Posts Tagged ‘False Prophets’

Do You Know Who He Is?

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

4th Sunday in Epiphany B, January 28, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

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“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”. [Deuteronomy 18:15]

Ask ten different people who Jesus is and you’ll most likely get ten different answers. Some will tell you that He’s their higher power. Some will say that He’s their source of peace. Some will answer, it’s not who He is but who He was as an historical figure that matters. I think one of the funniest answers became popular in the early 90’s on bumper stickers: “Jesus is my co-pilot.” And then several years later, another bumper sticker declared: “If Jesus is your co-pilot, move over.” And from that bumper sticker came the ever popular country song, “Jesus Take the Wheel”.

Do you know who He is… do you know who He really is? He is the one that God raised up, a prophet like Moses from among the Hebrews, and it is to Him we must listen! And what’s His message? Well, it’s a new message with authority and power; a message that’s clear, and concise; a message that drives out demons with a single Word.

Can you imagine being in that synagogue in Capernaum when Jesus taught his simple message of repentance and forgiveness.

While He was declaring that the kingdom of God was at hand it broke out right before them in power! Everyone was astonished at His teaching, because it was new and it had authority. It was new because it declared God’s forgiving love for repentant sinners. And it had authority because it had the power to drive out demons. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit (a demon). And he cried out, “What have you do to with us, Jesus of Nazareth! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” And what did Jesus do? With authority and power, He commanded the demon to shut up and leave the poor man. And immediately the demon did exactly as Jesus commanded him!

I wonder how many people there that day knew who Jesus really was? They should have known, because what they went out and told others, were the very words that were prophesied long ago. They said that what they heard and witnessed was “a new teaching with authority!” But prophecy can be a tricky thing. As the Chinese wise man once said, “It’s very difficult to prophesy, especially about the future!”

In a sense, prophecy is a little like space travel. We’ve learned a lot about our past and gained insight about the future of our world by going into space and looking down on our earth. We’ve learned about weather patterns, location of past and present oil and other natural resources, and we’ve even learned a lot about how our climate is changing. In a sense, we’ve learned things we never could have until we were given the proper perspective. And in a similar way, prophecy takes us out of the limitations of our current perspective and allows us to take on the big picture. And that’s what God was doing through Moses when He promised that a new prophet was coming, a prophet that would speak a new Word from God!

Why did the people need a new message?

Well, because they just weren’t getting the old one. When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses, He was speaking something about His own nature. He was speaking in Spirit and in truth. He was teaching them that He alone was holy, perfect, and righteous, and His people must become the same. How? By hearing God’s Word in spirit and in truth. They had to first be honest with God and then themselves; they had to confess that they couldn’t be as God commanded them to be without His divine help. Soon, God’s sinful people realized this very truth. In Exodus 19, they cried out to Moses: “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

And yet God must speak and they must listen, because it’s only through His Word that forgiveness and new life can come to sinful men and women. But why must God’s Word make us afraid of Him? Because our fear forces us to see and deal with our own sin. That is always the primary purpose of God’s law. But our sinful nature tries to twist the purpose of His law to fit our sinful desires.

So at first we might try to ignore our sins, which the law shows us, or maybe down-play them. We might incorrectly see the law as a self-help tool and say, “Finally, some teaching I can sink my teeth into.” But this kind of approach to God’s Word lacks spirit and truth; it stops us from realizing just how perfect God is and how sinful we are! So God’s law like a great spotlight keeps shinning His truth into our sinful lives until we realize that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will always fall short of the demands of His Law. After we fail over and over again to be perfectly good, it’s God’s will that we’ll finally arrive at this frightening conclusion: There is no hope for me unless God is the one who brings it to me.

Now the devils don’t want us to hear this new Word from God, so they work very hard to replace His new Word with a different message, a false gospel. This is where false prophets come in. Led by the devils and their own sinful pride, they teach that a happy life, a life that pleases God is possible if we just keep working at it. These false teachers have an assorted array of “easy steps” that we can follow which will ensure happiness and peace with God and our fellow man if we just keep working the plan. They will gladly share their new message with melodious voices and a big smile on their face. They claim to have all kinds of messages that are sure to give your life meaning and make you feel complete! They have a plan for a healthy marriage, a promising career, obedient children, and just about everything else you could ever want, it’s all yours if you will just follow their “easy steps.” The only problem with that teaching is that it never gets rid of the one obstacle that stands in our way… our own sin and our lack of spirit and truth!

I’m afraid that this teaching of techniques only gives us false hope from an eternal perspective. And these steps prophets are new prophets alright, but they are not the ones that Moses prophesied about long ago. These step prophets are false prophets because they bring false hope that always leads to suffering and eternal death. Why? Because their teachings aren’t centered in repentance and forgiveness of sins, but on the ingenuity of other fallen men and women. And if you aren’t careful, these false prophets will have you traveling with them to a new paradise of their own making, in a foreign land, gathered around cyanide-laced Kool Aid. “Drink of it, all of you,” they say, “and you will find a beautiful death” that is until you wake up in hell!”

So how are we to know the true message of God?

Well how did the people of Capernaum know it when they heard Jesus speaking? They knew it because not only was it different than the law centered message that Moses gave, but it came with power and authority. What power? The power to forgive sins and the promise to make everyone who received it right with God! What was the authority? Well, the type of authority that sets the captives free! Free from what?
Well, Jesus answered that when the demon was cast out. Coupled with the greater promise of forgiveness of sins, they knew, and we can know also that in Jesus, God was giving them not just a new message, but the only prophet who can provide complete victory over sin, death, and the devil!

So, while we must still hear what Moses and the Law of God have to say, we must then let the Spirit of God move us from a message of death to a message of life! It’s this new message alone that will be our only source of hope and power in this life and the life to come! This new message is of course the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the only message that God’s prophets are to speak unto eternal life. It isn’t a message of steps or strategies, but a message of forgiveness and hope. It is the Words of Jesus and His true prophets.

Listen to some of this hope and let it’s message breath new life into you: “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven”” (Luke 10:20) This is a message of certainty that those who hear Jesus Words and believe them are saved from their sins. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:11] And Peter declares this message to Christians scattered throughout the world: “You were like sheep going astray; but you are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [1 Pet. 2:25] Likewise, John speaks this Word of hope and peace to the church: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.” [1 John 3:2] Nowhere in God’s Word do you find the prophets creating the perception that salvation can be found by following a series of strategies or steps. Instead, the consistent message is that this new prophet that Moses promised would come has come, and He alone makes us right with God through His Work and teaching of forgiveness of sins.

This new teaching, the good news about forgiveness of sins is a simple one. The Kingdom of God is here through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Fully God, yet born of a woman so that we can call Him brother, He was sent by the Father to save you from the evil presence of the devil; He was born to die upon the cross for you. He was born to suffer at the hands of sinful men so that by His stripes, His suffering and death you might be free forever from your fears concerning your own death and the sin that separates you from the love of God; so it’s stripes, not steps that bring you an eternal and abundant life!

What is the abundant and eternal life?

It is freedom from not just your sins and physical death, but also the devil! Jesus has come to set the captives free! By a Word of command He silenced the devil that day in Capernaum, and with that same power, He proclaims that in your baptism, your old sinful nature along with the Devil has been destroyed. Through your baptism, He casts out all things demonic and pronounces you clean.

This morning I proclaim to you that there is one stronger than the devil and your own sinful flesh that is with you this very moment. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living and faithful God, and where He is eternally, you shall one day join Him, because He has washed you clean; forgiven all of your sins. He has given you freedom from your old sinful nature, victory over the devils, and peace and joy with your Heavenly Father. That is who Jesus really is.

The demon in our gospel reading knew who Jesus was and he identified Him immediately as the Holy One of God. The people who saw and heard everything that day stood in amazement. They knew that they had heard and seen things that were new and powerful; they knew they had witnessed the authority and power of God in action.

It is my prayer that you will know these things also, and that you will, like the people in that Capernaum synagogue, leave here and at once spread the good news about who Jesus Christ really is, and what that means for the people in our community. I pray that you will tell them about a holy and perfect God who cannot tolerate sin, but made a way out of it, so that they could be free of not just sin, but also shame, addictions, and death. I pray that you will be enabled by God to declare to your neighbors that Jesus is the only way to God’s forgiving love. Tell them, and then invite them to come to church with you and see for themselves. I ask this in Jesus name, AMEN!

Beware of False Prophets, Indeed!

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Eighth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

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“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  [Matthew 7:15]

The reign of heaven has broken into our world in power through Jesus Christ.  And now, our Lord Jesus is in the process of bringing His Father’s saving righteousness to the world. Nevertheless, Christ and His church are still being attacked by enemies both from outside and from within His church; enemies who do not want God’s true Word proclaimed.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus simply came out of heaven in power and destroyed the enemies of His church?  But that is not how God has chosen to operate in this sinful age; no, God’s reign is coming to us every day in hidden ways, in an unexpected forms, that to this sinful world seem weak and meaningless. The ultimate expression of this message is the cross of Jesus, where God defeated sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus’ disciples, you and me, will have to carry our crosses too.  Jesus drank from the cup of suffering in a way we could never fully understand, but He also gives each of us who are baptized in to His death a cup of suffering that we too at times, must drink from as we follow him.

None of us enjoys suffering; we spend most of our lives trying to avoid it, and yet Jesus says that suffering will come our way if we are truly on the narrow way of salvation and eternal life.  But isn’t there a way to avoid the suffering?  The false prophets would like us to think so!  They offer you a path opposite of Jesus narrow way, a very broad path, which they promise will supply the faithful with glory and prosperity right now in this sinful age.

So today, we will examine two ways of life, and two different kinds of prophets.  One way is narrow and it is called the path of the cross and repentance, and the other way is broad, and it is called the way of glory.  Which will you follow?  How can you tell the true prophet of the narrow way from the false prophets of the broad way?  Well, first let’s understand what God’s word has to say about prophets.

A prophet is a man who speaks on behalf of God and at God’s request.

He has a message to bring that comes from God, and it is the prophet’s business to see to it that the message is given clearly.  It usually takes a good amount of courage on the part of the prophet to proclaim the message, because it’s not just in Jerusalem where the prophets are harassed and even killed by the very people God has sent the prophet to speak His true Word to.

A false prophet is a person who speaks about God and the will of God as though he knew all about these things, but in reality he does not, and in fact he is actually leading the people who listen astray.  “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name,” says the Lord through Jeremiah, “I did not send them nor did I command them or speak to them.  They are prophesying to you… the deceit of their own minds.” [Jeremiah 14:14]

“And my people love to have it so,” is the statement God declares in another place. [Jeremiah 5:31]  The falsifying of God’s message is usually in the direction of making it say what the people want to hear and not what God says they must hear. “If they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed My Words to My people, and they would have turned from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.” [Jeremiah 23:22]

But it is not just in the Old Testament that we find mention of false prophets.  In our second reading [Acts 20:27–38]  and our Gospel lesson [Matthew 7:15–23], both St. Paul and our Lord Jesus warn us directly about them and speak of them as something that is to be driven out of the Christian church.  They are rightly referred to as hungry wolves disguised as gentle lambs.

Here is an important truth worth remembering: Since the coming of Jesus, God no longer speaks to us through direct revelation; in other words, don’t look for a new message to be proclaim.  What God would say to our generation is spoken through the Word and can be found there and only there.  The same responsibility that lay upon the prophets rests now on those who are properly trained and called preachers and pastors of God’s Word.  For pastors, it is a matter of faithfully and diligently speaking the message that God wishes us to proclaim.

Both Christ and the apostles warn us, that we the redeemed sinners who are gathered in Christ’s church have a strange eagerness to believe in false teachers who preach another message of prosperity; a message about a false Christ, and another false Gospel.  God’s Word says that, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” [2 Timothy 4:3]

False teachers sadly seem to always “have many followers,” [2 Peter 2:2], so the size of a congregation is no indication that the true Word of God is being proclaimed from their pulpits.

