We had audio issues at St. Peter this morning, so there's no audio of the sermon this week. Not yet, anyway...
The Gate of Life Immortal
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In our culture spirituality is a personal and private and practical thing. The focus is not outward to a holy God but inward to your own feelings, to what makes you fulfilled and happy. You find what works for you, I'll find what works for me, and as long as we're both sincere, it doesn't really make too much difference what you believe or what religion you practice or even what sort of god you worship. But then Jesus says, "Beware of false prophets." It stands to reason that if there is such a thing as a false prophet, then there is also such a thing as false teaching and false religion. What they practice doesn't lead to life but to death. Jesus solemnly warns us, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it." The broad way, the easy road of do-it-yourself religion, leads to hell.
It is the way of evil to wrap itself up in good. The Bible says that the devil comes not as the wicked destroyer but as an angel of light, appearing to be holy and good. St. Paul warned the Ephesians that wolves would come in sheep’s clothing to ravage the flock. They might be nice people. They may even wear a collar and a robe and a stole. But they don't teach the truth. They’re people like the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unitarian Universalists, and all others who do not have Christ as the only Savior. They're people like the pope who, for all his good teachings on moral issues, denies the full power of Jesus' death on the cross to save us, who promises to subtract from your time in purgatory if you follow his Twitter account. They're people like Billy Graham who emphasizes the work of giving our hearts and lives to Jesus over His work for us. They're people like the Lutheran pastor who prays with Muslims and Jews and Hindus, making Jesus into one God among many. They may be sincere in what they believe, but they are sincerely wrong and sincerely in eternal danger. Jesus said, "Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!'"
You might say, "I'm no theologian; I'm not a Bible expert. How do I distinguish a false teacher from a genuine teacher, who both appeal to the Scriptures? How can I tell whether or not someone is preaching the truth of Christ's Word?" The simple answer is this: Know your Catechism by heart; pray and meditate upon it every day. In it you learn and revel in the basic teachings of the Scriptures, what the church has taught and believed from the Word of God since the days of the apostles. In it you learn of God's holy Law and Gospel by which you are brought to repentance and faith in Christ. As the Spirit enables you to receive and hold to that teaching, you are also defended against false teaching. By meditating upon and clinging to the truth, you also learn how to recognize error and reject it.
If you're wondering whether or not someone is a false teacher, just ask yourself, "Is the teaching of this man in keeping with the faith of the church confessed in the creeds? Is it consistent with what I've learned of sin and of Christ and of faith in the Small Catechism?" If not, beware of it. Flee from it. I’ve told you this before, but it bears repeating: if someone steps into this pulpit and preaches something contrary to what you’ve learned from the Bible, the Catechism, and your hymnal, kick the false teacher out of the pulpit and run him out of town. Remember Jesus' words: "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." That gate is narrow because it doesn't let in any of the opinions or the qualifications of men. Rather, it admits only the merits of Christ and His righteousness.
Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." That way is difficult because it is the way of the cross. It is the way of death to sin and to self. Jesus walked that narrow road to His death for you at Calvary, so that, having been baptized into His death, you would also share in His life. Through the cross you have been entirely forgiven of all your sins. And through Christ's resurrection, you have been raised to new life in Him. 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.