Sermons, Uncategorized

Hidden from the Wise, Revealed to Little Children

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At that time Jesus declared, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:25-30).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

When our grandson, Abbott, was quite a bit smaller—about two years old—Aimee and I would take him along on our walks through Dunham Park. On one occasion, he insisted on bringing along one of his toys. Planning on walking at least three miles and knowing he would probably get tired before we got back, we tried to persuade him not to bring along the extra load. But it was to no avail. So, we took off, with Abbott carrying his special toy that he felt was so necessary to bring along. We figured he would have to learn the lesson for himself.

It took a while for our suspicions that his (in our view, unnecessary) burden would soon become too heavy for him to materialize. For someone with so much shorter legs, he really kept pace with us. For a while it even looked like he might make it the whole way. At about the 2 ½ mile mark though, he pulled up short. His chubby cheeks were bright red, sweat was glistening off his forehead. He said, “Papa, can you take this for me?” I said, “No, you wanted to bring it with us even when we told you that you should leave it home, so you’re going to have to carry it.”

But I could see that he was really hot and tired. So, I told him to hold on to the toy and I picked him up, put him on my shoulders, and we walked all the rest of the way back home. It wasn’t easy, but I enjoyed every minute, every step. I guess you could say at that point it was a labor of love. Abbott carried his load (the toy) and I carried him and his load. But it didn’t happen until Abbott realized his own limitations. He needed to find out that perhaps he wasn’t as big or strong as he thought he was, to admit he needed help, and then to turn to the one he know could help him.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but there is something like this going on in our text for today. Jesus is calling all who are weary and heavy-laden to come and follow Him. In reality, that is each of us. Each of us are weary and heavy-laden, weighed down the burden of our own sin and the consequences of living in a fallen world. We are all “little children” in being utterly dependent on God to save us.

But we don’t always recognize it. We aren’t always willing to admit our sin or our limitations. The world has taught us the importance of self-sufficiency, of carrying our own weight, handling our own problems. That strategy generally works best for us in the kingdoms of this world, but it doesn’t go far in the Kingdom of God. There, it is those who realize their own limitations, who realize their neediness, and the insufficiency of worldly wisdom, those with a childlike faith, who are the ones who find true strength and wisdom in Jesus Christ.   

Which brings us back to our Lord’s words: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” Jesus makes this faithful confession after a sermon to the multitudes who have been carefully catechized by the Pharisees and their own sinful natures. They’ve been trained to believe that salvation works just like daily life. Since nothing comes from nothing, you’ve got to work hard to get to heaven, and every mistake is going to cost you dearly. Success isn’t guaranteed, and you may not be righteous like the Pharisees.

Remember, too, that there’s always more to do. The job of salvation isn’t ever done, so keep working hard. That’s why the Pharisees continually load down the people with demands. That’s why they instruct the people on how to walk, what to eat, even how much makes for a proper tithe of herbs. For the shakers, movers, and haves, the system seems to work. There are successful people who seem to be keeping the rules, and this is supposed to motivate everyone else to try. Some will try to be self-righteous. A lot more will give up and stop trying, because there’s only so much room at the top.

So much religion is run this way, sadly, even under the guise of Christianity. The Gospel is pictured as one more pursuit of excellence. If you’re wise enough and dedicated enough then you can develop a solid faith and a mature relationship with Jesus. You get out of it what you put into it. It makes sense—but it’s wrong.

This is why Jesus declares that salvation has been revealed to little children. The little children are the ones of any age who treat religion like a little kid: they are believers who are there to be given to. They are there to be fed with forgiveness. They’re there to be clothed in righteousness. They’re there to be taken places, namely the Kingdom of Heaven. They’re quite happy, like a child, to say to the Savior, “You’ve done all the work, and I’m happy to receive the benefits.”

That doesn’t work in daily life, but that’s the Gospel. You and I have eternal life because Jesus has done all the work by His life and death and resurrection. He’s lived the perfect life for you. He’s died on the cross for your sins. He’s risen from the dead in order to raise you up and give you everlasting life. He’s even ascended into heaven to prepare the way for your ascent into heaven. He doesn’t say, “Work hard, and if you do well enough I’ll save you.” No, instead He declares this: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

  “Come to Me,” says Jesus, but He doesn’t mean “If you work hard enough to make your way to Me, I’ll reward you.” No, think instead of the parent who tenderly picks up a tired child while at the same time inviting him, “Come here!”, and you have a better idea of the Savior. He has rest for all those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and know it, and those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and don’t know it. The former understand that salvation isn’t about the rules of daily living; if it is, they’ll never get the work done. Thus, they’re happy to rest in the Savior. The latter don’t think that the burden is heavy, so they see no need for the Savior. Instead, they’ll seek out salvation by their own rules. But they’ll never make it.

“Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Note carefully again the words of Jesus. Not “take My yoke upon you and pull with Me,” but “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” Hear His Word that He has paid the price for your sins. Hear His Word that He gives you grace and faith and salvation and all good things. Jesus does not come like the ox-driver, whip in hand and demanding a good performance before He rewards you. No, He is gentle and lowly and humble in heart, so much so that He gently rode into Jerusalem, suffered most lowly, and humbly went to the cross in your place. Because He’s suffered God’s wrath for you, you have rest for your souls with God forever. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light, because the price for your salvation is already paid.

Daily living is enough of a challenge for you and me. Rather than seeking to make salvation work the same way, you and I ought rightly say, “In everything I do in daily life, there is always more to do and I can never get it done, especially not perfectly. This accuses me. It shows me my limitations and failings, and it teaches me that if salvation works the same way, then I am surely lost. Therefore, rather than seek to earn my way to heaven, I will simply confess my sins and give thanks that Jesus has earned my way to heaven for me. Rather than seek to wisely and prudently earn my salvation, I will instead be a child who rejoices to be taken care of, to be given to.”

Now, be careful. There is no greater joy than being a little child in the arms of the Savior, who delights to give you all good things. But, before you know it, your sinful nature will twist this around and say, “Did you hear that sermon? The pastor said that you don’t have to do anything, so go ahead and do whatever you want. The pastor said that being a Christian isn’t about how hard you work to build a strong relationship with God, so forget that stuff like reading the Bible and receiving the Sacraments.” Old Adam is highly skilled at hearing only what he wants, so do not be deceived.

A little child delights to be given to. A little child delights to be fed and clothed and taken places. But if the child refuses to eat, he grows weak and sick. If the child goes and hides so his parents can’t find him, then he can’t be fed or clothed or taken places. The Christian who does not often hear God’s Word and receive His Supper is not boldly demonstrating that He is saved by grace; he’s being a child who runs away and refuses to eat. Do not be such a child. Instead, rejoice that the Lord visits you time and time again, giving you forgiveness, clothing you in righteousness, promising the kingdom of heaven.

Life is a struggle. You get out of it what you put into it if you’re lucky; and sooner or later, you can’t put enough into it to sustain. That’s how life works in this sinful fallen world. But that isn’t how salvation works with your sinless Savior. The Lord Jesus declares that He give it to you freely as a parent gives to a little child. May your struggles and setbacks in life serve to give you this joy: that while you must labor wearily and bear heavy loads in this life, it is not so for eternal life. Your Savior bids you, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

That rest and salvation are yours in Christ. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations 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.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Receiving the Kingdom of God Like a Child

10261_1521254229736Click here to listen to this sermon.“Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Dear friends in Christ, in the last few weeks, you have heard what a place of honor Jesus affords to little children. You have heard that one who receives a little one in Jesus’ name receives Jesus. You have also heard the warning against leading a little one astray, both through false teaching and failure to teach. And our Lord takes it one step further in our text this morning/evening. Jesus declares in that little ones can believe in Him, and are, in fact, models of faith.

People are bringing their children to Jesus. They have heard of Jesus’ miracles, and may have witnessed some of them personally. They desire the spiritual blessing associated with Jesus laying His hands upon them, to receive His benediction. And these are not just little ones who can already tell you that Jesus loves them. St. Luke’s account of this story indicates specifically that the people were bringing infants—their newborn babies—to receive Jesus’ blessing.

And when the disciples, for some unknown reason, rebuke the people, Jesus grows indignant against them and says, “Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

The kingdom of God belongs to little children, including infants. Put this knowledge together with other teachings of the New Testament, such as “whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved,” and “by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves—it is the gift of God; not by works, lest any man should boast,” and you get a powerful proclamation of God’s kingdom that goes against the conventional wisdom of man.

The conventional wisdom of man goes according to the Law that is written on his heart. From that, man concludes that salvation is contingent upon one’s works and deeds in this life. “If you want to go to heaven,” the sinful heart says, “you do these certain things. You jump through all the hoops. You decide to follow Jesus. You get yourself baptized. You do good works to get a reward.”

But while Jesus does speak of the necessity of good works and bearing good fruit, nowhere does He ascribe one’s salvation to one’s own works. His blessing of the infants here in Mark 10 is undeniable proof of this. What works are infants performing toward their salvation? What good deeds are they doing in order to gain God’s favor? None, absolutely none! Why, these little ones could not even come into Jesus arms, if someone else did not bring them!

And lest anyone here respond with the notion that little children are exempt from God’s Law and they are not responsible for sin until reaching an age of discretion or accountability, the Scriptures clearly declare otherwise. St. Paul writes to the Romans: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). King David laments in the 51st Psalm “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” And St. Paul also says without question that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). So, while an infant may appear innocent and pure to us, the child still has the original sin that infects us all. And this original sin is a terminal illness, as is evidenced by the tragic fact that even babies can die.

Knowing, therefore, that little children need the forgiveness of sins and the blessings of God’s grace, we understand the gravity of Jesus’ command not to hinder the children. But we also learn an important lesson about our own Christian lives as those who have grown up and confessed our faith. If a little child receives the forgiveness of sins and the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit—that is, receives saving faith and the promise of eternal life—it is fitting and right for us to recognize how God works to save all of His people.

If a little child is promised heaven through God’s work in the washing of the water and the Word, it doesn’t speak well for our man-made opinions regarding faith and good works. For we brought nothing into this world, and we will take nothing with us. But our sinful nature seeks to glory in our own works and behavior, as if it were scoring points with God and earning a seat at the eternal feast in heaven. Our sinful heart says to us, “I’m a good person, or at least better than many. I give to my church. I love my children. I do my best to love my neighbor, and when I sin, it’s not really a big deal because it’s nothing really bad or serious. I’m a good Christian, and that is why God will save me.”

But dear friends, if God looked at your own works and deeds, as you do in this instance, and considered you righteous because of them, then Christ Jesus died in vain. Repent of all of the self-righteousness that continually creeps into your heart from your Old Adam. For although your Old Adam has been drowned in your Baptism, he’s still a good swimmer. The depravity of the human race manifests itself not just in the awful things people do to one another—in their sins against another, but, even more so, in the hardness of our hearts toward God Himself, in our unwillingness to receive everything from His grace.

The sinful heart does not want to believe that the work of salvation is complete already, and that all are in need of it. This is the sin the disciples committed when they hindered the children from being brought to Jesus. And the children had to be brought into God’s kingdom. They could not bring themselves.

In the same way, you must be brought into the kingdom of God—you cannot bring yourself. You cannot trust in your works to bring you there because your works in and of themselves are nothing but filthy rags. They might look good to you and your fellow man, but they earn nothing with God. “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

The faith of a little child is faith that trusts in Jesus. It is the purest and strongest of all. If you ask a little one who believes in Jesus why they get to go to heaven, they’ll tell you it’s because Jesus died on the cross to take away their sins. That’s as good an answer as you can give. “To such belongs the kingdom of God.”

