With Me or Against Me?
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
At the very core of our faith is the conviction that we can do nothing to save ourselves. Salvation is the work of God, accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ, given to us only through faith by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. It is our conviction, as Lutheran Christians, that this is the absolute truth of the Scriptures, which is why we are troubled when we hear others speak about such things as “deciding to become a Christian.” Scripture says that, apart from Jesus Christ, we are dead in trespasses and sins; and, of course, dead men don’t make decisions about anything. Having said that, it is also true that faith is an active thing, daily doing all kinds of things that give witness to its existence and its presence. It is a daily process confessing Christ in the midst of a world that would seek to lead us in any other direction. That really is the substance of those admonishing words of Jesus in our Gospel reading: “He who is not with Me is against Me, and He who does not gather with Me scatters.” Our Lord Jesus Christ came into this world to redeem all creation. That is what the season of Lent is all about; a rehearing of that great story of redemption.
All of this reveals the absurdity of the claim that was being made about Jesus; that He was in league with the devil. “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” How could Jesus be in league with the devil in order to destroy the devil? To the contrary, Jesus, in His great work of destroying the works of the devil reveals the power of God, and the kingdom of God that had come to them unaware. The enemies of Christ today have not changed, and will not change. They will seek an answer for who Jesus is and what He has done apart from what is gloriously true; that He is true God and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, that He suffered and was buried, and that He rose from death the third day after.
What is your attitude toward Jesus and His mighty works? Do you believe them all? Do you believe and take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus, as Lord of all things, has overcome the devil, and that He is at the right hand of God, ruling and reigning over all things for the sake of His Church? If so, then you are confessing Christ, that He is Your Lord, and that you are trusting in His redemption.
Our text says: “And others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven.” They were not satisfied with that they had seen and heard from Jesus; they wanted Him to satisfy their own whims. They rejected His Word and the work He had come to do. That the kingdom of God had actually come among them made no impression on them at all. The One who had come to conquer Satan stood in their midst, and yet they would not accept Him. It was not faith but sin which prompted them to seek a sign from heaven. Such people have their followers in our day, too. When Jesus Christ is proclaimed as the world’s Savior from sin, when that is made known through the Gospel, even through the preaching of His servants today, they are not satisfied. They do not see in this message heavenly wisdom; they seek instead wisdom that pleases themselves. It means nothing to them that the Scriptures have been given to make us wise unto salvation. Jesus is the great High Priest who has perfectly fulfilled God’s Law, has sacrificed Himself for the world on the altar of the holy cross, and who is even now at the right hand of the Father praying and interceding for the world. But the world still seek other signs and wonders.
And what about us? How do we respond to Jesus and His redemption? St. Paul wrote: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.” It is the miracle of all miracles that Jesus has redeemed us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, that we may truly be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. We are now children of God, heirs with Christ. If we are content with these assurances, and if we fully appreciate this comforting truth, trusting in His redemption, then we are faithfully confessing Christ.
The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of righteousness, and peace, and joy. It is a kingdom that has been prepared for us. Though we cannot see it yet in its fullness, we believe this to be true. Jesus said: “He who is not with Me is against Me.” From these words we can plainly see that there cannot be a neutral position toward Jesus and His kingdom. One cannot be with Him and with His adversaries at the same time. One is either for Him or against Him. There are really only two kinds of people in this world: believers and unbelievers. There are only two destinations possible upon death; either heaven or hell. This is brutally plain language, to be sure, but it is also the truth. There are no other choices. One is either with Christ or against Him; and to be against Christ means to be in league with the devil. But it’s even more serious when we realize, as Peter says, that Satan wanders about like a roaring lion, always seeking someone to devour. That is why a position of neutrality toward Christ is so dangerous.
How many people does this describe—those who do not speak against Christ nor despise His Word, who lead outwardly good lives; but neither their life nor words are a confession of Christ. They have a high regard for the Church, and may even contribute a good deal to its support, and yet, their hearts are not really there; they are not really against Christ, but they are not really with Him either. We face that same danger. This is the threat that lies in wait even for us who confess His name now. This is the temptation Satan would place in our path. It is a temptation so subtle that we might fall for it and never know. How can this be resisted? How do we “defense” ourselves against this? Jesus gives the answer in this Gospel reading. In response to all the praise that was heaped on Him, He said: “Even more than this, blessed are those who hear the Word of God, and keep it.” It is that Word that brings blessing, cleansing the heart from evil thoughts and desires. Keeping that Word brings righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Through that Word the Holy Spirit calls us to faith in Jesus Christ, and enlightens us with all the gifts of God, and keeps us in the true faith, that our words and life together may be a confession of Christ. May the body and blood of Jesus strengthen us to confess Christ faithfully, for “blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.