Sermon for 18 August 2019
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
“Christ’s Suffering and Death Bring Division”
Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text this morning is from today’s Epistle lesson, especially these words from the letter to the Hebrews: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” This is the Word of the Lord.
Let us pray: 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.
We can become overwhelmed by the grief of having our own family members (both our natural and our spiritual families) choose to be separated from us. To help prevent us from becoming completely overwhelmed (so “weary and fainthearted” that we follow them away from the Word of the Lord), Jesus warns us ahead of time that division is part of His plan, that He actually came to bring division.
Is this the same Jesus who said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”? It troubles my heart to hear Jesus now say, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Despite all evidence to the contrary, God does not contradict Himself. The “Word” of God is singular – one Word of God. No matter how popular it may be among modern so-called “scholars” of the Bible, we cannot simply pick one quote to believe and then reject the other. All apparent contradictions in the Bible are only that, apparent contradictions. Jesus does bring us peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins that He won for us on the cross. And that same peace through the cross does bring us division among people by causing division between God and those who reject His Word. It’s sad but true: Peace with God brings division among people, even among members of our own family, including our family of Faith.
Some people unwittingly reject peace with God by siding with those who despise the Word of the Lord. Others suffer division in their family by remaining faithful to the Word. As Jesus put it so harshly, “In one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” God help us!
God warns us that some prophets are liars. God says: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. [Giving you false confidence in empty promises.] They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”
It’s as if these lying pastors were saying to you, “Don’t worry! There will be no punishment! When Judgment Day comes and Jesus returns and we all meet our Maker, it shall be well with you! We’ll all be ‘woke’ and discover that God actually loves divorce and extramarital sex. God is pleased with homosexual marriage. The Almighty will actually reward us for the millions of abortions we’ve allowed. No disaster shall come upon you! I’m sure God loves how we teach our little children to be drag queens, pumping them full of hormones and hormone-blockers to turn little boys into girls and girls into boys. It shall be well with you! No disaster shall come upon you…”
Am I exaggerating? Have you not actually heard people say similar things? I had a so-called “Lutheran leader” tell me that, if God doesn’t actually enjoy these forbidden things that we celebrate, He certainly has more important things to worry about and doesn’t really care…
Well, God does care. And He is warning you today not to listen to these lying prophets, not to join with “those who despise the word of the Lord.” Are you beginning to see how the Word of God (the Word made flesh) brings division? Maybe it’s already happening in your own family. Maybe you have brothers and sisters who think you’re a hater for following the Word of God. Maybe your own mother or father is “woke” and chooses to reject the “stale old, obsolete” Word of God. Maybe your family is pressuring you to become “weary and fainthearted” (tired and afraid). Maybe you’ve been tempted to choose closeness with lying churches and pastors…
Of course, you wouldn’t intentionally despise God and His Word – but you might explain away what God has said, in order to approve of your brothers’ ongoing sins, you know, just to keep the peace. Such peace with your family may cost you your peace with God… What profit is there in peace and unity (even if the whole world were to join hands and sing Kumbaya), if God is left out of the circle of peace?
It is better to be divided by Truth than united in error. Vain hope for this life only cannot compare to eternal peace with God through Christ crucified for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.
No matter what your heart may tell you about love, to really love someone may mean daring to confront them, daring to challenge them to save themselves from being apart from God. This may involve them angrily rejecting you, so that you are effectively bringing division, too, just like Jesus! You may find yourself rejected not only by them, but also by the general public, because our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first lie is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second lie is that to love someone means you must agree with everything they say or do. Both are nonsense. You won’t find that sort of thinking in the Bible, but you might find it in your own heart…
Notice that, speaking through Jeremiah, God warns those who follow their own hearts just as sternly as He warns those who despise the Word of the Lord. They’re not all that different! Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” Considering the foul thoughts and ideas that come out of our own hearts, following your heart actually is the same thing as despising the Word of the Lord!
Pastors who are liars “say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”
Clearly, it will not be well with those who follow their hearts. Disaster will come upon those who despise God’s Word. We will likely be despised by more and more people of this world (some very close to us). You are likely to face division, if you defend the Word of the Lord and try to save your lost brothers and sisters.