But the child will grow up, and as an adult becomes dissatisfied with the Sunday School answer, and looks for a more “educated” answer to the question. And eventually the concept of being a good person sneaks in. Even one who answers with “I am going to heaven because I believe in Jesus” already has taken the merit of Christ and replaced it with his own believing. He’s turned the gift of faith into his own work. And Jesus warns against this when He says: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

Children receive the kingdom of God because God gives them faith in their Savior Jesus and He regenerates them in their Baptism. Adults receive God’s kingdom only when they despair of their own works and righteousness, and they possess a childlike faith.

A little child does not add to the Word of the Lord and supplement God’s work with his own. A little child does not tell others that he is going to heaven because he’s a good kid. A little child receives God’s blessing and the promise of eternal life before he can even speak, because God attaches this powerful promise to His chosen means of Baptism. It is God’s work, not the child’s.

Dear baptized, the promise of the forgiveness of sin and eternal life is yours as well, only because of God’s continued work in your earthly pilgrimage. For you have been justified by the faith which God Himself has given you, and which He feeds and sustains. He has declared you righteous in His sight, and draws you continually to His house. Here, He strengthens you and equips you to continually drown your Old Adam through repentance of sin, and trust in Christ Jesus to forgive you. Here, He comes to you with His mercy and grace.

When the people were bringing their children to Jesus, they didn’t just want Him to speak a blessing. They wanted their little ones to receive Jesus’ touch. For He was no mere priest of the temple or eccentric preacher. He was God in the flesh, who Himself had become a little child. Listen to how the Epistle to the Hebrews explains it in this morning’s reading:

“At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him. But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of Your name to My brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.’ And again, ‘I will put My trust in Him.’ And again, ‘Behold, I and the children God has given Me’” (Hebrews 2:8-13).

The Savior had to become like His people in every respect, and indeed He was even tempted as we are, yet without sin. The eternal Son of God became flesh to suffer and die in order to atone for the sins of the whole world. Thus, He, too, had to be an infant. The one, for whom and by whom all things exist, was made for a little while lower than the angels, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin’s womb and was born a child so that He might redeem all children from sin and the power of death. His whole life—from conception to death—was lived out in perfect obedience and holiness so that it might be credited to us by faith.

Christ death and resurrection conquered the devil, hell, and all their power, opening the gates of heaven to all who would believe in Him. This includes little children, and, in fact, places them at the front of the line. Theirs is a simple, trusting faith that receives God’s grace and doesn’t try to replace it with something else. Theirs is a faith that is in the Incarnate Lord Jesus, who promised to be with His people unto the end of the age.

Therefore, do not hinder the little children. Bring them to the Lord Jesus and encourage others to do the same. Teach your children about their Savior, and instruct them in the Christian faith, that they may examine themselves to be admitted to their Lord’s altar, when the same Jesus who touched the children to bless them now touches the lips and mouths of the faithful with His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Furthermore, approach the altar of your Lord this day in repentance and childlike faith, despairing of your own works of righteousness, and trusting in the love and mercy of Christ alone, trusting that you, His servant, may truly depart in peace, “For to such belongs the kingdom of God”—children and those of all ages who hear and believe these marvelous words: “You are forgiven of all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations 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.

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Little Ones Who Believe in Jesus

10249_1521253692125Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

There are certain things that you observe around you that let you know you’re in an election season. Campaign signs, mailers, televised debates, and endless commercials. And whether it’s a candidate or a proposition or school bond issue, one way they attempt to influence the voter is by making an appeal on behalf of the children. Candidates are pictured with children around them. Initiatives are promoted through children smiling and waving, perhaps even speaking words of their own scripted endorsement so that you, too, will support it. Either the person or the idea is presented as good because it is good for the children. And what kind of monster doesn’t want to do what is good for the children?

While some of this material is a shameless emotional appeal to mothers and fathers who want the best for their own children, such campaigning is also based on a premise that cannot be denied. Children are our future. The children of today are the grownups of tomorrow. And it is the same for the Church on earth.

