Saturday, September 28, 2019
Revelation 12:7-12 There is an entire world around us (a part of God’s creation that the Bible calls the heavenly realms) that we cannot see-- and what goes on in that spiritual world has a profound effect on our lives in the world that we can see. The Bible says that:
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.
Chief among the creatures in that heavenly realm are the angels. The Bible tells us that the angels were created by God but that at some point early in the days of creation–some rebelled. The good angels help man and serve God while the evil angels hate God and seek to destroy everything that is good, especially faith in Christ.
Today in our epistle lesson, John pulls back the curtain between the world that can be seen and the heavenly realm that cannot be seen and lets us view one of the most remarkable events that ever took pace in God’s creation–a heavenly war between good and evil. The Bible says:
“War arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back.”
In the first verses of Revelation chapter 12, John reveals that when Jesus took on human flesh within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the devil was right there too, trying to destroy the child of promise who would crush his head.
The final battle between good and evil (that began with Jesus’ birth) continued throughout Jesus’ life as Herod tried to kill him–as he was tempted by Satan in the desert--as he battled and drove out demons--and finally as he hung upon the cross–rejected by his own people and abandoned by his heavenly Father under the crushing weight of our sins.
John pulls back the curtain that separates what is seen from what is unseen and shows us that while these events were happening on earth, a mighty war was taking place in the heavenly realms between two angelic armies–the good angels led by Michael and the evil angels led by that ancient dragon Satan–the same evil angel who tempted Adam and Eve and brought sin, suffering, and death into the world.
As Jesus drove out demons on earth the evil angelic armies were driven back in heaven. As Jesus fought and won against temptation in the desert, the devil and his army were weakened in the heavenly realm. As Jesus healed and raised from the dead, defeating evil and sin, Michael and his army of good angels gained the upper hand over the dragon and his army right up until that moment when Jesus was nailed to Calvary’s cross.
What rejoicing there must have been among the evil angels-what a shout of exaltation must have gone up from their ranks–when they saw Jesus broken and bleeding upon the cross. Surely this must be the end of him–surely this is the moment of our victory!
But that moment of satanic satisfaction was short-lived. Jesus’ death upon the cross wasn’t their victory at all! It was their complete and final defeat! The devil was not strong enough to conquer the Son of God. Jesus was the strong man that robbed Satan of his power and even his place.
And so a new sound rose up from the battle field–a mighty voice of saints and angels that cried out: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of God, and the authority of his Christ have come!”
This is the victory that Jesus proclaimed to the dragon and his angels as he descended to the very heart of their evil empire–his victory over sin, death, and the devil so complete–so final--that now, not even in hell, is Satan in control. And when Jesus rose up the third day it was the visible proof both in heaven and on earth that the battle was over–the victory won.
Forty days later Jesus ascended into heaven and took back his rightful place upon the throne at his Father’s right hand as ruler of heaven and earth and Satan was once and for all cast out of the heavenly realm–no longer able to accuse God’s people. John writes that, in that moment,
“The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to earth, and the angels were thrown down with him.”
I want to tell you why the outcome of this unseen battle in the heavenly realms, fought between Michael and Satan and their armies, and won by our Lord Jesus Christ changes forever our lives here on earth and our life in the world to come.
First and foremost this heavenly victory matters because Satan, the accuser, has no basis and no opportunity to accuse you of sin before Almighty God.
In the past, in some way we don’t completely understand, Satan still had access to God even after his fall. As we learn in the story of Job, the devil could come into God’s presence and accuse God’s people. But that has come to an end. Because of his heavenly defeat, Satan was cast out of heaven and no longer has access to God and by the blood of the Lamb he no longer has any basis for accusation.
We need to remember this. Too often we live our lives suffering under an impossible load of guilt and shame when the Good News is that this burden has been lifted from your shoulders and placed onto Christ’s.
All of your sins–the big sins, the little sins, the sins which you know and are ashamed of, the sins you don’t know, then sins you struggle with week after week, are all washed away by the blood of the lamb.
Satan can accuse you no longer–through faith in Jesus, you are right in God’s sight and clothed in the garment of Christ’s righteousness made white by the blood of the lamb.
Secondly, this heavenly victory is important to you because the kingdom of God has been made manifest and you have been made a child and heir of that Kingdom.
It wasn’t always that way. When you born into this world you were born a slave in the kingdom of Satan. But God has rescued you from that slavery and made you his own precious and dearly loved child of God by Holy Baptism.
Just think of it–the greatest spiritual force for evil in the world is made powerless by the simple water and word of Holy Baptism as God adopts you as his own child.
The devil has no power to match the simple bread and wine and word of Holy Communion by which Christ’s own body and blood is given for you to strengthen you in your spiritual life and keep you close to God.
The devil is completely defeated by that simple Gospel Word spoken by the mouth of the servant of God that tells you of the forgiveness of sins by the blood of the lamb that is yours by faith.
Not even martyrdom, when it seems to all the world that there is the victory of evil over good, not even martyrdom is a defeat for God’s people–rather it is simply entrance into the fullness of salvation with God.
What a difference this makes in our attitude and understanding of the spiritual battle that rages around us when we realize that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church but rather the church is breaking down the gates of hell and robbing Satan of that which is his every time there is a baptism, every time the Sacrament is celebrated, and every time the Gospel is preached.
Thirdly, because of Christ’s victory, there is a profound spiritual power for good that is given to you to make use of in your daily life as God’s children.
Much too often we live our Christian lives as defeated people–saying, well, I can’t help it–I’m just a sinner or even worse the devil made me do it. Absolute, satanic lies. We are no longer slaves to sin, bound to whatever the evil one commands. Christ’s victory is our victory and his power is our power. In his strength we can say no to sin and yes to God. By his power we can live the new life that we are called to live as children of God.
We need to remember these benefits of Christ’s victory and daily make use of them because--though the outcome of the war has been decided–though Satan is a defeated enemy–he fights on and his battlefield is now this earth. The Bible says: “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows his time is short.”
We live in that “short time” between Satan’s heavenly defeat and his final judgement and punishment on the last day. We see his fury displayed all around us in manifest sins that have our nation’s stamp of approval. False churches preaching a false Christ abound. Religious pluralism that proclaims all gods the same has become the religion of our nation. Truly “our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
We must be aware of the devil’s schemes-- but we must not be afraid. We will overcome his temptations and have our share in Christ’s victory just as God’s people always have–by the blood of the lamb. May God grant it to us all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Saturday, September 21, 2019
1 Timothy 2:1-7 Regarding prayer, the Bible says: “You do not have because you do not ask—you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly.” And in these few words James addresses the two main problems that we have in our prayer lives: we simply don’t pray as we should and that when we do pray, we pray with the wrong motives.
How many things have we done without simply because we neglected to ask God for what we need? How many things have we asked for that do not glorify God or serve our neighbor but only enrich ourselves?
As the next national election season begins, I hope that we would repent of both of those prayer problems. That we would repent…
First of all by asking God for what we need: fair, peaceful elections in which God’s wise, providential will is done. Second of all, by asking God for those things that our nation needs from this election with no thought of personal gain for ourselves-- or as an exercise of power over others--but that those people would be elected who would best serve our neighbor and glorify the God of nations by their wise rule. Paul says:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions,
The Bible is very clear that our governmental leaders are God’s ministers for our good. Whether they realize it or not—whether they live up to their high calling or not—even whether they are Christians or not—they are still God’s ministers for our good and we are called upon by God to respect their office and honor them and pray for them. That is very, very important for us to remember during this next presidential election.
Over the last several elections our nation has been almost evenly divided in its choice of a president. People on both sides of the political spectrum have strong views on who is best able to lead our nation and about half the nation will be disappointed and perhaps even outraged at the outcome of the next election.
But what will we Christians do? We will pray for our new president whoever they are. Why? Because we voted for them? No! We will pray for them and continue to pray for them for the next four years because we are commanded by God to do so and we are comforted by the fact that God promises to hear our prayers for on account of Christ.
The Bible says that we are to offer up prayers for all people—but especially for those who are in authority over us in the nation.
If you listen to the prayers on Sunday and join your heart to them you’ve been doing that every week. We pray for our nation and its leaders every Lord’s Day—no matter who they are and no matter what party they are affiliated with-- and we will continue to do so in the years to come.
We ask God to bless them and guide them and enlighten their minds with his wisdom. Our prayers are even more necessary for those whose positions on truly important matters such as the sanctity of life and marriage have strayed from far God’s will revealed in nature and Scripture.
The Bible calls upon Christians to pray for their leaders whoever they are and just think what that meant for Paul and Timothy and the Christians of the apostolic church!
The men who ruled
were pagans. Several of them had already persecuted the
church and put to death those who believed in Christ. And yet God the Holy Spirit wanted the church
to pray for the leaders of Rome and trust in God’s gracious rule. Rome
Imagine what could happen in our nation if, beginning on election day, no matter who was elected, we Christians would devote ourselves first of all-- not to the next election—but to praying earnestly for the new president whoever they are. That is what God wants us to do.
And why does he call upon us to pray even for those leaders who may not acknowledge him or follow his ways like the leaders of ancient
? Paul says it is so: Rome
that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
In 1979 Jerry Falwell founded the moral majority—a political action committee made up of conservative evangelical Christians. In 1980 they were largely responsible for delivering ¾ of the evangelical Christian vote for Ronald Reagan which put him over the top in the election.
From that moment on, conservative Christians became a voting block for the Republican Party and their spiritual leaders became king-makers who walked the halls of our nation’s capitol and deal-makers who hammered out legislation.
That is a very different picture than what we have here in the words of Scripture where God the Holy Spirit calls upon us to pray for our leaders so that we Christians can live peaceful quiet, godly, and dignified lives.
How do we reconcile these two pictures of political activism on the one hand and quiet peaceful lives on the other--or can we?
For the Christians of Paul’s day—their main goal as citizens of Rome was to lead such upright, peaceful lives so that the leaders of Rome would at the very least leave them alone to practice their faith and stop putting them to death—and at best see them as valued members of the Empire.
For the Christians who are assembled here today, our experience as citizens of the U.S. is very different indeed.
We live under a representative form of government and we have every right—and indeed a responsibility--as citizens-- to vote for those who uphold traditional Christian moral values. We have every right and a responsibility to petition our government for those things that support and facilitate the exercise of our faith. We have every right and a responsibility to work and vote for change when our country has lost it way on such basic issues of the sanctity of life and marriage.
But as Christians we also know that whether our favorite political candidate wins or not—whether future legislation on marriage and sexuality and life issues supports our views or not—whether our nation ever repents of its national sins or not—so long as we are simply permitted to live as Christians in this nation, we can thank Almighty God for his providence that brought us to this time and place.
Because at the end of the day, what we really want and need from our government is to be left alone in peace so that we can be about the work the Father has given us to do while we live on this earth which is making disciples of all nations. Paul writes:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all,
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” That fullness of time included the conquests of Alexander the Great and the Hellenization of the world. It included the rise of Jewish nationalism and the rise and fall of the Maccabees. And it included the Roman Empire and a code of laws and the Pax Romana and a system of roads and commerce and an Imperial census and rulers named Pontius Pilate and Caesar Augustus.
There were political losers and political winners. Some nations rose in worldly importance while others fell. And yet through it all the God of history perfectly ordered the affairs of men and nations for his own saving purpose—that his Son would be born at just the right time for the salvation of the world.
Each election season, we have a temptation to almost live and die based on what happens and who is elected. We have the mistaken idea that each of our elections are the most important election in the history of our country and that the future of America rests upon what we do in the next election. But I’ve got big new for you: it doesn’t.
All of us ought to vote with a conscience informed by God’s Word and all of us need to pray that those who are elected will lead our country in the ways that are just and right and pleasing to God. But no matter what happens in the next election, our future as individuals and as a nation rests safe and secure in God’s hands.
And he orders our life and he rules the nations for his glory and our good out of love for each person—a love that he has shown in the death of his Son Jesus Christ who offered up his life on the cross as a ransom for our sin and guaranteed by his resurrection as eternal future of blessing and peace for each us infinitely greater than any good bestowed by this country.
And so then, as Christian people, we pray for our nation and here leaders not so that we can be on the winning side, we pray for our nation and her leaders not so that we can benefit personally—but we pray for our nation and her leaders so that no matter who is elected, we can continue our mission of making Jesus Christ known to the world.
It is in him alone—not in President Trump or the Democratic candidate—but in Jesus-- that our hope—and our nation’s hope-- for the future is found. Amen.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Galatians 3:15-22 By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul wrote the words of our epistle lesson to the churches of Galatia to fight against a false teaching that threatened the very foundation of the Christian Church—a false teaching that continues to find a place within visible Christendom in our own day.
There were people in the church who were teaching that simple faith in Jesus Christ was not enough to have a life with God.
They were not denying that faith in Jesus was important—they taught that! But they were also teaching that faith was only the beginning of a life with God and what was needed after that was personal adherence to the Jewish Law if you were to be saved.
In other words, what really mattered in your life with God—what counted in the end-- was what you did. Paul called this another gospel which was not good news at all and he said that those who taught this ought to be condemned to the fires of hell!
Now, I don’t think that anyone in the visible church today is teaching people that they have to be circumcised to have a life with God-- but the heart of that false teaching (that faith is only the beginning and we have to add to it to be saved) is still found in the church today.
One and a half billion of the two billion Christians who claim the name of Christ are taught by their churches that their own good works complete what Christ has begun. Other churches teach that you must have some kind of ecstatic spiritual experience to be saved or that it is your own decision that saves you. In other churches people are taught that besides believing in Jesus you must refrain from some activity if you truly believe or you must dress or live in a particular way to be saved.
Just like in Paul’s day these are false gospels that are not good news at all because they deny the simple promise of Holy Scripture (Old Testament and New Testament) that forgiveness of sins and our life with God comes from his gracious promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ and received by faith in him. That is the argument that Paul is making as he combats these false teachers and that is what the Holy Spirit teaches us today. Paul said:
To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.
I’m not much of a professional sports fan but I know that the Cowboy’s running back was a “no-show” in training camp because he wanted to re-negotiate his contract.
Now, he agreed to play and perform for a certain amount of money and for a certain amount of time but with two years let in his rookie contract, he wanted more. How does that make you feel? I think most fans are pretty much outraged by this! Doesn’t a person’s word mean anything anymore?! We don’t think much of that kind of person, do we?
That’s what Paul says false teachers make God out to be when they add to what is necessary to be saved. By their false gospel (which is not good news at all) they are saying that God has changed his mind and that he has gone back on his Word.
By their lies they are ruining his reputation and denying his faithfulness because they are saying that the solemn, covenant promise of God to graciously bless the world through Abraham’s offspring named Jesus-- is not really the way that God saves us at all--but that he really does it through the law.
Do you understand now why Paul says that those who teach that our life with God depends on what we do can right straight to hell?! It is because this false gospel, that makes our actions the cause of our own salvation, is an attack upon the graciousness and the faithfulness of God and the sufficiency of Christ’s saving work.
That cannot go unchallenged in the church! Not in Paul’s day and not in ours! And so Paul once again reminds the Galatians and us of what we ought to know about salvation from the Bible. The Bible says that:
The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
There is a stark dividing line that separates God’s own truth from the devil’s lies when it comes to our life with God and it’s this: the inheritance of God (in forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation) comes to us as a gracious promise of God, fulfilled in Christ and received in simple faith—OR--it comes to us as a result of what we do.
One of those is true and one of those is a lie. They cannot both be true as the false teachers of the past and present try to make them be-- for to add our works to God’s undeserved gift is to deny the gift altogether and make God’s promise a lie!
The fact of the matter is that God’s promise to bless the entire world that he made to Abraham finds its fulfillment only in the obedience of Christ unto death, NOT in our keeping the law, NOT in our experiences or decision, NOT in anything in us at all!
And it has always been that way!
The covenant that God made to Abraham to bless the entire world in Jesus Christ was renewed by him again and again in salvation history. God never changed his mind about giving us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through faith in Jesus. God was and is and always will be faithful to his promise to give us a life with him as a gracious gift received in faith in Abraham’s Offspring named Jesus.
This has always been, and will always be, the one and only way of salvation and a life with God. And so what about the law? Why did God give Moses the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai? What role does the law play in our own lives as those who are saved by grace through faith? Paul says:
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.
The Bible plainly teaches, and the true Christian Church plainly confesses, that salvation is by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from deeds of the law. Apart from deeds of the law! Whether it is our doing or our not doing, salvation apart from the deeds of the Law! And so why then did God give the written Law to the children of Israel by the hand of Moses at Mt. Sinai?
