Sermons, Uncategorized

The Simplicity & Sufficiency of the Gospel

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“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:8–10).

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

The complexity of something isn’t always the best measure of its value. Sometimes the very simple has the greatest impact. The Gettysburg Address, for example, contains only 266 words. Yet it has inspired millions to greater enthusiasm for liberty and freedom. The Lord’s Prayer contains only 56 words. Yet it is a wonderful summary of how to pray and what to pray for.

In Baptism, only 18 words are used, not counting the name of the one being baptized and the “Amen.” Baptism looks so simple. A splash of water. A few words. Yet “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.” Baptism unites us with our Lord Jesus Christ in a special way. In our Baptism, God takes the death of Jesus and the resurrection life of Jesus and makes them our own.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” says the pastor. Short and simple, but oh so important! For in these words we are adopted as God’s dear children, becoming heirs of His kingdom, receiving the gift of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. And, as we hear today, our Baptism identifies us with our Lord Jesus Christ so closely it helps us to recognize false teaching and to hold onto the truth when our faith is under fire.

The church at Colossae had been founded by Epaphras. Through his ministry the congregation had become “rooted and built up” in faith in Jesus. Epaphras had done excellent work. And as Paul stated in the introduction to his epistle, the report of their faith and love in Christ was traveling all over the Roman Empire. But now the Colossians’ faith was under fire. So Epaphras returned to his mentor and told Paul about the problems the church in Colossae was experiencing.

In Paul’s response, we see three areas where their faith was being tested. In each one the Colossians were being led to believe that something was lacking in their faith. Though they had been baptized into Christ, false teachers were telling them they needed more. They appealed to natural human reason, which says, “If I am to be saved, I must do something myself. Show me what I must do.”

The false teachers were only too willing to do just that. Some were saying, “You don’t know enough.” They appealed to curiosity, personal ego, and intellect. They contrasted their sophisticated, hidden knowledge with the simplicity of the Gospel, leading believers to wonder, “Maybe we’re missing something. Maybe the simple Gospel we’ve been taught isn’t enough.”

Some of the false teachers were saying, “You must do certain things. Without circumcision, the right foods, and ceremonies at the right times, you aren’t part of the true church.” They made their appeal to the Old Testament roots of the Christian faith, leading believers to wonder, “Since God’s people, Israel, used to have required rituals, foods, and festivals, perhaps we must too.”

Some false teachers were saying, “You don’t have the right connections. There are other spiritual authorities and powers besides Christ whom you must contact in order to gain this higher knowledge and proceed down the path to God.”

According to these false teachers, this knowledge was imparted by various types of angels who controlled the lines of communication between God and man. They taught that since the law was given through these angels, they were to be honored and worshiped by keeping the law. Breaking the law obligated the sinner to attempt to soothe these angels by Jewish ceremonies and living right.

In effect, these false teachers were saying, “Well, yes, Jesus loves you and died for your sins. But you still have to watch out for the angels. They control the lines of communication. You don’t want to make them mad.”  

Each of these errors was leading the Colossians to wonder if something was missing in their faith. And their new teachers were all too willing to supply whatever they might lack. Paul warned the Colossians that all these apparent deficiencies in their faith were nothing but lies. Baptism into Christ gave them everything they need.

To unravel and expose these lies, Paul directed the Colossians’ attention to Jesus. “In Christ,” he writes, “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ.” The very essence of God, all His divine attributes are present in Jesus’ human body. The Colossians had received this fullness themselves when they received Jesus. How? Through Baptism, the simple washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit.

In many places, God’s Word explains how truly powerful this simple washing is. St. Paul writes to the Romans, “We were therefore buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (6:4).

And, in his letter to Titus, Paul tells us, “[Christ] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (3:5).

Paul reminded the Colossians that before baptism they were dead in sin and in the uncircumcision of sinful human nature. What do you do with something dead? You bury it! That’s exactly what God had done. He took their spiritually dead nature and buried it. But He didn’t use earth to do it. He dug no tomb. He used the water of Baptism, by which each one of them was united with the death and burial of God’s own Son.

