“Where is your brother?” Cain and his brother, Abel, had hiked out into the farm-fields. But that was hours ago. And by now Cain had returned home; Abel was still gone.
So, God asks, “Where is your brother, Cain?”
The response? “What do you want from me? Am I expected to report back on everything Abel does, God? Do you want me to chart out a timeline of his day? …when he wakes up, what he eats, how long he works, and with whom he speaks? Am I responsible for the well-being of my adult brother, who, by the way, is perfectly capable of my making his own decisions? Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:8-9)
Well, are you? And, I’m not just talking about your biological siblings. I’m talking about those inside your church. All those men and women and boys and girls who stand in the family of God. Do you care about their spiritual needs, their spiritual struggles, their spiritual questions? Or, is there a complete lack of interest? Is there an excuse meant to remove personal responsibility in protecting the life of others?
Carelessness can lead to death— and not just physical death, but spiritual death as well. So, God takes action to prevent such a spiritual catastrophe. With his Word, he urges you: Live a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received. You can do that, because God has called you into one faith and God has equipped you for Christian service.
The first three chapters of this letter [Ephesians] have been leading up to this key point. But first, remember how it begins. God unveils everything he has done for you. He chose [you] in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:4). That’s not something you did; it is God who chose you. It is God who puts Jesus on trial for the commands and regulations you (and I) trashed. It is God who makes you spiritually alive by taking away the holy and blameless life of Jesus (2:4-5).
Do you comprehend just what it is God has done? He has placed Christ into your heart (3:17). God has called you into one faith. One— meaning, the object you trust is Jesus. You confess that the only way into heaven comes through the One who pays your penalty for sin. Because of the work Jesus completed for you, you will never be locked away into the gloomy dungeons of hell. Instead, you live with open access to God both now and forever.
This life-saving action is not yours alone, as though you will stand in heaven by yourself. Rather, each person brought to faith stands beside you. Each of you individually have been brought into the same family of God. That means, you share something in common, just like brothers and sisters do. So, are you [your brother’s keeper]?
In the February issue of the Forward in Christ [our synod’s magazine], Wisconsin Synod President, Mark Schroeder, noted “Every year, roughly 8,000 members of our WELS congregations leave for various reasons.” (https://wels.net/when-brothers-and-sisters-really-care/) Eight-thousand souls! Take the entire population of Clare, Harrison, and Houghton Lake (that’s 8,000 people!) and imagine it gone. Absolutely no cars in the streets, no kids in school, no couples in the park, nothing. Gone. Eight-thousand souls. each. year.
Unfortunately, those same sad numbers affect your congregation also. Let’s be clear: I am not referring to those made homebound due to physical limitations. I am not speaking about those who have moved from earth to heaven. I mean those who worshipped here, walked out the doors, and never returned. Do you know someone like that? It may be your spiritually lazy daughter. Yes, she knows God exists. She knows Jesus died on a cross for her benefit. Yet, sleep is more important than the life Jesus gave up for her. Sunday morning shopping is more important. Nonstop weekend getaways are more important. Or, perhaps you think about your confirmed grandson who just graduated. First time away from home; first time without living under the rules of mom and dad. “Freedom!” he calls it. ‘Free’ to challenge what the Bible teaches! ‘Free’ to decide if God is really necessary or not. ‘Free’ to wallow in shameful behavior! ‘Free’ to place “self” onto the pedestal of God! Or, maybe the spot open next to you was once filled by the friend who still lives in town, but doesn’t return because no one cares enough to ask her about her spiritual questions. Are you your brother’s keeper, concerned about the spiritual life of your fellow Christians?
Or, are you like me, mumbling out the same bumbling excuses Cain did? “I care, but… I do not have the time to call my sister and ask why she doesn’t worship anymore.” “I care, but… that’s Pastor’s job. Let him chase down my teenager.” “I care, but… my friend will insult me and that will make me sad.”
