Friday, October 27, 2023

Love Isn't Tolerance

The desire to supplant Jesus’ lordship and to trash the authority of God’s Word still exist in our fallen world today, perhaps no more so than among people who claim to be Christians.
For example, there are Christians who want to use their faith as an excuse to act as Christian vigilantes, imposing their version of God's Law on the larger society. I've spoken against this so many times that I probably sound like a broken record. So, I won't belabor that point here.
But there are also Christians who confuse God's love for God's approval. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, they want to turn God into an indulgent grandfather who doesn't care what we do as long as we have a good time doing it.
In the name of Jesus as they want Jesus to be, these misguided Christians claim that we should forget our call to speak God's truth in love when we see friends or fellow believers veering away from God's will for us. (Ephesians 4:15) They want to forgo the message Jesus wants us to share with all: "Repent and believe in the gospel..." (Mark 1:15) (To repent means to turn away from sin and death and to turn instead to Christ Who freely forgives our sin and gives us life with God.)
What do I mean by this last point exactly?
Imagine you saw a friend or stranger about to run into a street with heavy traffic.
Would you think, "Well, the loving thing for me to do is to be tolerant of this person's idiosyncrasy. After all, if by his or her nature they like exposing themselves to unnecessary danger and probable death, love compels me to be tolerant"?
I don't think that's what you would do! (At least I hope it's not what you would do.)
At the very least, you would bellow out a warning to the person! No matter how much that person might love walking into traffic, love would compel you to warn them. Love might even compel you to try to grab and take that person to safety.
Love then, is not the same thing as tolerance.
When we see our friends engage in behavior that could sever their relationship with Christ, that finds them wandering toward contempt of the God we know in Christ, that is, when they engage in repeated, unrepentant sin, it isn't intolerant to warn them or to pray for them. It's the loving thing to do.
It's appropriate for you, as one sinner in need of repentance and faith to another sinner in need of repentance and faith, to speak God's truth in love, calling them away from sin and death, calling them to forgiveness and life through Christ alone.
In the kingdom of God given to us by Jesus Christ, that's what love does.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Gospel of John, October 22, 2023

Here's the Facebook Live video of this past Sunday's adult Sunday School class from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. We cover John 6:6-7:9. (I know, I need to put on the gas!)

Jesus, Death, and Taxes

[Below is the message presented during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, this past Sunday. Also, you can watch live stream video from both worship services.]

Matthew 22:15-22

Today, we’re going to do something we don’t ordinarily do on Sunday mornings. We’re going to talk about politics.

Now, don’t worry. I’m not going to pretend to know how God wants you to vote in elections or what political party you should back. (How would I know that?)

I think that there are only three circumstances under which the Church and its pastors should speak on matters being debated in the political sphere:

(1) When governments command Christians to do anything contrary to the will of our Lord.

(2) When we see injustices perpetrated against others.

(3) When governments or politicians justify their policies or proposals on the bases of the Bible or the Christian faith. They have no right to do that.

But our Gospel lesson for this morning, Matthew 22:15-22, compels us to address questions about the relationship of Church and State, the relationship of Christians and their governments, and the teaching of Christ and the Bible about what we Lutherans call, “the two kingdoms.”

Both of these two kingdoms–the Kingdom of God, presided over by Jesus Christ by His grace and the Kingdoms of the world, presided over by earthly kings, presidents, prime ministers, and “Dear Leaders,” using the coercive means of laws, armies, and police forces--are appointed, authorized, used, and presided over by God Himself.

Governments exist to prevent people who don’t live with repentant faith in Jesus from abusing or killing their neighbor.

And Christians have an interest in ensuring that there be earthly governments. Without them, Martin Luther said, Christians would live as innocent lambs among ravenous wolves.

This is why the Bible says: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established… Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)

In one of his sermons on this particular Gospel lesson, Luther says that often unjust rulers are imposed by God on people because of their unrepentant sin. Luther said that in Biblical times, “Avarice [that is, greed], usury [lending money to neighbors to make money off of them], licentiousness [sexual immorality of all kinds: adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, rape], pride, luxury, and other sins, were sweeping along like a mighty wave. What could our Lord God do under these circumstances?” Then Luther asks, “Should He protect them, [while] they did not in the least care for His Word? Should He secure to them their rights, [while] they would not even bend a finger for Him and His service?”

God sometimes imposes bad governments on believers to drive them to repentance for sin and renewal of life with God through faith in Jesus.

