The Sixth Sunday of Easter May 13, 2012
2 Corinthians 11:12-15
1 John 1:5-2:2
5, 396, 421, 48(1-2)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May God the Holy Spirit clear from your thoughts all that detracts from His Word, and from your lives all that draws your hearts from that one thing needful. Amen.
Those that study human beings and their shared weaknesses and limitations recognize that our eyes, or minds, often fail to recognize what is right in front of us, especially if we expect what we are looking for to be elsewhere. It’s the old “hidden in plain sight” thing.
We see the same sort of thing all around us every day without recognizing it. At the height of his career, for example, someone once asked John Elway how he dealt with the inevitable lack of privacy that comes with fame. How, for example, did he avoid being mobbed every time he went to the mall or ate at a restaurant? His answer was that he routinely wore one of his own jerseys. Folks would look at him, notice that he looks remarkably like John Elway, but then dismiss the notion, assuming that John Elway would never wear one of his own jerseys—hidden in plain sight.
Today we are going to examine the concept of “hidden in plain sight” from a little different angle with the goal of coming to recognize how and why Satan is attempting to disguise his activity and thereby rob mankind of the truth of God’s Word. The text that will guide us is found in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, the 11th chapter:
But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.
So far the very words of God. What a blessing to have and study the precious words of Almighty God on a regular basis. Honor these words as such and learn from them accordingly. To this end we pray: “Sanctify us by the truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
Before we get to Satan’s plan to hide the truth in plain sight, we need to understand the first part of his plan: “guilt by association.” Do you understand the concept? It’s one of those things in life that can be more imaginary than real. Courts in our land, including multiple judgments by the United States Supreme Court, have repeatedly ruled that guilt by association has no place in any legal proceeding. In other words, the fact that your best friend is a thief doesn’t in itself make you a thief. The fact that you were with someone who was doing drugs doesn’t prove that you took drugs. That’s how the courts see it. Unfortunately, human beings by-and-large tend to feel no such constraints.
If, for example, you see a young man loitering on a street corner in the company of gang members, most rational people would assume that he too had been drawn into that perverse mentality and way of life. If you were to see a young woman in garish clothing, late at night, calling out to passing cars on a street corner with known prostitutes, most would again assume that she too was caught up in that sinful lifestyle.
So what would you, personally, think of a man who routinely shunned the higher, more honorable classes of society and hung around instead with known criminal elements—like prostitutes and thieves? It would certainly tell you something about that person, wouldn’t it? Except, of course, that in this case it is a description of Jesus Christ—which is why it must be used only with great care by Christians.
Clearly we need to be very careful when it comes to guilt by association. The Jews used it to condemn Jesus: “The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:2 ESV). Again in Matthew 11:19 we read Jesus’ words: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinner!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (ESV) To Christians this sort of thing ought to be self-evident. The Eighth Commandment reminds us of God’s will that we “put the best construction on everything” (cf. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism). “Association” probably calls us to gently question, it does not give us the right to assume guilt.
Yet there is a far more diabolical and clever means by which Satan is employing guilt by association against God’s children. In fact, if you combine guilt by association and the concept of hiding something in plain sight, we begin to grasp the evil genius with which Satan today seeks to attacks the truth.
Not long ago, PBS aired a documentary on the Mormons. The two-part series was both kind and candid. The spokesmen for the Mormon Church were—as you would expect—polite, gentle, and articulate. They stated their case as un-obnoxiously and as matter-of-factly as I would consider humanly possible, considering what they were actually promoting as true.
These dignified, well-dressed men and women were defending a religious organization that claims its members will one day be gods, creating with their celestial wife or wives the spirits that would go down and populate their own personal planet somewhere in the galaxy. With pleasantly smiling faces they spoke glowingly of Joseph Smith (the writer of the Book of Mormon), baptisms for the dead, and secret, creepy temple rituals. All were devout adherents of a religion that claims to be Christian, but is thoroughly work-righteous and, therefore, damning.
So where do hidden in plain sight and guilt by association come in? First, the guilt by association. It occurred to me, as I watched these kind, misguided souls with a mixture of sadness and revulsion, that that is exactly how the godless in our society see you and me and our religion. To the unconverted there is probably little difference between a man who believes that the golden plates of the Book of Mormon ascended into Heaven after their translation by Joseph Smith and the ascension into Heaven of a crucified Jewish man named Jesus of Nazareth. To the non-Christian there is probably no appreciable difference between the Mormon’s eternal marriage and the Christian’s eternal life, between the Mormon temple rituals and the Christian sacraments, or between the Mormon idea of becoming a god and the Christian belief in a glorified body following the resurrection on the Last Day.
Satan’s goal is arguably even worse than leading Mormons into damning error. His goal is to discredit the one truth religion by raising up countless false and perverse cults—guilt by association.
Now change the channel and watch the aftermath of yet another supposed act of religious conviction in the Middle East where a devout young follower of Mohammed strapped 50 pounds of high explosives, ball bearings, and nails to his chest and blew up women and children in a local marketplace—all in the name of Allah. See hundreds or even thousands as they bow in unison to the god and his prophet who supposedly condone such actions. It’s just another religion, and they are all pretty much alike—guilt by association.