And, having been united with Jesus in His death, they were also united with Jesus in His resurrection. Though they once had been dead in their sin and transgressions, they were now alive again in Christ!

Now they had their answer for those who told them their faith was lacking, that they needed something more. They had the full Gospel already when they had the forgiveness of their sins, new life, and salvation through Jesus Christ. In Baptism, Jesus had already taken them from death to life. How could secret or hidden knowledge add anything more? What ritual could ever be necessary to validate their baptismal burial and resurrection with Jesus? Could any other spiritual power have higher authority or add to what Christ has already done and the work of His Holy Spirit?

To each question the Colossians could answer with certainty, “No, nothing can be added to what God has done in Christ Jesus our Lord. He has the victory. By the cross, Christ triumphed over all of our spiritual enemies—the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh” (v 15).

How about you? Do you have your answer to each of these questions? You see, when Satan desires to weaken your faith and create doubt, he’ll often use the same means he did in Colossae. Someone will approach and offer you a “full Gospel.” You may even begin to wonder if you have only a “half-full gospel.”

And if you do, of course, the false teacher will be perfectly willing to fill your half-full gospel with his. Perhaps his trick will be that of extra or superior knowledge, the path of secret societies, lodges, and cults that only reveal their secrets once you are shut up inside. Maybe he’ll tell you he’s discovered the details regarding the end of the world and how to be kept from being left behind. Maybe he’ll tell you that you to buy his book that tells how he “cracked the Bible code” and the amazing revelations God, for some reason, hid for centuries until someone as wise and knowledgeable as him finally came on the scene.

Maybe the false teacher will tell you not to take the Bible so literally. Sure, our forefathers believed those stories really happened, but we’re more educated and enlightened now. We realize most of that stuff is just myth and superstition. Besides, it doesn’t really matter if Jesus actually lived or died or rose again from the dead. What’s important is His teaching on morality and social justice.

Or maybe, the false teacher will take the ritual route. He might tell you that your cup will be full only when you become a prayer partner and send your money into PO Box 50429. Maybe he’ll tell you that your worship style is old and stale and needs to catch up with the times in order for you to have a more vibrant faith. Maybe he’ll tell you must be able to recall a certain, emotional experience when “you made a decision to follow Jesus” to be sure that you are “born again.”

Maybe he’ll tell you that you have to observe certain rituals or eat certain foods. Maybe he’ll tell that in order to be saved you must lead a sanctified life with certain distinctive habits. You must read only “Christian” books, watch only “Christian” television shows, listen only to “Christian” music.  

Or perhaps the false teacher will appeal to other spiritual powers. Maybe he’ll tell you that you must display certain charismatic gifts as proof of the Spirit. Maybe he’ll tell you that you should contact other spiritual powers and authorities through astrology, psychics, or channeling. Maybe he’ll tell you if you have a problem you just need to pray to a certain saint or guardian angel.

But you don’t have to fall for these lies. When faith is under fire, believers in Jesus, know this from God’s Word: “having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (v 15). Baptized into Christ, your cup is already full. Your Gospel is completely full. You can’t put any more into a cup that’s already overflowing.

This is the simplicity and sufficiency of the Gospel!

Yes, like the Colossians, you also were once dead in transgressions and your sin was stinking up your whole life. So, God used the water of Baptism to unite you with the death and burial of His Son. Peter put it plainly, “Baptism … now saves you … It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). This is where you must turn when your faith is under fire: your Baptism—salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Baptism is our way of experiencing the life of Christ. We were spiritually dead. He came to live for us. He died for us. We were buried with Him. That means we were cut off from our old sinful nature and raised to a new life in Him. The record of our sins has been cancelled and we’ve been given the power to live in righteousness and holiness forever.   

So, when your faith is under fire, remember that Christ has already won the battle between the forces of the world and the power of God. When the powers of the world try to invade the territory of God, they fail, because God invaded the powers of the world by becoming human in Christ. By His death and resurrection, Christ won the battle for the world.