Dear family of God, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). That’s his goal: destroy faith. He loves it when you (and I) think so little of this oneness we have (1) with God and (2) with each other. Because he knows that if you (and I) create excuses to do nothing, then he has a free shot to lunge and destroy another soul.
Remember, God has called you into one faith. He sends Jesus, your perfect Brotherly-Keeper. For thirty-three years on earth, Jesus lives to rescue you. He cares for your soul that he lives his entire life obedient to the commands of God. He cares for your soul that he sacrifices himself to free you from the jowls of that devilish lion. He cares for your soul that he rises from death and announces victory to you!
With one baptism, faith in Jesus as Savior started in your heart. The Holy Spirit still grows your faith as you look forward to entering your one great hope: eternal life in heaven. The one God and Father, the One in control over all creation, still assures you, “I have called you into one faith.”
Yes, you are just one person. Yet, look around and see the many others who share the same faith, same belief in Jesus as Savior as you do. God has called into one faith, and therefore, one family. That means you do not live concerned about yourself alone. Living a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received also means caring for your fellow believers. You can do that, because God has equipped you for Christian service.
Really? You? Me? Isn’t that the instant response? “Who am I?” Listen to what God has handed you: to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Do you see that? Each of you are different with different life experiences and different talents and gifts and abilities— and that’s ok. In fact, that’s wonderful! It’s great that I cannot do the all the things you can. It’s great that you cannot do all the things I can. Because that means I can reach people in unique ways with the unique gifts I have and you can reach people in unique ways with the unique gifts you have.
God has distributed his gifts as he sees fit to benefit believers everywhere. He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people (that’s you!) for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Did you catch that? The Pastor of your congregation studies God’s Word. He teaches God’s Word. He applies the Word to the many situations of life. Yet, he is not the only one who serves. God equips you to serve also!
God has placed his Word into your heart and on your lips so that you might tell others about Jesus. God uses you to build up the body of Christ. God uses you to encourage your fellow believers to press on towards your heavenly hope.
Evaluate the gifts God has handed you. You may give out the biggest affectionate hugs that tell someone you care. You may have the life-experience to encourage those who struggle with cancer or who have lost a spouse or have struggled with addictions. You may have the comforting words to cheer up the sad. See the gifts God has given you and remember that God has equipped you for works of service. God sends you out with those gifts to encourage your fellow believers to remain with God.
That’s why I included this diagram in your bulletin again. “FRIENDS WHO NEED JESUS.” That refers to those without faith, but it is also there to remind you: Believers need Jesus too. Is there someone you know slow to worship? Some are your children. Some are your friends. Some are the ones who sat beside you in the pew. God equips to go and reach them.
He even gives you the words to say. Look at verse 15: Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Believers grow more mature—that is, their trust in God’s promises swells, their knowledge of God’s actions grow, their reliance on God’s Word increases. It all happens by speaking the truth in love.
When you encounter Christians growing sluggish in their faith, speak the truth in love. Gently encourage them to worship the One who gave his all for them. Be patient if the results seem slow. Be persistent in reminding them of this truth. Understand that love might be ‘tough.’ You may have to speak stern words to a wandering soul, plainly warning: “Christians love to be with Christ. You call yourself Christian, but make excuses to remain from Christ. Which one is it?” (Matthew 7:17-20) It is loving to speak what God says about eternal life and eternal death. It is loving to warn what unbelief reaps and what God has done to rescue the world.
God equips you for works of service. Speak the Word; let God work on the heart. God is not telling you to change hearts. After all, you cannot. That’s God’s job. He changed your heart. He will change the hearts of others with his same Word. God simply reminds you (and me) that we walk together. The body of believers is joined and held together by every supporting ligament (that’s you!), grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Live a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received. What a calling it is! God has called you into one faith. He has made you part of this body, one of his, one who clings to life with God.
Yet, look around. See the others who stand with you. What joy it is to encourage each other to press on to the eternal glories of heaven! You can do that, because God has equipped you for Christian service. With your words, actions, your care, you strive to strengthen the body of Christ so that no one is lost.