Change the channel again and you find yourself in Tibet watching a Buddhist monk light himself on fire; or listening to one who believes that he, through mediation, is very close to being “assumed into the deity.” It’s just another religion, and they are all pretty much alike—guilt by association.
This is how Satan is employing his guilt by association against the Christian Church today. No one wants to be seen by society as a demented nut-ball. No one wants to be regarded as lesser or in any way delusional. Nor are Satan’s attacks an on-again, off-again proposition. The attacks are both relentless and cumulative. It’s like he straps a pack on your back and continually adds one rock after another. Christians who imagine that they are immune do so at their own peril.
Today’s text describes this sort of guilt by association when it says that Satan “transforms himself into an angel of light.” [v.14] There is little doubt that those souls who have been caught up in these pagan religions are absolutely convinced of their “rightness.” They speak of supernatural, religious experiences that transcend both human description and understanding. They speak of blissful assurance and of the unimaginable joys that await them. Tragically, what they are experiencing are demonic forces aping the truth—Satan, masquerading as an angel of light.
And that’s only half the plan. The other half of Satan’s plan is to hide Christianity in plain sight.
The Devil is under no illusion that he will be able to destroy the Christian Church. Jesus Himself said that it’s not going to happen, and while man often doubts the Savior’s words, Satan is not so foolish. Therefore, if Satan were to have any success, he had to either discredit the Means of Grace, or find a way to withhold God’s Word from mankind. For a time—until God raised up the 16th Century Reformers—Satan succeeding in withholding God’s Word from the masses. Those that knowingly or unknowingly did the Devil’s bidding had literally chained the Bible, locking it away. Yet when God returned the Word to the people through translation and printing press, Satan had a fallback plan: hide it in plain sight.
Once rare and precious, the Bible market has now been flooded. Bibles are everywhere, and who now reads it?
Satan knows the truth. He knows the one true God and he knows that the one path to Heaven is through faith alone in Jesus Christ. What better plan to discredit God’s salvation plan than by erecting crude caricatures of the original? What better way to hide the shining gem that is Christianity than to cover the field with cheap imitations of his own manufacture? He knows he can’t destroy God’s Church, and he can no longer hide or chain the Word, so his last hope is to hide it in plain sight.
While the effect of the Devil’s mimicry on unbelievers is bad enough, the effect on Christians is no less dangerous. The message of doubt that he wants to drill down into our sub-conscience is not so much “I want to become a Mormon, Muslim, or Buddhist” as it is “Is my religion as nutty as all those others?” and “Am I as foolish as those poor misguided goofballs on television?”
Paul recognized the same forces at work already in his day. Again his words from our text: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” [vv.13-15]
Note well the ominous declaration pronounced here by the Holy Spirit through Paul over against all of the false religions that the Devil has manufactured: “…their end will correspond to their works.” Their end is destruction which serves as our reminder that the stakes here could not be more serious or more consequential. All other paths, apart from Christ, lead always and only to eternal destruction in Hell. No matter how peaceful or how convinced its proponents might appear, they and those that follow share a common, terrible destination.
Paul’s solution? Again from our text: “And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.” [v.12 ESV] Paul recognized that the solution was not to radically alter his message and his methods. The solution was to redouble his efforts and to keep doing exactly what he was doing—preach the pure, sweet, life-saving Word of God.
Nothing but light can dispel darkness. When Jesus was condemned by the self-righteous skeptics of his day for associating with sinners, His solution wasn’t to abandon those sinners, but to continue sharing with them His message of truth and life. That means that this is not just the right course of action in reaching out to others, it is the right course of actions for our own personal preservation.
The fact that only light dispels darkness is true not only in the hearts of others, it is true also in our own hearts. God’s Word, when it is read and studied, has the marvelous power to cleanse the human heart of the doubts and uncertainties that Satan relentlessly and cleverly tries to sow there. God’s Word is more than just information. It is power—pure, raw, divine power—for in and through his Word God has promised to dispel the gloom and uncertainty of all that is false and impure. It is through exposure to that Word that God the Holy Spirit enables us to rightly judge between true and false, wise and foolish, saving truth and damning lie.
All, again, comes back to the simple, central truth of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This is the truth that saves—that by his life and death, Jesus has supplied the goodness that makes up for our sin. No man no matter how deeply he meditates, or in what rituals he participates, or how much he denies himself—no man can satisfy God’s demand for perfection. Jesus alone could do that. Jesus alone has done that! That perfection is not paid to us as our due, it is given to us as a gift. The only way any human being can forfeit that full, complete payment is to reject or deny that Jesus did what he said he did. Believing, that payment is yours. You are forgiven, and since you are forgiven nothing and no one can prevent you from inheriting Heaven and existing for all eternity in the presence of your holy God.
When he stood before the doubting King Agrippa, Paul recounted the event where he was given to know the difference between God’s truth and Satan’s lies. To Agrippa Paul relayed Jesus’ words of life and light:“And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:14-18 ESV).
You and I have been given this same priceless information, this same priceless gift. Hidden in plain sight? Not if we can help it. Guilt by association? Satan would like it to seem so. The fact is we have salvation by association with Jesus Christ, our Lord! Amen.
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.