It is hard to live right in this world! We repent of our sins with full sincerity, and then find ourselves sinning again and needing to repent again – and again, and again, over and over again! Nobody has to explain to us what the Word of the Lord means when it speaks of growing “weary and fainthearted!” Plus, living right in this world is getting even harder! There aren’t many churches left that haven’t sold out to society’s errors!
It can be very tempting to “join the crowd” and “re-interpret” the Word of God, just to keep everybody happy and united, to avoid the sort of alienation and division Jesus warns us to expect. The three sources of all temptation (your heart, Satan, and the world), they surround us with “a great cloud of witnesses,” all trying powerfully to lead us away from the cross of Christ. (Remember, all false teaching, by definition, contradicts the Word of God and therefore leads us away from “the Word made flesh.”) We can grow “weary and fainthearted.” We can be sorely tempted to decide that
our loving hearts know better than the Word of the Lord.
Yes, even we can be greatly tempted to decide for ourselves which parts of the Bible are the Word of God, effectively appointing ourselves judge over God and His Word. We think we’ll fit right in with a great crowd of witnesses, if we pick and choose for ourselves which parts of God’s Word are still binding and true.
Oh, we’ll fit right in all right – with a great cloud of liars who despise the Word of the Lord!
Well, take heart! There is another “great cloud of witnesses.” These witnesses encourage us, strengthening us to run the race with endurance! These examples of faithfulness inspire us, spurring us on when we’re ready to give up. Chapter 11 in the Letter to the Hebrews is commonly called “The Faith Chapter” and begins like this: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” As you heard in the reading of today’s Epistle lesson, in this beautiful chapter of the Bible, God gives us example after example of our heroes of the faith who endured, who believed the Lord, and who won the prize through trusting in the cross of Christ. By faith Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… By faith Moses, Joshua, and Rahab… By faith Gideon, Samson, and David… By faith Samuel and all the prophets… By faith, they all endured to the end and received their reward from God! God Himself wiped away every tear. By faith, they believed God and trusted His Word (all evidence to the contrary, and no matter what hardships or consequences they faced.)
They didn’t have it easy, either! Many of our heroes of the faith were tortured and executed. Some were actually sawn in two for trusting God! Yet they endured to the end! A little further in the letter to the Hebrews, the Word of the Lord pointedly reminds us, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” But families dividing can make us feel like we’re bleeding…
Hang on! There is good news here! The tempters may mean it for evil, but God means it for good! This point was illustrated in a “Lutheran Hour” devotion this past week about today’s disturbing Gospel lesson, about those awful words of Jesus Himself, warning us that He brings division. The devotion was about a woman who had had emergency surgery to save her own life and that of her unborn son. During the surgery they used “cautery.” That’s what they call it when they use electricity to burn part of the body to stop bleeding or to cut tissue. It sounds awful – who would willingly choose to be burned? And yet it was worth it. Mother and son both lived and that baby was born alive and healthy several months later.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus’ words may also seem awful. Jesus is seeing suffering in the future. What He’s describing to His disciples doesn’t sound very good (“I came to cast fire on the earth”). He wishes it was done and over with already. He is clearly referring to His own suffering and death. And then, He warns about bringing not peace, but division. What could possibly be worth this pain Jesus sees in the future?
In His eyes, one thing is worth all the pain. That one thing is you. You are worth the painful baptism of death Jesus knows He will endure in the near future. You are worth the cross to Him. To Jesus, you are worth division. He is our Prince of Peace, yes – but He knows perfectly well that many people will refuse to receive Him. Families will be divided over Him. Parents and children will choose opposite sides. Marriages will break up, and some families will throw a new Christian out of the house. There will be pain.
You are worth all this to Jesus. This is how much He loves you – that He chose division and suffering, so that you could be rescued, your sins forgiven, and you made alive forevermore! For you to be united with Him in the safety of His strong arms, He chose division for Himself, chose to be all alone on the cross, separated even from God. (“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”)
Focus on this Savior and on the great cloud of faithful witnesses who inspire us to stay strong by fixing our eyes on Jesus. As God reminds us through the faithful prophet Isaiah, “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
“They who wait on the Lord…” Looking to Jesus, you will be enabled by God to “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” empowered by “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” Amen.
The peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.