize that new songs don’t add anything to our worship. Nobody knows them and nobody can sing them.’” What’s the problem with this? We just like the lifer-brother are there sitting on the fence, letting that bitterness grow inside of us until it lashes out. And then through gossipy-third parties the truth comes to the person it is intended to arrive at.

So, with lifers there is a sin of omission that we can so easily fall prey to: concluding that we don’t need to actually speak to those around us face to face and person to person. But, on the other hand, there is also a temptation to commit a sin of commission: 28 So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15:28–30 NIV11-GKE)

The other real temptation we face as lifers, is to conclude that God owes us his grace. Notice how the older son speaks. He speaks of his life in his father’s house as slavery.3 And that is our great temptation too, to conclude that God owes us forgiveness along with food, shelter, and clothing. And from that sin flows another: When we conclude that God owes us his grace, we very quickly take the every day gifts our God gives to us for granted. Parts of God’s word that show us our sin become offensive. And parts of God’s word that show us how much our Savior saves us from our sin become boring. The blessings of baptism are forgotten and the Lord’s Supper quickly becomes a show instead of a sacrament.

This older son—this lifer needed to see our Savior’s love for him. And so do we. And in the final words we see this amazing love our Savior has for us lifers: 31 My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”” (Luke 15:31–32 NIV11-GKE)

The first detail we look at is what the father does. The lifer son is there sitting on the fence. And even though he does not need to, what does he do? He goes out to the son who is there sitting in the darkness on the fence. The father had every right to stay inside. After all, his son was lost, but now he is found. But what does he do? He goes out to the son sitting on the fence in the darkness. And he does the same to us. When we do not speak to others and instead that root of bitterness grows and then we gossip when we shouldn’t, through other Christians our Savior comes to us and brings us back again.

Then the father reminds the son that everything he has belongs to the son. The father doesn’t take away the gifts from the older son. The older son didn’t deserve the family and friendship that he had with his father. And he didn’t deserve the food, shelter, and clothing the father provided too. But the father loved the lifer son so much that he let him know that what belongs to the father belongs to the son.

And the same is true for us. We do not deserve the forgiveness and faith our Savior gives to us. But yet, out of his amazing grace, what belongs to Jesus is also ours. And not only the spiritual blessings, also the earthly blessings are ours too. The food, shelter, and clothing that we do not deserve our Father in heaven graciously showers on us.

But his love for us does not end there. The calf was the one who was slaughtered in the story. But Jesus was the one who was sacrificed in real life for us. All of this our Savior does for us so that we would know that it’s not just that lost that have our Savior’s love. It’s those long-time, even life-long Christians too that have his love. Our Savior Loves Lifers too. Amen.

1 הָיָ֣ה אִישׁ֩ גָּד֨וֹל

2 {\ath “ⲉⲛⲁⲅⲣⲱ·” (Luke 15:25 GNT-ALEX)

3 {\ath “ⲇⲟⲩⲗⲉⲩⲱⲥⲟⲓ” (Luke 15:29 GNT-ALEX)

Our Savior Loves The Lost (Pentecost 4)


Our Savior Loves The Lost

It’s worth the price. Years ago there was a man who had a daughter. And the daughter wanted to be a scientist when she grew up. When she was young he told her that she had to work hard and get good grades. And if she did this he would help her when she got into college. Years later, she graduated. And with her diploma in his hand he gave the dollar amount that he had paid in helping her with tuition. And with a huge smile on his face he said that it was worth every penny. This morning we find the same sort of pattern. Our Savior loves the lost. And he shows us this by telling us three stories that illustrate this fact. And the way we see how much he loves the lost is by showing us the cost. In Luke 15, we read: 1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”” (Luke 15:1–10 NIV11-GKE)

As we walk through these parables, notice the cost. A shepherd loses a sheep, then look at the cost. He risks the other 99 being attacked by a lion or bear to go out and get that one lost sheep. And with joy in his heart, he shows by his actions that it was worth the cost. It would have been easier to wait till morning. But she burns costly oil to find that coin.

