Sermon for 29 September 2019 St. Michael and All Angels
“A Picture of Faith (Humble Trustfulness)”
Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text for today’s message is the Gospel lesson, especially these words of Jesus: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
Introduction: The painting hung at the foot of the staircase as you enter this sanctuary was specially selected to be a picture of “faith,” since this is Faith Lutheran Church. It’s a painting of Jesus, and it illustrates today’s Scripture text: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” With this humble, trusting child, Jesus presents us with a picture of faith. Jesus also warns us that if you abuse that trusting child, you’d be better off dead. By extension, Jesus is warning us not to jeopardize the saving faith of any Christian believer – don’t cause any “little one” who believes in Jesus to sin. Is there a fate worse than drowning with a millstone around your neck? Yes! Far worse is spending eternity in hell, “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
You see, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against “cosmic forces.” Word of God! Hear His Word in Ephesians 6:12 ~ “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
God want’s all (He wants you!) to be saved, so he sent his angels to help Him keep us safe, winning battles against these cosmic forces, winning battles against the devil and his evil angels.
Contrary to popular opinion, the devil did not make you do it. Satan only tempted you, then you chose to sin. And remember, it’s not just Satan who tempts us. The other two sources of temptation are the corrupted world – and YOUR own Old Adam. Yes, God tempts no one, but we do tempt ourselves.
Jesus recognized that we tempt ourselves. That’s why He warns us that if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame or with one eye than with two hands or feet or eyes to be thrown into hell.
“Did God the Son really say that?” Such a question comes only from us tempting ourselves to doubt the Word of God.
In a similar way, we question how “humble” can possibly be “great.” Yet, Jesus really did say, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus also said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Never even enter heaven! With these strong words, Christ brings the Twelve Apostles back from the lofty heights of heaven to its very portals. If you don’t humble yourself, you will be humiliated. (You may even hear our Lord on that Day, say to you, “I never knew you.”) We are called by our Lord to be humble, yet we still want to stand proud and pretend we’re as pure as innocent little children – or we try to act humble, but only so we can attain greatness. Such an ulterior motive totally destroys true humility. True humility flows from knowing that God loved us when we were still unlovable – because He is Love.
Christ’s harsh warning about the millstone and his advice to pluck out your eye show two things very clearly. First, it shows how much God hates sin: Drowning with a millstone around your neck is an enormous penalty from God – for an enormous offence against God.
Secondly, such strong, hyperbolic language also shows how much God loves you and wants so much to spare you the heartache of sin. Is it really your hands, feet, and eyes that cause you to sin? Isn’t it actually your heart that leads you to abuse your own body parts, forcing them to become a party to your sin? To really avoid sin (as Jesus suggests), you would have to pluck out your heart! Thank God that He has created in you a clean heart!
Not only has God initially converted you by washing you clean in your baptism and giving you a clean heart, but He also continues to daily provide for you to remain in Him. Through His Word, the Holy Spirit “keeps you steadfast in the one true faith.” Here at this altar, God continues to save you, continues to strengthen your faith in Jesus, continues to provide for you the very body and blood of Jesus that saved you by paying for all your sins when He died for you on the cross. God still provides… “Providence” is a beautiful word. It’s one of the most neglected words of the English language. We should make an effort to speak the word more often. God, your Creator, is still keeping you safe; that’s Providence.
God shares with us the joy of conversion, allowing us to tell this Good News to others and to know the indescribable joy of seeing the light come on in a lost one’s eyes. God has also chosen to share with us the joy of providing. God shares with men and with angels the joy of loving and helping others.
God’s little ones are so precious to him that He even sends His angels to protect us in all our ways. Have you ever seen that classic painting of two little kids crossing a rickety footbridge over raging rapids in a swollen brook? They’re hanging on to each other, obviously petrified. But, unbeknownst to them, there is an angel hovering over them, keeping a close watch, ready to catch them if they should fall. That’ actually good theology. Jesus tells us today, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Yes, our Father in heaven protects His children. God protects you by giving His holy angels charge over you.
Before leading our Divine Service each Sunday, Stan and I pray together, using Luther’s Sacristy Prayer. It begins. “O Lord God, dear Father in heaven, I am indeed unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known Thy glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation, but since Thou hast appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teaching and the instruction, be Thou my helper and let Thy holy angels attend to me…”
“Let Thy holy angels attend to me…” It’s such a comfort to me, knowing I’m not up here alone! Think about it! You are so precious to God that He provides his angels to protect you, even here in church. They protect you from my opinions and help me teach you correctly His Word! Amazing grace…
Luther’s Sacristy Prayer is too beautiful to stop in the middle, so here’s the rest of it: “…be Thou my helper and let Thy holy angels attend to me… Then if Thou art pleased to accomplish anything through me, to Thy glory and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of Thy pure grace and mercy, a right understanding of Thy Word and that I may also diligently perform it.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, Thou shepherd and bishop of our souls, send Thy Holy Spirit to work with me, yea, to work in me, to will and to do through Thy divine strength according to Thy good pleasure. Amen.”
God “provides” for you by sending His angels to guard you in all your ways – even in church!
God provides for us because He is love and because we need His love. We tend to forget how needy we are. That’s what led the Twelve Apostles to discuss who was the greatest. They were losing sight of how much they depended on God for forgiveness, for life, for each breath. So Jesus put a child in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
An inspirational theologian named Besser wrote this wise commentary: “This child in the arms of Jesus is (for the disciples) an illustration of what is excellence in the kingdom of God. … To permit oneself to be called, led, loved, without pride and without doubt, in simple trust, that is childlikeness. This is the nature of children who possess nothing but need everything; who are able to do nothing but receive everything; to earn nothing but receive everything as a gift – thus must all who desire to enter the kingdom of heaven become by conversion.”
Our “turning and becoming like children” is one, single act of conversion, which God accomplished in us when he first created in us a clean heart. For many of us, we were born again in our baptism. There at the font, it is God Who gives us this new birth. It is God Who creates in us clean hearts. God raised us from the dead. He converted us. He did it for us, because He is love. And, He created us “in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). One of these “good works” that God prepared for us to walk in is the sharing of the Good News with others, the great news that Christ paid for their sins, too. God shares the joy of helping others with people, as well as with angels! God chooses to work through us, too, not just angels!
Sometimes, God chooses to love your neighbor through your hands and feet! And get this: Sometimes Jesus chooses to have you love Him by loving your neighbor. (It’s in today’s Gospel. Jesus said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.”) God’s Word in the Gospel of John also encourages us to love with this thought: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Lest you forget to be humble, and get all puffed up about how loving you’ve become, John, in his first letter, reminds us to be grateful to God, remembering that “we love, because He first loved us.”
Because He first “so loved” us, God sent His only Son to save us on the cross. The hands and feet of Jesus did not lead him to sin, but those hands and feet were pierced for our sins. And the eyes of Jesus beheld our sin, in order to turn the Father’s face away from it.
You see, our biggest battles in this life are not against flesh and blood, but the flesh and blood of Christ has saved us. Battles do still rage, but Christ already won the war for us on the cross. “It is finished.” Don’t sweat it; He’s got this! As Billy Graham liked to say, “I’ve read the last chapter of the Bible. It’s going to be OK.”
Actually, it’ll be far better than just “okay.” Jesus (our “Precious Lord”) has taken you by the hand and will never let go. You are a precious child of the heavenly Father, so He provides for all your needs. His angels are keeping you safe today and will even carry you home. The heavenly Father Himself holds you (His dear child) in the palm of His hand. He Himself has nestled you safely in his bosom and “neither life nor death shall ever from the Lord his children sever.” Amen.
The peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.