All Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™
Numbers 21, New International Version
When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. 2 Then Israel made this vow to the Lord: “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy[a] their cities.” 3 The Lord listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.[b]
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[c] to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
10 The Israelites moved on and camped at Oboth.11 Then they set out from Oboth and camped in Iye Abarim, in the wilderness that faces Moab toward the sunrise. 12 From there they moved on and camped in the Zered Valley. 13 They set out from there and camped alongside the Arnon, which is in the wilderness extending into Amorite territory. The Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 That is why the Book of the Wars of the Lord says:
“. . . Zahab[d] in Suphah and the ravines,
the Arnon 15 and[e] the slopes of the ravines
that lead to the settlement of Ar
and lie along the border of Moab.”
16 From there they continued on to Beer, the well where the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together and I will give them water.”
17 Then Israel sang this song:
“Spring up, O well!
Sing about it,
18 about the well that the princes dug,
that the nobles of the people sank—
the nobles with scepters and staffs.”
Then they went from the wilderness to Mattanah,19 from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth,20 and from Bamoth to the valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland.
21 Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites:
22 “Let us pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.”
23 But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. He mustered his entire army and marched out into the wilderness against Israel. When he reached Jahaz, he fought with Israel. 24 Israel, however, put him to the sword and took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites, because their border was fortified. 25 Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them, including Heshbonand all its surrounding settlements. 26 Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken from him all his land as far as the Arnon.
27 That is why the poets say:
“Come to Heshbon and let it be rebuilt;
let Sihon’s city be restored.
28 “Fire went out from Heshbon,
a blaze from the city of Sihon.
It consumed Ar of Moab,
the citizens of Arnon’s heights.
29 Woe to you, Moab!
You are destroyed, people of Chemosh!
He has given up his sons as fugitives
and his daughters as captives
to Sihon king of the Amorites.
30 “But we have overthrown them;
Heshbon’s dominion has been destroyed all the way to Dibon.
We have demolished them as far as Nophah,
which extends to Medeba.”
31 So Israel settled in the land of the Amorites.
32 After Moses had sent spies to Jazer, the Israelites captured its surrounding settlements and drove out the Amorites who were there. 33 Then they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei.
34 The Lord said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have delivered him into your hands, along with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.”
35 So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land.
All Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™
As sons and daughters of the Lutheran Reformation, today we celebrate the fact that the truth of the Gospel has set us free. The truth is the saving grace of Christ Jesus our Savior. He has pierced the darkness of law-based work righteous religion. It is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the scriptures alone that we see that salvation is found in Christ Alone!
This is the final Sunday in the season of Pentecost. Today we reflect on what this season in the church year means. Gong all the way back to the beginning, we saw the Holy Spirit ignite the fire of faith and understanding in the hearts of the Apostles. Faith that is worked by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel allows us to see the truth of God’s Word, that same faith spurs us on to serve our God, and that faith sees sternal life as our final Goal.
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
UNITY OF THE PROPER:
The connection this week is obvious between the 1st lesson and the gospel. The only real difference between what is being said is the order in which it’s said. Jesus begins by speaking about the blessed righteous and concludes with the woes of the wicked and Jeremiah is the opposite. The theme that runs through both is who does the Lord bless and who does the Lord curse? The answer is one that is foreign to conventional wisdom of the World. Love your enemy, rejoice in suffering, be patient in trials and afflictions. How? Stay in the Word, cling to it. It is there that we see our savior, it is there that we learn of eternal life, it is there we build our faith. For this reason I’m preaching on Psalm 1 this week. It is the first thing taught in the psalms. And the Psalm resounds with the teachings of both Jeremiah and Jesus. It was a song that taught an important truth and one that Jeremiah as the son of a priest and Jesus the son of God would’ve known very well.
1 אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי־הָאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֤ר׀ לֹ֥א הָלַךְ֮ בַּעֲצַ֪תa רְשָׁ֫עִ֥ים וּבְדֶ֣רֶךְb חַ֭טָּאִים לֹ֥א עָמָ֑ד וּבְמֹושַׁ֥ב לֵ֝צִ֗ים לֹ֣א יָשָֽׁב׃
Blessed the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked or in the way of sinners he does not stand and in the assembly of the scorner he does not sit.