You are a part of His victory celebration. Because you’ve been received into Christ through Baptism, you can rest assured that you have the full sufficiency of the Gospel in all its saving power. By God’s grace, this simple water and Word has made you one of His dear children and given you an eternal inheritance in His kingdom. In Christ, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for 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.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

When the Lord Comes to Visit

“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Johannes Vermeer















Click here to listen to this sermon.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

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

You all know what it’s like when you’re expecting company. There’s usually a certain amount of preparation that is necessary—cooking, cleaning, bringing out the best dishes and silverware. We want to impress them. We want to make them feel at home. And when the company shows up unexpectedly, it just adds to the stress and busyness—even more so, if it is someone we consider to be above our own social standing.

So. What do you do when the Lord comes to visit?

It was the hottest part of the day. Abraham was sitting in the shade at the door of his tent. Perhaps he had dozed off. Maybe he was in deep thought about the wondrous promise he had received from God—within a year Sarah would give birth to his son. Suddenly, he was aware that three travelers had stopped near his tent. Hebron was on the main road that runs along the ridge of the Judean hills, and occasionally there were travelers who needed food and lodging. Hebrews 13:2 informs us that Abraham did not realize who his visitors were until later. Although they appeared in human form, one was the Lord Himself (Genesis 18:13) and the other two were angels (Genesis 19:1).

Abraham greeted the three travelers humbly and courteously. He bowed to the earth, invited his guests to rest in the shade under the tree, and brought water to wash their feet. By our standards his invitation, and especially his hospitality, might seem overdone, but perhaps our standards need adjusting. The Christian who loves his Lord will learn to look upon people not be interruptions or things to be used but as people designed by God, loved by God, and to be loved and served by us. It is not to our credit if our daily lives touch the lives of others with as little concern as two billiard balls bounce off each other or two ships pass in the night.

At this lazy hour of the day, Abraham’s household suddenly turned into a beehive of activity. Moses describes meal preparation that must have taken several hours. Abraham instructed Sarah to take three seahs—about fifty pounds— of flour and to bake some bread. He ran to the herd, selected a choice bull calf, and ordered his men to slaughter it and prepare it. Curds and milk completed the feast he set before his guests. And the three guests ate Sarah’s fresh-baked bread and the tender veal while Abraham stood by them under the tree.

It soon became clear that the three visitors had not stopped at Abraham’s place just to get a free meal. “Where is Sarah your wife?” they asked. We can imagine how surprised Sarah must have been to hear these “strangers” mention her name as she listened in on the conversation from inside the tent. They were talking about her and had come to bring a message for her: The Lord repeated His promise: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

What a staggering thought! In addition to the promise of a son, Abraham and Sarah were to realize, and you and I are too, that the almighty God, the Lord Himself, wants to share our company as a friend. It is this down-to-earth, seeking, caring love of the Lord that melts cold hearts and wins them to Himself.

What do you do when the Lord comes to visit? You drop everything and spend some time with Him.

As we heard in our Gospel reading a few weeks ago, when Jesus sent out the 72, He told them to take nothing with them but to depend upon the hospitality of those who would hear them and welcome them into their homes. It appears Jesus and the Twelve must have followed the same practice. As Jesus enters the village a woman named Martha welcomes Him into her house.

One can understand why Martha is very busy making meal preparations. It’s not every day when the Lord comes to visit. And if, as seems likely, Jesus’ disciples came with Him, that’s a lot of mouths to feed. She probably could have used some of Sarah’s big batch of fresh-baked bread!

Meanwhile, her sister Mary is sitting at the Lord’s feet doing nothing but listening. Martha becomes irritated and asks the Lord to put Mary to work helping her. Jesus does not agree with Martha’s assessment of the situation. It is Martha who has her priorities wrong not Mary. “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her,” says Jesus. Martha is distracted over many things; Mary is satisfied with “the one thing [that] is necessary.”

This story is a contrast to our Gospel reading from last week, “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” The good Samaritan is an example of active doing. Mary is an example of quiet listening. Martha is busy serving her neighbor, but what she is doing is not so essential as what Mary is doing. A work or service that bypasses the Word of God is one that will never last. Hearing God’s Word must be our first priority.

