Last month’s issue of Forward in Christ [our synod’s magazine] shared some shocking statistics. A recent survey gathered religious beliefs from members in the largest Lutheran church body in America. The survey revealed:
So then, is it any wonder your world behaves so schizophrenically chaotic? Is it any wonder no one can agree on what is morally “right” and what is morally “wrong?” Pastors— those who call themselves “messengers of God”— hold the Bible in one hand, but preach a message found nowhere in that book! They instead create a message meant to scratch itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3). Is it any wonder droves are fleeing worship? If those same pastors proclaim, “All people go to heaven!” then why attend? When you dump the Bible, you will create your personal set of beliefs based on opinions, ideas, and reason.
Those statistics serve as a grim reminder of Satan at work still. You are a Christian living in an increasingly Christ-less world. That means, you will face the constant temptation to conform your beliefs to what the world expects to hear. Yet, tuck this truth into your memory: God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. Listen to it. Use it.
God is telling Ezekiel the same thing. Ezekiel grows up in a Christian nation. Just recall everything God gives Old Testament Israel. Father Abraham receives— and passes down— the promise of Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world (Genesis 12:2-3; 15:4-5). This Israelite nation, set free from Egyptian slavery, camps around Mount Sinai. God carves out Ten Commandments for them. No, not to restrict freedom. Rather, these commands are meant to keep believers, believers, and to protect against destructive false teaching (Exodus 19:5-6). The nation understands that; they even shout: Everything the Lord has said we will do! (24:3) God sets up kings as shepherds to steer the people away from false teaching and to lead them to trust God.
Do you see how God describes that same nation here? I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.
Obstinate! Stubborn! The people have the Word, but they resist obeying it! Masses skip worship. And those who did attend simply went to church because it fulfilled an obligation. National leaders trust puny mortal men instead of the powerfully immortal God! Judges are bribed; widows are cheated; orphans ignored. God sends out steady streams of prophets to call people back to him, but those prophets are rejected, beaten, and killed. Then, even after God strips away their freedom, the nation scratches its head asking: ‘Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?’ (Jeremiah 16:10).
Ezekiel is to preach to these people: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says?’ It’s not that they do not know what God teaches. It’s that they reject what God teaches. That makes Ezekiel, a Christian in an increasingly Christ-less nation, a minority.
Do you know that feeling? To feel outnumbered? … to feel as though no one cares about God’s expectations? You urge and plead with your adult-child to worship with you just like they did 40 years ago, but he shrugs off your invite [again]. You chirp up and defend the life of the unborn, but your friend looks at you as though you are a dumb, hateful, and stupid. You make it no secret: “I worship at [Faith/ St. John] Lutheran,” and your friend lists off every fault they have with your church: “It’s too ‘strict,’ too boring, too old, too (fill in the blank).”
You encounter so much resistance that the resistance begins rubbing off on you. Take a moment and ask yourself: Do you feel ashamed when you say out loud: “Marriage is between one man and one woman for life?” Do you think your congregation needs to ask people what they want to hear instead of hearing what God wants them to hear? Do you stand out as a Christian among your friends? Or, is it becoming difficult to see the difference after a night out? … in your relationships? …with the words you use?
The devil lures you, little-by-little, to change with the world, even if it means changing what God has taught you. When you evaluate your thoughts, words, and actions, you will see how successful he has been.
Dear Christian, rebellious hearts will always resist listening to the Word— yours and mine included. The heart does not want to face insults or unpopularity at the expense of God. The easiest way to make sure your life is pleasant is to push God away.
Just look at Jesus’ homecoming. Childhood friends shout, “Carpenter, you are too insignificant to preach to us!” (Mark 6:1-6) Thousands swarm around Jesus. When Jesus does not preach what they want to hear, they leave (John 6:66). Do you know just how tempting it is for Jesus to change the message? To crawl on his knees, hands folded, begging, “Please, tell me, what do you want to hear?” Instead, Jesus shares the truth you (and I) need to hear: You (and I) are a son of man. A mere mortal who will one day be ripped from this planet and forced to stand before the eternal Judge in order to explain why you felt God’s Word could be changed to suit your interests.
For that reason Jesus is born the son to a man named Joseph. Jesus, the Son of Man, does not change the Word to gain popularity. Rather, when asked: “Who do you say you are?” he answers in truth, “The Son of God” knowing full well that answer would bring death (Matthew 26:62-64). He receives the death sentence because you (and I) changed our beliefs to save our lives. Yet, it is Jesus who never changes God’s teachings in order to save your life.
Why Listen to the Word? Well, listen to God call you, “Forgiven.” Listen to God promise you unending life with him in heaven. God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts like yours and mine. Listen to it. Then, go out, use it.
That was God’s instruction for Ezekiel. As [God] spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. Who brings Ezekiel to his feet? God. God the Father speaks his Word. God the Holy Spirit gives Ezekiel the courage to speak. The power of the Word rests with God.
The same Word strengthens you to stand out in your world today. One powerful way to preach is by putting the Word into practice in your own life. It’s no secret Sunday mornings have become another Saturday. Families spend Sunday mornings at baseball and softball games. And if you lament that so many choose sports over worship, then use the Word. You see, sports will still be played on Sunday as long as parents let their kids play. If families set worship as a higher priority, it forces organizers to change scheduling. Simply let coaches know, “I would play, but after worship.”
Summer is time spent with family, fishing, and camping. When away, make it clear: “God’s first.” Head out after worship or locate another Wisconsin Synod congregation near your area. Invite your children to come with you to worship or let them know you will duck out for an hour and they can remain home. You, by your example, are powerfully preaching that God (and his Word) take priority in your life.
If you feel out-of-place to say a dinner prayer with your family at a restaurant table, then pray! Make others feel out-of-place that they do not thank God for their daily bread [earthly possessions]. Instead of you changing to meet the ever-changing standards of your world, live in such a way for the world to change to God’s standards.
And yes, will one person really make much of a difference? Well, what does God say? Whether they listen or fail to listen— for they are a rebellious house— they will know that a prophet has been among them. Did you catch that? God does not guarantee Ezekiel that he will have instant success. God even suggests he will face resistance because the nation is rebellious. If people reject the message, it does not mean the message is less powerful. The fault lies with the person. Not the message, not the messenger. God simply tells you: Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ Use the Word and let God worry about the results.
God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. All Ezekiel did was preach. Some did not listen. Yet, they did not reject Ezekiel. Instead, they must answer to God why they rejected his prophet. Others did listen. Eventually Israel returned home. They rebuilt the temple and set their hearts back on God. The line of the Savior was handed down from generation to generation. Faithful Joseph and Mary brought Jesus into the world. Twelve apostles carried the life-changing Word to the corners of the earth. Through their work and God’s blessing, you have the Word today. God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. You get to use it.
Your world will continue behaving so schizophrenically chaotic as long as God’s Word is changed to meet worldly standards. Masses will never agree on what is morally “right” and what is morally “wrong” if they search for answers apart from God. Droves will flee worship as long as pastors proclaim the lie: “All people go to heaven!” Dump the Bible, you will create your personal set of beliefs based on opinions, ideas, and reason.
As a Christian living in an increasingly Christ-less world, you will face the constant temptation to conform your beliefs to what the world expects to hear. You may even feel unaccepted, unpopular, unwelcome. That something is wrong with you.
Stand strong on the Word. Remember that God speaks so that you might listen, apply, and live. Remember that it’s not up to you to make God’s Word more appealing or popular. The message belongs to God. Simply lead others to hear, read, and see it. God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. Listen to it. Use it.
I recently came across these words from another Pastor and want to share them with you this morning. As I read them, try to make mental notes of anything that jumps out at you. Alright? Here we go:
The world now seems to operate according to the motto: ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ All sinners proceed on the assumption that there is no God whom men must fear and no judgment in which man must give an account. People make no secret of their sins; they even boast about them. As at the time of the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, sinners regard themselves as secure and carefree. They seek money, bigger houses, and other worldly pleasures. They dismiss as laughable those who witness to the truth of God’s anger and punishment. New movements continue to arise for the purpose of overturning Christian discipline and order, and for stirring up children against their parents, citizens against their government, students against their teachers, and the poor against the rich (God Grant It, by C.F.W. Walther, page 25-26).
Any phrases ringing in your ears? [Maybe:] People act as though there is no God? …Many chase after bigger and better? …Secretly shameful sins are now openly praised? …Christians mocked? …Rebels rage against government? …Christian discipline crumbles? (Something else?)
Believe it or not, these words come from a devotion written in 1850. It almost sounds as though this Pastor lives in our world today! Yet, Jesus warns you that this would happen. There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:1-5). As this world races to its end and as eternity marches another day closer, the devil, in his frenzied fits of rage, will fight to detract many from God forever.
That means there is still work to do. Understand, God is not telling you to go out and solve society’s troubles. Neither does he want you to point a smug, self-righteous finger at your neighbor or the stranger in the grocery store. Words like these strike home first. Reflect on your calling in life and consider the people God has placed in your life. Remember, Training Preserves Life. Remove what is harmful. Learn what is good. Follow what is right.
And she said that to me. A middle-aged woman, standing in my driveway, facing the parsonage garage-door. (The Ten Commandments are painted on it). Her eyes locked onto the Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and mother.” She turned to me, “My kids need to pay attention to that.”
She’s right— but I wonder, has she removed what is harmful?
You see, children are not born with this innate sense of right and wrong. They are not these “blank slates” that can choose to love God or choose to disobey him. Scripture plainly says: Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).
God’s Word shatters this idea that babies are born innocent, or that toddlers do not really understand the reason for their tirade, and that “kids will just be kids.” The sinful heart reveals itself with tirades and tantrums, with sass-back and disrespect. Toddlers understand the word: “No.” They cry because they do not want to hear it. Teenagers know drugs and drunkenness are wrong. So, they try to hide it from their parents. Even adults manipulate one another because they are selfish. God looks down on the world, sees every living soul, and concludes: All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:3). Not one elderly person. Not one kind parent. Not one newborn baby. Not even one.
That means someone must teach God’s ‘right’ and God’s ‘wrong.’ That means someone must teach when an action is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ That is reason for God’s command: Fathers… (and we could include father-figures, mothers and mother-figures) [bring up your child] in the training and instruction of the Lord. The purpose is to remove the sin that harmful. Sometimes that means you (and I) have to start with yourself first. Remove the faulty thoughts that are harmful.
God lists one: Fathers, do not exasperate your children… ‘Exasperating’ means to behave in a way that brings out anger from your child. To make your child resentful because of your actions.
If you wonder why a child is disobedient, a good question to ask is: Are they learning from me? Your child will believe God’s commandments are optional if you do not chastise them for disrespect or cursing or fighting or losing self-control. Your child will think faith in Jesus as Savior is unnecessary if he sees you in worship, but you do not urge him to also worship. Your child might know you worship, but hurt when you insult them and berate behavior. Instead of looking around at others, pointing a finger at their wild lifestyle, you (and I) have to examine our hearts first because your heart turns aside. It can become corrupt. It does not do the good God demands. Left unchecked, it can lead the child in your life to resent God.
So, God sends Jesus to remove what is harmful, to remove the ravaging effects of sin in you (and me). Jesus removes what is harmful by remaining without sin. When his disciples panic on a stormy sea, he rescues them. Not just that, but he even corrects their doubting faith. When James and John foolishly ask Jesus to destroy nonbelievers, he does not insult: “You idiots!” Rather, he teaches them that God’s love demands patience. When the Eleven cower for their lives Easter evening, Jesus does not appear with, “Cursed are you! See my hands and feet? I’m alive and you will suffer!” Instead he breathes out, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).
Look at Jesus. See God treat him harshly on the cross. See Jesus carry your (and my) parental failures to the cross. See him rise and raise you forgiven. Jesus has removed harmful attitudes about parenting.
Jesus shows you how serious sin is. As you remember his work for you, you will remove harmful thinking. In its place, you will learn what is good.
What is good? To bring up [your child] in the training and instruction of the Lord. Who does this? You. Fathers and father-figures, God wants you to continually teach your child about Jesus. Parent-figures, God uses your roles and your relationships as ways to bring his Word to the ears and hearts of others.
He even tells you what to say. Instruct [them] in the Lord. That means, teach them what God teaches. Sometimes that learning includes, well, learning. The only way you will know what God calls ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is to read what God calls ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ As a [grand]parent, make time for family devotions; make this part of your routine. Spend a few minutes after dinner or right before shutting off the lights at night. Read a chapter in one of the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Summarize the one simple truth Jesus (1) teaches or (2) reveals about himself. Then say a short prayer together. God has placed you in the life of a child so that this child may know their Savior.
Not only do you instruct, but you also train in the Lord. When a child veers away from what God calls ‘right,’ call them back.
Some of you have adult children. You brought them to catechism class to learn the teachings of the Bible. Yet, it can happen that catechism class appears as a classroom lecture that does not touch the heart. Point out the catechism is not mindless information. Instead, it brings out key teachings of Scripture. The best way to drive this home is to share how something you learned from the catechism still comforts you. Speak of God’s promises when issues arise. “God’s in control over governments” (Psalm 2:1-6). “We need to pray for guidance in conflict” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). “God has given us our money, our home, and our food. He gets the credit” (Psalm 145:15-16). By doing this, you are connecting everyday life to the promises God has laid out in the Bible.
Perhaps teenagers live at home. It’s an exciting time to watch them mature and form decisions for their own personal future. Yet, remember: teenagers tend to feel a sense of freedom to do the things they did not experience with you. So, if God is a part of your life, you can be sure the devil will tempt them to try life without God. (That is part of the reason why 30% of those under age 30 no longer have a home church.) As a Christian father, share your faith with your teen. Open yourself up, expressing how God fills you with comfort, when you needed him most, and the confidence you hold now with him.
Training Preserves Life. Physical exercise increases physical health. In the same way, time in the Word and opportunities to connect faith to everyday life increases spiritual health. You learn what is good. As a result, you follow what is right.
Do you see the role you have, fathers and father-figures, [grand]parents and parent-figures? When you train a child, you are laying a groundwork for the child to follow.
That proves to be a blessing for all involved. God commands: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Understand, God is not saying, “Obey because I will be sad if you are not.” What makes this command “right” is that it comes from God and is beneficial. Obey your parents because they share the Word of God Almighty. Obey your parents because you belong to God. Obey your parents because out of love for God, you want to do what he commands.
Those who Honor your father and mother…[have] that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” If you respect your authorities, they will not arrest you, throw you into prison or execute you. If you obey your spiritual leaders, you will not bring spiritual harm upon your soul. If you obey your parents you will not be stressed out when talking. You may receive financial help. You will receive advice and guidance. You will enjoy ease of communication. Training Preserves Life. Follow what is right.
As this world races to its end and as eternity marches another day closer, the devil, in his frenzied fits of rage, will fight to detract many from God forever. That happens when the family unit breaks down. When parents fail to teach the next generation of their God. When parents do not discipline their child as God expects. When children disobey God and reject his leaders. You do not have to look far to see proof of this happening today.
Remember, God does not tell you to go out and solve the world’s troubles. He tells you to start at home. Take a good look at your family. Is there somewhere you can grow? … Somewhere you can spend time with the Word of life? … Somewhere discipline is needed? …Is there a place to spend more time in devotion?