Grammar Note: There is the idea of a progression here, Walking, (הָלַךְ֮) standing (עָמָ֑ד) and sitting (יָשָֽׁב). The picture is of a man who slowly begins to listen to the wicked. Also, it is singular, the image of a man of God who is outnumbered by his enemies.
This is the very first psalm. The message herein would’ve been well known both by Jeremiah and Jesus. Essentially, it is the same message that we here in both the 1st lesson and Gospel for this Sunday. The poetry is very telling here and speaks volumes.
The thought that immediately comes to mind here is Luther’s comment about the bird flying over your head as opposed to a bird making a nest in your hair. Here though, it’s a bit different. A man may begin by walking along and talking, entertaining the ideas about what the wicked say, but still has the ability to veer away from them. But the picture the Psalmist paints here is of a guy who not only walks, with the wicked for a time, but then stands amongst sinners, and finally becomes one who ridicules as he firmly sits or literally dwells amongst the scorners.
2 כִּ֤י אִ֥ם בְּתֹורַ֥ת יְהוָ֗ה חֶ֫פְצֹ֥ו וּֽבְתֹורָתֹ֥ו יֶהְגֶּ֗ה יֹומָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה׃
But rather, in the Law of the Lord is his delight. And on his Law he mutters day and night.
The word “mutters” here is interesting in contrast to how this psalm opened. It’s seemingly humble. It’s not the loud boisterous blathering of a scorner. One has the image of someone quietly reading through Scripture here. Sitting down and pondering, muttering through the verses of God’s Word is where this person finds solace. Not in the seeming excitement of the wicked.
3 וְֽהָיָ֗ה כְּעֵץ֮ שָׁת֪וּל עַֽל־פַּלְגֵ֫י מָ֥יִם אֲשֶׁ֤רa פִּרְיֹ֨ו׀ יִתֵּ֬ן בְּעִתֹּ֗ו וְעָלֵ֥הוּ לֹֽא־יִבֹּ֑ול bוְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה יַצְלִֽיחַb׃
And thus he’s like a tree transplanted on a canal of water which its fruit it gives in season and its leaves wither not and all which he does prospers
Qal, pass. Pt. – “transplanted” NOTE: NOT planted! Rather Transplanted! God plants us by streams of water. Out from the roots of sin, and planted by a CANAL! A place where there is always water.
Noun – but this is not a river that run the risk of a dry season or drought. Rather it’s a canal, one that is artificially fed like an irrigation ditch that is specifically meant to supply water even when the rest of the land is dried out.
In the first verse we are shown that the wicked plants themselves down amongst their ilk. The second verse is a progression of thought to a quiet moment of a person reading scripture. And this third verse is an illustration of what that looks like poetically. The believer has been taken by the LORD and planted in the Word. That word, is endless water.
4 לֹא־כֵ֥ן הָרְשָׁעִ֑יםa כִּ֥י אִם־כַּ֝מֹּ֗ץ אֲֽשֶׁר־תִּדְּפֶ֥נּוּ רֽוּחַb׃
Not so the wicked since they’re like chaff which is blown by the wind.
Continuing on with this plant imagery, the believer is planted and firmly embedded and not driven about. The wicked, the unbelievers, are tossed about by every light breeze. Their minds are fickle and can never rest as they endlessly search about for answers. They search after the moral or the virtuous in vain. What is the point of virtue for the sake of virtue alone? With a morality that can change based on a human will or feeling or impulse, virtue is relative and subject to change.
5 עַל־כֵּ֤ן׀ לֹא־יָקֻ֣מוּ רְ֭שָׁעִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֑ט וְ֝חַטָּאִ֗ים בַּעֲדַ֥תa צַדִּיקִֽים׃
Therefore, the wicked will not rise in the judgment or the sinner in the assembly of the righteous.
- Not “amad” not standing, rather rising, they will not be able to stand, they won’t even be able to get up…
6 כִּֽי־יֹודֵ֣עַ יְ֭הוָה דֶּ֣רֶךְ צַדִּיקִ֑ים וְדֶ֖רֶךְ רְשָׁעִ֣ים תֹּאבֵֽד׃
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
THOUGHTS – v. 5-6
The poem ends the way it began only from a different angle. Instead of the wicked standing and walking, they are physically able to stand up in the presence of God’s judgment. Nor can the sinner be considered able to even stand in the presence of the righteous. They are blown about like chaff, remember! That way will be blown away and forgotten.
Malady – The temptation to slowly but surely give in to the council of the wicked. To take the wide and comfortable path. To see virtue as an end in and of itself – that is the fools road. There is no solid soil there, nothing to sink roots into.
Virtue – remaining connected to the vine, drinking in and loving the Word of God.
CURE – Believers have been planted, transplanted that is, by God in his Word. Here we hear of our salvation in Jesus. Here we hear of eternal life. Here we learn, because of the aforementioned, how to love our neighbor. It’s not virtue for the sake of virtue! Rather, virtue for the sake of Jesus.
Take the Road less traveled.
- Resist Sin
- Love the Word
- Bear fruit
First Sunday of End Time
Heavenly Father, to you we commend our lives and our spirits, you have saved us, you faithful God. Amen. (A variation of Luther’s deathbed prayer.)
Fellow Christians who stand facing the flames. In Psalm 26 King David writes, “Vindicate me, Lord, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered. Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.” Why did David say this? Is he being stuck up and self-righteous? No, the Bible says that David was a man after the Lord’s own heart. He knew that faith is like gold, it gets refined in the hottest of fires. Trials make you lean even more on God. David is praying for trials so that his faith and trust in God might be stronger, more steadfast, or refined! What a bold and almost reckless prayer.
I think this type of thing might be totally lost on us in the culture that we live in. We always want to take the path of least resistance. Just the thought of discomfort or shame to the ever important “I” is enough to make us cringe and hope that those unpleasant things might not happen to us. When you stand up for Jesus at school or work, when you have the inevitable discussion about religion with a close friend the mood can get pretty heated. You have to decide if you are going to stay and feel the burn.
I think it’s pretty obvious that if left to our own attitudes and devices we would turn tail and run from the first smell of smoke. But we are not alone; we are not left to our own powers. We see this morning from the account in the 3rd chapter of Daniel, three men who faced their fire with confidence. It was God who gave them the courage in their confession and it was God who saved them. God tells us the same thing in his word today Face your fire with confidence! 1. God will give you courage 2. God will save you
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego really had everything to lose here. They were feeling the heat in more than one way! They were in powerful positions. The King liked them. They were wealthy and intelligent. Do you remember the story from your Sunday School day? These guys weren’t no bodies! By the hand of God they were raised up to prominent positions in the Babylonian government. These men were chosen by Nebuchadnezzar to act as ambassadors to captive Israel. He hoped that there would be a monkey see, monkey do thing going on.
So if Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego bowed down to this golden image of the King who would care! Really, by bowing down they secure their position with the King, and would the people know better? Convert today repent tomorrow! But these three men knew that their God was not made from gold and poured out of a smelter. They had come to know the powerful reality of their God. They would have remembered the miraculous story of how the LORD delivered his people from the false gods of the Egyptians. They would have known about how he showed his power over the elements by parting the Red sea, sending manna, quail and water from rocks. Yes, they knew their loving and powerful God who is and was always with his people. They were steadfast and determined to remain loyal to the God who had the power to rescue them, one way or the other.
What gave them the courage to confess? It was their loving God’s power displayed in their lives and in the lives of the other Israelites. And it was this God given faith that led them to say, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” They would not be swayed by a powerful king, the peer pressure of seeing even some of their countrymen bow down or the threat of a fiery death.
So when is the last time someone told you to bow down and worship? Maybe there wasn’t a huge golden statue. I think that there are a good number of things in our society that have achieved “god-like” status. I think we all know the obvious ones, love of money or possessions. But what about those that are a bit more subtle.
There is a prevailing attitude these days that God is dead or never existed in the first place. Scientists or scholars with a lot of letters after their name will flat out call you stupid because you believe in Jesus. These men are followed by thousands of people, many of whom are our friends, family or co-workers. Their message sounds attractive, logical and reasonable. “What does this guy who died 2000 years ago have anything to do with you or me?” They will get pretty fired up if you start talking to them about your faith. They will say what Nebuchadnezzar said, “Come on, you’re being ridiculous! What we have to say makes so much more sense!” Do you stand and take the heat? Or are you wont to flee.