It is on the broad way of glory and prosperity that sinners will discover when it is to late that it’s path was in reality the broad road to Hell.

Jesus says to us this morning, that it is from the fruits of their preaching and teaching that you will know the false prophets.  So what is their fruit?  Well lets hold it up to the light of God and let Jesus show us.

These wolves in sheep’s clothing love to declare that God does not want us to suffer, so if you are suffering it is simply because you have not followed His will.  Now lucky for you, this glory preaching, false teaching phony prophet will tell you how to live your life so you can reclaim the prosperity they say God wants to give you.  Once you are comfortably under the false prophets control and traveling on their glory road they will also proudly proclaim to you that God also does not want you to be poor or sick, and if you are it is simply because you lack the right kind of faith.  And yes, you guessed it, they will gladly preach to you and teach you about their kind of faith.  I find it fascinating that there version of faith always involves some aggressive form of tithing and “giving until it hurts!”

You see dear friends the wrong unscriptural human centered prophets always start with what is seen and perceivable with our senses, and then from that perspective they proclaim a false understanding of the unseen spiritual reality of God.  The false prophets always start from what is on earth and then they lead you to look to Heaven.  Or another way to say this is that they believe that one may know the Creator by first celebrating creation.  But the correct, scriptural, God centered answer always starts with the hidden God and it turns over all questions and mysteries to Him.  Notice, I did not say the unknown God, but only the hidden God.  While God may be unseen he is very much known, and we all may know Him equally through His Son, Jesus Christ, the very visible and powerful Word of God!

Jesus Christ is both the true message of God and the true messenger of God.

The message of Jesus is always one of repentance; of turning to God through the narrow way of the cross, which also implies a turning away from the way of the world and it’s false promises of prosperity and glory.  In other words, the only message that a true prophet of God must preach is one that insists that God is right and we are wrong.  God’s narrow way of salvation is the only way to paradise and any other message or way is not only wrong but it consists of the very sin that separates us from God’s redemption for sinners, which is only obtained through the cross of Jesus Christ!

Dear friends, there is only one defense against the deceptions of the false prophets: the Word of God.  And so it is necessary to have such an intimate knowledge with the whole Word of God that you can discern God’s truth from the errors that are peddled by the false prophets.  The truth is that God does not wish that any sinner should perish, but that all of us would turn, repent, seek the cross of Christ that alone pays for our sins, and then follow the narrow way of Jesus until one day we are at home in paradise.

You started out on this narrow way of salvation when you were baptized.  It was there where you were saved by grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone, all because of Jesus Christ alone!  Christ’s true church and His true messengers are called to continually feed your faith with this very same message.  They are commissioned to encourage you to confess your sins as illuminated by Scripture so that they may do what the Holy Spirit has empowered them to do… absolve you of those sins.  It is this message of repentance and forgiveness that the true prophets are commissioned to proclaim and no other!  The true prophets must not deviate from it, because then they would be leading you down the broad false way that ends in eternal suffering.

Dear friends, who do you say Jesus is?  The false prophets and glory preachers will tell you that He is the means to your blessing and prosperity here in this life, and then only as an after thought will they address the eternal life to come.  This is a message that always finds its origin from within a sinful heart.  But the message of the cross and the constant source of hope and faith for sinners is that Jesus alone is your Savior and God who promises and abundance of glory and prosperity not here in this sinful world, but there in your eternal home which Jesus has prepared and has waiting for you in heaven.

So this morning, I proclaim to you that you must stay on the narrow way of the cross; a way that will surely pass through both suffering and happiness.  It is a way that is hidden from the eyes of false prophets.  It is a path that may take you through both sickness and disease but it is leading you to eternal healing and restoration.  It is the way of the cross; a cross that tests everything!  And the way of the cross always ends in God’s love and  power, as it passes through suffering, humility, and shame in the eyes of the world.  But where it ends makes all the difference.  Oh friends, nothing is worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, that is waiting for us on the other side in God’s paradise which has been prepared for you!  For you see, “now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” [1 John 3:2]

May God keep each of us on this narrow way and defend us from both the false prophets and their teachings.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!