So, how are we Christians supposed to relate to governments, good, bad, or indifferent?

In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus is confronted by representatives of two groups of people. Matthew tells us: “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. [This is called buttering up.] You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?’” (Matthew 22:15-17)

The Pharisees, of course, were Judaism’s strictest and most widespread sect. They were the sect closest to Jesus in theology. For example, they believed in the resurrection of the dead. But they advocated a kind of “salvation by good works” theology. They hated it when Jesus taught that sinners are graciously forgiven when they repent and trust in Him alone.

The Herodians, as far as we can tell, didn’t care much about religion and supported the puppet government of King Herod, a government set in place by the Romans hated by the Pharisees and other Jews.

Ordinarily, the Pharisees and the Herodians would have nothing to do with each other. But because both groups are afraid of Jesus, they pose this trap of a question.

Why was this question such a trap?

The trap in the question is this: If Jesus says that it’s lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, He’ll arouse the violence of those who hate the Romans and want Jesus to lead a rebellion against these overlords and set up a Jewish government with Him as a secular king.

If, on the other hand, Jesus says that Jews shouldn’t pay Caesar taxes, He’ll anger the Roman governor Pilate and kill Jesus.

Either way Jesus answers, these two groups figure, He’s a dead man.

And that’s precisely what they want.

But Jesus refuses to get sucked into a political debate.

His answer isn’t meant to be clever or to avoid trouble. After all, this is Holy Week! Jesus has come to Jerusalem to get into trouble! He’s come to die. He knows that, no matter what He says, in a few days, He will in God’s sovereign authority, offer Himself to be crucified anyway. Jesus isn’t avoiding controversy; He’s being faithful to God.

So, Jesus says in verse 18: “‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?” Though the Pharisees and Herodians tried to butter Jesus up, He does not return the favor.

He calls them hypocrites, ὑποκριταί, in the Greek in which the New Testament is written, literally “stage players, pretenders.”

And the word translated here as trap, what Jesus is accusing them of trying to set for Him, comes from the Greek verb peirazo, the very word for tempt or test used of what the devil did to Jesus in the wilderness.

Like Satan, these human enemies of God want to trip Jesus into sin and condemnation. They want to steer Him into sin and away from fulfilling God’s mission for Him.

They want to be the rulers of the world.

They want to be like God, like us.

They think this life is all there is and they intend to be in control.

They want no talk of a Savior, Who is also God, Who sets people free of sin and death as a free gift.

Jesus tells them: “‘Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him [literally, separated or divorced themselves from Jesus] and went away.”

It’s Caesar’s image on the coin, Jesus is saying, so give Caesar his money.

But here’s what’s important to remember in this passage. Someone else’s image is imprinted on you and me, on every human being, however distorted by sin that image may be. Genesis 1:27 says that, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them…” 

Friends, in this world, for the good of our neighbor and the countries in which God places us, we must pay taxes to Caesar. But our call is to give our lives to the One Whose imprint is on us as human beings, the One Who made us, the One Who was enfleshed and died for us to give us life with God that never ends.

We do this not as a religious work that we think will earn us a place in God’s kingdom. We do this because we know that Jesus, God the Son, gave His sinless life to save us from ourselves and the damnation and divorce from God we deserve.

By His death on the cross, Jesus makes us innocent in the eyes of God. Only Jesus, Who covers us with His perfect righteousness, justifies us by His grace through the faith in Him that His good Gospel Word creates within us.

This is the gift He gives to you: Through Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven. Every single sin! All the debts you owe to God for your sinful actions, sinful impulses, and sinful thoughts have been paid in full. That’s why Jesus’ words from the cross are for you: “It is finished!”

In this world, Jesus is saying, pay your taxes. Pay down your debts. Honor your spouse. Take care of your kids. Obey the speed limits. Help your neighbor. Respect the government. Pray for your leaders…even those you can’t stand. And in the midst of it all, everywhere you go and in everything you do, follow Jesus.

It’s His image you bear.

It’s He Who bought you out slavery to sin and death through the expenditure of His body and blood.

It’s you He saves to live now and eternally in the freedom of forgiven sin and life with God, no matter what this dying world may do to you.

You can do all of this with confidence and joy because the most this world can do to you and me is make us pay taxes and take away our earthly lives. That’s all.

But Jesus gives you life with God forever. That’s His promise to all who repent and believe in Him.

And, I have found this out, Jesus is always good for His promises! Amen