+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +
Text: Matthew 4:18-20
Theme: First Follower’s Faith
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The Scriptures are coherent and consistent. From the outset the public preaching of Jesus is characterized by a call to repudiate all aspects of false believing and its consequences. The Scripture says, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”1 It was a call for transparency and single-heartedness. No subject can serve two masters at once. No athlete can play for two teams at the same time. No lawyer can prosecute and defend simultaneously. The conflict of interest excludes it. Truth and falsehood can coexist only in the fallen human realm; uneasily and with great struggle. God suffers this tragedy only temporarily. Christ promises to deliver His people from the friction of conflict and bring the baptized to a full realization of their inheritance. This will come to pass.
The unconverted scoff at or dismiss these promises as being ludicrous or artificial. Unbelief can only deal with life on the basis of what is tangible or at least considered probable. Heaven doesn’t seem to meet either criterion. The unbelieving heart must first be convicted of sin. The Christian too is confronted by God’s law in a way that is not fundamentally different than that of an unbeliever. Sin always seeks to get the upper hand. Temptations will never cease.
Regardless of your maturity, you will never be an exception. Reflect honestly. Is your mind swept clean of lust? Is your heart cleansed of greed? Do your actions show that you love God above all things and love your neighbour as yourself? Is the mirror you look into the warped kind you can find at a circus or do you seek to avoid seeing your true reflection at all? No matter how clearly you understand God’s perfect will; no matter how keenly you desire to please Him precisely and perpetually, you can never attain to such perfection. We are never exempted from the necessity of God’s grace in Christ. We are always debtors. Don’t try to rationalize that your moral indebtedness is at least not as great as that of others. That approach only sinks you lower. Repent whole-heartedly.
The law demands perfection but gives no power to achieve it. It therefore always convicts us for falling short. The gospel, conversely, calls us to trust and grants us the very thing which it demands: faith. Faith is not a self-chosen virtue. It is not the result of blending all the right ingredients. Faith is not a by-product of affluence. Faith is a Spirit-given certainty for struggling sinners. It is not a conclusion drawn from the most logical-sounding theories available. Nor is it a psychological or emotional tool- a crutch- to ease the crises of life. These types of so-called faith are eventually shown to be human fabrications and deceptions that people hoped would prosper or ease their temporal existence. Such counterfeits will crumble at the threshold of mortality if not before.
In Christ we need not psychoanalyze our faith at all. He is its creator, object, and completion. He calls us from darkness and His light is never extinguished. To the fishermen Peter and Andrew the Lord said, “Come, follow Me…and I will make you fishers of men.”2 and in so doing He supplied what He required. He freed them to serve. Their fragile faith was evidenced immediately: “At once they left their nets and followed Him.”3 They did so because they believed they were following the One who would lead them into truth.
Christianity is about a relationship that lives from absolute truth. The life of faith cannot be negotiated from a pragmatic standpoint. That is, Christianity is not a matter of what works, but what is true. God won’t ask if we were successful but if we were faithful. He won’t ask how clever we were at out-maneuvering others but how compassionate we were in serving them. When the church adapts its teachings to the philosophies and the morals of the times it generally meets with welcome from the world. The world is never so interested in what is true as it is in those things which prosper its happiness in the here and now.
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”4 The ultimate truth, the difference-making truth, the life-altering truth is that Christ is the only sacrifice for sins. There is nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. His mercy for you is unlimited and unconditional. Believers will enjoy the bliss of eternity in the presence of the triune God. But we don’t sit around dawdling in spiritual daydreams naively thinking these realities are achieved without strife. While we “eagerly await a Saviour from (heaven)”5 and set our “hearts on things above”6 we are still fully immersed in the fray. His forgiveness empowers us. We live the life He has called us to to the fullest. We never pre-empt His plans.
An elderly man was at home, upstairs, dying in bed. He smelled the aroma of his favourite chocolate chip cookies baking. He wanted one last cookie before he died. He fell out of bed, crawled to the landing, rolled down the stairs and drug himself into the kitchen where his wife was busily baking cookies. With his last remaining strength he crawled to the table and was just barely able to lift his withered arm to reach one. As he grasped a warm, moist chocolate chip cookie, his wife suddenly whacked his hand with the spatula. Gasping for breath, he asked her, "Why did you do that?" She replied, "Those are for the funeral."
Dear friends, do not fear to be living sacrifices for the kingdom’s sake. Christ will supply your needs. You are armed for spiritual warfare. You confront unbelief and contest irreverence. It is never easy to be at odds with the world. It never has been. It never will be. But even the brazen audacities of societies, egos, and empires are no match for the one Lamb who was slain. Humility triumphs over vanity; sacrifice over self-interest. Our King is crowned with thorns. He doesn’t impose legislation. He bestows vindication.
Biblical faith also gives us place in the community of believers. What does the Bible say, “A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.”7He does that through His people. We are the temple of God, the household of faith. From cradle to grave Christ lived, died, rose and reigns for you. You are baptized into His name, His death, His resurrection, and His kingdom. You eat His life-giving food- not the delicacies of earth’s bounty- but the very source of life itself, His own body and blood. In the words of the apostle, “The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”8 Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 Matthew 4:17
2 Matthew 4:19
3 Matthew 4:20
4 1 Corinthians 1:18
5 Philippians 3:20
6 Colossians 3:1
7 Psalm 68:5-6
8 2 Thessalonians 3:3
Third Sunday After Epiphany
26 January 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt