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The Seventh Day
 
   
 

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. Genesis 2:1-3

God created the Sabbath laws to set the family free and to keep the family close to Him. For most of world history, man has labored to stay alive and feed his family. Until the mechanical age, most labor has been agricultural with great demands made upon every member of the household. The commandment to rest on the Sabbath and keep it holy was a boon to the husband, to let him get by with the least of his required chores. The commandment set his wife free from preparing meals and cleaning the home. The children and servants did not have to step in for the husband and wife, and the animals themselves were rested. One Mennonite farmer explained his viewpoint simply, “If I cannot get a week's work done in six days, then I won't get it done in seven.” He never worked on Sunday and prospered more than his neighbors who did.

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is , and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. Exodus 20:9-11

The purpose of the Sabbath is rest, togetherness, study, and worship. Today all three are lacking in the lives of many. When people are ill, the doctors prescribe rest. When the troubles of life seem to overwhelm, rest is often the best medicine as well. Physicians now induce artificial comas simply for the sake of healing, and ancient doctors used the same practice to cure difficult problems. Likewise, time together is often so lacking in a family that judges have been known to command certain activities for parents and children. Sunday, the last bastion of togetherness has been leveled simply because so few care to honor and keep sacred the day of worship. Nothing is valued as well as it might be, until it is taken away. A superabundance is even more likely to lead us into antipathy, not because of the abundance but because of our fallen nature. Worship should be our greatest treasure in life because no one can take it away from us, even ifmoney, property, and lives are confiscated. Worship transcends all earthly value because God speaks directly to us. In the Law He thunders at us and shows us our abundant faults. In the Gospel Promises, the Triune God converts us into believers and then strengthens our weak faith throughout life.

Every worship service has a special choir which joins us in our praise of God.

But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24

When the congregation is worshiping, the heavens open up and angels mingle their divine chorus with our earthly singing. As the members look about, they see everything fashioned by Jesus the Creating Word – leather on their Bibles, paper in the hymnals, wool, cotton, and linen, stone, and metals. Christ is the foremost guest in the service, promising to be with the tiniest group, even two or three.

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20

The liturgical service is where Creation and Redemption come together. The original Six Day Creation was perfect, but man used his free will to sin against God. Nevertheless, God promised the Messiah to Adam and Eve as they were being expelled from the Garden of Eden. They lost the earthly Paradise, but the Messiah would give mankind the heavenly Paradise. Everyone in the Old Testament who believed in the coming Messiah was justified by faith; there is just as much Gospel in the Old Testament as in the New Testament, perhaps more. The hundreds of Messianic passages in Old Testament are all Gospel. The passages of hope and comfort are Gospel. The shepherd passages all point to their fulfillment in the Good Shepherd.

The Psalm we memorized as children is a Gospel proclamation about the coming Messiah.

 
   

The LORD is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul:

he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

for thou art with me;

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

thou anointest my head with oil;

my cup runneth over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. Psalm 23:1

 

The gentleness of the Savior is described in Isaiah:

 

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd:

he shall gather the lambs with his arm,

and carry them in his bosom,

and shall gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:12

Psalm 22 describes exactly how Christ would redeem the fallen world, so we can see how God prepared Israel over the centuries to understand, discern, and believe in the Messiah when He came.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying , 8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.

18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

Isaiah 53 also portrays the Good Shepherd's crucifixion, so vividly that every child recognizes the subject of the passage, written centuries before fulfillment, read aloud in the Temple and synagogues, centuries before these events happened.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; wehave turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. 9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Isaiah 53:3-9

 
Figs from Thistles
   

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Matthew 7:15-23

In this Gospel we have a very clear distinction between sound doctrine and false doctrine. We need to pay attention to the warning about false doctrine, but we also need to take comfort in knowing that God's Word will bear fruit, as Jesus promises us in this lesson. Although the lesson is primarily a warning, it is also a promise of God bringing about His will through His Word.

I ordered seed and distributed it in the congregation, so I am especially aware of the difference betweenthe good seed we all want and the weed seeds we try to destroy. One tends to displace the other, as I learned from various experts. For instance, if beans are planted in a narrow file, most of the garden is open soil, where the sun strikes the weed seeds buried or blown in. If the beans have enough moisture to germinate and grow, the weeds have enough to grow as well. Therefore, the narrow bean rows are often smothered in the rank growth of well watered weeds growing in newly tilled soil. However, if wide rows of beans are planted, they quickly cover up the open areas and smother many (but not all) of the weeds, simply by shading the soil.