A Gospel That Causes Division

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 13C, August 18th, 2013

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“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” [Luke 12:51]

It appears that Jesus prophecy has been proven true.  Look around; all over there seems to be very little unity, but instead there is division.  Let me show you what I mean.

Who do you support in Egypt, the supposed democratically elected militant Muslim government in Egypt or the supposed temporary Military imposed government, which only wants to bring back economic stability?  Are you a democrat or a republican?  Are you for more social “welfare” programs or do you favor “work-fare”.   Should the Word of God determine what is or is not a legitimate marriage, or is it merely a social institution regulated by government?

In case I did not peak your interest yet, let me try hitting a little closer to home.  Are you for open communion at the Lord’s table for all who are baptized, or is it something that should only be shared by those who are walking together in doctrine?  Wait, one more example if I may.  Should women be allowed to preach and teach in the church?

Now for some people, these questions are open for discussion and even vigorous debate.  For others, these things are easily answered; in fact they would say that the Word of God has already answered them.  But what do you do when there are equally sincere people, each proclaiming to have answers centered on the counsel of God.  Who do you listen to?

This morning, through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:1-29), God answers us.  Listen: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” [v. 16]

The Lord’s advice was then, and is today, direct and simple, “Do not listen [to them].” The prophets in Judah were not preaching messages from the Lord. That was plain to see, for what they were saying contradicted everything the Lord had said in the rest of his Word.  Where God demanded repentance, the false prophets had repeatedly called for tolerance of sin.  When God condemned the worship of false Gods, the false prophets instead counseled an acceptance of false worship so that peace and harmony could be sustained.  And now, here is Jeremiah prophesying the impending punishment of God; the captivity of the Jews. And how did the false prophets of glory and prosperity respond?  They accused Jeremiah, the true prophet of God as being a false prophet.  And to this conflict, to this division God proclaimed: “And when your people say, ‘Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.'” [Jeremiah 5:19]

The false prophets gave false hope to those who despised and refused to believe the Lord’s Word. They encouraged the sinner to remain in his sin by making it seem less sinful. They dismissed God’s threatening judgment with the words “no harm will come to you”—hell and damnation are mere delusions of the false preacher. They were the false prophets, because they gave false hope; they left the impenitent with the impression that their sin was no big deal; God didn’t care. So, according to them, there was no need to worry about repentance.  Don’t worry, be happy!

But Jeremiah was a true prophet of God.  He had stood in the council of the Lord, and what He heard God say He was compelled to repeat.  If the people then and the people today listened to the Word of God, they would not have missed the heart of all of God’s Word, the center of all Scripture: Repent! The Lord means what he says!  Or as God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” [Ezekiel 18:4] Salvation and righteousness are found in the Lord alone and in the Word that brings his forgiveness.

So how can we take this message from our Old Testament lesson and apply it to our lives today?  What determines whether a prophet or teacher’s message can be trusted?  Well it all depends on where the message comes from.  Is it’s origin from within the desires of their own hearts or is it a message from the heart of God?

When I was a teenager, my friends and I use to be guilty of playing pranks on people.  Many of our ideas came from television programs like, “Candid Camera.”  One day, on a busy downtown sidewalk, we decided to play the prank, “Look Up!”  It went like this: One of us would stand in the middle of the sidewalk looking up into the distant sky.  Another would come and stand next to him and ask “What are you looking at?”  The first prankster would point up.  Then another of our team would join the ranks as the first two pointed up.  Then another and another.  What always happened was a gathered and growing crowd would each invite additional people into the group by pointing up.  Eventually, we pranksters would slip out of the crowd, back away and crack up with laughter as we watched those clueless people watching nothing.

