11th Sunday After Pentecost August 28, 2011
Romans 8:18-27; 'Matthew 13:24-30
536, 764 [TLH alt. 29], 744(1-3) [TLH alt. 25(1-4)], 744(4) [TLH alt. 25(6)]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
God grant that each one of us, like Paul, perpetually determine to regard Jesus Christ and Him crucified as the sum and substance of our entire existence. Amen.
Fellow sinners who have been declared holy in Jesus Christ:
Amicable isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Lot tried to live amicably with the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah and it cost him his wife and livelihood. Samson tried to live amicably with his pagan wife and her people and it cost him his strength, his eyes, and his life. Eve tried to have an amicable discussion with the Devil himself and it cost her and all of mankind God’s perfect creation.
Yet the Church today is told that we must do much the same with unbelief and perversion—sin of every imaginable sort. A solid percentage of today’s Christian congregations have bought into this demonic plan, and countless souls are paying the horrible price.
The hard cold fact is that whenever and wherever no distinction is made between right and wrong, good and evil, mankind will naturally and invariably make friends with evil. When the immune system of the Church is compromised, souls die.
This is not alarmism. It is not outdated theorizing. This is fact. It is history. It has been demonstrated over and over again since the fall of man into sin. God told Israel not to make friends with their pagan neighbors but to drive them forcefully from the land. Israel compromised with evil and was lost. They tried to give evil a friendly hug and it crushed them.
Yet even today with all that we know, with centuries of history fairly screaming out the truth that the buddy-system with the world never works, still we are told that Christians are to bend and blend, adapt and adopt. The result is that even when we hear words from God Himself that are anything but conciliatory toward evil, we somehow shy from them and can even find ourselves a bit uncomfortable with them. This is not only profoundly wrong, it ought to start the alarm horns ringing in our ears and hearts. This is a problem that absolutely needs to be confronted.
That is exactly the problem we will address on the basis of today’s text. Here we will find powerful, exclusive words from our God. Those words are found in Isaiah 44:
Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before Me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides Me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” [ESV]
These are the words of our God given to us through verbal inspiration by the Holy Spirit speaking through the prophets of old. Trusting the source, we trust His Word. That our God would bless us through the study of these His words so we pray: “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
When it comes to good vs. evil, right and wrong, obedience and disobedience, truth and error, all Christians—especially parents—are supposed to be realists not romantics, serious not silly. When it comes to evil we are called to be ruthlessly honest rather than optimistically naïve. Part of the problem is that we are mistaking “putting the best construction on everything” (cf. Luther’s explanation of the 8th commandment in his Small Catechism) with “pretend that sin doesn’t exist.” Or, if it does exist, we are adopting the notion that evil holds no real danger for those who mean well. If the Devil could choose the conditions for battle this is exactly the sort of terrain he chooses for his war against those who are God’s. Under these conditions he succeeds far more often than he fails.
Note well that nowhere in God’s Word is this sort of “be friendly with sin and error” nonsense promoted. Always we are warned to “flee” to “turn away” to “cut yourself off” and in general to avoid at all costs. “Come out and be different,” Scripture tells us (2 Corinthians 6:17). Those who teach and promote error are not only supposed to be avoided but identified—like the Highway Department flags those obstacles hidden in the roadside ditches so that mowers don’t hurt themselves or ruin their equipment.
On the other hand, do you want to guess which word is never used anywhere in Scripture? “Compromise” — at least not in a positive sense. And yet that is the sacred mantra repeated over and over again by our perverse society almost to the point that you and I are made to feel guilty and evil if we do not compromise in the things that we hold to be true and sacred and right.
Hear this well: there can be no compromise with evil, no negotiation with sin. To compromise with evil is to lose—always and only. To yield in what is right is to do wrong, in other words, to sin.
Obviously we ought to be taking our cues from God rather than from the unbelieving world. God obviously has a better handle on this sort of thing than does, let’s say, that part of His creation that rejects His very existence. So it is that God Himself in our text draws a picture of Himself that is grossly at odds with the caricatures drawn by the world around us.
In the first verse of our text God refers to himself as “the Lord of hosts.” While the word “Lord” has a variety of meanings in the Bible (everything from “master” or “boss” to “God”) nevertheless whenever you see “Lord” what you are reading is the personal name that God Himself used to identify Himself. This is the great “I Am” by which He told Moses to identify Him to Pharaoh. Jesus associated himself with this same name in John 8 when he said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). That’s also why the Jews reacted so strongly to that statement. They knew that Jesus was thereby identifying Himself as the true God of Israel.
That is the word used in the first verse of our text when God refers to himself as “the Lord of hosts.” God calls Himself the one and only God, the only God that truly exists. So far so good, but the real challenge is to remember what “hosts” really means. Most, when asked, think of “heavenly hosts,” or angel which is sort of accurate, but that “host” is not made up of the flowery, passive creatures portrayed in books and movies. The term would better be translated: “the God of Armies.” “Hosts” actually refers to legions gathered for war and it is a martial, intimidating term.