Because Lutherans have neglected their own doctrine and confessions, they have left open wide areas for false teachers to spread their weed seed. In contrast, when the Scriptures and Confession are predominant in a congregation, false doctrine will erupt but it will be smothered by the overwhelming force of people clinging to the orthodox faith and comparing it to what is being secretly promoted. No one ever says: “I am going to attack the divinity of Christ, or I will overturn justification by faith. The most dangerous books against the Bible are written by clergy and bear pious names, such as: The Bible, Book of Faith , introduced in the ALC to destroy trust in the inerrancy of the Word.

The Lord Jesus Christ gives us several vivid comparisons, many of which remain in our current speech. How often do we hear the phrase “a wolf in sheep's clothing”? It is quite fitting, because false teachers always seem to be like sheep, soft and warm, meek and mild. This is their cloak but it does not change their substance. If a wolf in sheep's clothing is asked about sound doctrine, his eyes flash with anger and he will engage in a hostile personal attack. Or he may be terribly offended that anyone dared to ask him such a question. (That alone should make the sheep run away before they are devoured, but they often stay for dinner.) In one case, far removed from the Lutheran Church , the president of the Southern Baptist denomination, about 10 million strong, asked the Southern Baptist Louisville seminary what they taught about the Virgin Birth of Christ and other doctrinal matters. The faculty told the president, in an obvious rebuke, “It is none of your business what we teach.”

How many times people have defended a false teacher by saying, “He is not a false teacher. He is a nice guy”! A few have said, “He is my classmate.” One said, “I drank a lot of beer with him.” All of these defenses are irrelevant. Many church members fall prey to this illusion because they say, “Oh, but I like him so much.” In contrast, it is also significant to remember that the Word of God is notto be judged by what we feel when we hear it. If the unrepentant hear the Law of God, they become angry. Does that nullify the Law? They will often say, “He offended me.” Some will say, “The pastor is correct, but I don't like the way he expresses himself.” The wolf knows this and makes sure that his promotion of false doctrine strikes a cord in the heart-strings of his victims.

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. Romans 16:17-18

False teachers are belly worshipers (lovers of comfort) and use seductive speech and flattering words to deceive the simple. For instance, the faculty of Fuller Seminary told the Wisconsin Synod and LCMS leaders that the Church Growth Movement was ideal for conservative Protestant churches like theirs. The CGM was “doctrinally neutral” and would not change the synods except to make them grow like kudzu vine. In effect they said, “Give us all your mission outreach money and we will train your leaders and pastors to be effective. Your congregations will grow and your denomination will soar in size and money. You will get the glory.” However, WELS membership graph in the last 10 years looks like the big waterslide north of us. The slope is rapidly downhill and does not account for the easy-come easy-go members recently taken in with a few quick lessons. Almost all the denominations are exactly the same, and they say, “But look at all the money we have.”

The second vivid comparison comes when Jesus asks about the fruits of teachers. “You will know them by their fruits. Do you gather figs from thistles or grapes from thorns?”

 
   

This comparison is very compelling for gardeners. I have a yard with two kinds of plants: weeds and flowers. Both produce seed. But I do not know of anyone who values weed seed. In fact, many gardeners go out of their way to rid themselves of weeds bearing seed. Although the weed plants and weed seed together can be seen as organic mulch or fodder for the compost, many people shudder at the thought of multiplying such dreadnaughts as goat's head, ragweed, London rocket, thistle, witchgrass, or dandelion.

Weeds are famous for one thing: rank growth. Water a yard and the plants will thrive, but the weeds will erupt, spreading across the grass, like creeping Charlie (Jill over ground, a mint) or shooting up to smother tall plants, the way pigweed or ragweed will grow. No one has ever said to me, “How did you get your weeds to grow so well? May I have some seed?” Weeds produce but their yield is worthless even if abundant.

This may seem obvious, but the obvious needs to be transferred to the religious life. A thistle will never produce a fig. A thorn will never grow a grape. All the apologies for false teachers are shattered by this basic reality of how God's Word yields good fruit but Satan's word produces worthless and uselessseed. Therefore, a sound teacher will always produce the fruit of the Gospel and a false teacher will always produce nothing of value.

We can see this many times over in the history of the Church. Whenever men faithfully proclaim the Word of God, the fruits of the Gospel always come forth. People believe in Christ, receive the forgiveness of sin, and inherit eternal life. Salvation is not without benefit to others, because the fruits of the Spirit produce many blessings, including love, joy, peace, and generosity toward those in need. Most people forget that the basic institutions of charity in America today were begun as Lutheran charities, because conservative Lutherans did not want the Gospel to be lost. They called this the Inner Mission and were very suspicious of those who wanted to do works without teaching the Word of God. (This was originally called Social Service by the Lutherans but we remember it by the later name used – the Social Gospel Movement, political activism in the name of the Church.)

