Archive for the ‘Matthew 3:1-12’ Category

It’s Good to Be a gentile-Christian!

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

2nd Sunday after Advent A, December 5, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION: In our epistle reading this morning [Rom. 15:4-13] we are allowed a glimpse into an issue that caused quite a bit of controversy within the body of Christ, the Church.  There were divisions being created over the question of how the gentiles should be received by the Jewish Christians.  Some said that they should become Jewish by adopting the historic practices of the Jews, specifically circumcision.  We must remember that the very word “gentile” was often used in a derogatory fashion.  It was someone who was outside of God’s covenant of peace with the Hebrew people who were chosen by God to be a light or a beacon unto the gentile nations.  A gentile then signifies a person or a group of people who are “strangers”  to God Almighty.  In the time of Paul, the Hebrew word “goi” or gentile meant “nation,” and often it was used to designate nations that were politically distinct from Israel. [Deut. 15:6; 28:12, 36; Josh. 23: 4]  From this use the word gentile has come to be defined as “stranger” or “heathens.”

You can see how tension could develop in the middle of a worship service, especially at the Lord’s Supper if heathen were showing up to not just worship, but to receive our Lord’s very body and blood!  Well that tension was resolved once and for all by the Council of Jerusalem in 50 A.D., it was decided that the “gentile” Christians would not be troubled with any religious burdens other than remaining with in the one faith in Jesus Christ and to abstain from things polluted by idols and sexual immorality.

So problem solved!  Now there will be no more divisions within the body of Christ right?  Wrong!  We still experience divisions within the body of Christ.  Things like economic status, color, ethnicity, styles of worship, and denominational differences still divide us.  What went wrong?  This morning we will look at two things that God’s Word says if followed will bring harmony and peace, first within our individual hearts and then within the body of Christ, His church.  They are the welcoming of all believers and the adherence to God’s Word!

I. In verse 7 in our epistle lesson we read “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  Who is it that Paul wants us to welcome?  Well he says one another, so right away we can see that he is referring to a particular group of people.  Does he mean a congregation?  Yes!  Here God through St. Paul is telling each of us to look past any prejudice or anger we may have, even if we feel it’s justifiable and welcome one another in peace. This welcoming that Paul is talking about is the type that ignores differences and grudges against other Christians, and it forgives and perseveres in love simply because Jesus first loved them!  Here Paul calls us to carry the perceived weaknesses of a brother as long as it takes.  Just helping them once or twice and leaving them to someone else is not what he has in mind.  No Paul is calling us to continually welcome them and to help shoulder their burden as long as it is needed.  But how and why should we do this?

Well in regards to the how, we must first admit that we can’t do this on our own.  You see we are all caught in sin; that is, on our own we can’t love someone else as Christ loves us!  So if we are to welcome our brothers and sisters here, we must be willing to ask Christ to come along side of us and give us a desire to forgive and to love and then we need to ask Him to give us endurance and encouragement so that He can continue to work within and through us.   Well that answers the how, but why should we do this?  Friends, St. Paul answers that question too; we do it simply for the glory of God!  We must remember that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; he welcomed us and He wants us to do the same for each other!

Well, I think that each of us can agree that this is truly God’s desire for our congregation and I’m sure that each of you will through the power of God’s Holy Spirit work towards fulfilling His will.  You know, there is nothing sweeter than a congregation that is centered in the love of God and Christ Jesus.  Jesus should be the heart of every member here!  But if we allow these words to take us no further than within this small body of believers, then I am afraid we are no better than the Jewish Christians that were admonished by the Council of Jerusalem.  Because you see there are other Christians who are not Lutherans who also hear these Words of encouragement and admonishment, and they too are being moved to act along with us!  But act in what way?  Well to love and forgive one another.  To believe that if anyone confesses with their mouth and believes in their heart that Jesus is Lord they are saved and they are your brother or sister.  And what are we called to do together?  Friends, we are called to build the Kingdom of God together! 

Now some will be wondering if I am trying to say that all denominations are the same, and to this I will answer, “Certainly not!”  And yet they are my brothers and my sisters, even if they are different!  So St. Paul calls us to welcome them as well.  But how!  Let’s let St. Paul answer that question.  Listen: “for whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.”

