Archive for the ‘Matthew 23:1-12’ Category

Woe To Us If…

Monday, October 31st, 2011

20th Sunday after Pentecost A, October 30, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Matthew 22:34-46

INTRODUCTION: Woe to you if you will not hear God speak to you this morning!  Woe to me if I will not speak God’s true Word to you this morning!  Woe to all of us if we do not let God save us through His Word!  His Word brings both threats of punishment and promises of love and forgiveness.  They aren’t the kind of empty threats and promises that people throw out today.  There’s no bravado or manipulation in God’s Word; He means what He says and He says what He means!  Once He has told you what the punishment for your sin is, it’s settled!  The Jews knew this, and that’s why they wanted Micah to shut up!  “Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity.” [Micah 3:9,10]  “Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins.” [Micah 3:12]

So what do you do when you don’t like the message from a certain man of God?  You go out and find a new message!  You push and you scream, you threaten and you manipulate until someone comes forward and preaches the message you want to hear!  “No more preaching about repentance and contrition, give us a message about prosperity and wealth!”  The funny thing about an audience that demands this kind of preaching is that there never seems to be a shortage of preachers who will respond.  Why is that?  Because there’s money in it!  And before you know it, the message no longer comes from God but from the greed of the speaker who wants more money to preach a message that will satisfy the desire of the listeners who are willing to pay to hear it!

I. That was the condition of the church in Micah’s day, it was the condition of the church in our gospel lesson this morning (Matthew 23:1-12), and I’m afraid it is still the condition of the church today!  Who is to blame?  We are; all of us, both the preachers and the people.  The preachers or prophets were to blame in both our Old Testament lesson and our Gospel lesson, and they’re to blame today.

Instead of leading God’s people closer to Him, by pointing out their sin and helping them remain faithful to His Word, the false prophets became experts in certain portions of God’s Word and then they used those cherry picked snippets of scripture to lead their listeners deeper into sin and farther away from their Holy and Righteous Creator!  Instead of leading people into God’s forgiving heart they lead them directly into the path of His vengeance!

But the people are to blame too; they’re to blame because they know in their hearts that a message of prosperity without a message of repentance is completely out of character with who God is!  They knew God’s law; we all know it, because scripture says that God has placed it within our own hearts!  Each of you know how short you fall from loving God with your whole heart, mind, and soul; you know that you do not love your neighbor as yourself and what’s more, you know that on your own, you never will be able to do either of these as God demands!

In our natural condition, we are all like heroin addicts!  Every time God’s law speaks to us, it’s like an addict who is coming off of a high.  He begins to feel the cravings; after the cravings comes the pain of withdrawal!  When the pains of withdrawal get stronger, he begins to crave the drug more than anything!  Like the addict, we don’t want to hear God’s law, which only brings more fear and thoughts of eternal death.  And like the addict, we know that the only way to be free of our fear and pain is if we can somehow quit our addiction to sin cold turkey!  We must let go of our former way of living and thinking and simply let God speak His truth to us and then admit that He’s right and we and our old way of thinking and living are wrong!  But our craving for sin, and our need for it like the heroin addict, keeps drawing us away from God’s truth and back into a life of sin!

This is where the false preachers come in.  In keeping with the heroin addict illustration, the false preachers are like methadone; they take away the fear of withdrawals by numbing the pain; they create a false sense of wellness.  But the problem with that is we’ve given up one addiction only to embrace another.  Like the addict, we don’t want to suffer and die by hearing God’s Word, so we embrace the “methadonic” (I know, I made that word up)  message of false preachers.  Like methadone, their message makes us feel better for a while by creating the illusion that all is well between God and us.  We learn to trust in the false message that says God isn’t really angry with our lifestyle!

ILLUSTRATION: There was a leader in the not-so distant past that often used Christian vocabulary to manipulate the people.  He talked about the blessings of the Almighty Creator and said that the Christian confessions would become the pillars of his new government.  He gave the outward appearance of a man weighed down by great divinely inspired responsibility.  He had pious stories on the tip of his tongue, ready to illustrate his point each and every time He spoke to large crowds or to the press.  He carried around His tattered Bible everywhere he went, and he often declared that he drew the strength for his great work from it.  Millions of people welcomed him as a man sent from God.  His name was… Adolf Hitler—a master of outward appearances, while inwardly harboring the heart and mind of a mad man!

So what is the point?  The point dear friends is simply to demonstrate how lost each of us are; how far away our hearts are from the very God who created them!  On our own, we will always fall for a false message of prosperity and hope; all the while we are like a wall of bricks that’s been put together without mortar.  We will fall, the only question is when!  We will fall, unless we hear a new message… the true message, and that message is Repent!

II. This message of repentance is a message of hope; it is a message about God making a way back to Him when there is no way.  It’s a message about God making a way for sinners, even you, to rest in His forgiving love.  It’s a message that we can only hear after His law has convinced us that we are addicted to sin and the only way to be free of it is if we quit cold turkey.  It’s a message that forces us to admit that we can’t quit our sin on our own!  It’s a message that says that God as your champion has come to you and taken away both the power of your sin and your fear of His holy presence in your life!

ILLUSTRATION: The story is told about a little boy who was frightened by a terrible thunder storm in the middle of the night.  He called out to his father from his room, “Daddy come here I’m afraid!”  “Son” the father said, “God loves you and he’ll take care of you.”  “I know” said the little boy, “but right now I want someone who has skin on them!”

We are that little boy, and God our Father has heard our cries of fear.  His law, like the terrible claps of thunder has terrified us, and instead of speaking to us from some distant room, He comes to us with our skin on Him.  God the Son comes to us as Jesus of Nazareth; He comes to us not in splendor as a leader demanding to be followed and feared, but as a servant who comes to suffer in our place.  He alone is to be called our Father, our Teacher, and our Lord!  He is our Savior Jesus Christ, and He has come for you.  He has come to set you free from your addiction to sin.  He has come to shut the mouths of the false preachers who claim that God’s love and blessings can be earned.  He has come to show us a way out of no way; and that is the way of the cross!  Jesus is the greatest among us because He came to serve us with His suffering and death; He has come to bring you back for ever into the loving heart of your Creator.  The Pharisees then and the false preachers today exalt themselves as someone great, but Jesus humbles Himself in death, even death upon a cross for you!  And now, seated at the right hand of the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ is somehow, right now here with you in His Word, and He is asking you to allow Him to come to you and teach you to walk with Him by faith, in the forgiving love of His Father.

CONCLUSION: In His Word, Jesus comes to us.  In His Law He’s showed us our terrible addiction to sin, but in His love, He also comes to us in His Gospel.  It is in that Word alone that He shows us a life of freedom and peace.  Freedom to follow God without fear or worry; freedom to follow Jesus first to the cross, then to the holy waters of baptism, where His Word of peace along with simple water washes us clean and recreates us into God’s own image.  And from the font we follow Jesus to His table where His supper of mercy and forgiveness is served.  And as we follow Jesus, the words of Micah, the true prophet of God become our words: “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to (all who remain in bondage and addiction) that their sins are forgiven.”

This is always how God comes to and saves this sinful world; one sinner at a time.  He sends out His Word to sinners who He changes and recreates into saints, and He does it through both the law and the gospel.  After His law has brought fear and death, then His gospel forever speaks word of comfort and new life to us.  It is this gospel Word that is forever transforming us from sinner to saint.  And it is that same gospel Word that sends us out into our community as God’s prophets speaking God’s true message of prosperity… the message about forgiveness and freedom; a message about Jesus and His cross!