It was added (not as an amendment to God’s gracious promise to Abraham, not as a codicil to his covenant) but rather because of transgression, because of sin, so that we could know beyond any shadow of a doubt how necessary God’s way of gracious salvation is!
Let me give you an illustration. At Cavender’s in Corpus Christi there is a giant plastic horse in the entrance and there is a sign on that giant plastic horse that says: Do not touch! Now, I might never have paid any interest at all in that giant plastic horse, much less toughed it, but when that sign says don’t touch it: guess what?! I’m going to touch it!
The problem is not with the plastic horse and the problem is not with the sign—the problem is in my heart. That’s what the law does: it reveals and lays bare and exposes the sin that resides in our heart. It shows us why we cannot save ourselves by our obedience.
It shows us again and again—in ways large and small—just exactly how sinful we are and it impresses upon again and again our complete inability to do what is necessary to earn our salvation and it shows us the absolute necessity of God’s gracious plan to save us through Spirit-given faith in his promise.
The Law was not given to show us how to save ourselves, the law was given to make us despair of saving ourselves.
And to add one more point about the superiority of the Promise over the Law Paul reminds us that angels and Moses were the ways he dealt with men through the law while it was God himself who would give salvation: by a promise our heavenly Father made to Abraham, a promise fulfilled by Jesus, and a promise given by the Spirit.
Salvation as a pure, gracious gift from the one true God who has a single-minded desire to save sinners through faith in Jesus. The Bible says:
But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
God made a promise to Abraham to bless the world through his Offspring named Jesus. Abraham believed God and God counted that faith as righteousness in his sight.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus promised that because he lived, we also would live. Jesus promised that he is with us to the end of the age. Jesus promised that he has prepared a place for us in heaven. Jesus promised to give us peace and rest and forgiveness.
Our Savior is the promise of God fulfilled and he is himself the God of kept promises who gives and will always give forgiveness of sin, life with God, and eternal salvation as free gifts of his gracious love for us. God grant us his grace and the help of the Holy Spirit to believe this simple Gospel promise! Amen.
Friday, September 6, 2019
Luke 14:25-35 When I was in college I read a book that changed my life because it changed how I understood my Christian faith. That book was “The Cost of Discipleship” by the Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was put to death in a Nazi prison camp.
The great unifying theme of this book can be summarized in one very famous sentence: “When Christ calls a man to come to him—he bids him come and die.”
Bonhoeffer contrasts what he calls “cheap grace” with “costly grace.” Even if you’ve never read the book, you know what cheap grace is: forgiveness without real repentance—discipleship without real sacrifice—is church membership without real commitment. Cheap grace is not unique to any particular moment in the church’s history—either ours or Bonhoeffer’s—it is found in every place and time.
The Apostle Paul had to face it in his day with those who thought that forgiveness meant freedom to live how they wanted-- rather than freedom to serve God and neighbor. Even those who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry succumbed to the temptation of cheap grace. Jesus healed their diseases—he fed them when they were hungry—their physical needs were met-- and for many of them that is where their commitment to Jesus ended. But then and now—“cheap grace” is a terrible distortion of Christianity.
True Christianity is a religion of costly grace. God is gracious to us ONLY because of the bloody death of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross. Sacrifice and suffering was the cost of: our forgiveness—our salvation—and our life with God. And our lives as Jesus’ disciples cannot help but take on that same costly shape.
We are baptized into his death. We are fed with his broken body and shed blood. We are called upon by Christ to die to sin—to die to thinking of the world—to die to self. The costliness of our salvation cannot help but translate into a costly life of discipleship. When Christ calls a man to come to him—he bids him come and die. Today we hear our Lord Jesus Christ tell us just exactly what it means to be his disciple—what the cost of discipleship really is. The Bible says that:
Great crowds accompanied Jesus, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
There was not one moment in his life where Jesus ever failed -in the least- to love his heavenly Father and love his neighbor as the Law demands of each of us. And so Jesus’ words about hating those closest to us—and hating our own life--seem like a contradiction of everything that his life of love was about. And so what is going on here?
Jesus is using a figure of speech to powerfully illustrate how great our love for God must be-- so great that every other love: love for our spouse, love for our children, love for even our own life--looks like hate in comparison.
