The 11th Sunday After Pentecost August 12, 2007
382, 402, 430, 605(1,5)
May the love of God, which not one of us deserves, be multiplied to you, and may you know the peace which comes by knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin and Hell. Amen.
I don’t think that I have ever seen a movie where the “pastor” character wasn’t either a sniveling, sickly wimp or a hypocritical, pompous tyrant. Not really too surprising that our young men—almost all of whom are raised on a steady diet of Hollywood—do not see the pastoral ministry as a very appealing or glamorous occupation. Nor is it really surprising that Hollywood doesn’t want to portray men of God in a favorable light. In fact, it’s the same with the excellent occupation of a “stay at home mom.” The world stereotypes all of these most valuable members of any society as lazy, curler-laden, food stained malcontents who spend their days ironing, watching soap operas, and yelling at the kids. Again, why would the godless in Hollywood want to portray such a God-pleasing role in any other way?
Periodically we all have to remind ourselves what our true roles are in this life—what it is that God has called us to do. We have to mentally break the mold into which the world has placed us and re-examine what God has said. Pastors are by no means exempt. Each Sunday pastors too are tempted by the world’s ideas, the world’s goals and philosophies concerning what “men of God” are supposed to be doing and saying. Here God has clearly spoken: “‘Behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the Lord, ‘who use their tongues and say, “He says.” Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,’ says the Lord, ‘and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:31-32). God does not want His shepherds to feed His people what they imagine is clever or interesting. God does not want his messengers confused as to what to feed his people, and it is here that the occupations of pastor and housewife overlap with a common dilemma: What am I going to feed them today?
Today’s Old and New Testament lessons have something to say about this question for they both talk about eating “bread.” The Old Testament people ate the bread God gave them from heaven (Manna) and it filled their stomachs. We in the New Testament Church also eat the bread sent by God from heaven, but this bread has nothing to do with Moses (who is the symbol of the Law and good works). The bread we receive this morning is the Bread of Life, Christ Jesus our Lord. This is what we are to feed to the people. This is what we are to offer to each other. As Jesus declared in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
So then this morning that Bread of Life that will feed us is a section of that magnificent fourth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (4:17-24):
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Here ends the Holy Word of God. May you know and accept these words for what they truly are, God’s words. As it is also well written: “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and treasure it!” (Luke 11:28). So also we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” (John 17:17). Amen.
Are you more like a pheasant or a frog? Apparently certain tests have concluded that some frogs do not have any sense of worsening conditions. The test concluded that if you place a frog in cold water and slowly increase the temperature of the water, the frog will allow himself eventually to be boiled to death. They only react, in other words, to sudden stimuli. A pheasant, on the other hand, seems to get spooky and run whenever things don’t seem just right to him. Most human beings are more like frogs. We have a similar tolerance for slowly changing conditions. Forty degrees feels pretty cold in the fall of the year, but after a long cold winter it feels rather comfortable. Similarly, you can gradually increase the temperature of bath water once you are “used to it,” or swim in skin-tingling cold water after you’ve been in it for a time.
Unfortunately, the same holds true in spiritual matters. Satan has known about this human trait for some time—since Adam, in fact. He knows that radical change alarms us, disturbs us, puts us on guard and on edge. Gradual change, however, doesn’t seem to bother us nearly as much. There is no end to the examples that prove this, but television is perhaps the best. What ordinary parent thirty years ago wouldn’t have jumped up and shut off the television set at the first hint of foul language or inappropriate behavior between men and women. Now many of these same parents rent videos for their children that couldn’t have even been televised 30 years ago. We accept these changes because they have been gradual, which somehow makes them seem less sinful.
Make no mistake. Nothing today is less sinful than it was 30 years ago. The problem is that our Christian sensitivity is vanishing and that is what today’s text is all about: Christian sensitivity. Satan has been gradually turning up the heat on us and like foolish frogs we just seem to accept it as necessary and harmless. Why don’t we flee for our lives? Why don’t we publicly object? How long until we are boiled alive?
While it may be easy to point out the problem, the solution is a bit more difficult. We really can’t jump out of the “steaming pot” since it is the whole world around us. The entire human race is sinfully corrupt. There is nowhere to hide, not if we want to carry out Jesus’ Great Commission to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). We cannot sequester ourselves if we hope to reach out to the lost and condemned.
The solution is difficult, but our text has the answer, and it is the only answer: Increase your Christian sensitivity by clearing the perversion from your life, and replacing it in your heart with the Word of God. In short, put on the New Man day by day and walk as a true child of God.
There is no doubt that we have been dulled by the world around us. The foul language and impropriety that used to shock us no longer does. We accept the images of violence, pornography, and crude humor as an inevitable and even necessary part of life. That’s like saying that it is necessary to hit every rut and pothole in the road if you want to get somewhere. We can steer around most of them! Our text steps us through exactly how this is done. It begins, “no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk.” [v.17]
Somehow, somewhere, for some reason, we have come to the conclusion that we must more or less live exactly as the unbelievers do. We rent most of the same videos, watch the same television shows, read the same books, subscribe to the same magazines, listen to the same music, etc., etc. We make it so hard on ourselves by doing more or less exactly what they are doing, and yet we expect that it will somehow not affect us as it affects them.
Know well something about sin: It is like the ultimate drug. Sin seems to satisfy the cravings of our sinful Old Adam, but it never does. It leads always and only to a lust for more, and like most drugs, the “little sins” always lead to more horrible sins and greater addiction. Why do you think God in our text said of those controlled by sin: “Having lost all sensitivity they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (v.19 NIV) Sin is a taskmaster. If you let it, sin will always own you, always control you.
The world asks, “Don’t Christians sin, just like the unbelievers? What’s the difference?” Of course, Christians sin! The difference is that the unbelievers “have given themselves over to sensuality…” They have long ago quit the battle and they have lost their last faint glimmer of sensitivity. They have so wounded their consciences that there is nothing left but scar tissue. Now almost nothing seems wrong. If it feels good, do it! (Which, by the way, is the same way a cow, a pig, or a dog approaches life.)
But haven’t we already said that it is impossible for us to avoid all of these temptations? We cannot, after all, leave the world. Indeed we are supposed to be “lights” shining in this dark world. The answer lies beginning with verse 22 of our text: “…put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” [vv.22-24] Though the world lives by: “If it feels good, do it!” God tells us what does and does not please Him. Living according to what pleases our God instead of what pleases our flesh will never seem good and right to that Old Adam in us. In fact it will probably seem like a very unnatural way to live.
The fact is, however, that the Old Adam in us (that sinful side we will all have until death or Judgment Day) is nothing but a brute beast. Like any farm animal it will do whatever feels best to it. How then would you like to entrust your eternal future to a cow or a pig? Ridiculous? That is exactly what we are doing when we allow ourselves to be ruled by our natural, brutish desires. By nature we have no more sense than any animal and yet the world brays, “It’s only natural! It’s only natural!” What more can we expect from a world that believes that its ancestors were apes?
Our text talks about “putting off the old self” with its evil desires and “being made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” We don’t do this to earn heaven. Heaven was already earned for us when Christ Jesus lived a perfect life and then died for our sins on the cross. Indeed whoever believes in Jesus already has the full forgiveness of sins. We engage in a daily, hourly, minute by minute battle against the evil that both surrounds us and lives within us because we have the Holy Spirit living within us, and because that New Man in us longs to walk in harmony with God’s will.
How then do we go about “putting on” that “new man”? Luther talked about first “drowning the Old Adam through daily contrition and repentance” (Small Catechism—Baptism). Obviously this is a great start to any day, but it is only a start. Recognizing the Old Adam for who he is requires the Law. It is the Gospel that puts on the New Man. So it is that we revel, day by day, in the clear, simple message of the Gospel. We rejoice, morning by morning, in the sheer joy of knowing that Jesus did not come as an enabler to teach us how to be good. He came as the One who was good—perfect—in all things. He did not come to teach us how to earn our place in Heaven, He came to earn it for us. When it comes to the equation of our salvation we add only sin. It is Jesus alone who supplies the payment. In Him alone then we find comfort, peace, and joy.
It is God’s Word alone that reinforces such sublime truth in our hearts and minds. To skip our devotions and prayers for a day is the spiritual equivalent of not eating for a day. To feed your soul only on Sunday morning is to leave it weak and vulnerable. To skip a Sunday or two…well, you get the picture. We cannot leave the world, but we can most certainly cut away more of the rot from our lives. We cannot keep from getting spattered by the mud of this world from time to time, but we can keep from wallowing in it. Using that timeless guide that never changes (the Bible) we can slowly regain and maintain the Christian sensitivity God wants in us. So we conclude with the beginning—the first verses of our text: “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” [vv.17-19]
Instead, dear Christians, believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, and thank Him by putting on that New Man day by day. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.