Our Lord stresses heavily the upbringing of children, for the Church itself is always but one generation away from extinction. God does not mass-produce Christians. He makes them individually through the Holy Spirit creating faith in their hearts by means of His Word and Sacrament. This faith must be fed and sustained, just as the body must be continually nourished with food and water. And like the body, faith also can fall victim to disease, but not to the flu or a cold. Faith suffers the illness of being scandalized. A literal translation of Jesus’ words is “whoever scandalizes one of these little ones who believe in Me.”

To scandalize someone is to cause them to stumble—to shake the faith that they have in something or someone. We may have come to know the word scandal in our culture to be nothing more than juicy gossip that gives newspapers their cover story day after day—usually about a famous person’s private life. But in the biblical sense, the concept of a scandal is much more sinister. Jesus doesn’t leave any room for His people to be flippant about their behavior toward others, the little ones in particular.

Our text this morning follows the events of the reading from last Sunday, in which Jesus took up a child in His arms and declared that whoever receives such a little one in His name receives Him. This child is still in their midst today when Jesus warns against causing such a little one to sin.

Throughout the New Testament, little children are held up as the example of faith to the church. Jesus said explicitly that the Kingdom of God belongs to them. Why is this? We know from Scripture that children are not sinless. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death, and we know that children, too, are subject to death. We know that they are conceived and born in sin, and that, like adults, they would be eternally lost without God’s saving grace. So what makes little children the examples of faith? Why is childlike faith revered above all?

We begin to understand the danger of scandalizing a little one when we come to realize the nature of a child’s faith. The faith of a little child is a faith that has been given through her baptism and is fed through hearing about her Savior Jesus. It is a faith that has not yet been subjected to the temptations of the world. A child is sinful by nature, but she doesn’t yet receive reinforcement of sinful behavior from others. She also has not yet been subjected to schoolteachers and college professors who will ridicule her because of her faith in Jesus.

A little child receives God’s Word, Christ Jesus, and trusts in Him without being attacked on all sides. A little child isn’t afraid of talking about her Savior because of what others will think! Hers is a complete faith and trust in her Redeemer Jesus. She may not be able to articulate it. A little child may not yet be able to understand the full meaning of all the words of the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed, but the faith of her heart is not contingent on the ability of her mind to process it.

This is another important aspect to remember, that faith is of the heart and not of the mind. Faith is not a mental exercise or a deliberate action of the will. Faith is not a decision that is entered upon and then never subject to second thoughts. Faith is God’s instrument for receiving His salvation by grace. It is God’s work, and it is His gift to us. And the faith of a little child is one that has been received and has not yet been polluted by the world. It is focused on Jesus and is not divided between Him and other things. The little child believes and has not yet been taught to doubt. Thus, the faith of a little child is the strongest and purest of all.

Woe, therefore, to anyone who would damage the faith of these little ones! Jesus isn’t being dramatic when He speaks of a millstone being hung around one’s neck, mob-style, and being thrown into the sea. It truly would be better for such a scandalous person to have that happen, because at least in the bottom of the sea one would not be able to scandalize any more children.

At this point, your thoughts might be focusing on a couple of more obvious scandals to children that receive such prominence in our day—child abusers and child predators. But as heinous as such crimes against children these may be, we need not go so far as physical abuse to truly scandalize a little one and cause them to sin. We need only consider what is needed to sustain a child’s faith and realize our own failings in our responsibility as Christians to nurture that faith.

At the end of our text, Jesus speaks of the saltiness of salt, and tells you to have salt in yourselves and be a peace with one another. Now, our Lord is not speaking of the level of sodium in one’s diet. Rather, He speaks about salt as it has always been used by man —as a preservative and seasoning. All our conduct as Christians is to be seasoned with salt. Our lives are not to be lived according to our sinful nature, but seasoned with God’s gifts of grace, which strengthen us against the temptation to sin and also enable us to give a faithful Christian witness to everyone. Your conduct, therefore, in every situation, must speak well of your Lord, and this includes your conduct toward His little ones.