So what are you looking at?  I could ask you the same question about what you think our Epistle text (Hebrews 11:17-40) wants us to look at.  Are we supposed to look at and admire those heroes of the faith, and see them as great role models?  If that’s what we are looking at then I’m afraid we are in for disappointment.  You see those great heroes of the faith weren’t any better than you and me; they too were sinners.  They too needed to repent of their sin and lack of trust in God’s care.  Moses, that mighty man of God who led God’s people out of Egypt also doubted God’s decision to use him.  David, the Lord’s mighty king who was declared to be a man after God’s own heart, was an adulterer and murderer.  The list of disappointments goes on and on through out the pages of scripture.  In too many instances to recount, the mighty people of God often had their eyes of things other than God’s call to repent and to trust in Him alone.  Instead of placing their eyes of faith on the promises of God, they had cast their gaze upon things that satisfied their own desires and wants.  Like us today, they just couldn’t find time to listen to God; they were too busy running away from things that frightened them, and running to things that promised security and peace.

So what is the point?  Well the point is to answer the question, “What were those heroes of faith looking at and trusting in?  What are you looking at?  What is it that you are trusting in?”  And the answer is of course, we must look to and trust in only Jesus!  The heroes of faith all knew and trusted the promise of God that a Savior would come to make all sinful things in this world right.  Each time their hearts were turned away from the promise of the coming Savior, God’s Word redirected their gaze back to Him and His promise of redemption.  And today, this morning, we do the very same thing.

We who are sinful agree with God that He is right and we are wrong.  We too allow the Word of God to show us our sin and we too repent.  But we do not turn to the promise of a coming Savior, we turn to a Savior who has already come and set us free. He is a Savior who promises that He will come again to take us home!  When the heroes of faith repented, they turned to God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness.  When we, who are God’s heroes of faith today, repent, we turn to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Do you want to know what Jesus was looking at when He was dying upon the cross?  He was looking at you!  Your life of faith; your struggle to hold on to Him and Him alone as your only true hope of pleasing God and knowing the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  For you, and the “joy set before Him, (He) endured the cross, despising its shame, and is (now) seated at the right hand of God.” [Hebrews 12:2]

How does this change things?  It gives you hope.  Hope to continue following Jesus; hope to agree with the Word of God, even when it means disagreeing with family, friends, and even the entire community.  It means even in the middle of divisions, which the painful consequences of sin cause, you are not alone.  Jesus is watching and helping.  He cares and He will prove it to you!  Hold on; cling to Jesus.  Look to His cross and trust that His Word and His will is ultimately and always what is best for you.  Lay aside your sin that clings so closely to you and look to where He took that sin… the cross!  Look to your baptism as the day He taught you to look up at His death, resurrection, and ascension.  You are clean and free.  Run your race of faith but know that you aren’t running alone, even when the devil and the sinful philosophies of this world tell you otherwise.  Yes, Jesus is right there beside you, but then so are those great heroes of faith; so are we, the rest of the saints who agree with God and repent daily by turning to Jesus.

Who do we listen to?  We listen to Jesus even if it means division!  Yes of course we listen to Jesus, but which prophet of God is the right one?  Well, it’s the one that consistently speaks the message of repentance… the message of the cross.  The one who agrees with God’s Word in all things, and calls a sinful thing sinful, and a God pleasing thing good.  I pray that this message brings you clarity and peace, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Do You Know Who He Is?

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

4th Sunday in Epiphany B, January 29, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

Click here for audio of this message

“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”. [Deuteronomy 18:15]

Ask ten different people who Jesus is and you’ll most likely get ten different answers.  Some will tell you that He’s their higher power.  Some will say  that He’s their source of peace.  Some will answer, it’s not who He is but who He was as an historical figure that matters.  I think one of the funniest  answers became popular in the early 90’s on bumper stickers: “Jesus is my co-pilot.”  And then several years later, another bumper sticker declared:  “If Jesus is your co-pilot, move over.”  And from that bumper sticker came the ever popular country song, “Jesus Take the Wheel”.