Carelessness can lead to death— and not just physical death, but spiritual death as well. That’s why God takes action to prevent such a spiritual catastrophe. With his Word, he urges you: Live a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received. You can do that, because God has called you into one faith and God has equipped you for Christian service.
He sat in his car in the church parking lot. In just a few minutes worship would be over and then he would know. You see, he used to attend a Lutheran church, but had stopped worshipping decades ago. Now into his mid-fifties, he felt the need to reconnect with a congregation. So, he sat in his car, waiting. The moment worship ended, he watched one person walk out the front door. Another followed, and then another, and another until everyone had left. He got his answer. “That’s not the church for me,” he later said to a friend. “The members are too old.”
They invited me to the kitchen table. These first-time visitors had just moved up from a Detroit suburb. Now they wanted a congregation to call “home.” They made their expectations pretty clear. “We want contemporary songs, modern instruments, and a casual feel. You should really think about giving us what we want.”
I asked him, “How do you like your church?” A sixth-grader, standing on the street-corner next to me. His parents wanted a church with more kids his age. So, they left one congregation for another church in the area— a larger one at that. What did he like about his new church? “Oh, it’s good,” he said. “We have bowling, Wii and XBox [video-game consoles], movies, and snacks.”
How do you respond to statements like that? (By the way, those are all real conversations I had with real people.) Your sister lays out her preferred worship style. Your friend describes how he wants the sermon/message presented in church. Your child implies that your congregation is out-of-touch with people— and you stand there in unfamiliar territory, struggling to summarize the purpose of your congregation. What do you say?
Our reading from Ephesians provides you with the only right response: Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing! Only Jesus is our peace. Jesus is the only cornerstone for life.
Look once again at the end of verse 14 (in our reading). You’re immediately met with this towering, dividing wall of hostility… a wall created with its commandments and regulations. God built up this wall around Old Testament Israel. He assembled a civil law for the protection of personal property and individual rights. He constructed a ceremonial law that laid out when Israel should worship, how often, what sacrifices to bring, and the reason for each sacrifice. That wall was meant to protect the faith of the believing Jew from the influence of the nonbelieving Gentile.
The Gentiles (those not of Jewish ethnicity) sacrificed food to the sun, blessed their crops by visiting prostitutes, and bowed down to a myriad of non-existent deities. God’s wall divided Jews from Gentiles.
But that wall created another division; it stops the imperfect from approaching the Perfect. God’s command stops you still and towers high above you: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). The Jews had God’s commands, but rebelled against them. Judges refuse justice, spiritual shepherds lead masses to false gods, kings trust mortal men. The Gentiles lived “far off.” They (1) had no knowledge that Jesus would save the world with his perfect life. They (2) did not even have a Bible to introduce them to Jesus! God still looks down from heaven to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. But all have turned aside, they have together become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:2-3). Every single person enters life divided, separated, far off from God. No one does good. Not even one!
And he sensed it. I stood beside him at his mother-in-law’s funeral. “I hope she’s with all of her loved ones,” he said. “She is,” I replied. “Jesus did everything necessary to bring her to heaven.” His response?“Eh… maybe. I hope she’s there.” This son-in-law attended a church far larger than the one I was in. His congregation had far more programs for every age-group imaginable. Yet, for the many decades he spent worshipping there, he never found peace with God. He stood in front of that dividing wall and was convinced that the only way to approach God was to do more good to outweigh his bad. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm; see Paragraphs 1459-1460)
Here’s the point: Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing. Because when you lose Jesus, you lose peace.
You lose peace when you place a higher priority on temporary things. You reach out to your community through Easter-postcard invites, doorhangers, an online presence. It seems like your words fall on deaf ears. Then out comes the pity-cry: “No one wants to hear God’s Word. We try to get it out, but nothing works. Woe is us!”
You share the most significant news ever: “Jesus alone gives eternal life!” You announce it in Sunday School. You hear in Bible Class. You sing it in worship! The results are not what you want. Out comes the pessimism: “Yeah, I thought more would come. Boy, things aren’t like they used to be. We might as well just stop the effort.”
