Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
We don’t say things like we used to.
Around the end of the calendar year, every year, schools let out for some kind of vacation. What do they call it?
Two weeks from now, the schools will let out for another kind of vacation. What do they call that?
Everyone used to call it Christmas vacation. There’s even a movie called Christmas Vacation, but it has nothing to do with either Christmas or vacation.
And everyone used to call it Easter vacation. There’s no movie, that I’m aware of, yet.
Everyone used to say, “Merry Christmas!.” And you still can, but the preference is to say what? Happy Holidays.
We’re so afraid of conflict and causing offense, that we’ve changed how we speak.
Really, we’re afraid to insist that we know what’s true.
I don’t do this often—but please indulge me for about ninety seconds, I’d like to read this:
The world is very evil, / The times are waxing late; / Be sober and keep vigil, / The Judge is at the gate; / the Judge that comes in mercy, / The Judge that comes with might, / To terminate the evil, / And diadem the right.
Arise, arise, good Christian, / Let right to wrong succeed; / Let penitential sorrow / To heav’nly gladness lead, / To light that hath no evening, / That knows no moon nor sun, / The light so new and golden, / The light that is but one.
O home of fadeless splendor, / Of flow’rs that bear no thorn, / Where they shall dwell as children / Who here as exiles mourn. / Midst pow’r that knows no limit, / Where knowledge has no bound, / The beatific vision / Shall glad the saints around.
Strive, man, to win that glory; / Toil, man, to gain that light; / Send hope before to grasp it / Till hope be lost in sight. / Exult, O dust and ashes, / The Lord shall be thy part; / His only, His forever. / Thou shalt be and thou art (“The World is Very Evil,” The Lutheran Hymnal, 605).
Have you ever heard that before? That’s hymn number 605 in The Lutheran Hymnal, entitled “The World is Very Evil.” We don’t get to sing hymns like that anymore—and I’m not talking about strong or weak hymns. I’m talking about hymns that tell it like it is. We’re so afraid of offending someone, we don’t say or sing things like we used to.
Here’s another example: you’re familiar, I’m sure, with the hymn “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word”?
The first stanza goes: Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word; / Curb those who by deceit and sword / Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son / And bring to naught all He has done (“Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word,” Lutheran Service Book, 655).
You remember that one, right?
Well, originally, the hymn was entitled “Lord, Keep Us in Thy Word and Work,” and this was the first stanza: Lord, keep us in Thy Word and work, / Restrain the murd’rous Pope and Turk, / Who fain would tear from off Thy throne / Christ Jesus, Thy beloved Son.
And here’s the fourth stanza, which doesn’t even appear in today’s hymnals: Destroy their counsels, Lord our God, / And smite them with an iron rod, / And let them fall into the snare / Which for Thy Christians they prepare.
I like singing that.
The straightforward, unabashed confession of the faith from hymns like those is refreshing to me. You can’t sing those words, or read them, or hear them and not have at least a little bit of a heart palpitation.
That is, if you care what the Bible, the Word of God, says.
The same thing that can be said, I think, about the lack of an unabashed confession of the faith in our hymns can also be said about the preaching of our day.
Have you ever noticed this?
How does Peter preach at Pentecost?
He says, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). The people he’s preaching to—they weren’t even there. But he lays on them accountability for Jesus’ crucifixion.
It’s terrible! But, for them and for us, it’s true.
In the sermon for this past Wednesday, I referred to Jonah’s preaching. His heart wasn’t in it at all; he didn’t want to preach to the Ninevites. He didn’t want them to repent. But his eight-word sermon, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4) does only one thing: it calls the Ninevites to repentance before the oncoming judgment.
And, of course, we have to ask, how does Jesus preach?
Today, thus says the Lord, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you don’t hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47).
Jesus flat out says that these people—who claim to be faithful believers—are not of God—because they don’t hear the words of God.
He’s talking about the refusal to hear God’s Word—to listen to God—to amend your life—to repent—to believe, teach, and confess what’s true.
In context, in the same chapter, Jesus has said this: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Then He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
And then He said, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:42-44).
This is all the same conversation, the same sermon, if you will. And after all that, Jesus says, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47).
Peter ruined their day with what he said. To a good and godly end, of course, but he had to first ruin their day. He had to confront them with the truth of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ because of their sins—theirs, yours, mine, the world’s.
Jonah, probably unintentionally on his part, got their attention with even his eight words.
Thanks be to God, the Lord works through sinful pastors.
In the context of today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus calls people satanic for not listening to Him.
I hope it ruined their day, because He was exactly right.
Now, since the preaching of the Word of God in the Word of God is this straightforward and unabashed about its confession of the faith, let me also say:
If you will not listen to what Scripture teaches—if you will not listen to the confession of the Church—if you will not make this confession your own—if you will not put aside your preening, godless ego—and if you will not amend your life accordingly—you are not of God—no matter what the congregational membership list says.
With that in mind, let us, together, pray again the Introit for today:
“Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me! For you are the God in whom I take refuge; Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 43:1-2a, 3-5).
Dear Christian friends, take refuge in the Lord, Jesus.
He is the light of the world, the life of the world, the way, and the truth.
No one comes to the Father but by Him. He deals with us according to His Word.
So, listen to Him.
Listen to His very Word that shows the bloody cross and sacrifice of Jesus to be your vindication.
“All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death[.] We were buried therefore 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” (Romans 6:3-4). Because…
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
The righteousness of Christ, poured out upon you in Holy Baptism is your sure and certain defense against the evil one.
So go, with exceeding joy, to the altar of God.
His body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, are your salvation.
Or as we sang moments ago: Here might I stay and sing, / No story so divine! / Never as love, dear King, / Never was grief like Thine. / This is my friend, / In whose sweet praise / I all my days / Could gladly spend! (“My Song Is Love Unknown,” Lutheran Service Book, 430:7).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!