Why would God choose to use such a term here? Why would He not use a more pacific term like “Lord of mercy” or “Lord provider”? Because here He is speaking to the sin of idolatry and to the promoters or teachers of that sin and God is never gentle or compassionate when dealing with such things. How could He be? How could the God who truly knows all things ever deal gently or yieldingly with that which He knows full well will destroy eternally the souls of those He cherishes? While idols exist only in the mind of man, the sin of idolatry is real and it is deadly. While idols are fabrications of Satan, he uses them to tear down and destroy anything and everything that is good and divine, i.e. everything that is cherished by God. That means he also seeks your soul and your eternal destruction. When God here used the term “the Lord of Armies” He clearly meant to convey unmistakably just how He feels about sin and those who promote evil. Their end will certainly be eternal destruction.
We miss or overlook this sort of truth often in Scripture, don’t we. So also with Jesus, mankind today draws his picture of our Savior very selectively. People focus on the Jesus who drew in the dirt and refused to condemn to death the woman caught in adultery, yet they refuse to include the Jesus who violently drove the money-changers from the temple with a home-made whip. While Jesus did deal patiently and lovingly with souls caught up in sin, He reserved some of His most strident words of condemnation for the religious leaders who taught the people to base their hope for Heaven on work-righteousness. With the scribes and Pharisees there was no compromise, no words of conciliation or appeasement (cf. Matthew 23).
You and I need to learn from this. We need to learn that compromise with sin and evil will always result in further sin and eventually the loss of saving faith itself. As soon as the lines that sharply divide good and evil are blurred, man will naturally choose evil. Remember this the next time you hear your pastor or another Christian condemn the evil and the promoters of evil that threaten you and every other child of God. Like so much excrement, there is no clean, acceptable side of sin.
And yet just as unbelievers and indeed our Old Adam are right to quake in abject fear at the Supreme Omnipotent Being who describes himself as “the Lord of Armies,” so also the child of God finds in those words incredible comfort, peace, and hope. This is the one, true God, but this is our God, our Father. This is the one who revealed Himself to us not only as the one who hates evil, but the one who loved us so much that He determined to rectify our tragic mistakes by punishing His own dear Son in our place as our Substitute. He is indeed “the Lord of Armies,” but he is our “Lord of Armies.” He does not wield his unimaginable power just for Himself, He uses it for His beloved children, for you and me.
Yet as we move through our text, things can get a bit confusing. First God describes himself as “the Lord of Armies” and includes harsh, unyielding words for those who promote the worship of idols, but then He goes on to say, “Fear not, nor be afraid.” [v.8] After such a stern rebuke, how can He say, “Fear not.”? A good rule of thumb in Scripture is to “follow the eyes.” Identify the target audience whom God is addressing (where his gaze is directed) and you will immediately notice a profound difference in both His tone and in His message.
You may have experienced this on your own. I remember, for example, a time when I dressed in a rather elaborate and ridiculous hillbilly costume as part of my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. On the way out of the room where I changed into this get-up I happened to pass a good close friend of mine whom I’d known most of my life. I gave him a manly punch on the shoulder and a “Hey, how y’all doin’?” and was greeted with total lack of recognition. The look he gave me told me that he was about two seconds away from either body tackling me or dialing 911. When recognition finally dawned, the apprehension and all hostility were instantly gone and the old warmth returned.
So also with God. God’s enemies have everything to fear, His children have nothing to fear. In fact it is even more profound than that. The very power and pure sense of justice that once so terrified us now gives us unimaginable comfort and security. This is true because we now know that the power that once terrified us on account of our sin now comforts and protects us because Jesus Christ, God’s Son has restored our relationship. Our sins, one and all, have been forgiven by our God. The fact that He now sees us as holy and righteous means that He bears no animosity toward us.
That’s also when God shifted from the stern look of righteous anger to the conciliatory “fear not, nor be afraid” it was because His gaze shifted to that ever-present remnant of believers who still looked for and trusted in the promise of a Savior. Those are the ones—the only ones—who had no cause to fear, no cause to shrink back in terror from the Lord of Armies.
Those same words of comfort and peace are repeated to you and to all who trust Jesus for the full payment of their sin debt. Also now in the New Testament we are reminded that “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). This is the promise of the one, true God, our Father. His gaze, directed upon you now, holds no animosity for you are holy and blameless in His sight—a gift given to you by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ as your Savior. Once the unimaginable power of Almighty God held terror for you. Now, it is and should be your greatest source of comfort and assurance. Almighty God is your Father, your Protector, Defender, and Provider. 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 (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.