Rev. Paul J Cain
Eighth Sunday after Trinity, 17 July 2016
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
In Acts 20, Paul’s words of warning are against fierce wolves, but not the kind you find in the wilderness.
The most dangerous thing you will ever face in this life is not a terrorist. It isn’t even an IRS auditor. It’s not a policeman when you’ve done something wrong, a monster under your bed, or a villain from a horror movie. All of those people or things can only frighten or hurt us for this life. The most dangerous thing you will ever face in this life, according to the Rev. Todd Wilken, is a pastor who doesn’t tell you the truth.
A pastor who doesn’t tell you the truth is the most dangerous, because such a pastor is unfaithful to the Lord, his ordination vows, and the people the Lord has given him to serve. Unfaithful pastors will not call you to repentance. He’d rather be your buddy. Such a false shepherd lies about the reality of this world, allowing the sheep to continue in their sins without repentance and therefore without forgiveness. Sin continues outside of the forgiveness that Christ won. And here’s the really scary part: sin outside of the grace of God in Christ is not forgiven and condemns. A pastor who doesn’t tell you the truth is the most dangerous thing you will face in this life not only because of the damage such a one can do to you here and now, but because he can lead you away from Christ and straight into the arms of Satan. Now that’s scary!
A pastor who calls you to repentance is NOT persecuting you. He’s doing the most difficult part of his Call, preaching the law so that God the Holy Spirit may bring you to repentance and restore you to faith. It may not be pleasant for you, but it is not pleasant for him, either. It is done out of a loving motivation and because he fears being unfaithful to the Lord God more than he fears you being mad at him.
Paul says farewell to the Elders, the Pastors of Ephesus with his words recorded by the Holy Spirit in Acts 20. We know that he will soon be arrested in Jerusalem and will be on his way to Rome. He would be there under house arrest for two years, be released, according to history, conduct a missionary journey to what we know as Spain, return to Rome, and die outside the walls as a martyr.
Paul’s words are words of warning against fierce wolves.
27[Paul said:] For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. 32And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
Did you hear the words of warning? Pay careful attention. Care for the church of God. Fierce wolves will come in. They will arise from your own selves, the church. They will speak twisted things. I admonish everyone with tears. I commend you to God. It is more blessed to give than receive.
In a week we have heard much about false teachers and false teaching, Paul reminds us that much false teaching within the Church comes from within the Church. Some pastors arise and begin speaking their own thoughts and theologies. They draw away disciples after them and away from Christ. These are false teachers that Jesus also warns us against.
We face particular challenges in our time and place. Historic Christian teachings are mischaracterized by some as hateful, old-fashioned, limiting, or unloving. Both congregations and pastors are invited to condone the latest fad in our society, and, if they will not, are sometimes intimidated into silence. Nevertheless, we stand for holy matrimony as God ordained it, for life from conception to natural death, and true religious liberty.
Now is not the time to be silent. LCMS President Matthew Harrison (2016 Today’s Business for 11 July) urges us to be bold:
“The gates of hell shall not prevail” (Matthew 16:18). That’s Jesus’ promise.
• It was true when He spoke it to his apostles.
• It was true as they fled His crucifixion (Mark 14:50).
• It was true as those apostles faced persecution and martyrdom (Acts 5 and 7).
• It was true through the Roman persecutions of the church.
• It was true after Constantine became a Christian, and state and church got all balled up, interfering in each other’s business.
• It was true in the face of Islam as it swept over North Africa beginning in the seventh century, and it hasn’t stopped since.
• It was true as the medieval sacramental system of merit and indulgences choked the faithful and robbed the church of the Gospel.
• It was true at the time of the Reformation.
• It was true when Luther stood before the Emperor and confessed, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” and left Worms under a death sentence.
• It was true as the Lutherans fell apart after Luther’s death and were brought back together by the Book of Concord.
• It was true when Pietism destroyed the notion and importance of the strong doctrine of the Gospel.
• It was true when the rationalists denied the Bible and the faith altogether.
• It was true when a Prussian king decided it didn’t matter if one was Lutheran or Reformed and outlawed the Lutheran Confession in what was at the time the largest Lutheran church in world.
• It was true when a small band of extremists fell prey to a philandering leader and sat sick, stunned and confused in St. Louis and Perry County.
• It was true as twenty million Christians (many Lutherans and Lutheran pastors) were deported and murdered by the Soviet Union.