Do you know who He is… do you know who He really is?  He is the one that God raised up, a prophet like Moses from among the Hebrews, and it is to  Him we must listen!  And what’s His message?  Well, it’s a new message with authority and power; a message that’s clear, and concise; a message that  drives out demons with a single Word.

Can you imagine being in that synagogue in Capernaum when Jesus taught his simple message of repentance and forgiveness.  While He was declaring  that the kingdom of God was at hand it broke out right before them in power!  Everyone was astonished at His teaching, because it was new and it had  authority.  It was new because it declared God’s forgiving love for repentant sinners.  And it had authority because it had the power to drive out  demons.  “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit (a demon).  And he cried out, “What have you do to with us, Jesus of Nazareth!  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”  And what did Jesus do?  With authority and power, He commanded the demon to shut up and leave the poor man.  And immediately the demon did exactly as Jesus commanded him!

I wonder how many people there that day knew who Jesus really was?  They should have known, because what they went out and told others, were the very words that were prophesied long ago.  They said that what they heard and witnessed was “a new teaching with authority!”   But prophecy can be a tricky thing.  As the Chinese wise man once said, “It’s very difficult to prophesy, especially about the future!”

In a sense, prophecy is a little like space travel.  We’ve learned a lot about our past and gained insight about the future of our world by going into space and looking down on our earth.  We’ve learned about weather patterns, location of past and present oil and other natural resources, and we’ve even learned a lot about how our climate is changing.  In a sense, we’ve learned things we never could have until we were given the proper perspective.  And in a similar way, prophecy takes us out of the limitations of our current perspective and allows us to take on the big picture.  And that’s what God was doing through Moses when He promised that a new prophet was coming, a prophet that would speak a new Word from God!

Why did the people need a new message?  Well, because they just weren’t getting the old one.  When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses, He was speaking something about His own nature.  He was speaking in Spirit and in truth.  He was teaching them that He alone was holy, perfect, and righteous, and His people must become the same.  How?  By hearing God’s Word in spirit and in truth.  They had to first be honest with God and then themselves; they had to confess that they couldn’t be as God commanded them to be without His divine help.  Soon, God’s sinful people realized this very truth.  In Exodus 19, they cried out to Moses: “Speak to us yourself and we will listen.  But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

And yet God must speak and they must listen, because it’s only through His Word that forgiveness and new life can come to sinful men and women.  But why must God’s Word make us afraid of Him?  Because our fear to force us to see and deal with our own sin.  That is always the primary purpose of God’s law.  But our sinful nature tries to twist the purpose of His law to fit our sinful desires.  So at first we might try to ignore our sins, which the law shows us, or maybe down-play them.  We might incorrectly see the law as a self-help tool and say, “Finally, some teaching I can sink my teeth into.”  But this kind of approach to God’s Word lacks spirit and truth; it stops us from realizing just how perfect God is and how sinful we are!  So God’s law like a great spotlight keeps shinning His truth into our sinful lives until we realize that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will always fall short of the demands of His Law.  After we fail over and over again to be perfectly good, it’s God’s will that we’ll finally arrive at this frightening conclusion: There is no hope for me unless God is the one who brings it to me.

Now the devils don’t want us to hear this new Word from God, so they work very hard to replace His new Word with a different message, a false gospel.  This is where false prophets come in.  Led by the devils and their own sinful pride, they teach that a happy life, a life that pleases God is possible if we just keep working at it.  These false teachers have an assorted array of “easy steps” that we can follow which will ensure happiness and peace with God and our fellow man if we just keep working the plan.  They will gladly share their new message with melodious voices and a big smile on their face.  They claim to have all kinds of messages that are sure to give your life meaning and make you feel complete!  They have a plan for a healthy marriage, a promising career, obedient children, and just about everything else you could ever want, it’s all yours if you will just follow their “easy steps.”  The only problem with that teaching is that it never gets rid of the one obstacle that stands in our way… our own sin and our lack of spirit and truth!