The question is where do you place your trust? Is it in your own wit or intelligence fueled by the safety of a group of friends who talk, act or even think like you? We shelter ourselves with these things. These things will fail. One day (or maybe this has already happened to you) you will be called to account for your faith. What then?
In the Gospel for today we heard Jesus say, “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” Now instead of taking comfort from this, some might say, that this sounds foolish! Let me tell you a story about a fool.
There was a young man canvassing a neighborhood for church. He came to a lady’s house, knocked on the door, and totally dropped the ball. “Hi, uh I’m from the church uh, over there and it’s nice, we have cool stuff for people etc. Thanks have a nice day!” He left and started up the street. He didn’t get a block away when he thought how foolish that was, he got a little nervous, felt a little heat and booked it. He turned around and went back. When he saw her again he said, “I didn’t feel right about what I said last time and I’m sorry to bother you again but I want to tell you what I believe…”
He would never see that lady again, but he wanted to see her in heaven. He showed her what conviction looked like. This was gospel motivation, love that Jesus had shown him gave him a genuine concern for a soul, and a desire to boldly proclaim the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus.
On this Reformation day, consider another fool. Against the power of the Emperor and all the princes of the church, against the power of the Pope stood one foolish monk. Why would he face death and imprisonment? The medieval church had taken the focus off of Christ! The Church of Luther’s day had set up idols. The simple gospel message of sins forgiven by the blood of Jesus had been gotten lost in a wash of saint worship, relics and self-abasement. So when he was confronted at the Diet of Worms and told to recant or take back the things he had written concerning salvation by faith alone, grace alone and scripture alone, he calmly stated, “Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me, Amen.”
Confessions like Luther’s and the other fellow I mentioned are contrary to human reason or understanding. They put us in harms/shames way. Our natural human instinct is to flee or conform. But our God is a miracle worker. It is a miracle that we believe; it is a miracle that we confess. It is the Blood of Christ shed for us, that gives us courage to confess in the heat of the moment. As it was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego…
“Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual.” This furnace was the very thing that created the golden statue. It was probably a technological marvel of the time. It was to be the instrument of death. Which is really unusual since incineration was not a normal means of execution in the ancient world. It was rather expensive and rarely was there a smelter or furnace big enough to fit 3 grown men inside.
You have to think about what the King is saying by doing this. It’s sending both a political and religious message. “Look at this thing I have made, I have made a god. And now you will die in this thing that can make golden gods.” They were to die quickly, there was no trial no chance for rebuttal, nothing. With their clothes still on, they are bound hand and foot and tossed down into this furnace. It was so hot, the air around it scorched the lungs of the executioners and they died almost instantly!
And probably while the guards were falling to the ground clutching their throats in death, the King leaps to his feet. There was another person standing in the midst of the flames. In the words of the king he looked like, “A son of the gods.” Squinting their eyes to see through the heat waves emanating from the furnace, the king and his advisors saw the three Judeans, unbound, unharmed. And they see the angel! It’s fitting really, a messenger from heaven sent to aid the human messengers on Earth.
This sign was not just given to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. It was done for all the assembly of people to see. The account does not end here, obviously. They come out, unharmed, unsinged, unburned! But what if that was not the case? The three Judeans mention that possibility in their confession. They said, “but if he does not…”
They were prepared for it. Their God was worth dying for. While this golden statue may have been poured from a furnace smelter, their God had proven his power in the past. They knew that one way or the other, their God would deliver them. If that meant dying to glorify God for a reason that they did not fully understand, then they were at peace with that. They knew that their God would save them either physically, or Save them by taking them to heaven.
What’s your furnace? I think we are all aware that there are some brothers and sisters in Jesus around the world dying right now, for the same reason that the three Judeans faced their execution. But in America we aren’t confronted with death, yet. But should it come to that, and when you feel the flames from the unbelieving world around you, remember what your God has done for you!
When you get burned by family or friends, it’s easy to get down, it’s easy to doubt your faith. The desire rises up in us to forget our God, because it’s easier, it’s the path of least resistance. And let’s be honest, Satan knows how to make a road. His roads are wide with nice things to look at, great distractions and a nice gradual downward slope. And while it might be nice to walk on now, it leads to a furnace that you can’t escape.
We are really no different than Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. What they remembered was that their God has the power to save. Isn’t this true of our lives as well? We have been taught and we have learned that we have a faithful God. He doesn’t lead us into traps. He calls us his own children! In times of testing or doubt, or when you near the end of your race and your arms and legs are on fire, and you’re so tired; remember, God says to you, “I saved you! I took the torture of hell on the cross in your place and the doors of heaven are open for you!”
The apostle Peter wrote, “In all this [Trials] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Luther commented on these verses saying, we need these trials, because of our old sinful selves. Because when faith is tested all that is dross and false must pass away and drop off. Then is our reward in Christ Jesus revealed. Does that remind you of something, maybe David’s psalm 26? “Test me Lord!” Strengthen my Faith!
At the end of his life, at the end of his trials and all the heat he took from those who sought to put rules or things in the place of Christ; Luther indeed saw his faith refined. On his death bed surrounded by friends, Luther awoke in pain, one of his friends noticed that the end was near so he asked, “Do you wish to die in the faith that you have confessed, that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?” And with a simple, “Ja!” He died.
Brothers and Sisters, The same confidence that fired the confession of the three Judean men thousands of years ago, is our same confidence. Through the ages our God is the same. He gives courage to face the fires of this life and he has saved us from the fires of Hell. We can face any fire with confidence because of Christ. Amen.
15th Sunday after Pentecost
What makes a sermon worth listening too? I suppose there could be many answers to that. Some might say, “well he’s a very engaging preacher!” Others might say, “He has some colorful and entertaining illustrations that make his points.” Still others might say that he gives good practical advice or that every week they leave church with some tidbit of new information to perplex their atheist co-worker with.
But is this what we’re here for? Semi-entertaining practical advice like, 3 easy steps to a better family life, or ammunition for our debates with our friends or co-workers? So, then what makes a sermon worth listening too?
As an old friend of mine would say, “Did the pastor preach the text?” That is to say, was he faithful to the Word of God that he was proclaiming that Sunday. Did he lead his congregation to an understanding of that specific portion of scripture? Was their unique and specific law shown from that portion of God’s Word, then was the Gospel that is unique to that text proclaimed? In short, did the sermon add or subtract from God’s Word or was it handled faithfully?
That is what makes a Sermon worth listening to. When it’s God’s commands, his statutes, and his judgments – his law and his Gospel being proclaimed. The Words of men can’t give life! Only God’s Word gives life. A sermon is worth listening to if it speaks the Word that gives life.
This is what Moses was encouraging the Israelites to do in the text for today. He encourages to Listen to the Lord and Live! Live by the Lord’s decree and Live as an example to others.
Speaking of Sermons, Deuteronomy is really a series of farewell sermons given to his people before they entered into the Holy land. Moses had served his time as Israel’s leader and now the torch was about to pass to Joshua and Moses would go to heaven.
PART 1: By the Lord’s decree
Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.
In this first verse Moses says LISTEN! Israel that you might live! He wants them to be followers of the Lord and not let any pagan influence shade their judgment or their beliefs. Now Israel listen that you might live! Follow the Commands of the Lord so that you get to see that promise made to Abraham fulfilled that you would be a great nation and that this land would be yours!
Before He left this world, Moses knew that his people’s troubles would not be ending any time soon. In fact, they were just beginning. The desert had its own hardships but the temptations that laid in wait for them in the promised land would be sure to test them.
He implores them: Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.
Moses gives this warning because he knows that God is deadly serious about his Word, about his commands. These were his people with whom he had made promises, and a covenant. But truth be told Israel had already, on more than one occasion, turned away from God’s commands. They were seduced by the Canaanites, both men and women were seduced into the hedonistic worship of the false god Baal. A thing that would continue to be a problem for Israel for most of its history. Moses reminds them of the results of God’s people turning from God’s commands in v. 3-4, “You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor. The Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, 4 but all of you who held fast to the Lord your God are still alive today.”
Moses actually puts this unhappy incident lightly here. Really, over 24,000 people were killed in a plague because they didn’t listen to God’s commands. Relying on their own judgment and their own reasoning to gain entry into the holy land literally got them killed.
If that seems harsh, remember that St. John says in Revelation that adding and subtracting from God’s Word will garner the same result for us!
He says, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”
I know that some of you might be thinking right now, “Hey pastor, pretty sure I haven’t participated in hedonistic Baal worship lately. And here I am in church, I believe that the bible is God’s Word!”
But brothers and sisters, Christians are still tempted to “Add to God’s commands and judgments” and get dogmatic and judgmental concerning things that really have no bearing on whether others are Christians or not. We are all tempted to elevate our own pious notions, our own decrees and judgments, of what the “Christian Life” ought to look like to the level of Scripture. But the reality is that we have no business binding the conscience and hearts of others unless we can prove from Scripture “THUS SAITH THE LORD.”
On the other side of that coin, we are still tempted to subtract from God’s commands and judgments when it “diminishes” from our lives. That’s literally what the Hebrew word for “subtract” means here, to diminish. We like to leave behind those things that make us uncomfortable or unsettled. There are those passages that condemn us, and how often don’t our eyes just glaze over when we run into one of those sections of Scripture that we don’t like. The 1st commandment for example. So often we say, “Oh yea I know that’s there! No big deal, pretty sure I’ve not bowed down to Baal lately!” But there are NO OTHER GODS! What things in our lives do we treat like God? What things do we treat better than God?
And as happened to the Israelites who added and subtracted from God’s Commands and Judgments and as St. John reminded us in Revelation – the punishment for doing so is death and hell.
It does us no good to say, “I don’t know if I want a God like that! Isn’t that too harsh?!” God’s Laws should be terrifying. And our reaction to our realization that we’ve failed to keep that law should be equally terrifying. It is God’s perfect nature to hate and punish sin. When God’s Law scares us to death there is only one solution – to flee to the Gospel.
Flee to the savior who did what no one could do – Keep every command, decree and Law of God perfectly. Flee to the savior who on the night he was betrayed said to his disciples, “If you love me keep my commandments!” He said that not to terrify them but to remind them of what he said to them in the upper room when he got down and washed their feet. “This new command I give you, Love one another as I have loved you!” Listen to God’s decree that you are forgiven by the blood of Jesus – Listen and live in the joy of that decree!
PART II: Live as an example
Even the ancient Israelites could live in the Joy of that decree! They were God’s chosen people. They were the children of the Promise, the royal priest hood, the holy nation the people belonging to God – from whom the Messiah would come.
Think of all the spiritual advantages that the Israelites had! Theirs’ was not a collection of dusty old myths and legends about gods who did such and such, long long ago in a galaxy far far away. They lived it, they saw with their own eyes the Love the Lord their God had for them.
Moses says as much in v. 7 when he says, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?”
He says this to encourage them to have willing hearts that listen what the Lord has decreed. That they might be a light to the nations around them! That they might live in the land as an example to others. Showing to the world around them that there is no other Path to eternal life than the one that leads through Jerusalem to the only true and living God.
Jesus says in Matthew 5, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
That little light is the same one that the Kid’s song talks about. “This little Gospel light of mine!” Just as the Israelites were to live in the hope that they had we are called to do the same. Moses wrote in verse 6, “6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”
This clearly is not a call to ostracize our selves from the world and form our little Christian enclave. How often do we forget the times in history when believers have lived by God’s decrees and judgments and been an example to the rest of the world? The Queen of Sheba came and sought out the wisdom of Solomon! The Jews as they spread throughout the world took the decrees and statutes of God with them and passed them on to others. Evidence of that is the wise men who came to see the baby Jesus!
So, the robe of righteousness that we have is not given to us that we might walk around hoping that other sinners don’t smudge it up! Jesus and the apostles didn’t go around avoiding sinners for fear of “infection.” Look back at the Gospels and remember how that forgiveness of sins got to you! It was because Jesus was in, with and among sinners. And sinners spoke to sinners about forgiveness in Christ! And that spread from Jerusalem, to Antioch, to Macedonia to Rome, Spain, to our ancestors in Europe to some people who got on a boat and made a life for themselves here in the new world. All they while passing along the hope in Christ that they lived by! Christians were never called to ostracized themselves from the world. Rather we are to be an example to those around us. We were called to live according to the hope that we have in Christ Jesus.
That hope isn’t even shaded in the least bit by death! We live our lives more freely than the rest because we know that the only path to a life worth living leads to the Lord. Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it to the full. This is why we listen to His Word, his statutes, his decrees and his judgments – His Law and His Gospel. Those are the word that our souls need to hear. Listen to the Lord and live! Amen.
14th Sunday after Pentecost
How many prospect members, or new members have we reached out too, who came to church for a while but no longer sit in the pews next to us? How many Students have gone to our school yet no longer come to church? How many kids have gone through conformation class yet abandon the faith? How many people have gone through BIC yet do not attend? You know who they are! They’re the people you’ve spoken to about Christ. You’ve prayed about their spiritual welfare in some cases for weeks, months, maybe even years and there seems to be no change of heart. When we offer them the bread of life, they turned up their nose as though you offered them rotting meat. Does this mean we are failing as a church? Does it cause us to doubt the power of God’s Word? Does it cause us to doubt the “Hard teaching” of Scripture?
The situation that we find Jesus and the 12 in for today is not so very different. This portion of Scripture from John 6 is the aftermath of the bread of life discourse, which I preached on last Sunday. There we were reminded that Jesus spoke to his followers, not of physical things, but rather the greater Spiritual things – the concerns and hungers of the soul. Jesus wanted them to take him in to follow him, to hear his word and grow in their knowledge of who he was and what he came to do.
But these crowds that followed Jesus rejected what he was saying. As John writes, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Expose the problem
They had been born bread and law fed. Earlier, in v. 28 St. John records, “Then they (that same group of people) asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
If they were going to accept Jesus, they were going to do it on their own terms. Terms that they knew and understood. They were stunned by what Jesus said. He claimed to be greater than Moses! He claimed that if they ate his flesh and drink his blood that they’d live forever. He said that he was the messiah, but he was a person of flesh and blood! This person standing before them was able to give eternal life? That was too hard a teaching for them! Christ was too hard a teaching!
They wanted something that they could rationalize, something that they could wrap their human minds around. They wanted that “feel good” message that the pharisee’s, and teachers of the Law had given them. A message that made sense to them, that you work for God’s love, that if you really try it’s possible to keep the ten commandments. So, when Jesus said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” This was a hard teaching for them.
So how do you think Jesus core group, the 12 disciples felt as they watched that crowd of hundreds, perhaps thousands, dwindle down? Jesus even asked them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” As many of their other friends, acquaintances, family members began to leave, were they dismayed? I mean, Jesus had been at the height of his popularity here! This is what they all wanted right – crowds of thousands of people flocking to the messiah?
Did they expect Jesus to chase them down? Did they expect him to change his tune or apologize for speaking the way he had? Did they expect him to “soften” his hard teaching? Do you think they too were tempted to leave? I mean all that was left in the end were some fishermen, sinners, a tax collector and a guy who would eventually betray Jesus. It must have been difficult to watch these crowds abandon Jesus and turn away from the hard teaching.
DEEPEN THE ISSUE
For Christians in the 21st century, it’s not difficult to identify with the 12 here is it? I think of situations like this – A kid who was brought up in the Church goes off to college and joins the working world. He runs into many different ideas and ways of thinking. People from different backgrounds, religions, lack of religion, or different faith traditions confront him on a daily basis.
Not just that sort of thing, but also the concerns of life begin to creep in – finances, romance, a house, a car, a job – those things begin to take precedence in his life. The importance of Jesus slowly but surely begins to take a back seat to the point that this young man asks, “what in the world does a MAN who died 2000 years ago have anything to do with me?”
Just like the disciples watching that crowd slowly dwindle away, this young man’s parents watch him turn away from Jesus – because Christ is the hard teaching! There isn’t an earthly way to rationalize him.
