The First Sunday in Lent March 9, 2014
356, 144, 388(1-5), 48
May the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ—the focus of the season we have just entered—lead you to contemplate just how great and how precious, how valuable, your personal gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life truly is. Amen.
Dear fellow Christians:
I was setting up an online bill-pay system awhile back and one of the password hints or security questions they asked was “What was the name of your favorite teacher?” Lots of folks must have a favorite teacher or they probably wouldn’t continue to use that question as one of their hints.
I came up with a name, but it started me wondering just what is it that makes one particular teacher someone’s favorite? As time goes by it isn’t necessarily the one you personally liked the best. It isn’t usually the one that was an “easy A.” Your favorite teacher was probably the one who excelled at teaching you. It’s the one who took the complicated and made it simple, graspable—the one who helped you to make sense of what initially seemed strange, chaotic, or disjointed. On the other hand, your least favorite teachers were probably those that seemed to have the knack for making even that which is fairly simple seem complex and incoherent.
If today’s text could come to life as a teacher, it would most certainly come to life as a favorite, because it takes what can at times seem rather complicated, and reduces it to the delightfully simple. That text is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the tenth chapter:
The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”(that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
So far the sacred Word of God. These words are true and perfect, for they are God’s words. They are clear, simple, and yet highly instructive. That God would use them to further instruct us today, we pray: “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord, Your Word is truth. Amen.”
Some things in life are complicated. There’s no getting around that. Some things are not complicated, but clearly they can be made so. Here’s an example to illustrate this point: Someone once sent me the official specifications for the manufacture of pipe—specifications clearly offered by an engineer with too much time on his hands. I won’t bore you with the whole note. You’ll get the point just by hearing that it involved “constructing a long hole, around which metal or plastic is situated equidistant from the center of the long hole, such that the outside diameter of the hole must be smaller than the outside diameter of the metal, so as to prevent any part of the hole from being situated on the outside of the pipe.”
You get the picture, and we can smile at such things until the subject-matter changes from something rather mundane like pipe to something not so mundane like the salvation of human souls. Here, when man decides he is going to take the simple and turn it into the complex, the result is anything but funny.
The theory of evolution is a perfect example. Did you know, first of all, that this theory of how all life evolved—and it is, by the way, a theory—was virtually unheard of right up until about 100 years ago? Charles Darwin introduced his ideas in the early part of the 20th Century. For thousands of years prior to Darwin’s nonsense, mankind unquestioningly accepted the Biblical truth of a divine creator and preserver of both mankind and the universe we occupy. When Darwin first introduced his ideas he was ridiculed—laughed to scorn by science and society alike. The Christian churches led the charge. Why? Because the Bible was perfectly clear in its description of how God created the universe from nothing in six natural and consecutive days—simple.
Enter Darwin’s intricately complicated lie—a lie which surely must have intrigued the Devil. The lie offered mankind a way to deny accountability to God. In other words, if man was not made by God, then he is not accountable to God and he can therefore pretty much do whatever he can get away with—without ever having to worry about answering for it. It stood to reason that if man is not accountable to God, then there is no need for a Savior because there would then be nothing from which man needs to be saved. Evolution, when you follow it through, turns Jesus into a pointless novelty.
How then could it be that even many who call themselves Christians today have come to deny the simple creation account of the Bible and have instead come to accept the intricate silliness that is evolution? How indeed could even Christians take what is so simple, so Biblical, and trade it for that which is so convoluted and full of logical inconsistencies and scientific impossibilities?
The answer is that man naturally tends to assume that the complex always holds more truth than the simple. So it is that man loves to hear about vast shadowy conspiracies and to imagine that those who hear and believe them have pealed back layers of deception to arrive at some deep and hidden truth. Even in Paul’s day we read about entire segments within the community of Christians who called themselves Gnostics—from the Greek word that roughly means: “those in the know.” Those folks taught that the basics of Christianity were just the shell or façade of a far deeper truth. Sound familiar? Paul rejected their claims as utter nonsense.
It gets even worse when it comes to evolution and the collateral damage it causes. The “Christian” acceptance of the theory of evolution represents one of the great turning points in the history of what is today called “modern Christianity.” The embracing of the theory of evolution by elements of the Christian church was the event that seemed to open the floodgates for all manner of confusion and error. Satan used the elaborate lie of evolution to crack the armor of inspiration that had, up until that point, protected the truth itself. From that point on the clever lies came in a torrent as a domino effect took hold.