The purpose of that Christian family is to have all those parts work together so that all may reach their heavenly home. The way to do that is through the Word. He give us parents (and parent-figures) to speak and children to hear. Reflect on your calling in life and consider the people God has placed in your life. Training Preserves Life. Remove what is harmful. Learn what is good. Follow what is right.
Morgan Spurlock had a simple question: What would happen if I eat at McDonald’s three times each day for one month?
So, he put his question to the test. He went to McDonald’s every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He ordered every single item on the menu board at least once over the course of 30-days. He made sure to eat nothing except McDonald’s. So, that means no cookies at home, no chips, no tacos, no apples, nothing except what McDonald’s offered. He would even SuperSize his meal if the order-taker asked him. Now, he made sure to stay somewhat active during this test; he walked about 5,000 steps per day (which is about how much the average American walks). He did this for 30-days.
Can you guess what happened? In one month Morgan Spurlock gained 25-pounds. In fact, he gained ten pounds in just the first five days and gained an additional eight pounds about a week later. Doctors figure his diet averaged 5,000 calories per day. (For comparison, nutritionists recommend a 2,000-3,000 [calorie] daily diet.) Put another way, he ate the equivalent of nine-and-a-half Big Mac [sandwiches] each day. (Can you imagine eating that?) Not only did he gain weight, but he experienced mood swings, depression, and laziness [lethargy]. His heartbeat grew irregular. He had fatty accumulations piling up on his liver. Friends pleaded with him to stop this unhealthy test. His doctor even said, “If you continue this diet, you will die.” Morgan Spurlock went from healthy to near-death all within 30-days (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Size_Me).
You must watch what you consume because what you consume can kill you. This morning God is not discussing your diet habits at McDonald’s. Instead, God wants you to examine your spiritual diet. What are you taking in? Feasting on false teaching can bring spiritual death. So, God cannot make it any clearer: Test What You Believe. Many false messages exist. So, make sure to stand on the side of God.
It might be the most popular question asked when stepping into a church: “How do I know what the Pastor says is right?”
That is an excellent question to ask. It demonstrates your concern about on what your faith rests. You want to hear God’s thoughts, not the thoughts of another human being. You want a message that will not harm you spiritually, but will strengthen your faith. You do not want to stand before God only to hear him say, “No. What you believe is wrong. Away from me.” You want a message that puts you on God’s right side for eternity!
So then, how do you know that what the Pastor says is God-pleasing? Well, our reading from 1 John says this: Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… John tells you: Test What You Believe. In the old wild west, bankers would bite down on gold coins in order to test if they were real. If their teeth left a mark, then the coin was made of real, soft gold. If there was no mark, then the coin was made of false gold. How do you that what you believe God approves? Take what you hear and compare it to what the Bible teaches. Does what you hear agree with what is written down? Or does it contradict the Bible?
This is something you must always continue. Why? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Did you catch that? You will encounter many different people who claim to speak with God’s authority. You must Test What You Believe.
Understand, no one will sneak out of the shadows and tell you, “Follow me. I preach my own feelings about heaven and hell.” No one will jump out of a dark alley and say, “Hey! Come to my church. What we teach is wrong!” No false prophet calls himself “false.” What makes a prophet “false” is that his preaching and teaching will contradict what God says in the Bible. You will hear Pastors tell you, “Do not baptize infants,” even though Jesus commands, “Go, baptize all nations”— that is, all the people in the world (Matthew 28:19). You will hear Sunday School teachers say, “Mary is not a virgin.” Yet, God makes it so clear, in the Bible: “Jesus is born of a virgin; he is without sin” (Matthew 1:23; 3:17). A couple weeks ago, a very prominent religious leader (whom millions follow) said, “Even an atheist [one who believes God does not exist] will go to heaven if he is a good man” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-pope-francis-comforted-a-boy-who-wondered-if-his-dad-a-non-believer-was-in-heaven_us_5ad5f549e4b016a07ea0afac). This religious leader contradicted Jesus’ clear teaching: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16).
False prophets look religious. They preach in churches with crosses in them. False prophets open the Bible and speak random passages to cover up their error. False prophets may be sincere, but still spread lies about what God says. When it comes to your heart consumes, Test What You Believe because Many false messages exist.
The trouble is, we are not always so careful about what our hearts consume, are we? The devil does such a tremendous job at convincing us to believe that it doesn’t really matter if you believe the whole Bible. “Just believe the ‘big’ things,” he says.
If you wish to think that your baptism is meaningless, then you are free to disregard God’s teachings on baptism. If you do not think Mary is a virgin, then don’t. If you want to believe that all people go to heaven, then believe it. “Believe whatever you want,” the devil whispers. “It does not matter.”
Yet, it does matter what you believe. No, not because I (as Pastor) say it does. False teaching is dangerous because it puts you against God. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. Did you catch that? If you want to follow teachings not found in Scripture, then you will follow the spirit of the antichrist… which is just as it sounds: a person who “stands against” Christ. You will either stand with God or you will stand against him. If you choose to stand against God, then you will hear the most horrific words ever imagined: “I don’t know you. Away from me” (Matthew 7:21-23). If you fill up on spiritual junk food, you will die.
That is why God stresses: Test What You Believe. Many false messages exist. So, make sure you stand on the side of God.