So, what are parents to do? Are they tempted to soften the message because now every time religion comes up in conversation it causes an argument – saying, “Well he’s a grown man, he can decide what’s best for himself. We don’t really need to interfere.” Do they sit there confounded and perplexed not knowing what to say to him. Especially, when he brings up arguments against organized religion, when he questions the validity of Scripture as a whole, when he says, “look at the world! How many different people of how many different faiths are out there! What makes you so sure that you are right!”
Are mom and dad dismayed? They pray for their son, they ask God to help him. They thought that they did the right thing and brought him up in the right way – is God’s word not effective? Is it not powerful?
In all of John chapter 6, Jesus too is questioned by this crowd of people who were following him. They asked him 6 hard questions. 1. What must we do to be saved? 2. What sign will you give to prove you are who you say you are? 3. Wait! Aren’t you Joseph and Mary’s son? 4. How can you say “I came from heaven?” 5. How can this man give us his flesh to eat? 6.This is a hard teaching who can accept it!?
In every circumstance – Jesus answers the hard question with the hard teaching. For example, in the case of the last question, “who can accept this hard teaching?” Jesus replies, What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e]and life.
He confronts them with THE hard teaching. The reality of who he is. The reality of his Gospel message.
He says, “I am the Son of God!” What if you saw me ascend back into heaven? I am most certainly capable of it! Mark that I say it now because you will hear of it, and what will you think then?
He says, The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. – stop thinking about your physical needs only and what you get wrapped up in in the here and now! This “reality” that you think is so stable, that you think is so important now – what will it be to you when you die?
The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e]and life. I have not come to gain popularity, or political power. I have come to reveal the Father’s Love for the World, his love for you!
The crazy thing is, Jesus knew that the people in this crowd didn’t believe. He knew that they rejected the hard teaching of who he is. Yet, does that stop him from telling them about him? NO! He didn’t try to argue or debate with them philosophically as to why they should follow him. He simply told them what he’d been telling them all along. He kept trying to gift them with faith!
This is what was different about those 12 disciples. This is why they stay when the others left and why they able to accept the “hard teaching.” The Father gave them faith through the Gospel, through that hard teaching. When Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” “We have come to believe and know…” This doesn’t contradict Jesus saying, “No one can come to me unless the Father enables them.” Peter’s confession simply emphasizes HOW! These men walked and talked with Jesus on a daily basis! They were literally in the catechism class of Jesus himself for 3 years. And those 3 short years had a profound effect on the rest of their lives. Peter confesses here that Jesus’ Words were the thing sustaining them – and those same words sustained each of them to the end! Think of the lives they lived and the death’s they died of the sake of the Hard teaching – Jesus. Beheading, torture, persecution, burning at the stake, in Peter’s case he was crucified upside down. Death was no object! Jesus had the Word’s of eternal life! Their attitude because they knew and believed that Gospel message that our sins are forgiven, we are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb – was – to live is Christ to die is gain!
And we might be tempted to think, “Well it was easy for them because they actually lived with Jesus. They ate and drank/walked and talked with Jesus and heard his words – experienced the living breathing “Hard teaching” first hand!
But you walk with Jesus too! You hear the Word right from his mouth too don’t you? We have his unchanging Word in Scripture. We talk with him when we spend time in prayer. You eat and drink with him at communion. We have that same Hard Teaching that they had. We believe that same Gospel that they did.
Melissa, as a teacher this is the same message that you get to share with Jesus little lambs. Daily, you and your class will walk with Jesus as you teach them his Words, the same words, the same Gospel the same Hard Teaching that Jesus himself shared with his little class of 12 students. As you instruct them to believe the Hard Teaching think of the blessing of sharing Jesus with those with a child like faith that simply trusts the Hard teaching.
ANTICIPATE THE CONCEQUENCES
Let it be our prayer that we all could be like that! Simply believing the Hard Teaching with a child like faith that doesn’t try to rationalize it all. A faith that ever seeks to grow in the knowledge of the one who gifted it to us. A faith that trusts that Jesus will walk, and has walked with us through every phase of life. A faith that believes the hard teaching – like as certainly as the sky is blue and the grass is green. A faith like the 12 apostles, that says Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Word’s of eternal life! God grant this for Jesus sake. Amen.