II. How can there be unity in such a vast sea of different denominations and teachings?  By being in, living out, and teaching correctly God’s own Word!  By holding onto what was written and not rejecting any of it.  In His Word, God promises to come along side of us and create harmony, real unity among believers!  You see, like before, it is God coming among and within us doing the work!  The strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, Roman Catholic and protestants of all flavors are promised unity if they hold onto the pure Word of God!  Where the Word of God is preached, taught, confessed, and lived-out, you have the true church, the One Holy catholic Church!  This was our Lord’s desire when He prayed his High-priestly prayer.  If you remember he prayed that we be one as He and the Father are one.  Then He prayed: “Sanctify them in the truth; thy Word is truth.” [Jn. 17:17, 21, 23]  How do we become one?  By remaining in His Word and being set apart as Holy through it!  Why did He want us to be united?  So our unified voice and harmony would impress those in the world that were outside of this faith; so that they would desire to be part of this oneness! 

Dear friends, you don’t see the body of Christ grow by changing or getting rid of some of the Word; no, Christ says that we will only see people come to faith and rest in this faith if they remain in His truth.  How do we remain in His truth?  By remaining is His Word; all of His Word is truth!  All of God’s Word that is found in your Bible is inspired by Him.  It is to be used for reproof, for correction and improvement in our lives.  No one has the right to discard any portion of scripture.  We are to declare both the Law and the Gospel as it has been given to us!  Jesus gave His Church the specific commission to teach all people to observe all things whatsoever He commanded. [Matt. 28:20]  And Paul declared: “I have not shunned declaring unto you all the counsel of God.” [Acts 20:27]  In the Old Testament too, people were forbidden to add to the written Word or to take anything away from it. [Jos. 1:8; Deut. 17:19].  This means dear friends that nothing in Scripture can be regarded as culturally irrelevant or worthless, because whatsoever was written before hand was written for our learning! [Rom. 4:23,24; 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Cor. 10:11]

How can unity be restored not just in this church and our denomination, but within each denomination and throughout the Kingdom of God?  By knowing what God’s Word says and sticking to it!  This is what we call doctrine!  What is doctrine?  It is whatever the apostles and prophets wrote and taught for our learning.  These writings, this unified Word of God alone is what is the foundation of the Church.  It is the Word of God alone that proclaims the doctrine of Christ and His redemption, the forgiveness of sins for the entire world.  The Bible is a unit in which all of its parts, statements, doctrines, commandments, and promises either directly or indirectly, serve the purpose of teaching each of us how to be saved through faith in our Savior Jesus Christ.  And then it boldly teaches us how to live out our lives as children of God in a world darkened by sin, all for the glory of our God, Jesus Christ.  It is this holy Word of God alone that feeds us and then sends us out into the world to seek and save the lost!

How will we see the Kingdom of God grow?  By being of one mind and one mouth, “so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Rom. 15:6]  Dear friends, with one voice means with one united confession of faith.  To glorify God is to speak and to act so that his glory may appear within us and among us!  As his glory is one and unchangeable so must our proclamation of His Word be along with our service to Him as we allow Him to work though us building and advancing His kingdom!  This oneness of conviction and confession is what we call our doctrine!  When we lose our oneness of mind or voice someone is wrong and God’s glory is diminished through us!  But the clearer our doctrine is and the truer it is taught the more God’s love is displayed among us and through us.  Do we work alone and ignore our brothers and sisters in other denominations in order to protect our doctrine?  No, we must work with them and allow them to see that through God’s Word and its pure doctrine we have been given not just strong instruction but also endurance and strength. 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, I know that sometimes we can really get tired of the real doctrinal differences that are found in the various Christian denominations.  The gentile-Christians who received the pure gospel of Jesus Christ were tiring of the continued religious attacks of the Jewish Christians.  But they didn’t separate, instead they and their pastors continued to plead for harmony and unity through the pure Word of God.  They used strong doctrine to convince the Jerusalem Council that they were indeed their brothers and sisters even though before they were considered gentiles; strangers and heathen.  It was strong doctrine that brought the church together under one heart and mind, the heart and mind of Jesus Christ.  And it will be again that same strong doctrine that will unite us under that same heart and mind.  It is this pure doctrine, the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ that alone unites us and turns us from a people of religion into a people of faith; people who are resting and serving within a relationship of love with God through Jesus Christ.  Yes it is good to be a gentile-Christian; one who has been saved through Jesus Christ; one who was once a stranger to God because of sin, but no longer because of grace.  Now, together through grace and faith we can rest in His love and forgiveness by the will and power of His Living Word, Jesus Christ!

 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” [Rom. 14:13]  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!