"Our God Is an Offensive God"
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
St. Luke 12:49-56
August 19 and 22, 2007
(St. John Lutheran Church, North Tonawanda, New York)
IN NOMINE JESU
I am one of the last who will claim victimization of any kind for myself, but I will state in your hearing now that many members of congregations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are victims…victims of poor, or in most cases, no catechesis. As a church body, we have been poorly catechized. Had we been better catechized, we would have realized that our God is not an all-inclusive God, but He is an offensive one. He is offensive because He actually excludes people. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus; this means the Jews of this New Testament era, the Muslims, and everyone else who refuses to confess Jesus as the Christ and as his Savior and Lord are excluded from heaven. So are those who choose to live immoral lives, as St. Paul notes. God is a separatist. He even separated the night from the day. We sang about this reality in our Hymn of the Day, "Thy Strong Word": "Thy strong word did cleave the darkness; At Thy speaking it was done" (LSB 578:1). He separated light from darkness at the beginning of the Creation. He has separated the children of the light from the children of darkness: "Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness, Dark as night and deep as death, Broke the light of Thy salvation, Breathed Thine own life-breathing breath" (LSB 578:2), as we sang and as we recall from Isaiah chapter nine. God has separated His people from the darkness of death, but not everyone is out of the dark. There are still children of darkness lurking about this vale of tears. These are the ones who will not see the light of heaven but will be ablaze in eternal death.
At the beginning of our text our Lord expresses His desire to bring judgment already on the unbelieving world: "I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" (v. 49). He destroyed the world through the Flood; here He wanted to do so through fire. The world was once awash in His righteous judgment; this time He wanted it to be ablaze in condemnation because the world refused to hear Him as He spoke to His people of old by the prophets—by HIS prophets. The ones whom God claimed as His people rejected His messengers, His message, and, ultimately, Him because He sent them to preach doom and gloom and not "happy-clappy." We hear this in our Old Testament Reading as the Lord spoke through His prophet Jeremiah. They wanted to hear the power of positive thinking, not a call to repentance. The unfaithful Israel went so far as to kill the prophets at the horns of the altar of the Temple because they did not like what they heard. They did not want to hear that they would be judged, they wanted to be justified. But the Lord has no room in heaven for those unfaithful to Him.
Many who followed Christ and proclaimed Him crucified have been killed on account of their message as well. For this reason, we are in the part of the post-Pentecost season known as Martyrs' Tide, a tide named in memory of St. Laurence, a deacon and martyr in the Early Church. He was killed on account of his faith. According to tradition, all but one of the Apostles was martyred; they were killed because their hearers were offended—offended at the notion that they would not be in heaven apart from faith in Jesus Christ. They were offended by the Gospel, as were those who heard the Lord Himself, as are those of us today who hear the Gospel through His called and ordained servants of the Word. We are a stiff-necked and rebellious people, by nature sinful and unclean. As such, our Old Adam hates our pastor because God has sent him to give us what we need, not what we want. He has come to tell us that we are sinners who need to repent, lest we be excluded from heaven. We hate the scriptural practice of closed communion because people are actually EXCLUDED from the Lord's Table. In St. Matthew's account of the Lord's Supper, the Lord says, "Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed FOR MANY for the remission of sins" (Mt. 26:27b-28). He does not say, "Y'all come!" Neither do SS. Mark, Luke, nor Paul. Neither does your pastor. Neither do I. Our sinful nature does not care. It is offended anyway. We don't care what the God says; we want the pastor to tell us what we want to hear. Just as we want to control God's undershepherd, we want to control God Himself. We seek to impose our will upon Him, as if we are saying, "MY will be done…period!" We have set aside God's Word in favor of our own agendas as we seek to manipulate God, His pastors, and His people. We choose to ignore that we are sinners, and we have grossly overestimated our own worth. It is no wonder that the Lord wanted to set the earth ablaze. In the final judgment, the sheep (those who hear the Word of God and keep it) will be separated from the goats (those who reject God and His Means of Grace), and the goats will be cast into hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. On account of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature we are a people divided, even in the Lord's house. What divides us is the Gospel, the preaching of the cross.