First-time visitors, friends, children, even the sixth-grader on the corner all have in mind what they want from a church. It might have nothing to do with the Bible, but they don’t care. They want to feel entertained. Not too long after, the heart ponders: “Well, I would enjoy worship more if it was just more exciting …or I had someone here to talk to …or I fill in the blank.” Inside each of us lurks this slimy temptation to exchange God’s pure Word for sand that passes through the fingers! To fall for that trap will rob you of peace forever!
Do you know what the main thing in church is? What is the only way through the dividing wall of hostility? I’m not sure our reading can make it any clearer. After all, how many times do you hear: In Christ or in him or through him? Twelve times! Is it any secret? [Jesus] himself is our peace, [he] has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…
Jesus did what you (and I) could never hope to do. He did the only thing that really matters; he tore down the wall between you and God. Your Good Shepherd stands up in the Bible. He searches for those lost and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. And he speaks, “I am your perfection. I did what you could not. I obey every single command and regulation with all my heart, mind, and soul. Stop digging for peace in yourself. I am your peace.” With his own perfect flesh he stamps God’s commands and regulations ‘Kept!’ ‘Obeyed!’ ‘Fulfilled!’ In his one body he reconciled [you] to God through the cross.
He ends the hostility between you and God so that you have peace forever. He rises and breaks down the walls of death. He comes and preaches peace to you… To you! For all the times you (and I) exchange the pure Word of God for something trite and trivial, you have peace. For all the times you (and I) selfishly prioritize pleasure over hearing God’s truth, you have peace. For all the times you (and I) hang our heads, moping as though we are losing, Jesus rises with victorious peace.
My friends, Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing! God clearly explains the reason you gather here: to focus on Jesus. Because only Jesus is your peace. And the more you hear that good news, the more it changes your entire outlook on life. Because Jesus is the only cornerstone for life.
That wall of hostility is busted down. So what? So then, you are no longer foreigners and aliens… You are not separated from God. Rather, right here, right now, you are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. God has written your name into the citizenship rosters of heaven. He takes you by the hand and is leading you through this valley of the shadow of death to bring you safely to a heavenly country.
You can be sure of this. [You have been] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. God picked you up from the rock pile of humanity. In baptism, he laid you among many other bricks in a wall. With his Word, he mortared you in. With the Lord’s Supper, he tuck-points, making sure the mortar remains tough and strong so that you will never fall away. Your peace is this life is not dependent on your emotions. Those change from day to day. Your peace for heaven is not dependent on how moral you appear. You can never be good enough. You peace for life is anchored to the work of Jesus, the work which the Bible records. Point to it. It is a foundation. It will never break or crumble or fail. The Main Thing in Church remains Jesus. Listen to him because Jesus is your only cornerstone.
Jesus is your only cornerstone. People come to faith only through the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Some days, you may feel as though you are failing as a congregation. It is no secret that an increasing number of people are staying away from the Word than coming to it. You may feel as though the Word must change in order to gain larger numbers. You might think you need different activities or a different style of worship to invite people here. Now, those things are not wrong in themselves. Yet, when the purpose for attending church is to be entertained by things that cannot save, you have stepped off the only cornerstone for life. Faith comes only by hearing the Word Jesus sent out through his prophets and apostles. Not with youth entertainment and praise bands and the age of a congregation. Faith comes from the Word.
God makes that explicitly clear. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. God used his Word to bring you to faith. He still sends out the same Word, the only tool that brings others to faith as well. Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing. Point people to Jesus, the only cornerstone for life.
God has handed you the priority-message: Jesus himself is our peace. Jesus’ death and resurrection promises you life in God’s family. So, you do not need to worry. Instead, you get to live in and work to share that Word of peace. You can always live built on this cornerstone.
So, what is the purpose of your congregation? If you struggle to put it into words, then repeat what our selection says here. It gives you the only right response: Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing! Only Jesus is our peace. Jesus is the only cornerstone for life.
The devil is a liar. He is the founding father of lies (John 8:44), who lies in order to lead the whole world away from its heavenly Father (Revelation 12:9). That slimy serpent slithered right up to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and hissed out the most destructive of lies: “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). That is a lie. That untruth snapped Adam and Eve’s openhearted bond with their Creator. That devil dangled money in front of Judas and whispered: “Worldly wealth remains far more valuable than anything Jesus offers.” That greedy lie destroyed him. The devil is a liar. He still lies and he always will lie. He will not stop until he has led every single person away from God.
And so, the devil lies. He lies because he knows the truth: he has lost; Jesus wins. Jesus promises a life better than the one the devil must suffer. Jesus reveals this truth in his Word, the Bible. He has put his Word in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it (Deuteronomy 30:14) and so that you may have life (John 4:14).
That Word is not just yours to hold and have. It’s yours to also share. Jesus Sends You Out! With the Word you have received and with the resources God has given you.
The devil knows this. So, he lies. He spreads this putrid untruth to the world: “You are God. You hold the authority to determine what is morally ‘right’ and what is morally ‘wrong.’” Jesus arrives in his hometown, Nazareth. He reveals God’s plan to save the world. Masses marvel. He exposes puffed-up pride and points to himself as the only Savior. Masses devour the devil’s lie. “Nazareth is God. Each citizen holds the authority to determine what is morally ‘right’ and what is morally ‘wrong.’ We do not need you, Jesus.” The devil’s lie pushes them to furiously push Jesus out of the city (Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:14-30). The devil is a liar, who lies in order to lead the whole world away from its heavenly Father.
For this reason Jesus enters the world. He comes to reconnect people with their Father in heaven. Jesus went around teaching from village to village (Mark 6:6), telling all people that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. [They] come to the Father through [his work alone] (John 14:6).
Jesus even multiplies his efforts in getting this message out. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two… He hands them the words to share: “Repent! Turn!” Turn from the lifestyles God calls ‘wrong.’ Turn from the god-less behavior separating you from God! Turn and see that only Jesus can free you from the hell you deserve. Turn and live a God-pleasing life. No, not because you will earn God’s love. Rather, living life shaped by the Word keeps you from death.
Jesus teaches a truth that breaks the devil’s lie. That truth reveals Jesus living a perfect life in order to give you life. That truth is yours— and it is yours to share. Jesus does not have you bottle up these words for yourself. Jesus Sends You Out with the Word you have received.
That makes you a target. The devil knows his Bible. He knows God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). He knows faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). He knows you are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16) pointing to Jesus as the only Way, Truth, and Life to God (John 14:6). The devil knows just how dangerous the Word you carry is to his cause. He knows the best way to keep many separated from God is to lie—and he lies to you.
He whispers in your ear: “It does not matter what you believe; everyone will enter heaven.”
Those are lies. And the devil knows that if he can get you to believe his lie, then you will stop sharing the Word of God. And if you stop sharing the Word, then many more will never hear of a Savior. And if many never hear of a Savior, then every non-Christian will walk the wide road straight into hell. Do you believe the devil’s lie?
It does matter what lies in each individual heart. It matters to Jesus. It matters so much that he takes on flesh and blood. It matters so much that no insult, no rejection, not even death itself can stop him from sharing the life-saving Word. It matters so much that Jesus dies in order to put an end to the devil’s lies.
If the devil is still whispering his destructive lies in your ears, repent! Turn to the cross. Turn away from the excuses you create to protect your pride. Turn from the laziness that prevents you from speaking up. Turn from the excuses your heart creates. Turn and see Jesus give his life. See him wipe away your failure to speak up. See him cure a lazy heart. See him rise to tell you, You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).
Jesus Sends You Out because you are his disciple. He sends you out with the same powerful message that has created faith in your heart. He sends you out with the same powerful Word that works in the hearts of others. Jesus Sends You Out with the Word you have received. Jesus Sends You Out with the resources you have.
Did you catch that? Jesus Sends You Out with the resources you have. Your resources might be you Christian witness. Do you notice that Jesus does not send you out to foreign nations? He does not demand you knock on doors or call strangers. He sends you to share the Word with those who need to hear it. That location might be as simple as your community setting.
Inside your bulletin is a half sheet. The center of this diagram reads: “FRIENDS WHO NEED JESUS.” Someone who needs to hear of Jesus the Good Shepherd before they are lost forever. Take a moment today (or another day this week) to identify those in your life. A friend, a family member, a [grand]child. A neighbor who used to worship, but no longer does. A fellow member who used to worship with you, but has grown slow in coming. Write their name down—and then place this sheet in a visible location. As you see that name, pray that God brings his Word to them through you. Pray that God fill you with the words to say and the courage to speak. Pray that God presents an opportunity to invite them to worship, to Sunday School, to Bible Class, to Vacation Bible School. Pray that God use your Words to bring the good news into their hearts. Jesus Sends You Out to them.
Your resources might be financial resources. You belong to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. “Synod” are two greek words put together meaning: “walk with.” You (and I) cooperate (or walk with) 1,300 other like-minded congregations throughout the world to share Jesus. St. John [Faith] most likely could never pay the $150,000 (each year!) need to start a new church in New York City (with the costs involved) or the $500,000 Pastoral Institute Building in Vietnam. Our financial resources are limited. Yet, when you divide that costs among 1,300 other congregations, the cost becomes much more manageable. Consider how God has blessed you financially. Use your financial resources to “send out” others to regions you may never see. Jesus Sends You Out with the resources you have.
Remember the reason for sharing the Word. The devil still spreads his awful lie around your town: “World, you do not need help. You do not need a Savior.” Maybe you have a daughter who still lives in a way God would not condone. You may have that son who smirks and shrugs off your invite to worship again. You might have that friend who walks on the other side of the road when they see you or that neighbor who goes outside after seeing you go inside. Some may reject you for the message you bring. The devil will point and hiss: “See, the heartache is not worth it.”
Do not believe the lie! Jesus instructs his disciples to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in [their] belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. The disciples do not need suitcases packed with weeks of clothing or wallets stuffed with cash. They simply preach and God’s Word would work results. Some would hear the Word and the Word would produce results in the hearts of the listeners. One fruit of faith would be the hospitality for their needs. The disciples would have a room, extra clothing and blankets, as well as a meal provided them.
Others will not welcome or listen to [them]. If that happened, they would shake the dust off [their] feet when [they left], as a testimony against them.” Shaking the dust off of their feet preached that this household of Jews were no better than the non-believing non-Jews. It powerfully preached: “You are separated from God! Repent! Turn while there is still time!”
You will face rejection for preaching and teaching— and that’s alright. Jesus tells you to expect rejection. You may even have to “shake the dust from your feet.” No, not literally. Rather, you may have to make it clear to someone close to you: “You are living in such a way that separates you from God.” The devil will try to silence you: “Ouch! Your words are too harsh!” Do not believe the lie! Shaking the dust off your feet demonstrates that their rejection is serious… which, if you think about that for a moment, really stands out in your world today. You, with your words and actions, are calling him to “Repent, turn to God!” That message points to Jesus and to the life he gives. Jesus Sends You Out with the resources you have.
The devil is a liar. He is the founding father of lies (John 8:44), who lies in order to lead the whole world away from its heavenly Father (Revelation 12:9). He still lies and he always will lie. He will not stop until he has led every single person away from God.
Yet, you know the truth. He has lost; Jesus wins. Jesus promises a life better than the one the devil must suffer. Jesus reveals this truth in his Word, the Bible. He has put his Word in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it (Deuteronomy 30:14) and so that you may have life (John 4:14).
That Word is not just yours to hold and have. It’s yours to also share. Jesus Sends You Out! With the Word you have received and with the resources God has given you.
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.