July 29, 2007

Sermon for Trinity VIII: Matthew 7.15-23

“How does this comfort you?” The Heidelberg Catechism, which until this very moment I have never quoted favorably, likes to ask that question about points of doctrine. When you hear Jesus say, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven,” how does that comfort you?

The words are a warning. Today’s gospel reading has two warnings: Beware of false preachers; and beware of being a false hearer.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” Jesus gives this warning to prepare us for the final judgment. On that day, preachers will be judged for what they preached, and hearers will be judged for how they listened. Who is the false prophet? The false prophet claims to be an authoritative bearer of the message of Jesus, yet his—or her!—message twists and perverts Jesus’ message.

The false prophet is in disguise. He slips in among the sheep, causing no panic. Because of his capacity to deceive, Scripture warns that teachers of God’s Word shall receive a stricter judgment.

Now Scripture says there will be “many” such false preachers: “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:11); But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1); Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1). So it is always imperative that you test what you hear from me or any preacher, not on the basis of how it makes you feel, but by comparing it to what Holy Scripture says. Holy Scripture is the highest authority in the church.

Today’s Gospel reading is the final section of the Sermon on the Mount – it sweeps up what Jesus said at the beginning: those who relax the least of the commandments shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. The false preacher sets aside the Word of God, substituting the opinions and philosophies of man.

So beware false teachers … but also, beware of being false hearers.

False teachers encourage us to be false hearers. In Jeremiah today, false prophets lead people astray by telling them, “The LORD has said, ‘You shall have peace’ … ‘No evil shall come upon you.’” He deceives you into thinking you can have peace with God while making peace with your own sinfulness.

And that is the hard point today: We cannot achieve perfection. We cannot obey the commandments as we ought, but we dare not ever make peace with that. The words of Jesus are terrifying: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” What fire? Hell. Hell for false preachers, hell for false hearers.

For, Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” What does it mean to call Jesus, “Lord”? It is saying that He is Yahweh, the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, in the flesh. When Jesus refers to God as “My Father,” it means that Jesus is the unique Son, the one, authoritative revealer of the Father’s Word and will. There is no other name by which we can be saved.

But, we would like to call Him “Lord”—have right belief—without it having any real consequences for life. We would like to separate our faith from our life. Otherwise, we have to face the frightening prospect of being held accountable.

  • For what we have said;
  • For what we have done;
  • For who we are.

“The idea that we can separate what we believe from how we live is a habit deeply rooted in culturally established Christianity” (Hauerwas). I fear that with this radical separation, we turn Justification by faith into meaning “Justification by thinking.” Faith and life should not be divided. Believing that Jesus is the Christ requires that we become disciples of Jesus. The call, “Follow Me,” goes out to each of us. We are not to say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” but then not do what He says. We dare not be content with having a right Christology—calling Jesus “Lord”—but not seeking to be His disciple. Our own capacity for self-deception is frightening:

“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

Here is the problem: How can this passage be reconciled with the Bible teaching that we are justified—declared righteous by God—by grace through faith alone?

It can appear that these words of Jesus seem to require certain works for salvation – not those who say, “Lord, Lord!” but those who do the will of the Father enter the kingdom of heaven. But look at the words of those who are damned in the final judgment. They cry, “Lord, Lord!” while pointing to their own works. But in truth, their works were nothing – Jesus calls these seeming Christians practitioners of lawlessness. Why? Because the works they did were done in self-confidence, not Christ-confidence. They point to their own works, when they should be pointing to the work of Jesus.

I read a book this week on Matthew’s Gospel that said we have to have our Christology right—call Jesus “Lord”—and have our discipleship right—do the will of the Father. And I think that’s correct, except where it goes wrong is thinking that being a disciple is about our works. If we look at ourselves, it will never be enough. Our discipleship is always inadequate. But Jesus doesn’t just fill in the gaps of our inadequacies; Jesus is totally adequate where we are totally inadequate; He is completely righteous where we are sinners through and through; He is completely living while we are in the midst of death. So yes, you and I are summoned with the radical call to be disciples of Jesus, to follow Him at the cost of our own lives in this world – but the meaning of being a disciple is to have the Atonement that Jesus accomplished in His death at the center of our life. That’s our trust – His atonement, not our works. Where the atonement of Jesus is central to our lives, our faith will be right, because it is trust in Jesus and not ourselves, and the works will follow as we live in peace and forgiveness. Never perfect, but always striving, always following Jesus.

By faith, we struggle against sin, struggling against our desire to do not the will of the Father but our own will. In this hard and difficult struggle, we often fail and fall. In the dirt and disappointment, fear and anger and distrust that can make up our lives, the Holy Spirit speaks the Word that tells us what the will of the Father is: Believe in Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. John 6.40: “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

So let’s sum up the Word from God we have been given today: Who enters the kingdom of heaven? Those who do the will of the Father. What is the will of the Father? The reconciliation of the world to Himself, and His creatures to each other. We pray, ”Thy will be done.” And His will is that we pray: “Have mercy on me, a sinner,” and that we show mercy to our neighbor. Faith lives in the mercy of Jesus. That is our comfort: God in Jesus is merciful.

1 comment:

Mark_Fairhurst said...

Pastor Esget,

Thank you for your service and fellowship this past week at the Higher Things Conference in North Carolina. It was truly a pleasure to share in the faith with so many other Lutherans!

God Bless,
Mark A. Fairhurst

P.S. You might remember me as one of those who asked for your autograph outside the coffee shop, and also you gave us the link to this. I look forward to reading your sermons on here regularly!