12th Sunday after Pentecost August 20, 2023
536, Worship Supplement 2000 #743, 528:1-2,5, 52
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, You desire not the death of a sinner, but rather that we turn from our evil ways and live. Graciously spare us those punishments which we by our sins have deserved, and grant us always to serve You in holiness and pureness of living; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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 finally his life. Eve tried to have an amicable discussion with the devil himself, and it cost her and all mankind God’s perfect creation.
Yet the Church today is told that we must do much the same with unbelief and perversion—sin and error of every imaginable sort. We must live amicably with it, never "judging.” Many have bought into this demonic plan, and countless souls are now paying the horrible price.
The hard cold fact is that whenever and wherever no distinction is made between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and error, there mankind will naturally and invariably make friends with evil. Separating from evil and error is the immune system of the Church, and when the immune system is compromised, souls die.
This is not alarmism. It is not outdated theorizing. This is fact, which is borne out by history, 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 chose to try to live amicably with evil, and souls will spend eternity in hell as a result. All who try to give evil a friendly hug will invariably be crushed by it.
You would think that by now we would have learned. With centuries of history screaming out the truth that the buddy-system with the world never works, still we are told that Christians are to bend and blend; we are to adapt and adopt, we are to accept and thereby be accepted. The result is that even when we hear words from God himself that are anything but conciliatory toward evil, we somehow shy from them. We find ourselves a bit uncomfortable with them. This is, in other words, a problem that absolutely needs to be acknowledged, confronted, and fixed.
That is exactly what we will attempt to do on the basis of our text for this morning. Here we will be reminded of the two sides of our God, and therefore the two possible relationships that our God offers. He is the God of wand destruction (and therefore our worst possible enemy) or he is our loving Father, and greatest friend and ally. He cannot be both and he cannot be neither. That part of God’s Word that will instruct us this morning is found in 44th Chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:
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)
This is God’s Word. Trusting the Source, we trust the Word. That our God would guide and bless us through the study of these his words this morning, so we pray: “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
Would you think me friendly if every time I saw you, I turned away and ran, refusing to have anything at all to do with you? Not so much? Then what makes Christians today imagine that God wants us to be friendly toward evil? We are always warned to “flee” to “turn away” to “cut ourselves off” and in general to avoid at all costs. “Come out and be separate” Scripture tells us. Nowhere in God’s Word are we encouraged of be friendly with sin or error. Those who teach and promote error (false teachers) are not only supposed to be identified but avoided. The same with those who have given themselves over to sin. As Paul told the Christians in Ephesus: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:6-8) To help understand this better, next time you are driving along a highway look in the ditches and note how many obstacles have been marked with a post by the Highway Department—things like culverts, drainage ditches, and underpasses. Do you suppose they do that so that mowers and maintenance workers go to those areas or so that they know to stay away? Do they put them there so that people get hurt or to protect them? How much more than in connection with those things that God has marked as dangers not just to the body but to the eternal soul?
Yes but didn’t Jesus associate with sinners? Didn’t he even adopt the title of “friend of sinners"? Absolutely, but the goal of that contact was always to draw them out, never to join them and never to compromise his own perfect understanding of right and wrong. His goal was always to untangle the sinner from the net of his sin and unbelief.
In fact, do you want to guess which word is never used anywhere in Scripture? “Compromise.” Not once in any of the dozen or so English translations that I checked. Nowhere. Ever. 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 God’s Word tells us are true and sacred and right.
Hear this well: there can be no compromise with evil, no negotiation with sin, no truce or peace pact with what is false. To compromise with evil is to lose—always and only. To yield in what is right is to embrace what is wrong.
Obviously, we ought to be taking our cues or guidance from God in these things, rather than from the unbelieving world. God obviously has a better handle on this sort of thing than does, say, that part of his creation that rejects his very existence. So it is that God himself in our text first draws a picture of himself that is grossly at odds with the caricatures drawn by the world around us. In case you missed it during the first reading of our text, we’ll go back and take a closer look.
In the first verse of our text God refers to himself as “the LORD of hosts.” You will recall that the word “lord” has a variety of meanings in the Bible—everything from “master” or “boss" to “God.” Yet whenever you see LORD (all capital letters) what you are reading is the personal name that God 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 personal name in John 8 when he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” That’s undoubtedly also why the Jews reacted so strongly to that statement. They knew that Jesus was thereby identifying himself as the one 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.” He is thereby calling himself the one and only God—the only God that truly exists.
Yet the greater challenge here is to remember what “hosts” really means. Most, when asked, think of “heavenly hosts” or angels. Sort of, but that “host” is not made up of the flowery, passive, cherubic creatures portrayed in books and movies. Picture not weak, chubby-faced harp players but unimaginably powerful creature outfitted for war. In fact, the term would better be translated “the God of War” or “the Lord of the 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 evil—the sins of idolatry and unbelief, and to the promoters or teachers of that which God hates. 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 amicably with that which he knows full well is not only wrong, but which carries the power to destroy eternally the souls of those he cherishes? While idols exist only in the mind of man, the sin of idolatry is both real and deadly. While idols are fabrications of Satan, the devil uses them to tear down and destroy anything and everything that is good and divine—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 hosts” he clearly meant to convey exactly how he feels about sin and those who promote evil. Their end will certainly be eternal destruction. This is the first picture or aspect of God in our text—the “God of the angel armies” picture, the God who hates sin and evil in every conceivable form.
We miss or overlook this sort of truth often in Scripture, don’t we, even in connection with Jesus? Mankind today draws their picture of our Savior very selectively. They focus on the Jesus drawing in the dirt and refusing to condemn to death the woman caught in adultery. They refuse to include the Jesus who also then told the woman to “go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) They ignore the Jesus who violently drove the money-changers from the temple. While Jesus did deal patiently and lovingly with souls caught up in sin (always with the goal of extracting them from their sin) he reserved some of his most strident words of condemnation for the religious leaders who taught the people error, most notably the error of imagining that man can earn heaven by his works. With the scribes and Pharisees there was no compromise, no words of conciliation or appeasement. Read through Matthew 23 and you will be left with not a shred of doubt.
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. 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 that describes himself as “the LORD of War,” so also the child of God now finds in those words incredible comfort, peace, and hope—because of the other picture that God draws of himself. The “LORD of War” 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 War,” but he is our LORD of War. Because of what his Son has done for us, he does not now wield his unimaginable power against us; he uses it for us.
In our text God does describe himself as “the LORD of War” and includes harsh, unyielding words for those who give themselves over to sin and the worship of anything but him alone, but then he goes on to say, “Fear not, nor be afraid.” After such a powerful condemnation, how can he then say, “Fear not”? A good rule of thumb here and elsewhere in Scripture is to “follow the eyes.” Identify the target audience that God is addressing (where his gaze is directed) and you will immediately notice a profound difference in both his tone and in his message.
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 unparalleled 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, his 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. His awesome power is not now directed against us, it is directed toward anything and everything that threatens us.
That’s also why in our text, when our God shifted from the stern look of righteous anger to the conciliatory “fear not, nor be afraid” 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 War, because he was their friend.
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 sinless in his sight—a gift earned for 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, the all-powerful Lord of War, is your Father, your protector, your “redeemer,” your friend. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, 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.