Children don’t need any help being sinners, but woe to him who provides such help. This includes not just teaching one’s children sinful behavior by means of bad example, but also failing to bring up one’s children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Jesus does warn against outward sin against little children, but He speaks here more broadly against anything that damages a child’s faith. And there are plenty of ways that remain rampant among Christians.

Parents who bring their child to the waters of Holy Baptism promise to teach their children the ways of the Lord, and when they fail to do so, they not only break their promise, but they also cause their little one who believes in Jesus to stumble, because they starve their faith. A parent who doesn’t properly nourish their child with food, clothing, and shelter is charged by the state with neglect and child endangerment. A parent who doesn’t nourish a child’s faith neglects and endangers the child’s soul. It would be better if a millstone dragged such a teacher to the bottom of the sea, where they could not harm others.

The Christian congregation in general also has the responsibility to its young people to provide an example to them. Christians are to show love for the children of their parish and rejoice that they are there on the Lord’s Day to hear of Jesus and know that He died to forgive them of all their sins. Christian adults should be ready and willing to tell the little ones about Jesus in Sunday School. Pastors have the honor and privilege of assisting parents in the instruction of their children by meeting with the children during the week, to help them to examine themselves for worthy and prepared reception of their Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament.

All Christians have the duty before God to nurture and encourage the Christians of tomorrow. We all have the responsibility to let our light shine before men and provide an example to those who are most impressionable. This applies not just to little ones, but even to adults who are still “little ones” in the faith. No one should conduct oneself in such a way that others are surprised to learn that one is a Christian. Your Christian faith should be known to others by the fruits you bear. Just as a good tree bears good fruit, so also does a true faith show itself through good works and example.

Your children are watching you, and so is the world. The world is waiting for you to slip up and provide them with the dirt of scandal. The world rejoices when the Christian causes the little ones to sin, for it confirms itself in its own rejection of Christ Jesus and basks in your failures.

Don’t give the world what it desires in finding excuse to reject the Gospel! As James said in our Epistle reading, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Be humble, and speak evil of no one. Be imitators of Christ, who returned no evil for evil, who endured the cursings and revilings of the world, but who did not apologize for the truth and went to the cross for it.

Christ Jesus went to the cross for you. He went to the cross and died to atone for all of your weaknesses and all of your failings. He took all of your poor behavioral examples, all of your indifference, all of your lacking, and nailed it to that cross. He hung a great millstone around all the things you do as a sinner to cause His little ones to sin, and has cast them into the deep.

Your Lord Jesus has blessed you, His people of this particular time and place, with the gift of His Word that makes you wise unto salvation. And He has entrusted it to you for the instruction of the little ones. He gives to you His Word and faith to keep and preserve you, to equip you in your responsibility to future generations. And He invites you to receive from Him the strength to remain in that faith that trusts in the crucified and risen Lord.

This same faith He provides to the little ones that they would believe in Him unto life everlasting. His promises are as much to them as to you who have confessed your God-given faith. Therefore go, and in service to Him, render God-pleasing service to His little ones. Encourage them in the faith, teach them in the way they should go, so that when they are old, they do not depart from it.

Our Lord bless and keep you strong and steadfast in His Word, and sustain you according to His faithful promise, that you would be an example to the little ones who will carry the faith to the end. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve Him and with joy. You are forgiven all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations 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.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Teaching His Children to Get Along

work-at-home-mom-1024x1024Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

This is every kid’s favorite time of the year, isn’t it? Summer! When you can sleep late, hang out with your friends, do as you please. Freedom from all the rules of school and the schedules everybody else makes for you. I hope you guys have been enjoying it! And we won’t talk about the number of days left until…

Of course, it’s a good time of the year to be an adult, too—and largely because it’s such a great time for children. I love watching kids at play, at the pool, tee ball, family vacations, Vacation Bible School, just interacting with each other at home when they’re not tied own with homework. It is interesting to watch children interact, isn’t it? Sometimes they cooperate with one another so well, sometimes not so well; they’re sinful just like everybody else. What makes children get along with one another? We’d like to find the formula, wouldn’t we?