You can because God has given you his Word, the Bible. Do you realize, that God has written down his very thoughts and his very words and his very actions so that you may hear and read and believe? Do you realize that God has made sure that what was first written in the Bible some 3,500 years ago are still same words you have today? God has handed you the Bible so that these words may fill your heart and give you life!
These Words contain the events Jesus endures to bring you to his side. The Son of God is born of a virgin, born sinless— just like God promised. While he lived on earth, Jesus did not chase after teachings that felt good or sounded pleasant. Rather, Jesus keeps repeating the same teachings of God even when Jewish leaders reject it. Jesus will not change his teachings even when he dies on the cross because of it. Jesus never changes God’s Word because it gives life.
You see, Jesus suffers all this to bring you to stand on the side of God. (1) He lets God punish him instead of you (and me) for the times we tolerate false teaching. (2) He rises from the dead to show he never warped the Word of God. (3) Then, he tells you, You, dear children, are from God.
The Word of God gives life. Jesus has grafted you into himself at your baptism. He strengthens that bond in the Lord’s Supper. You, dear children, are from God and you stand on the side of God.
Just think about that! You stand on the side of God. If you stand on the side of God, then it means you have overcome all enemies of God! Yes, false prophets will remain in the world. Christian leaders will pressure you to change your beliefs on sex and marriage. Sunday School teachers may try to tell you that all people will go to heaven regardless of what they believe. Some Pastors will remove parts of the Bible that sound offensive so that churches get bigger, so that they attract more children, so that they can tug on people’s emotions. You may feel as though your congregation is failing! That you must change your beliefs in order to succeed in today’s world. Yet, God still says, [T]he one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
That means you must continue Testing What You Believe. You stand on the side of God. The devil knows this and he will spend night and day to destroy your faith. He will try to convince you that children’s programs and the number of kids in church is more important than what the Pastor teaches. He will try to convince that the more people in church, the better that church is. He will tell you that you can make an oath to join any organization that honors any Supreme Being. That Supreme Being might not be your Triune God, but all members may pool their beliefs together.
Since the devil wages constant war on you, Test What You Believe and stand on the side of God. If a Pastor teaches that every religion teaches the same thing, then leave that Pastor; he is preaching falsely. If a teacher tells you the Bible has some mistakes in it, then stop listening to that teacher; he is preaching falsely. If your heart makes up beliefs that contradict God’s plan for marriage and divorce, then change your heart. If you realize a group you belong to makes you compromise your beliefs by swearing to an unknown God, then leave that group. Pumping your heart full of spiritual junk food is not worth spiritual death. Test What You Believe; feast on God’s unchanging Word and stand on the side of God.
You must watch what you consume because what you consume can kill you. That was Morgan Spurlock’s wake up call. If he continued his McDonald’s diet, he would die. Change his diet and live.
So, what makes up your spiritual diet? Are you making sure that God’s pure Word enters your life? Or are you willing to change the Word so that you feel happy for today? Are you willing to pick and choose what to believe? Or do you, out of love for God, fight to keep his Word pure?
Feasting on false teaching can bring spiritual death, but Jesus brings you spiritual life. The Holy Spirit used God’s Word to bring you to faith. That faith has grafted you to Christ the Vine. Connected to Christ, you are motivated to live for him. How? Test What You Believe. Many false messages exist. So, stand on the side of God.
"I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb; Ever glad at heart I am… " Be honest with yourself, when singing those words, was there a moment when you felt this hymn was just a bit childish? …like this song is meant for little kids and not for adults? …that you’re too old to be singing this? … that you need something with a more complex focus and moving melody in order to capture inner angst? To be honest, sometimes I think so.
The words are simple and the melody catchy. It’s a song for little kids. But, isn’t that the point? That this child-like hymn is purposely in our hymnal so that you can be a child?
For just a minute, step into the life of a child. Picture it: you have no job, no stressful deadlines, no demanding schedule. You have no need for a certain amount of income, and therefore, no pressure to make a budget work. In fact, your parents pay utility bills, doctor bills, grocery bills, and car bills. Children have such simple and sincere relationships. No stewing over the harsh words she said to you. No nervousness of saying the right things in order to keep others happy. Children simply blurt out what’s on their mind without a second thought. Children have an innocent view of life. They trust, not question. They’re relaxed, not worried. They have peace, not anxiety. Does that hymn sound childish now?
I would guess that most, if not all of you have wished at some point in life to be a child again. To get rid of the stress. To get past the tough relationships. To remove those pressing responsibilities. To put an end to all the nonstop, incessant worry. To live at complete ease.
Perhaps that is what makes these words (John 10:11-18) some of the most beloved words for a Christian. Today you sink into the bliss that comes from living under the care of Jesus, Your Good Shepherd. But remember this: Good Shepherd Sunday does not exist for one day only. Each day Jesus Remains Your Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for yours and who brings life in his fold.
He cannot stress that enough. Jesus plainly says, “I am the good shepherd.” In the Greek language (the original language of the New Testament) that little phrase comes out even stronger. Jesus literally says: “I, I am the Good Shepherd.” It’s like he’s tapping his finger on his chest saying, “Hey! Look at me! Concentrate on who I am; focus on what I am capable of doing! I am Your Good Shepherd.”