Soon the Bible was no longer God’s Word, it merely contained God’s Word and also contained other things including error. Suddenly, the Bible’s plan for the roles of men and women was all wrong, homosexuality was no longer a perversion but a lifestyle, and killing the unborn was no longer murder but “choice.”
There is now nothing at all that is sacred or secure. In fact, those very things that we regard as the most firmly established and clearly Biblical truths have become the most obvious targets. This includes even the simple Biblical account of the resurrection of Jesus. Whole Christian denominations now teach their seminary students that the bodily resurrection of Jesus never took place. The only real and true “resurrection” was that the memory and example of Jesus lives on in the hearts and the lives of His followers.
The point for us is that we need to understand our own tendency to choose the complex over the simple. As science advances on so many fronts, and as we learn that many parts of God’s creation are far more complex than first believed, the natural result is that we will be tempted to toss out everything that is simple and replace it with whatever seems to be more sophisticated only because it is more complex.
There are unlimited practical examples. “Life begins at conception” is much too simplistic despite the fact that no other starting point has ever been identified by the pro-abortion advocates. “Young people should practice abstinence until married” is far too unsophisticated, despite the fact that it would eradicate AIDS in a generation, remove teen pregnancy as a social problem, and preserve and solidify the family, which is the basic building block of this or any other society.
We tend to get caught up in the argument that our world is not well-served by oversimplifying our complex issues with outdated, religion-based solutions. The fact is that it is neither the problems nor the solutions that are too complex. The fault lies entirely with mankind’s sinful refusal to solve the problems with God’s solutions.
This brings us, logically, to the single most basic question that faces all mankind: “How can a human being get to Heaven?” All other questions pale in comparison to this basic issue. The good news for you and me is that our text offers us perfect and yet simple answers to this great question.
Our text—together with the rest of God’s Word—represents the authoritative difference between simple truth and clever fabrication. Again, this critical difference is nowhere more important than in the discussion of how man can escape the eternal torment of Hell and live in the perfect bliss of Heaven.
There simply is nothing at all mysterious in God’s plan, except where human nonsense clouds the pure, clear words of Holy Scripture. Listen again and thrill to God’s unambiguous words in our text: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” [v.9] This is the sort of straightforward simplicity with which we are to comfort our troubled hearts. Again we read: “For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’” [v.11] Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Then these holy, inspired words represent God’s promise that you will never be put to shame. Judgment Day need hold no terror for you, despite your past sins. Again the crystalline words of our text: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’” [vv.12-13]
Use these words whenever and wherever the Devil attacks you with guilt and depression. Note that they say nothing whatsoever of your past sins, for those sins cannot be used against you. They are gone—forever. Jesus paid for them, and by paying for them He removed them from the proceedings of Judgment Day. Your past sins are inadmissible in God’s divine court. The very One who will one day judge you has declared it to be so. Another has been punished for those sins in your place. The Judge has so ruled, and He has set His seal to that irreversible decree in the form of the empty tomb on Easter morning.
There is also a critically important fact to be learned here relating to our witness and outreach to the unbeliever. Here too we need to recognize our own natural tendency to dismiss the simple in favor of the complex. Complex argumentation can no more bring an unbeliever to spiritual life than shouting at road kill can make it play the banjo. How then do we go about winning souls? What good is our witness if the sinner cannot be convinced? The sinner can indeed be convinced, but only by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit works through the simple messages of Law and Gospel. We sinned, but God saves sinners through faith in Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for every single sin through His death on the cross.
Clever might be good for adding bodies to the pews, but it’s lousy for adding names to the Book of Life. Now more than ever the world needs to hear a crystal-clear proclamation of the truth—the truth as God has declared it. There are many kinds of courage, but what the world needs from you and me is a plain, simple, courageous witness of these basic truths—uncompromisingly offered and without fear of consequences.
Grab hold then of the simple joy of these words in our text: “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” [v.13] This alone is the reality that saves.
“Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.” What a joy to hear such words and to know that they are now and forever true. Our sins are forgiven. Salvation is ours through faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior. This is God’s Word of promise, and it is, in every conceivable way, simply perfect. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
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.