At VBS this week, I had the opportunity to observe this dynamic firsthand. We were playing a game in which teamwork and cooperation are very important. It was interesting to see how some of the teams worked well together and others did not. Some got so frustrated with their teammates that there were some hurtful words and hurt feelings, so we had to deal with that, too.

After the games, we talked about what had happened. I asked the kids what they thought had made it possible for them to win and what had happened when they didn’t win. They agreed that it all came down to teamwork. When they worked together, they succeeded; when they did not, they got frustrated with each other and things just got worse. Cooperation is the key to any group efforts.

As with most things, I suppose, when it comes to raising children to cooperate in wholesome ways, there are the two extreme views. There’s the permissive approach, and there’s the strict, authoritarian approach. Wise parents, though, are looking for something in between or a combination of both.

Our heavenly Father is the wisest parent, and in our text this evening, our loving Father teaches His children how to get along, avoiding either extreme, but drawing from the strengths of both approaches—permissive and authoritarian.

Now before this becomes a “how to” sermon, let me make something clear:  We human parents can draw some very good advice from this Word of God and apply it to our own parenting, but God isn’t really speaking to us as parents here. He’s speaking to all of us as children. That’s foundational for everything God says to us in our text today. Our Father teaches us as His children. St. Paul assures us, “You were sealed for the day of redemption… as beloved children.”

We are children of God! Children of the heavenly Father. All of us, at every age. In fact, we are sealed as His beloved children. God did that in Holy Baptism. Baptism is the visible act by which God put His seal on us. It marks each one of us—both on the forehead and on the heart—as His child. By that act, God also takes responsibility for raising us, for teaching us those things a parent teaches a child. Like how to get along with one another, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, the rest of God’s children.

Just like kids, we sometimes get along well, sometimes not so well. Except that the older we get, the more our squabbles become these: Destroying someone’s reputation through gossip, rather than shouting over who gets to bat first. Fighting for a job the other person wants, rather than for a seat next to the window. Making sure we get our way in the voter’s assembly no matter what it takes, rather than insisting we should be the captain because it’s our ball. Soaking each other with verbal abuse, rather than mere water that actually feels pretty good on a hot day.

That kind of behavior is no more acceptable among adult Christians than it is among kids at Vacation Bible School. As Paul writes: “That is not the way you learned Christ!” (Ephesians 4:20). God intends in our text to lead us to a better kind of interaction. Every parent’s dream—isn’t it?—is children who are kind and forgiving of one another rather than bitter and angry. How can parents make that happen? How does God make it happen in us?

Our Father has His dos and don’ts for getting along. Remember that extreme permissive approach? The parent lets the child learn on his own how to get along. The idea is that independence lets the child develop his or her creativity to the fullest. Unfortunately, children in such totally permissive homes often develop an egocentric, “me first” view that leads to greed, covetousness, and bullying. What’s more, children in such environments often develop resentment for parents who don’t seem to care enough to provide guidance.

God certainly does not take this kind of laissez-faire, “anything goes” attitude with His children. He cares. In fact, when His children sin, He grieves (4:30a). The Holy Spirit is described as like a parent. He is the one who teaches us God’s will. And He grieves when we ignore it. The Holy Spirit is the one who shows us God’s love. And He grieves when our lives don’t reflect that love.

Imagine the grief a parent feels when a son or daughter hurts someone else’s child, maybe commits violent crime. Imagine the grief a parent feels when a child rejects everything a parent has done for him, storming out of the house at age 18, vowing never to come back. Imagine the grief a parent feels when she sees a child go the wrong way in life, perhaps destroying herself with drugs or alcohol or unchristian relationships. The Holy Spirit is grieved when God’s children hurt one another. The Holy Spirit is grieved when we reject everything God has done in creating, redeeming, and caring for us. The Holy Spirit is grieved whenever we hurt ourselves and others by falling into sin.