Do you understand what he means by calling himself “good?” In our English language “good” can mean many things. You eat “good” cake. A ‘B+’-grade-average in school might be “good.” Those standards of “good” change from person to person. “Good” cake does not mean it’s the “best” cake ever. A “good” grade could be an even better grade. Jesus is not just another “good” Shepherd— one among many shepherds (and you might find someone better). No. When Jesus calls himself “good,” he sets himself apart from everyone else in the world. He’s “good” because he lays down his life for the sheep.
The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. Since he does not own the sheep, he abandons the sheep and runs away when he sees the wolf coming… The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. If you lose a friend’s book, you do not lose money; you did not lose a possession. Your friend suffers the real loss; you do not. If the wolf mauls the sheep, the hired hand loses nothing! The sheep-owner must purchase replacements. The hired hand only cares about saving his own life.
Jesus sets up this marvelous contrast between self-centered, careless shepherd and himself, the Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for you.
That is a truth you (and I) will never outgrow. Yet, that is a truth with which you (and I) grow discontent. I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb; Ever glad at heart I am? How childish!
If it feels that you have lost that sense of child-like innocence, then it is because you have wandered from the protecting care of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. You stress out over money because you do not trust Jesus will provide. You grow anxious in a society growing more God-less because you do not think Jesus will keep you safe from your enemies. You worry because you think Jesus will lead you headfirst into danger— and you will lose grip on your family, lose your health, and lose your life. You lose child-like trust because you feel that Jesus is not leading you in the places you should go.
The truth is, if you do not follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, you will follow someone else. Those self-centered, careless shepherds (Jesus condemns) are not these wicked thugs lurking around every street corner. Instead, a “shepherd” is anyone you trust more than Jesus. A “shepherd” can be a non-Christian friend who urges you to follow her unpleasing, non-Christian advice on marriage. A “shepherd” can be listening to a preacher on the radio or television who twists the clear teachings of the Bible simply to make you feel emotionally happy.
Do you see what those shepherds do? When danger comes and the unexpected happens, they leave you! They do not care to soothe your sorrows. They do not provide rock-solid assurance. They leave you abandoned for the devil to devour you. So, here’s a key point: when Jesus says, I am the good shepherd, he’s telling you, “Focus on me!”
Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd who sacrifices his life for you. That makes him “good”— because he does something no one else does.
Pay attention to that one little word: “for.” The Greek way of saying it is: For your benefit or for your advantage. Jesus lays down his life for the advantage of the sheep. The devilish wolf circles around you— and at one time had your life in his death grip. Jesus did not run away, leaving you to die. He ran towards death on Mount Calvary. He allows nails to fasten him to wood. He braces up under God’s death sentence: “Guilty for sin!” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The jaws of death close around him— and you go free. You, the sheep, the one who liked to wander, go free and you get to live.
Do you have a “good” Shepherd? Yes! Yes, you do! You have a Good Shepherd who lays down his life and takes his life up again. Jesus descends into hell, not to suffer, but to announce: “Devil, you have lost your hold on my flock!” He bursts out of the tomb to tell you the good news: “I Am Your Good Shepherd and I remain Your Good Shepherd!” I sacrificed my life for you in order to bring you life in the fold.
Yes, life. You see, while you live, you either live as believer or nonbeliever; there’s no in-between. You either live with God now by faith or you do not.
When Jesus laid down his life for you, he brought you out of one way of life and into a completely different way of life. You once wandered in the pastures of death, but now he has led you into his believing flock. He uses a special word to tell you that: He “knows” you. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… To “know” means more than just memorizing facts and information. To “know” means “learning something by experience.”
So, for example, I may “know” your child. Your child is a man (or woman), about yea-tall, about this age; she works in town, he travels, she is married with this many children. Yet, I only know facts, information. Would it be safe to assume that you “know” your child better than I do? Yes, you know information, but you have a personal relationship with your child. You can decipher their body language and behavior. You recognize their interests and needs. You can describe their demeanor and personality. You have learned about your child’s needs and you respond appropriately to those needs.
So, when Jesus says: “I know my own…” he’s not saying, “Yes, I stuck my cattle-tag in their ear. That one’s mine.” He knows you personally. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, understands the fears that keep you up at night and comprehends why they bother you. He comforts your fears with a promises, I, the Almighty God, am with you always (Matthew 28:20). Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, senses the concerns you have about your health, and he gives you the strength needed for your health battle. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, sympathizes with your sadness at a funeral, and he comforts you with promises of eternal life. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, knows your gifts and special skills, and he opens opportunities for you to serve and he smiles as he watches you serve. Jesus is Your Good Shepherd who brings life in his fold.
Yes, an entirely new way to look at life. You do not live for your own self-wants. You are not abandoned. You have Someone great who stands watch over you. You can be certain of this. In our final verses Jesus says: The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. This sounds like a disconnected, random thought— but don’t miss the point. Pontius Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and Roman soldiers did not muscle him onto the cross. Jesus submits to and follows the Father’s plan to save you. He lays down his life willingly. Then, he willingly takes his life back from death. This he does, not for his own benefit, but for yours.