I’m afraid that this teaching of techniques only gives us false hope from an eternal perspective.  And these steps prophets are new prophets alright, but they are not the ones that Moses prophesied about long ago.  These step prophets are false prophets because they bring false hope that always leads to suffering and eternal death.  Why?  Because their teachings aren’t centered in repentance and forgiveness of sins, but on the ingenuity of other fallen men and women.  And if you aren’t careful, these false prophets will have you traveling with them to a new paradise of their own making, in a foreign land, gathered around cyanide-laced Kool Aid.  “Drink of it, all of you,” they say, “and you will find a beautiful death” that is until you wake up in hell!”

So how are we to know the true message of God?  Well how did the people of Capernaum know it when they heard Jesus speaking?  They knew it because not only was it different than the law centered message that Moses gave, but it came with power and authority.  What power?  The power to forgive sins and the promise to make everyone who received it right with God!  What was the authority?  Well, the type of authority that sets the captives free!  Free from what?  Well, Jesus answered that when the demon was cast out.  Coupled with the greater promise of forgiveness of sins, they knew, and we can know also that in Jesus, God was giving them not just a new message, but the only prophet who can provide complete victory over sin, death, and the devil!

So, while we must still hear what Moses and the Law of God have to say, we must then let the Spirit of God move us from a message of death to a message of life!  It’s this new message alone that will be our only source of hope and power in this life and the life to come!  This new message is of course the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the only message that God’s prophets are to speak unto eternal life.  It isn’t a message of steps or strategies, but a message of forgiveness and hope.  It is the Words of Jesus and His true prophets.

Listen to some of this hope and let it’s message breath new life into you: “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven”” (Luke 10:20)  This is a message of certainty that those who hear Jesus Words and believe them are saved from their sins. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:11]  And Peter declares this message to Christians scattered throughout the world: “You were like sheep going astray; but you are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [1 Pet. 2:25]   Likewise, John speaks this Word of hope and peace to the church: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.” [1 John 3:2] Nowhere in God’s Word do you find the prophets creating the perception that salvation can be found by following a series of strategies or steps.  Instead, the consistent message is that this new prophet that Moses promised would come has come, and He alone makes us right with God through His Work and teaching of forgiveness of sins.

This new teaching, the good news about forgiveness of sins is a simple one.  The Kingdom of God is here through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Fully God, yet born of a woman so that we can call Him brother, He was sent by the Father to save you from the evil presence of the devil; He was born to die upon the cross for you.  He was born to suffer at the hands of sinful men so that by His stripes, His suffering and death you might be free forever from your fears concerning your own sin that separates you from the love of God; so it’s stripes, not steps that bring you an eternal and abundant life!

What is the abundant and eternal life?  It is freedom from not just your sins, but also death and the devil!  Jesus has come to set the captives free!  By a Word of command He silenced the devil that day in Capernaum, and with that same power, He proclaims that in your baptism, your old sinful nature along with the Devil has been destroyed.  Through your baptism, He casts out all things demonic and pronounces you clean.

This morning I proclaim to you that there is one stronger than the devil and your own sinful flesh that is with you this very moment.  His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living and faithful God, and where He is you shall one day join Him, because He has washed you clean; forgiven all of your sins.  He has given you freedom from your old sinful nature, victory over the devils, and peace and joy with your Heavenly Father.  That is who Jesus really is.

The demon in our gospel reading knew who Jesus was and he identified Him immediately as the Holy One of God.  The people who saw and heard everything that day stood in amazement.  They knew that they had heard and seen things that were new and powerful; they knew they had witnessed the authority and power of God in action.

It is my prayer that you will know these things also, and that you will, like the people in that Capernaum synagogue, leave here and at once spread the good news about who Jesus Christ really is, and what that means for the people in our community.  I pray that you will tell them about a holy and perfect God who cannot tolerate sin, but made a way out of it, so that they could be free of not just sin, but also shame, addictions, and death.  I pray that you will be enabled by God to declare to your neighbors that Jesus is the only way to God’s forgiving love.  Tell them, and then invite them to come to church with you and see for themselves.  I ask this in Jesus name, AMEN!