God cares about us too much to sit back and see whether we’ll learn how to get along. He doesn’t take a “boys will be boys” or “children will be children” attitude when Christians hurt one another. No, He commands: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32a).

God has His dos and don’ts for getting along. It is completely inconsistent with Christian faith for believers to fight, carry grudges, talk evil about other believers. God does not permit it! God commands His children to be kind and compassionate and forgiving. God commands His children to care about the hurt others are feeling at the death of a loved one. God commands His children to support others who are feeling weak when life seems to be going wrong. God commands His children to bear with others’ sins and failures.

God is no permissive parent. We could never resent Him as a Father who doesn’t care. He longs, He aches, for us to be kind and compassionate to one another. By His commands, He actively teaches us to get along.

Still, you can’t compare Him to a parent of the other extreme approach, a strict authoritarian. Our Father uses a lot of love in getting us to get along. The Gospel is the only motivator that generates true change of heart. Paul writes: “God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:32b-5:2).

You know the authoritarian model. Lots of rules. “Do it because I said so.” If you don’t listen to me, you’re going to get it.” This approach gets outward compliance but inner resistance, often resulting in even more resentment than the permissive model. So as soon as the threat is gone, even the outward compliance stops.

God doesn’t want grudging outward action. He wants hearts. So He brings about loving outward action by working inwardly, working in our hearts. He showers us with huge doses of love (5:1). He calls us His children, His dearly beloved. And He proved that that’s exactly what we are to Him when Christ sacrificed Himself for us (5:2). That’s the greatest demonstration of love, isn’t it?—giving up one’s own life. Jesus died on the cross because God loves us.

God wanted us to be His, to be His children, children who would serve Him and one another willingly. That could only be possible if He removed the sin that separated us from Him and from one another. That’s what Jesus did by dying and rising again.

Paul says Jesus gave Himself up as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That recalls the Old Testament sacrifices—the smoke of the burnt offerings being sent up to God as a pleasing aroma. Let your nostrils imagine the pleasure of breathing fine incense. Nothing the Old Testament people or we ourselves could present could please God like that, but Jesus pleased God for us. He was God demonstrating His love for us.

Christ’s pleasing God for us is why we could be “sealed for the day of redemption.” Once Christ had paid for the sins of the world, the Holy Spirit could come to us in Baptism and give us the forgiveness Jesus earned. The seal means we can certain of eternal life when our last day comes. Baptism, eternal life—that’s God demonstrating His love for us.

That love then teaches us to love; we imitate God’s love (5:1). The Greek word for “imitator” gives us our word “mimic.” That’s the way children learn, isn’t it? Children mimic their parents. They walk the way Dad walks. Talk the way Mom talks. Children who live in a loving home see how it’s done. Dad saying sweet things to Mom, spouses helping each other around the house—it rubs off.

God uses that technique on us, teaching us by example how to get along. He wants us to love, so He first loved us richly. He wants us to forgive, so He shows us how by first forgiving us.

Even more important, God’s love and forgiveness motivates us to love and forgive and get along. A child who lives in a house of ill will not only won’t know how to love, but he also won’t want to. The anger he’s received will be anger that has to come out. But a child who grows up in a loving family wants to be nice to other kids, wants to love other people, know how to love other people.

We Christians are all growing up in the most loving family. In spite of all our sins, we’re loved. In spite of our unworthiness, we’re blessed every day. In spite of our “bitterness and wrath,” “anger,” “clamor,” “slander,” and “malice,” all who believe have eternal life. That kind of love moves us to get along nicely, even if we’ve long outgrown summers off and the backseat of the family car.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved [you] and gave Himself up for [you], a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2). You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations 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.

This sermon is based upon a sermon outline by Rev. Carl C. Fichenscher II, published in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 22, Part 3, pg 43-45.