29. July 2012
I believe in one, holy, Christian (that is, universal or catholic), and apostolic church. We say this each week as we confess the Nicene Creed. You might notice that rather than rush through the creed, we give each phrase and word weight. Why? Not a single word or phrase of the creed is incidental. The confessors chose their words carefully, seeking both clarity and precision. They sought to confess the doctrine of the Scriptures with brevity and accuracy. And in many cases, they died rather than give up a word of the Creed.
One word in particular should catch your ear: apostolic. We are saying that our faith is the same faith as the apostles. Our church is the same church as the apostles. Our Lord is the same Lord as the apostles. Our doctrine (teaching) is the same teaching as the apostles. We are confessing with one little word apostolic that our altar and pulpit are in full agreement with the apostles, just as Jesus taught them, who then handed it over to the church.
It is a bold claim and not one to be taken lightly. What we believe, teach, and confess is nothing less and nothing more than what Jesus has given us in his very own Word. Unfortunately, there are those who confess the creed and yet have abandoned the doctrine of Jesus and the apostles. Some of them even call themselves Lutheran. One obvious example is that they reject Jesus’ prohibitions on adultery, homosexual acts, cohabitation, and other sexual sin. And while this is easy to recognize, it doesn’t stop there. The doctrines of faith, grace, justification, sanctification, and the church are also corrupted. These are poignant rejection of God’s holy Law.
Jesus said to His disciples: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Ouch. Some people who call themselves Christian will not enter into heaven. Some who call Jesus Lord will be cast into the lake of fire. By what standard? By the standard of the Father, that is, the one who does the will of the Father.
Want to know what God wills of you to do so that you may enter the kingdom of heaven? The Father gave His will for you on two tablets of stone, inscribed with ten holy commands. The will of God is that you love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. That means you cast of everything you trust in more than Him, whether it be your cushy home, your love of the internet ladies, your trust in the bottle. You cannot love stuff and love God.
It also means that the Father wills you pray without ceasing, casting all your cares upon Him. He will answer them as He has promised. And finally it means you come to church to hear his Word preached. You receive the Word in your mouth. And you don’t bolt past me and the rest to avoid Bible study. You rejoice at every opportunity to study is available and you attend. You frequent the pastor’s study with your tough questions of faith and life. That’s His will. Have you kept it? No, not one has. The prospect of the kingdom of heaven is looking dim.
Then the Father reveals more of His will for you. He demands you love your neighbor as yourself. You honor your parents, obeying them and cherishing them. You help your neighbor preserve what He has. You love your neighbor, casting off all hatred of him. You do not lust after other who is not yours, married or unmarried. You protect your neighbor’s reputation. You are to be content with what God has given you, whether family, property, or the like. The Father’s will screams for righteousness. His demands are like the amplifier that goes to eleven. If you thought you cut the mustard, think again. Not one one of you has treated your neighbor completely in the way the Father would have you.
Faced with the gates of heaven and the unattainable Father’s will, you have two options. One, admit defeat or two, get creative. The first way is the apostolic way. The second way is what you see too often in Christian churches. Let’s get creative! Jesus loved everyone, right? Are we to say to our neighbor “you were born that way” even if that way is immoral and contrary to the expressed will of the Father? That’s what we hear from churches. Love becomes the excuse for ignoring the law. Creative but wrong-headed.
You could get even more creative and start to make new laws in attempt to get off the hook from the Father’s expressed will. Maybe its the law of eco-friendliness, or social justice, or gay rights? Maybe you’ll make the law of big churches, saying that a church like ours is silly? Maybe the law of powerful ministry, boasting in how many people “you worship” each week? Or maybe the law of the food bank and the Habitat for Humanity homes, taking comfort in all the good things you’ve done in the community? Surely that is the Father’s will and will get you your golden ticket into paradise?