• It was true as the Nazis molded their German Christian movement, and the children and grandchildren of Lutherans confessed Fascism.
• It was true when activist courts began limiting the freedoms of the First Amendment regarding the “free exercise of religion” in this country.
• It is true as burgeoning African Lutheran churches grow despite all the opposition that Islam and animism can muster!
• It is true as a thousand former Muslims are now catechized and confess Christ in our sister church in Germany.
• It is true—the gates of hell shall not prevail—in the face of a U.S. Supreme Court and other courts and legislatures throughout the land detached from eternal truth.
• It is true in the face of the most rapid moral, social and religious decline in the history of this nation.
• It is true in the face of Obergefell.
• It is true in the face of Orlando.
• It is true in the case of abortion law in Texas.
• It is true in the face of radical Islam.
• It is true in the face of California legislators, who would deny the constitutional rights of religious universities and threaten one of own crown jewels, Concordia University Irvine.
• It is true in the face of a culture so screwed up that innocent and courageous law officers are murdered gratuitously.
• It is true in the face of the decline of Christianity in the west.
• It is true in the face of the fact that in the past ten years the number of Christians has not increased in a single county in the U.S.
• And it is even true in the face of the maddening fact that the Missouri Synod has been declining numerically for over forty years.
We in America live in a period of history akin to what Sasse described in Germany in 1936:
The lie is the death of man, his temporal and his eternal death. The lie kills nations. The most powerful nations of the world have been laid waste because of their lies. History knows of no more unsettling sight than the judgment rendered upon the people of an advanced culture who have rejected the truth and are swallowed up in a sea of lies. Where this happens, as in the case of declining pagan antiquity, religion and law, poetry and philosophy, life in marriage and family, in the state and society – in short, one sphere of life after another falls sacrifice to the power and curse of the lie. Where man can no longer bear the truth, he cannot live without the lie. Where man denies that he and others are dying, the terrible dissolution [of his culture] is held up as a glorious ascent, and decline is viewed as an advance, the likes of which has never been experienced. (Hermann Sasse, Union and Confession).
Yet Jesus says, “Upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail.” “O Lord, I believe! Help Thou my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
• Jesus says, “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age!” (Matthew 28:20). Do you believe it?
• Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Do you believe it?
• Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). Do you believe it?
• Jesus prayed for his apostles, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:14f.). Jesus prayed and prays for you! Do you believe it?
• Jesus says to you, “I tell you, your sins are forgiven!” (Luke 7:48). Believe that!
• Jesus says to you, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved!” (Mark 16:16). Believe it!
• Jesus says to you, “Whosever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them!” (John 20:23). Believe it!
• Jesus says to you, “This is my body, given for you for the forgiveness of your sins!” (Luke 22:19). Believe!
• Jesus says to you, “Let not your hearts be troubled … In my Father’s house are many mansions … I go to prepare and place for you!” (John 14:2). Believe it!
• Jesus says also to you, “You will weep … but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy” (John 16:20). Believe!
Luther says in the Large Catechism: “I believe that there is on earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ” (LC II 51). She may be little, but she’s powerful. “For the gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:17).
Jesus was bold. The apostles were bold. Let’s go on the offensive. Let’s be bold. End quote.
So, how is this done? The Lord gives us His Word. He abides with us always. He is the Vine and we are the branches.
He teaches us His Word, that we would know it in both mind and heart, so that words of repentance and faith may always be on our lips! Lord, grant that we may hear Your Word so that we may know Your Word so that we may do your Word.
False teaching can be easier to spot if you already know the true teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ from Holy Scripture
True teaching includes both Law and Gospel and ultimately leads you to Jesus and His comfort. False teaching ignores true Law and/or the true Gospel and leads you away from Christ to a false comfort, and to hypocrisy and despair.
We are to identify, expose, and judge false prophets and their false teaching. We do not want anyone to be led astray and led away from Christ. We should love the sheep and even the wolves enough to speak up against falsehood and speak up for Christ’s truth.
And so today, we have heard the Word of the Lord. We have sung His Word, and, like Paul, we will pray together based on the Lord’s own priorities as He has made them known in His word.
Beware of fierce wolves. Respect their influence over unwary sheep. Mark and avoid them. Hold fast to the true teaching without ceasing. The Lord Jesus is greater than the roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist the old evil foe, firm in our faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.