Reformation Sunday October 31, 1999
459, 366, 381, 262
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Buy the truth, and sell it not, also wisdom and instruction and understanding. Here ends our text.
In Christ Jesus, who is our Wisdom, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
In the world of investment, success depends on one’s ability to predict the future. The history of Wall Street is filled with stories that prove the point: in the early 1900’s, a businessman named John D. Rockefeller saw clearly what an important role oil would play in the future of the world. He invested all his money in a small company named Standard Oil, and became the wealthiest man of his time. J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Jay Gould—they all had one thing in common: a sense of vision. They could see the future, and the bargains they made brought them fortunes. Since then, investors have continued to try and look into the future. Everyone on Wall Street has the same dream—of picking the right stock, backing the right company: “getting in on the ground floor” of the next big success in the financial world.
Martin Luther was an investor of sorts. He literally was the ground floor of one of the most momentous religious and social movements in the history of the world—the Lutheran Reformation. To the casual observer, though, it would have seemed as though Luther had made an extremely poor investment. He staked his entire future—even his life—in an effort to overthrow the only Christian denomination there was at that time—the Roman Catholic Church. On one side the Pope, all the archbishops and cardinals, and the huge institution of Roman Catholicism. On the other side, one lonely monk named Martin Luther. -Oh yes, there was one other thing on his side—the Word of God!
You and I are investors, too. Perhaps we’re not like the financial wizards of Wall Street, certainly none of us is taking the risk of founding a great religious movement all on our own. But we’re investors just the same. All of us have resources—our money, our time, our talents—and every day we make decisions about where we will invest them. We’re all looking toward the future. We all want to make the best bargain we can. Today especially, we should remember that God’s Word holds some important investment advice for us. Our Reformation theme is—
The Old Testament book of Proverbs, as you may know, was written by Solomon. Solomon was a very wise man, perhaps the wisest in the history of the world. He inherited the kingdom of Israel from his father David, at a time when the nation was at the height of its power and glory. When God asked Solomon what gift he desired, King Solomon replied, “The gift of wisdom.” His one desire was to be granted the wisdom it took to rule God’s people and make good decisions. And God gave it to him.
That’s a desire that all of us can identify with. That’s really what you went to school for, wasn’t it? So that you could gain the wisdom and knowledge you need to make good decisions, and to get ahead in life. To be able to tell the good from the bad, the precious from the worthless, the truth from the lie. But with all your education, there may be something you haven’t thought about much: the most precious knowledge you have is your knowledge of God’s truth.
As Christians, you’ve been taught to know yourself, to see your sins and your shortcomings. You’ve also been taught to know your Savior, and to trust in the forgiveness He earned for you on the cross. That’s the ultimate truth, God’s truth! Solomon is speaking directly to you today when he says, “Buy the truth, and sell it not, also wisdom and instruction and understanding.” That advice contains both a warning and an encouragement. Let’s talk about the warning first—Solomon cautions us, Don’t sell out God’s truth for a lie!
There are some very dangerous lies going around these days, lies that can trap a young Christian (or an old one, for that matter!) and lure him away from his faith. Maybe the worst lie is this: that there really is no absolute truth about God. “Look at how many religions there are in the world!” they say. “There’s no way you can know for sure that yours is the truth.” Can you think of someone from the Bible who raised that same objection? Pontius Pilate! Jesus said to him, “…I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” But Pilate scoffed at this. “What is truth?” he asked—and that’s same skeptical question that’s being asked today. “Who’s to say what the truth is? Maybe God exists, maybe He doesn’t. Maybe Christ is the Savior, maybe Mohammed, maybe Buddha. Nobody knows for sure.” Don’t fall for it! Don’t sell out God’s truth for that lie! The Holy Ghost has revealed the truth to you—by creating faith in your heart, faith which trusts in Jesus as the one and only Way to salvation. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jn 14:6.