False teachers like to say, “Many denominations preach the Gospel and therefore move people to faith in Christ. Therefore, all confessions are equally good.” False teachers fail to distinguish between what is good in the Gospel proclamation and what is bad. For instance, the impact of the Word is more powerful when it is pure. Every denomination has sincere believers, false teachers, and hypocrites who have no faith but pretend to worship. (Two worship professors at Notre Dame were atheists.) The less we toy with the Word and adulterate it with our own opinions, the more God's Word is allowed to run unfettered, to convert and strengthen hearts.

In contrast, when something begins to invade a denomination, the false teaching quickly takes over with a vengeance. Time after time the same pattern is repeated. For example, Creation is taught for a long time. Then some object and want to evolution a place. Soon evolution is the only doctrine allowed.

One reader sent me an article by someone from the Church of Sweden . The state imposed women's ordination on the Church of Sweden some years ago. The bishops objected and were replaced. Then some bishops remained and supported those who objected to women's ordination. The newly ordained who were a little more conservative were tolerated and protected. But no longer. If a candidate in the Church of Sweden objects to women's ordination, he will not become a pastor.

That is just one issue, but it reveals how human reason takes over a church body. In time only human reason is taught and God's Word is never proclaimed. In fact, the most basic doctrines are openly scorned. One LCMS pastor wrote about religion class at his ALC college. The professor denounced all the doctrines of the Bible and said, “There. Lightning didn't strike me.” Earlier in time the professor would have been hounded out of the denomination just for admitting lack of faith. But the weeds took over.

The Lutheran-Reformed union denominations are a good example of how God's Word works and yet becomes smothered. The more these groups relied on Luther's doctrine, the longer they remained Christian. Yet in each case they slowly reverted to pure rationalism, Universalism, and Unitarianism. Unitarianism denies the divinity of Christ and most Unitarian ministers are atheists. The conservatives who wanted to teach the existence of God lost out in the 1920s or so. Universalism teaches that everyone is already saved.

Noteworthy in this lesson is that the corrupt tree is cut down. The false teacher will receive more pay and more glory in this life than all the faithful ministers put together. But he will be cut down in time. He will die eternally and be gathered into the place prepared for him – an eternity of Hell where his body and soul will suffer the torments of living according to man's plan instead of God's.

In a few verses Jesus also observes that Judgment Day will have many people saying, “Lord Lord, did we not teach in Your Name and cast out devils, and do many signs and wonders IN YOUR NAME?” Jesus' response is “Get out of here. I never knew you, you workers of iniquity.”

The Jehovah's Witnesses told me angrily that they were teaching the Gospel all over the community and what was I doing? I said, “We teach all over the world.” That only made them angrier.

Fuller Seminary had a class called Signs and Wonders, as if they wanted to remind Jesus of what He warned us about so many years ago. And the School of Missions also taught that faith in Christ was not necessary or even good. I wonder if they put that statement in the fund-raising literature?

We can say the words and go through the motions all we want, but God alone can judge our hearts. If we fool all of mankind, we still do not have the wisdom to fool God. He is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in abundance.

Although this lesson gives us a perfect picture of the difference between sound and false doctrine, we also need to pay attention to the confidence taught in sound doctrine. Every denomination would agree about false teachers (however they define them). But what about the good tree? Do they trust the good tree completely? They do not understand at all that the Word alone will bring about all that God wills. Sadly, many or most Lutherans do not believe this today.

   

In gardening, 99% of the work consists of this – getting the right seed, the right stock, the right bulbs. I can buy a squishy, half rotted, small daffodil bulb for a certain amount of money. I have done it. And then I look with astonishment at the pathetic daffodil that emerges from the ground, looking carsick. Or I can buy a daffodil so fat and healthy that three plants are joined together. Ten bulbs are really 30 flowers. They are so packed with nutrition that they beg to be planted in the ground.

So is the pure Word of God. It is so powerful that as soon as it appears, the devils of this world quake and rage. They only have to glimpse it and their lupine fangs come out. But at the same time, this Word of God powerfully comforts the weak and contrite sinner. Experience shows that most believers are the nothings of this world, scorned, disabled in many cases, lacking in political and economic power. Satan would like these weak people to tumble over and fall for his word, but he rages that they cling to the truth.

Even the weak and frail produce amazing miracles through the Word of God and this spectacle further enrages the demons, “who believe but their hide bristles.” But we should not look for the fruit of theGospel and the power of the Word in bricks and endowments. The Holy Spirit is powerful in working without the trappings of earthly power and uniquely through the Means of Grace.

A man can open a frail old hymnal (The Lutheran Hymnal) or an ancient KJV and find more wisdom from God than everything taught in the seminaries today.

One of my greatest pleasures is having someone phone and start talking about the great wisdom and comfort found in the Book of Concord, itself a miracle of unity and expression. Some will say, “Did you know this?” And read a favorite passage. The Book of Concord is the fruit of the faith of the Confessors. We can see that the six men who gave us the Book of Concord were concerned about the truth of the Gospel and not their own comfort. They all suffered great privation at different times. Not one of them could say, “Hey, do you know who I used to be?”

As we read the Book of Concord we can judge the tree by the fruit we see. And we can say, “These were not wolves in sheep's clothing, but men who confessed the truth at a difficult time. May we be as faithful as they were. Amen.”

Martin Luther's Gospel Admonition

"Now, the Lord in this passage speaks, in particular, of preachers or prophets, whose real and proper fruit is nothing else than this, that they diligently proclaim this will of God to the people and teach them that God is gracious and merciful and has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but wants him to live, moreover, that God has manifested His mercy by having His only-begotten Son become man. Whoever, now, receives Him and believes in Him, that is, whoever takes comfort in the fact that for the sake of His Son, God will be merciful to him, will forgive his sins, and grant him eternal salvation, etc., — whoever is engaged in this preaching of the pure Gospel and thus directs men to Christ, the only Mediator between God and men, he, as a preacher, is doing the will of God . That is the genuine fruit by which no one is deceived or duped . For if it were possible that the devil were to preach this truth, the preaching would not be false or made up of lies and a person believing it would have what it promises.— After this fruit, which is the principal and most reliable one and cannot deceive, there follow in the course of time other fruits, namely, a life in beautiful harmony with this doctrine and in no way contrary to it. But these fruits are to be regarded as genuine fruits only where the first fruit , namely, the doctrine of Christ , already exists." (Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel , p. 413. Matthew 7:21. [emphasis in original]

 
The Sacraments
 
   
 

God chose to bind His promises to visible signs, sacraments, so that the visual reminders throughout Creation would call man back to the Promises bound with them. The rainbow was the first, when God promised that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood. Every rainbow should refresh that Promise and many other Promises in our minds. The Passover Meal and Exodus are so full of symbols of Christ that a catchism student said, “Every answer is Jesus.” Some of them are:

  1. The burning bush as the Two Natures of Christ.
  2. The cross of blood which made the angel of death pass over the homes suitably prepared with the seal of God's Promise.
  3. The serpent raised on wooden stake to heal the people.
  4. The bread from heaven.
  5. The water from the rock.
  6. The Promised Land.
 
Holy Communion is a combination of Promises from the Old Testament and Jesus' own commands. Each communion service unites us with the work of God from ages ago, so far back we can hardly comprehend that age. And yet, we receive the Living Bread from heaven. The Blood of the innocent Lamb is ours to take away our sin, to give us forgiveness and eternal life.

Although people have complained about the abundance of forgiveness offered in Christian teaching, the over-supply is consistent with Creation.

First of all, God binds His Holy Spirit to His Word so that there is never any doubt about the divine effectiveness of His Word. God either converts or hardens, enlightens or blinds through His Word. The hardening and blinding are the fault of man, who makes himself worse whenever he scoffs at and rejects the Word of God, but they still reveal the power of the Word.

Secondly, God only desires to save, to free man from sin, to provide eternal life, so He provides an abundance of His Word and connects His Word to visible instruments. The Word is the same Word when taught in its purity, whether read, remembered, or spoken. The Gospel Promises create and strengthen faith, whether connected with the spoken Word or the instruments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

God should not be blamed for giving us visible signs of His grace. Most Christians appreciate the meaning of the rainbow, the first connection between a visible sign and God's Promises. Every baptism reminds us of the associations we have with washing, purity, rebirth, and new life. The water of Holy Baptism brings to mind Noah's Ark saving his family from destruction, the life-giving water Moses found for the Israelites, the woman at the well listening to Jesus about, the pool of Siloam giving sight to the blind, and many other Biblical images.

The images of bread and wine are so universal that people around the world connect them to the basics of life. When the manna fell from heaven to feed the Israelites, the nation was being prepared to understand the One who came from above. Nothing is more satisfying to the hungry person than bread, so Jesus gave Himself as the Bread of Life. The Feeding of the Five Thousand is fundamental to our understanding of the divine power of Jesus, but the miracle also illustrates how Jesus could provide His body and blood to believers through Holy Communion across the centuries.

The wine of Holy Communion is associated with the most basic drink of the Bible and the blood of atoning sacrifices. The vineyards and the winepresses worked for centuries prepared people to understand and believe that they would receive the blood of Christ in the sacrament, poured out for the forgiveness of their sins. Animal sacrifice for centuries pointed toward the final and complete sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Blood atonement through animals aided in teaching the Atonement of Christ. Enacting the Last Supper makes each individual a participant in receiving the Visible Word and appreciating its significance.

 
   
 


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