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
On the surface this unnamed “many” will look pretty good but inwardly are ravenous wolves. They do everything for Jesus and in His name. They preach boldly, cast out demons, and do mighty big stuff. Everyone knows who they were, where they are located, and what good services they offer. And in the end, none of it matters a lick for heaven.They weren’t workers for Jesus but are workers of lawlessness. Why? They had abandoned the will of the Father. You can tell the corrupt tree by its evil fruit.
No one escapes this condemnation, even those who know the will of the Father from the Ten Commands—that’s you—even you are workers of lawlessness. Everything you do is filthy rags, filled with the blood and sweat of your attempts to follow the Father’s design. That’s what Paul the Apostle said and its true, like it or not. Whether you’re the creative type who makes new laws or you’re like most of us and simply ignore what God has said, when it comes time to standing before the judgment seat, we’re all workers of lawlessness, equally damned.
Yes, you may have ignored the Father’s will. You may have come up with alternate ideas of what the Father has in mind. You may be slumped down in your chair, defeated. You’ve probably listened to every false prophet, clothed in glorious mantle of wool. You are dead. As a matter of fact, the Father’s will is that you be dead. Dead to your self-righteousness. Dead to your self-made laws. Dead to thinking your good enough, holy enough, or lovely enough. Dead to your boasting in your church and your mighty deeds. And you might think dead is wrong.
That would be the case if you cease to follow the dogma of the apostles, cease to be apostolic. As I mention often in Bible class, the sermons of the Apostles in the book of Acts and the epistles written to the churches by the Apostles all have a particular someone as their center and a particular event as their central focus. Crack open your Bible sometime and read through Acts. You’ll probably be shocked. No self-help sermons, how to get ahead sermons, how to get rich sermons, or even how to be the better you in forty days sermons.
Every sermon of Acts has Jesus Christ crucified at their core. The bulk of content of Peter or Paul or even Stephen’s sermons are entirely abou Jesus. Ah, but that is not enough to be apostolic. The sermon must have as its focus the apostolic message, summarized as St. Paul said it: “we preach Christ and Him crucified.” Every sermon recorded in the Scriptures see Christ at the center and the cross as the focus of the apostolic message. Why? We’re dead in our sins, utterly unholy and unrighteous. We need the perfect lamb of God to redeem us. Dead to the flesh and made alive in Christ.
The Spirit by the will of the Father puts to death the deeds of the body. From this grave, He calls you to a new life of sonship, children of the Father, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven entirely through the work of Christ. There is no one who has done the will of the Father in heaven but the perfect son of God. He is the righteous one who obeys all the Father’s commands to the bitter end. Yes, Jesus prophesied, cast out demons, and worked mighty things. But unlike the false prophets of this world who do such things to puff their egos in misguided attempt to gain a stronger hand with God, Jesus Christ did these things only to benefit you.
Jesus prophesies to you a bold word that calls you to repentance, a change of mind. He has not abandoned any of the Father’s good and gracious will but fulfills it himself. He loves both the Father and his neighbor perfectly. Jesus casts out demons, first at your Baptism, when the bonds of slavery to the devil were broken and you were named with Him. He still casts out demons that haunt you by His Word. Even when we are tempted to fall back into fear, He gives us himself—the Bread of Heaven and the blood of the once-for-all-passover-lamb.
The fact that any of us are still Christians is the mightiest of works and a work still being worked in you. Indeed you may have been or still struggle not to be a wolf, ravenous to devour. Hear Jesus! You are forgiven and now clothed in the wooly flesh of Christ. You have received this as a gift of his perfect obedience.
We might be tempted to listen to our own inner false prophets or others in churches far from apostolic. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. The means of the Spirit to call, gather, and keep you as members of the body of Christ are not immaterial or secondary. They are the very gifts that slay the wolf and call forth lambs for the Shepherd to tend. Sheep don’t boast, not in power, or miracle, or even in might. Sheep follow their shepherd, clothed in Him, and content with His Word and His gifts. Let us graze joyfully in our Lord’s green pastures, rejoicing not in ourselves but in the perfect son of God who was obedient to the Father’s will for us, even unto death on the cross. Thanks be to God.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church