This shows us an important truth: loving the lost means loving the cost. Jesus loves the lost. And that means that loving the lost will always be costly for the church. And our Savior expects that is we love the lost we will also love the cost. And yet we all face this temptation to pretend to love the lost and ignore the cost. One of the ways our Savior has chosen to show his love to the lost is by choosing and calling pastors to share that message of Christ’s love. And there is always this temptation then to say, “I love the lost but I’d like to not deal with the cost of having a pastor.” It’s unfair to have a church council ask and maybe even beg for a budget to be met. But there’s also the cost in time. Loving the lost is also costly in time. Years ago I remember taking two families through Adult Instruction Class. That takes so very much time. And I remember one of my members one of my members complaining that I wasn’t helping out enough at church. And that was my answer: if we love the lost, we also love the cost. And that means that there might be times when a pastor can’t be at the meeting or ministry you are involved because there’s a cost in showing love to the lost. For my own part the area I’ve struggled with is the ten percent of our budget that goes to missions. It’s ever-so-tempting for me to say, “I need to be paid and my church needs heat in the winter.” But then I am humbled by these words and the great cost shown in loving the lost.

Jesus’ love is costly. It’s costly for the church. But it’s even more costly for himself. We have these temptations to say we love the lost but then pretend there’s no cost. Is that how our Savior treated us? There was so much cost in Jesus finding you and he gladly and graciously paid it all. Look at what happened on Good Friday as Jesus paid for the sins you know you did. But what’s even more amazing is that he also paid for the sins you never knew you did at all. What cost he paid. What cost in time and energy the Holy Spirit spent on you. For he is the one who created faith in your hearts through the power of his word—not with commands and demands, but instead, with gentle promises of forgiveness. Look at the cost the Father spent in giving you parents. And for many of us here this morning, how many hours and years did they spend taking us to church amidst all our wrathful rebellion? And look at the great cost our Savior spent in training a pastor to teach you God’s word in catechism class or in Adult Instruction Class. If ever then you doubt the considerable cost involved in finding and keeping the lost, remember that you too were once lost. Then remember the cost your Triune God spent to gain you and give you his forgiveness. Our Savior loves the Lost. His love is costly. But as the words continue and other fact is preached to us: 11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:11–24 NIV11-GKE)

In the third story of those who are lost we meet a son who threw all his good gifts away. The father amazingly welcomes him back. But when he welcomes him, why does he put the ring on his finger and the robe on his back? He was doing this to let his son know that his status was returned to him. And that status would not change. Even though he threw away his sonship, the son could conclude and justly so, that he was a son once again. And why does he slaughter the fattened calf and through a long party into the dark hours on the night? He does this because he wants everyone to rejoice in pondering the fact that his son was once lost and now is found.

And my dear friends, the same is true for us. Our Savior’s love for us is continual and constant. Jesus had no reason to choose you. But he did. He had no reason to wash your sins away in those waters of baptism. But he did. He had no reason to teach you God’s word so that you were ready to receive the Lord’s Supper week after week, but he did. That fact and your status as “child of God” does not change.

And this is so important for us to dwell on because each of us has a sinful nature that wants us to conclude that it’s too good to be true. Not all that glitters is gold. And you cannot get anything for free. But that’s the exactly the point, isn’t it? It’s free for us. But it wasn’t free for our Savior. It was so costly for him. And because it was so costly for him, we can now conclude that it is true for us.

And not only is it true, he also wants us to bask in that fact. They killed the fattened calf and threw a long party. And there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than for the other 99. How amazing it is that our Savior Jesus in heaven along with so many angels rejoiced in the moment we knew who he was and trusted in him. And that rejoicing will be our joy when we meet him with our own eyes in heaven.

Our Savior Loves the Lost. His love is costly. His love is continual and constant. I urge you then to love the cost in loving the lost. And I urge you to remind yourself that you are found. And that fact cannot be taken from you. Amen.