The main point of the story is easy to recognize. Don’t get so distracted and concerned about doing good that you neglect what is most important, namely, to sit at the feet of Jesus and to hear the Word of God. But we should also recognize the problem confronting Martha. Isn’t she also doing the proper thing, namely showing hospitality to the Son of Man, who has no place to lay His head (9:58)? And by receiving Jesus, isn’t she receiving Him who sent Jesus (Luke 10:16)?

Martha’s dilemma can be highlighted by seeing it in the broader context of Luke’s Gospel. Recall that there are three elements to Jesus’ table fellowship: teaching, eating, and the presence of Jesus. One shows hospitality to those workers sent out into the harvest in a variety of ways. One certainly provides for them the food that is essential for table fellowship. But the most fundamental part of the hospitality shown to God’s pastors and missionaries is to receive and hear the preaching of the kingdom.

The one thing necessary is the gift that Jesus has come to bring. In the context of the Church, it is the catechesis of the Church, the teaching of the Word of God. The catechumen shows hospitality when he faithfully receives the Word of God. Jesus’ teaching is the good portion that will not be taken away.

The issue here is whether one is first to serve the Lord or first to be served by Him. This really ends up being a question of the proper approach to worship. Mary has the right liturgical theology. She sits at the feet of Jesus to receive divine service from Him. Instead of trying to serve Jesus first, she allows Jesus first to serve her with His gifts. Hospitality to the Lord is best expressed in faith’s passive acceptance of God’s Word, where the gifts of God’s kingdom will be found. After receiving the gifts, there will be time for an expression of hospitality in response. But first must come the reception by faith of the preaching of the kingdom. Martha makes the mistake of thinking she is the host and Jesus the guest.

For our meal prayer, we often pray:

Come, Lord Jesus be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed.

Given our focus from today Gospel, perhaps we’d be wise to add another verse:

Come, Lord Jesus be our host. You are what we need to the most.

What do you do when the Lord comes to visit? Perhaps the more important question is: When the Lord come comes to visit, what would He have you do? You drop everything and spend time with Him. You sit at His feet and listen to what He has to say, to receive what He has to give.

The story of Mary and Martha shows that when the kingdom of God is near, one must choose the portion that is “good” in the absolute sense—good above all others. The posture in which one receives Jesus’ divine service is not the busyness of human doing, but the stillness of listening to the words of Jesus. Faith is the highest worship. A faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

Our hymnal follows the Eastern and German tradition of calling the Communion service the “Divine Service.” The point is that worship is first and foremost God’s service to us. Going to church isn’t doing God a favor. We go to receive the fruit of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection—His forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Sure, we respond to His grace and forgiveness by confessing and praising His name and serving our neighbor, but first things first. Unless we passively sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, let Him wash us in Holy Baptism, let Him take our sins away and give us His perfect righteousness, let Him put His holy and precious blood in our mouths, we are not His. For it is in these means of grace, the Lord comes to visit you.

When the Lord comes to visit, like Abraham and Sarah, you hear the Lord’s promises of salvation and His return. Like Mary, you sit at Jesus’ feet to learn and hear from the Lord of all Creation. It is a privileged place to be if there ever was one! You are not here because of your wisdom as much as Jesus’ instigation. Abraham may have invited the Lord and His angels to stay for dinner, but the Lord came to his camp at the oaks of Mamre first. Martha may have welcomed Jesus into her house, but Jesus is the one who came to the village.

What is more, the one thing necessary—which is Jesus, Himself, of course—will not be taken away from you either! He has given Himself to you—not only as Teacher and Lord, but also as Savior. No one can take away the forgiveness, life, and salvation which is yours in Christ.

What a blessed way to begin a week!

Come here often and regularly to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen. For here you will find the good portion, the one thing necessary, the Lord Jesus and His life-giving Word. Here He has washed away your sins and made you God’s own beloved child, a co-heir with Christ in His kingdom. Here, the Lord feeds you His Supper, His very body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Here, through His called and ordained servant, He speaks to you this gracious Good News: For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for 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.