Archive for the ‘Epiphany 4-B’ Category

Same Word—Different Teaching

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

Epiphany 4-B, February 1, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” [Mark 1:22]

Have you ever tried to explain to someone why you are a Christian?  It can be a little frustrating can’t it?  The reason for that is because you are trying to explain a mystery, which is the power and work of the Word of God to someone who has not yet experienced that power and work.  The bottom line is that faith is experiential; you’ve got to taste and see that the Lord is good, before you can know that the Lord is good.

Now don’t get me wrong here; folks who haven’t yet received faith can hear or read the Word of God preached and taught and be astonished and agree that the message has great authority, but then they will simply turn away unchanged.  This morning we will look at a few reasons for why that happens.

The first reason that faith will not come through God’s Word is because folks just wont listen.  In our Old Testament lesson [Deuteronomy 18:15–20], we join Moses towards the end of his farewell sermon.  He is explaining to the people that God put under his care that he will not be with them much longer, but he is leaving them with hope.  He promises them that “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen—just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’”

Now we may ask our selves, “Who is this coming prophet like Moses?  Was it Moses understudy, Joshua?”  And the answer is, “No.”  Moses described the coming prophet as a man who would be like him, or a man who enjoyed a unique relationship with the Lord, similar to the one that Moses had.  This new prophet would know God and talk to Him face to face just as Moses did, and as He spoke to Moses, so He would speak to the new prophet, clearly and not in riddles; he too, would see the form of the Lord and live! [Numbers 12:6-8]

Moses also promised that this prophet would come from among the people’s own brothers.  In other words, he would be a fellow Israelite, who could trace His family tree back to one of the sons of Jacob.  But why did they need another prophet?  Because the fear Israel felt at Sinai when God spoke His Law in thunder and fire was real; the people were terrorized.  This is the kind of terror that people will always feel when they’re faced with God’s perfect demands within His Law; demands that force the people to recognize and deal with their own sins.  But because He would come from among them, they would also find the very reason not to listen to Him. “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”  [Isaiah 53:1-3]

Here is a truth that will never change.  It was a truth for the folks that Moses was preaching to and it is true for us this morning: We can’t understand the impossibility of being right with God until we have have tried our hardest to be good and then finally admit that on our own, it is impossible to be good.  In essence, the Law of God teaches us that we are doomed unless God makes a new way; a way out of no way.  When we arrive at this point of desperation, we finally come to the terrifying moment when we simply turn to God’s mercy and say, “If there’s to be any hope for me at all, it has to come from you God.  I can’t do it!

Well hold on brother, change is coming; God is about to speak hope…

I (the Lord your God) will raise up for (you) a prophet (who is) like you from among (your) brothers. And I will put My Words in his mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command him.”  In our Old Testament lesson we are given a clear prophecy about the coming prophet, the Messiah, the Savior of God.  He not only speaks for God to the people, but He brings a new message; a new Word of hope that Moses did not teach.

Please understand the conundrum of the Jews and all others who live trying to fulfill the Law of God.  By there perspective, there simply cannot be another Word from God outside of the Ten Commandments and Law of God, because the Law of God is complete perfection.  You can’t add to it or take away from it, because the Word is God.  So this is another impediment to receiving the gospel.  But God can speak a new Word, can’t He?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” [John 1:1-5]  And now comes He who is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, a brother to humanity through His mother the blessed Virgin Mary, and the very Son of God the Father.  And indeed, He brings a new Word; He brings the Gospel, the message of sins forgiven.

It is to this One, the Son of God and the Son of Mary that we are to listen to.  Through Him the ministry of the Law has ended and the work of grace has begun.  He did not come to do away with the Law but to fulfill it; to fulfill it for you.  He did that work upon the cross, for you!

Where the teaching of Moses brings terror and death as a minister of the Law, the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks new life into Moses listeners, and then He gives that life abundantly.  So we can say that the sin and anger of God that Moses teaching arouses through his ministry, the gospel of Jesus Christ cancels through righteousness and grace, which comes through His ministry of forgiveness of sins!  This is why Moses directs both Jews and Gentiles to listen to Him!