Despite the best efforts of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, the cross is still the enduring symbol of the hope that we have, the hope that is ours in Christ. Our hope endures, for the preaching of the cross has endured for 2000 years. This preaching has endured since Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame. He endured by being obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Jesus, the holy One, became the lowly One for us and was lifted up on the cross, as the bronze serpent was lifted up on the pole in Moses' day. This was the baptism He said in our text He needed to undergo, a baptism of blood—His blood. The Word who became flesh was lifted up on the cross, and all who look to Christ the crucified receive forgiveness of all their sins. Look at the cross and remember what the Lord won there for you: the forgiveness of sins. Jesus paid the entire debt of your sins. Your slate has been wiped clean by the blood of Jesus. Your heavenly Father sees you through His only-begotten Son's blood and declares you righteous for Jesus' sake, for the very life He gave on the cross. That is the reason for our joy. This is why the cross is so beautiful to us who believe in Jesus Christ and Him crucified…and risen.
It is important, though, that we not remain stationary at the cross. We dare not cling to the old rugged cross because our Lord is no longer there. After He died, His body, once lifted up, was taken down and laid in the tomb. We hasten early to the tomb and see where our Lord once lay. Yet we do not remain there, either, for His body is no longer there as well. He is not there. He is risen! The cross could not hold Him. The tomb could not contain Him. Death has no power over Him. Had Christ, who once was slain, not burst His three-day prison, our faith would be in vain. But now is Christ arisen! The resurrection of our Lord gives the preaching of the cross its power, and it is power for us who are being saved, as St. Paul tells us. This message is offensive to the devil and our sinful world. It is sheer foolishness to them who are perishing. But for us...we are being saved through the apostolic preaching of the cross. We cherish the preaching of the cross, but we do not remain at the cross because God does not offer His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation from the cross. Our Lord won our forgiveness there, but we, by the Holy Spirit, look to the font, pulpit, and altar, where our Lord gives His gifts to us.
While we do not cling to the old rugged cross, we lift high the cross, thanking our Lord for winning our forgiveness there. We lift high the cross as we get to tell others what He has done, since we are marked with the sign of the cross, for we and all newborn soldiers of the Crucified bear on their brows the seal of Him who died. We bear on our brows and on our hearts the sign of the cross that marks us as redeemed by Christ the crucified. We have borne the sign of the cross from the day of our Baptism, a baptism of water and the Word, where we became children of God, where our God, the one true God, has given us His forgiveness, as He continues to give to us through absolution and preaching, body and blood. We lift high the offense of the cross as we bear the sign of the cross on our brows, telling others the message of the cross, so that they too, by the Holy Spirit, would no longer be offended—scandalized—but set free to be people of God, that they too would receive the gifts the Lord won on the cross and gives in His Word and Sacraments. As we prayed in the Hymn of the Day: "Give us lips to sing Thy glory, Tongues Thy mercy to proclaim, Throats that shout the hope that fills us, Mouths to speak Thy holy Name" (LSB 578:5).
The Lord does not want divisions to ensue over His preachment, but He has seen it happen over and over again. He desires that all people come to the knowledge of the truth, the truth that is Christ Himself. But He does desire to unite His people around His Word and His body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, for you who confess your sins, your Savior, and the faith confessed at this altar. His body and blood are here for you, O repentant ones, even as we pray in the Proper Preface for Martyrs' Tide: "You choose the weak and make them strong in bearing witness to You. Your holy martyrs followed the example of Christ and gave their lives for the glory of Your Name. Their deaths reveal Your power shining through our human weakness." Even in our weakness, our Lord makes you strong, for the true body and blood of our Lord and Savior strengthens and preserves you steadfast in the true faith until life everlasting. Thanks be to God!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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