These words are intended by Jesus to work a radical re-ordering of what comes first in our lives and what comes first in our hearts: love for God above all.
But we cannot help but ask ourselves: If God comes first in every decision that I make and every word that I speak and every thing that I do—won’t this rob those I love, of the love that they need from me? And the answer to that is “no”!
It is a great mystery of the Christian life of discipleship that ONLY when we love God above all things and all people-- can we then truly begin to love those around us as we ought. Only when our love of God is first-- is our love for others rightly ordered.
And yet we know about ourselves how often our love is disordered and misdirected—which is why Jesus came in the first place—because God loves us, and wanted to make a way back for us to our first love. Jesus says:
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Jesus told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem where he would be persecuted by the religious leaders of the Jews—put to death on a cross—and rise again. And that is what he did.
The love of God for a world full of sinners who did not love him above all else is what sent Jesus into the world—and his death upon the cross—is the ultimate sign of God’s love for us.
Jesus did not withhold anything from his heavenly Father and he did not withhold anything from us—not even his own life—as he suffered and died upon a cross. This was the love that got it right—this was the love that reconciled us to God. And because of Jesus’ costly sacrifice, God’s love for us comes through the cross into our lives. But only through the cross.
When we were baptized, the sign of the cross was made upon our foreheads and upon our breast to mark us as one of those redeemed by Jesus Christ—connected forever, by faith, to his death and resurrection.
But it was also a visible sign that our lives would be marked by the cross—that we too would have a share in the suffering and sacrifice that comes to those who are his.
And so then, our own cross (that Jesus says we are to take up as his disciples) is not the suffering that all people endure as part of living in a broken world. Rather, our cross is the extra hardships that come to us because we are disciples of Jesus.
Jesus says that it is impossible to avoid our cross, and still find our life with God through his cross, and we should understand this up front and consider carefully the cost of following him as his disciple. Jesus says:
Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
These illustrations of a tower being built and a battle being waged capture two different aspects of the Christian life of discipleship. As Jesus’ disciples, we are to build a Christian life on the one hand and fight against evil on the other hand.
As for building a Christian life, the Bible says that we have been created in Christ Jesus to do good works—that we are to be zealous for good works—that we are to grow daily in Christ-likeness--that the fruits of the Spirit are to abound more and more in our lives--that we are to grow in the knowledge of the truth.
As for fighting against evil, the Bible says that we are to crucify the flesh with its affection and lusts--that we are to resist the devil--and that we are to have nothing to do ways of the sinful world around us.
Building a Christian life and fighting against evil are costly endeavors and what we discover about ourselves is that there are a whole lot of half-finished towers and bitter defeats in our life of discipleship because we haven’t paid the price.
And so why does the Lord tells us this? Why does he give us such a painfully realistic assessment of the true cost of discipleship? Is he trying to discourage us from becoming disciples? Is he trying to keep us from even beginning?
Not at all! But he does want us to recognize- from the start- that our own resources are insufficient to accomplish what he wants from us as disciples. That is why he says that: Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. This renunciation of all that we have certainly includes our sins. It includes our misplaced priorities and disordered love. It includes our material possessions and the right to decide for ourselves how we will live. All of it is to be given over to Jesus.
But it also includes our own strength—our firm resolutions—our best efforts. They too are to be given over to Jesus because all of it together is still insufficient to build a great Christian life and win the battle against evil.
The life of discipleship requires resources outside of us—resources that only the Holy Spirit can give as he works in us through Word and Sacrament—forgiving us and strengthening us and encouraging us in our walk of faith—so that our lives become a powerful influence on those around us. Jesus says:
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
On several different occasions Jesus refered to his disciples as “salt”—meaning that our lives ought to have a wholesome, purifying effect on the world around us—that the world around us ought to be a better place because of our influence.
But the “cheap grace” that denies the cost of discipleship ruins this influence. When Christians are no different than unbelievers in how we liv--when we abandon our distinctive characteristic of Christ-likeness—when we have another purpose rather than glorifying God in what we say and do--we become as useless as salt that has lost its “saltiness”—good for nothing.
Jesus wants us to hear this warning and take this message to heart: that there is a cost to discipleship. And it cannot be otherwise. He has laid down his life for us on the cross and as his disciples he calls us to bear our cross and follow him. Amen.