How do you know that God loves you and forgives your many sins?  Because He has told you so in His Word and His holy sacraments.  He has promised you that your sins are removed from you and shall not be held against you, and all you must do is receive and believe this gift.  But like the Law of God, if you try to add or take away any of this gospel message, all you will have achieved is the loss of the gift.  Do you truly know who Jesus is?  The demons know, and they are not afraid to tell you either.

In our gospel lesson (Mark 1:21–28) we discover this startling account of what the demons know about Jesus: “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.”  Now I don’t know about you, but I find this amazing, and here is why.  We first must ask ourselves why would the demons antagonize Jesus, when they know full well that He is God in human flesh?  And the answer is in the question—Because He is God in human flesh.  Nothing happens unless God allows it to happen.  I believe that the demon was compelled to speak so that the folks in the pews would be forewarned and equipped to stand up against the devils schemes.

Another question we might find ourselves asking is, “Can this happen still today?”  An the answer is simple: “Sure it can.”  But let me pose another question for you: Why would the demons need to interrupt our worship hour and our study of God’s Word when there are so many sinful men and women willing to be his tools?  And that is the third impediment to receiving the gospel, other people.

You have heard me say so many times that people are not our enemies; sin, death and the devil are our enemies.  And while this is true, people can be the tools of our enemies, especially the devils.  And speaking of tools, perhaps the most dangerous tools threatening the church today are the false teachers.  You know them, don’t you?  They’re on T.V. and they’re preaching this very hour in churches throughout the world.  They are the Jesus plus crowd.  In their messages, they will not allow you a moments peace or relief from your sins unless you add to Jesus’ gospel certain steps that they will gladly define.  They will tell yo that they preach and teach this message in order to kill your sin and make you more holy.  They are also the ones that promise you that if you follow their ministry, you will have an even more abundant and successful life.  They speak of things like a second baptism of the spirit and a greater dispensation of gifts.  But this morning, Moses warns us that “the prophet who presumes to speak a word in (God’s) name that (He) (has) not commanded him to speak, shall die.”

Beware of the false prophets who preach this new message, because it is simply the message of Moses that has been wrapped to seem like the gospel.  Beware of them, because their fate is decided if they will not repent. And like the devils they have no fear of God, but simply spout forth filth in order to disturb you children of faith who gather around God’s message of grace and forgiveness.  But unlike the devils, it is not to late for them if they will simply receive Jesus alone.

So what about God’s Law?  Are we truly free of it?  Yes, but you still need it; not to bring you eternal life, but to help you become all that God’s Word has spoken and accomplished through the work of the cross and the waters of your baptism; you are forgiven!  And now your heart is at peace with God through faith in the promise of God.  And this peace is already working within you and changing you.  First you are compelled by God’s Spirit to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord.  By the continued preaching of the Word, you are daily led to confess your sins that remain within you to God who is faithful to forgive them.  By the preaching of this Word you have been saved, and through your sharing of this same Word, others are saved just as you are, and so, the Kingdom of God grows.

And as the Kingdom of God grows through the proclamation of the gospel message, so does the same hostility that the New Prophet, the Son of God faced, but now it is you who must by faith stand up under these attacks.  The advancement of the Kingdom of Christ is at the same time your calling and the instrument that will bring persecution and your cross to bear.  The world will not hear or  receive the gospel, because they will not allow the Law to do its proper work, which is to destroy their sinful nature.  Not only will they fight the preaching of the true gospel, but they will attempt to humiliate all who cling to it.  Why?  Because the world is in darkness and it hates the light.  So they as tools of the devil will attack your faith and test it.  But God uses this testing as a means to grow our faith until our hope is made perfect, which ultimately makes us sure of our salvation.

Finally, while it is true that our old sinful nature has been declared dead by the Word of the gospel, we must continue to fight it and put it to death, and we do this with the Law of God.  But the we also still need God’s Law within our hearts so that we can be a help to our neighbors.  It is the law that reminds us that we must demonstrate both the love of God and a relationship of kindness, peace, and goodness that we have found with Him through Jesus Christ.  AMEN!