Since he has made this great payment, it means nothing will separate you from the fold. With your Good Shepherd bringing you life, you will live protected. You will live perfectly content. Jesus is Your Good Shepherd who brings life in his fold.
Yes, I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb sounds childish. But, isn’t that the point? That this child-like hymn is purposely left in our hymnal so that you can be a child?
That is how you live! As a child under the care of another! As a little lamb under the protection of Someone greater! Yes, life with Jesus presents a clear path. How? Know this: (1) Your Good Shepherd sacrificed his life for you, for your advantage. He has called you to faith and has brought you into his believing flock. You have eternal life.
Yet, you have life now too. Even though the future may be murky and decisions weigh on your mind, you have a powerful Shepherd to guide you. Listen to his voice. Trust those promises because they are meant for your good, not to harm you. When perplexed, go to your Good Shepherd in prayer and trust that he will guide you, even when you do not know how. You are Jesus’ little lamb.
Perhaps that is what makes these words some of the dearest for a Christian. Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd. But remember this: Good Shepherd Sunday does not exist for one day only. Each day Jesus Remains Your Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for yours and who brings life in his fold.
You have heard me say it before: You and I live in a postmodern society. That means, many believe truth is relative. There is no absolute standard of “right” and no absolute standard of “wrong.” So, many make choices based on what feels right to them. If it feels right, then it must be right (so the thinking goes).
So then, what’s the difference between an abortion and the murder of the unborn? [To a postmodern thinker] Whatever the mother thinks is going on inside the womb! If the mother does not wish to keep the child, then she does not think it is “life.” And if it is not a “life,” then she will not call it murder and there is nothing morally wrong. Yet, if a mother wishes to have a child and the child is taken away through an act of violence, then, since the mother felt this was human life, the offender can be charged with murder! Even ‘life’ becomes defined by whatever a person wants it to be—based on what they think or feel it is (and that definition changes from person to person).
Or, if you feel that the speed limit down Old-27 (in Harrison) and McEwan St. (in Clare) should be 50 miles per hour, then the officer who pulls you over for speeding has no reason to write you a ticket because you feel the speed limit should be higher (and the city has posted the wrong speed limit). Postmodern thinking teaches that you determine what is right and what is wrong based on your feelings.
The reason I keep bringing up this postmodern mindset is because you and I live in this postmodern society; this is the current thinking which dominates what you see and hear in life.
That same thinking filters into the world’s beliefs about God. A September 2016 poll surveyed American religious beliefs (and most surveyed identified themselves as Christian). This poll discovered that 58% of Americans believe God is the author of the Bible and 42% percent believe the Bible does not have the authority to tell them what to do. Seventy-four percent feel that small sins do not deserve hell and 52% believe they will go to heaven because of the good deeds they do. Not to mention, 70% of Americans (who, again, identify as Christian) do not believe hell exists and 64% believe all people— regardless of belief— will go to heaven. (http://lifewayresearch.com/2016/09/27/americans-love-god-and-the-bible-are-fuzzy-on-the-details/)
So, what does a poll like this reveal? In words of the pollster: “Most Americans identify as Christians, but seem confused about some details of their faith… Contradictory and incompatible beliefs are OK for most people.”A survey like this reveals a heart which picks and chooses what it wants to believe. The real trouble is not just that you live in this kind of religious atmosphere, but that you too can adopt this same thinking, that you also begin picking and choosing what you want to believe.
Setting your beliefs on your own authority can put your soul in eternal danger. That’s why God warns and urges: Listen to the Prophet! God gives him the Word and He speaks God’s Word.
So, how does anyone know anything about God? How you do know if you stand right in his sight? If your words are pleasing to him? If your actions meet his expectations? If he would approve of your behavior? Because, according to our reading, even the Israelites (at one time) are not too sure.
They were camped around this place called Mount Horeb (or, as you know it, Mount Sinai). Smoke billows from its top. The ground rumbles. The shrill trumpet blast echoes across the desert floor. God came down from heaven and now rests on Mount Sinai— and they are terrified.
God is there! The perfect God with the highest of highest standards for moral perfection. The mighty God who demands absolute obedience! The God who ultimately has the final say on their life. One day their earthly life will end and they will meet him, but they have no idea how they can and live. So, they ask for a prophet— someone who receives God’s Word and brings it to the people.
Enter Moses. He walks up Mount Sinai. God hands him the Word and Moses brings down God’s Ten Commandments. If the nation ever wondered how God saw them, all they had to do was Listen to the Prophet, listen to Moses.
Yet, for you, God has raised up a Prophet even greater than Moses. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers… The New Testament so clearly identifies that Prophet as Jesus (Acts 3:22-23; 7:37). [I] will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.
If you want to know what God expects of you in this life, then listen to Jesus. Understand, Jesus’ words carry authority. Jesus does not base his teaching on his own opinion. He does not share what feels is right in this life. Instead, he tells you what (1) God says and (2) what God will do.
There’s a part of our hearts that doesn’t want to hear this, a part of our lives fighting for a reason as to why God’s truth does not apply to us. Do you hear it?
Jesus says: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:10). Yet, our hearts try undercut Jesus’ authority. “Jesus, I don’t need to worship every Sunday. I determined, by the power of my own feelings that it does not matter if I am here or not. You must accept my belief.”
Or, Jesus explains eternal life: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Yet, that doesn’t sound too fair. “God, I think everyone will go to heaven, I know Jesus says that we need faith in him. But I have determined, through my own investigation that this is not the case. My belief feels right to me, so I am right and you are wrong.”
Or, Jesus cares about the way you live. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Yet, maybe that does not sound too realistic. “God, I know what pleases you—what kind of words please you, how I can use my body and mind to glorify you, but I have determined that this brings nothing bad into my life. Therefore there is nothing morally wrong with the way I act.”
Your heart (and mine) will try to create its own beliefs, its own rules, and follow them— even going so far as to demand that God cater to you. That sounds good; that sounds acceptable. Except… except of one truth no one can deny: You (and I) will die one day. When that happens, God clearly reveals what will happen next. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.
Yes, God’s Word can offend us. The sinful nature inside each of us does not want its deeds evil, wicked deeds exposed. It does not want God to tell us how to live. Yet, God tells us how to live so that you (and I) do not fall under his eternal judgment!
So, God raises up his Prophet for you! Look at Jesus and recognize that his Word is not mean to enslave you, but to free you! To free you from the consequences of sin! To free you for eternal life!
That is what the Prophet preaches! Freedom for the captive! Good news for the spiritually poor and empty (Luke 4:18). The message of his mouth has authority; it accomplishes what he says it will do.
On the cross Jesus speaks: It is finished (John 19:30)--and that word does something. He pushed Satan back into hell. He grabbed you (and me) by hand, led us to himself, and leads us out of the bondage of our sins. He rises from the dead and proclaims real truth: Peace be with you. As I forgive you, you are forgiven. I can tell you that you are at peace with God (John 20:21).
Listen to the Prophet. God gives him the Word to proclaim, a word which reveals your truthful reality. There remains no more guesswork as to how you stand before God. Listen to the Prophet because He speaks the Word.
Still. Today. Right now. Jesus the Prophet still speaks. The writer of [the book of] Hebrews says: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways… that is, God sent out people with his Word. Yet, God does not send out new messages to prophets anymore. In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (1:1-2). The Bible is similar to a diary. If you write down your day’s events, and I read that book out loud, I am not reading my words, I am not reading my thoughts. I am reading your words and your thoughts. God gave certain men his Word to write down (1 Thessalonians 2:13). When I read it out loud, you hear what God desires. When you read it, you read God’s teachings. Listen to Jesus, the Prophet, because he speaks God’s Word.
Yes, Listen to Jesus, the Prophet as you step out into a postmodern society. Most recently, the president of the largest Lutheran church body in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA] (a liberal branch of Lutherans) went on record to say: If hell exists, I think it’s empty. (https://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/elizabeth-eaton-presiding-bishop-evangelical-lutheran-church-in-america-chicago-if-hell-exists-i-think-its-empty-face-to-faith-podcast/) This religious leader speaks in the name of God, that is, she passes along a teaching that appears to be approved by God. But, does God approve it?
First, If hell exists? Jesus, in the Bible makes it clear hell exists. He tells how a man named Lazarus went heaven and a nonbelieving rich man when to hell (Luke 16:22-23; see also Matthew 10:28). Then, If hell exists, I think it’s empty. Yet, Jesus makes it clear: All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another… He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left…[the goats] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:32-33,46). Again, this Lutheran preacher speaks a teaching different from the One Jesus himself gives.
You must be on your guard against prophets who speak in God’s name, but are not sharing what he commands. No one advertises himself as a false prophet. No one says: “Come to my church. I’m going to tell you a bunch of lies.” No one says, “Listen to me; I’ll share my firm opinions with you.” No one will stand up and say, “We take little snippets of the Bible out of context and pass along teachings that make sense to our minds.” No one will say that.
That is why you need to Listen to God’s Prophet. When someone tells you something about angels or heaven & hell or how people enter heaven and you’re not so sure they’re right, go back to the Bible and see if this matches what Jesus says. And yes, our world passes along sentimental thoughts and some of them appear quite harmless. Maybe you even wonder: Why not let people believe what they want? What’s the harm in that? Because God warns: [A] prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”
God is that serious when it comes to the matter of your soul! He knows that allowing just a little false teaching into your heart can lead you down the wide road into hell. So, he goes to the extreme: Remove those words from your presence! Get rid of them!
This can sound strict, like God is a narrow-minded elitist. Yet, is he? Many of you already act in the same way as parents and grandparents. If you have a little one in your house, you recognize there are some dangers in that house. If a child grabs a bottle of bleach and you take it away. He will cry. He will think you’re the worst parent on earth. He might yell and stomp his feet. He will try to make you feel bad. Does that mean you are a bad person? No! The child is still wrong and you are still right. You took the bleach away because it harms. God, in the same way, protects his Word so that you get to hear his truth and remain close to him.
It’s a tough teaching. It’s tough because our world really does not enjoy hearing truth. They will agree on opinions, but when you call an opinion a fact, it will be resisted. It’s tough because even you (and I) will want to follow our feelings.
Yet, Listen to the Prophet because God gives him the Word—the authoritative truth on life. God removes all guesswork as to how you stand with him. Listen to the Prophet who still speaks the Word so that you may live guided to your heavenly home.