Another lie that people would like you to believe instead of God’s truth is this: that salvation lies in doing good. Nobody’s going to say that to you straight out, of course, but all the same—that’s what a lot of people believe. We hear it so often: “Just do your best in life—that’s all anyone can expect of you!” The unspoken implication, of course, is that that’s all God expects of you, too. That if you try your best to live an honest life, and help people, and obey the Golden Rule, then God will certainly be pleased with you. But that’s a lie—we can’t place our confidence in ourselves and our own good works for salvation. God demands a more perfect righteousness than we could ever supply for ourselves. That righteousness can only be found in our Savior Jesus Christ, who takes our sins upon Himself and gives us His righteousness in exchange. Paul said, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” II Cor 5:21.
But I think the most tempting lie of all is the one that says, “Looking out for number one—that’s all that’s important.” Forget everything else in this life and serve yourself. Stand up for your rights! Be a survivor! Fight and scrap and struggle to get everything you can for yourself, because no one’s going to hand it to you on a silver platter! You are your own god, and you are ultimately responsible to no one but yourself! Millions and millions of people in our materialistic world are selling out God’s truth in exchange for this particular lie. That’s what the New Age Movement is telling their followers, “You are your own god—get what you can for yourself, and if it feels good, do it!” Don’t sell out to this lie. There is a higher Authority than yourself to whom you’re responsible—the almighty God. There is something more important in your life than scrambling after all the money, all the pleasures, all the “things” that you can grab for yourself. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matt 6:33.
Solomon says, don’t sell out to these lies. Rather, he says, “Buy the truth…” There is an absolute truth that we can rely on. It’s the scriptural truth about who we are—sinners who have run up a bill of sins and transgressions that we could never hope to pay off on our own. It’s also the truth about God—our loving God, who sacrificed His only Son Jesus on the cross to provide the ransom payment for our souls. Bargain for that truth, Solomon says. Buy into that precious truth of God that you have been taught from the Bible. Invest everything you’ve got in it! What does that mean for a Christian? In particular, what does that mean for a person who’s standing at a crossroads and looking to the future?
All of us have resources, and we all have to make decisions about how we’re going to spend them. And I’m not just talking about money, although that, too, is an important way in which we show our love for the Savior. But what about your time? How much time are you going to dedicate to your career? Are you willing to give 40 hours a week to your job? 60? More? How much time will you dedicate to your family—to your hobbies and recreation? Most important of all, you have to ask yourself, “What percentage of my time am I going to dedicate to my Savior?” One hour a week for worship services? More, perhaps, for teaching a Sunday School class or for daily Bible reading? Unlike a lot of other activities we engage in, we know that the time we spend with the Lord is never wasted time. It’s a good investment! The Psalmist says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” Ps 1:1-3.
What about the talents that God has given you? Will you invest them with the Lord? Whether your talents lie in working with numbers, communicating with people, teaching, or other skills—you can use them to glorify God. It’s your choice. Everyone is different, but God has given each of His believers their own unique talents, and opportunities to serve the Church with them. Paul says that the various believers with different God-given talents are like the parts of a person’s body—each different, but each important! He says, “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them!” Rom 12:4-6.
—Which reminds me of another question—a harder one—which each of our young Christians in particular should ask themselves when considering a career: “Might I be able to serve my Savior in the full-time teaching or preaching ministry?” Don’t skip lightly over that question; think about it carefully. Where do our pastors come from? They don’t magically appear out of thin air! How do we get our Christian day school teachers? We don’t import them from another planet! No, they start out just like you—young Christians who are making choices about their futures, and who decide to give their whole lives to the Savior who gave His life for them. Our Immanuel Lutheran High School, College and Seminary are there, supported in part by this congregation’s mission dollars. It’s a high-quality, low-priced Christian education that’s open to all our young people, and it’s there primarily to nourish our church with faithful young pastors and teachers. The avenue is open to you—have you considered it? Perhaps you should!
The message of our text for this morning is plain. Martin Luther saw it. He bought the truth and refused to sell it at any price. And the same applies to all of us believers here today—whether we’re eight, or eighteen, or eighty! We know the truth. We know where our priorities lie. Whatever our chosen profession in life, we are each of us, first and foremost, servants of our Lord Jesus. My prayer is that each of us will make the choice that Mary made—as we heard in our Gospel reading for this morning—finding in our Savior the “one thing needful” in our lives! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.