Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity
Text: Matthew 7:15–23 and Romans 8:12–17
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
This morning we have heard our Lord’s warning against false prophets. There are those who come in a gentle demeanor (in sheep’s clothing) but are really set on the Church’s destruction. They are recognizable by their fruits, that is, by their teaching. They come with every worldly advantage, for our own fallen flesh desires to embrace their ways. Therefore the Christian must always be ready to test the spirits and examine the scriptures to prove the doctrine of their teachers. This warning of Christ opens our eyes to the importance of being mindful of to whom we listen. It is too easy for us Christians to sit back and without discernment let every passing wind blow us in the direction of the day.
Just before the words of our Gospel lesson from the end of the sermon on the Mount, our Redeemer warns His flock against taking the easy way, saying: Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14).
Dear friends in Christ, there is a persistent lie that is found in this fallen world. It is the lie that if you just know the right trick, a good life is easy to have and keep. This lie is behind numerous fad diets: cut this one food out of your diet and you will quickly and easily lose all the weight you desire. This lie convinces people that five minutes of exercise a few days a week will give them a more attractive body. This is the lie behind many schemes to get rich quick. Work ten hours a week from home and make a hundred thousand dollars a year in this pyramid scheme. Invest in this secret stock pick and watch your money multiply. It’s the lie that says lottery and casino games are the path to riches.
Marketers use this lie to convince you to buy a certain car, phone, computer, or appliance. Buy this item and your life will be filled with convenience and you will have all the time and energy to do whatever your heart desires. And this is nothing new. For this is the lie the serpent whispered into Eve’s ear. Eat this piece of fruit and you will be like God.
Not all those who pass on these deceptions are intentionally leading you astray from Christ, and are not false prophets in that sense. There is often some truth in the lie. Any exercise is better than no exercise. Though it is unwise to count on it, there are those who have gained great wealth through lotteries and the like. But when we recognize how pervasive the shortcut deceit is in the world, we are then better able to take our Savior’s warning to heart.
There are false prophets who would lead us through the wide gate down the easy path, but in spiritual matters the wide gate and easy path not only lead to disappointment but to destruction. It might sound un-Lutheran to say that the Christian life is not easy. For what could be easier than eternal salvation that comes by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone? But let us not be quick to let the Reformation Solas to push out of our minds Luther’s other triad: “Prayer, meditation, and affliction make the theologian.”
Luther rightly upheld the Scriptural truth that God’s Word is the only source of doctrine and that it is only through the Scriptures that we are brought to Christ and receive the gift of faith that clings to God’s grace. Yet, Luther also looked at the life of a Christian as an active life, a life received passively, but lived out vigorously first in prayer, then in meditation, and finally in the struggle against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.
This is how Luther teaches us to study theology. First, we begin with prayer. For without prayer our reason and understanding will fall short of comprehending anything in God’s Word. All other wisdom is turned to foolishness before the Word of God; therefore, we must turn to God and pray that the Holy Spirit who has given us the Holy Scriptures would enlighten us and lead us so that we rightly understand them.
Secondly, we are to meditate on what we have heard in the Scriptures. The Scriptures should be on our mind and on our lips. This goes beyond a few minutes or even an hour of devotional time each day. All our lives should revolve around the word of God. As Moses commanded the Israelites to teach their children the Torah as they walked on the road, so also parents today should review the catechism with their children, sing hymns, and discuss the Christian life and the riches of God’s grace in the car with their children as well as at the table and bedside.
But beware, for the devil will not sit idly by as you ruminate on God’s Word. Where Christ builds his Church, there the devil builds a chapel. Where you endeavor to study God’s Word, the devil will come with his distraction. He will divert your attention to something trivial or he will persecute you to drive you from it. He will raise the ire of the world against the Gospel so that Christ’s flock is afflicted with persecution. He will stoke the flames of passion within your flesh so that you will give in to the easy and broad path of destruction.
But brothers, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. We have no need to gratify the desires of the flesh that seeks an easy life. We have no need to avoid work or even suffering. For our adoption into Christ gives us everything we need. It is because our salvation requires no work that our faith may be lived out in every work.
Because of sin, every man will die. If you live according to the flesh, you will die. The only alternative is that by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body. What a precious gift Christ gives us that in our baptism we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. We were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Our Savior Jesus Christ has taken on our flesh in order that in His flesh sin would be atoned for. The narrow gate and hard path is to follow Jesus, who lives not for himself, but for you. Therefore you live not for yourself, but for your neighbor. Your body is offered as a living sacrifice for your neighbor in praise to God. Without constant prayer and meditation on God’s Word, you will never get through the affliction of the devil’s attacks. But Christ does not leave you.
The Spirit of Sonship that cries, “Abba! Father!” is the Spirit who works through God’s Word to keep you in Christ. AS your life in Christ begins as a free gift of God in Christ, so also does He sustain it.
That is the paradox of the Christian life. It is not an easy work, but it is also not your work, but the work of Christ done in you through His Holy Spirit. Therefore work hard, but find your rest in Jesus.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria