Maybe, I’m just a bible nerd, but there are a lot of times that I like to pretend that I’m a part of the sacred story. I daydream that I’m Adam standing by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but unlike him, my wits are about me and the moment that lying snake opens his mouth, without hesitation, I’d take control of the situation, step in front of Eve, and shut the damning conversation down. With one mighty blow, I’d take its head right off its scaly body. There I would stand panting in the righteousness of my zeal, the bloody head in my hands, its fangs still dripping with poisonous deceit. On that day, Creation would be saved because of my quick thinking, and God would, no doubt, smile at me from heaven.
Or maybe I’m Moses at the burning bush, but when God calls me to confront Pharaoh and be the deliverer of His people, I wouldn’t hesitate–not for one second. I’d lick my lips, ready to go. Ready to serve my Lord, even risk my life if necessary. Pharaoh wouldn’t know what hit him.
I flip to the New Testament.
I’m a Pharisee. But not a fence-sitter like most of them—watching and waiting and watching and waiting—but never believing, never connecting the dots. Surely, I’d have been like Nicodemus. No, even better than Nicodemus. After all, he visited Jesus in the middle of the night; he didn’t want anyone to know. But that wouldn’t be me. I’d have gone in the light of day. I’d have professed my love for Him from the rooftops. My heart would have been overwhelmed by His mercy and grace.
Move over Mary Magdalene.
Get behind me Zacchaeus.
Take my example and learn from me Peter, Andrew, James and John.
Jesus could have counted on my loyalty in the Garden of Gethsemane. Surely, I wouldn’t have run when He was arrested. I wouldn’t have hidden while He was being crucified. Surely, I would have gone out and hired a lawyer for His legal defense—the best and most expensive lawyer in Jerusalem. I’d have alerted all the local news stations. I’d have petitioned Pontius Pilate and protested outside the Praetorium. Surely, when Peter denied him, I’d have confessed him. When He hung on the cross, I’d have wept beneath it. When Thomas doubted, I’d have believed.
Yes, It sure is easy to daydream myself into the story of salvation. It’s easy to cast myself as a hero. It’s easy to imagine I’d win a Golden Globe in the categories of best and most faithful.
But when I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that if I actually could go back in time and stand alongside the biblical greats, I know full-well that my performance wouldn’t be worthy of even the smallest award. No doubt, I’d probably end up shouldering past Adam and eating seconds of the forbidden fruit. I’d probably argue much harder than Moses did against God’s plans for the Exodus. I’d probably stand in the courtyard with Peter, shaking my head up and down, denying Jesus, too. If there was an award for fickle and cowardly faith, I’d be the first runner-up. I’d be a shoe-in for “The Hypocritical Pastor” award.” I’d get at least a dozen nominations for “Chief of Sinners.”
And for this, I repent.
Well, that’s what I pray for. I pray that God would give me the strength to repent. Because I know I can’t even manage to do that all on my own. I need God’s help. In fact, sometimes I think that’s why the bible records so many personal stories about real-life people who just couldn’t quite pull it together long enough to prove faithful; people who didn’t give award-winning performances in the categories of faith and righteousness. These stories exist because I sorely need these sad examples: Adam who ate the fruit, Noah who got drunk, Abraham who twice gave his wife to another man to save his own skin, Lot who had sex with his own daughters, Jacob who deceived his father and stole the birthright, Ruben who had sex with his father’s concubine, David who committed adultery and failed to discipline his sons for their sins. On and on and on it goes. I need these sad examples to show me that I’m sadder still. I’m not an award-winning Christian, father, husband, pastor, neighbor, or friend.
What does the Bible say?
“If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8
What else does it say?
“But God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
The good news of the Christian faith is that the Lord delights in having mercy upon real-life sinners, just like me. Thank goodness I don’t have to grade myself against Adam, Moses, Peter, or anyone.
Martin Luther once said, “Christ dwells only in sinners,” and by it he meant that Christ dwells only in a Church made up of sinners—people and pastors just like you and me. He’s not found amongst the Grade-A, academy-award-winning, self-righteous.
You’ve got to be a sinner to have Jesus. Only the sick need a doctor. Healthy people just need health advice. Jesus came to heal not give advice. Do you want His healing?
Of course, I’m talking about repentance, here. If we will not be sinners (that is, repentance!), we can have no Savior. Repentance is nothing more than acknowledging that you are a sinner and that means you acknowledge you have no hope of achieving godliness on your own. It means you don’t just need help; you need salvation. Repentance means that all you want and all you desire is the One who heals and saves.
Today, as we draw near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about false teachers and preachers. He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.”
What is good fruit?
The good fruit of the Christian life—the very best fruit and the only fruit that leads to salvation—has nothing to do with our performance as Christians. Sure, we may be a Mother Teresa in the eyes of the world or maybe you feel like the world sees you as the chief-of-sinners with a reputation ten miles long. Either way, it matters not one bit toward your salvation. Nothing we do—good or bad–makes us any more or less in the eyes of God.
What does the bible say?
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – Romans 3:23
The wages of sin is death – Romans 6:23
There is none that is good, not one – Psalm 53:1
He who is a false teachers is anyone who would lead God’s people to think that holiness and righteousness is theirs to achieve by their own efforts, by out-shining and out-performing the average Joe. But Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
What is the will of the Father?
John 6:40 – “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Thus, Jesus warns us, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
What is the wide path? This path is found whenever people desire sermons and pastors that teach them only how to be better people rather than sermons and pastors that show them their sin and teach them how Jesus is their Savior. There are many, many pastors in this world that would teach you such falsehood. Beware of these wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The sermons we hear should point to Christ alone for salvation, and not anything we do. In Holy Baptism, we bring our little children and present them to the Lord, not because they are so innocent and sweet, but because we know that they have fallen short and that the wages of sin is death. In the Lord’s Supper we come to the Lord’s table and eat and drink precisely as the Lord commands, “for the forgiveness of sins.”
Lord, give us pastors that encourage us to receive these healing gifts. Give us pastors that show us that salvation comes through Your work and righteous, alone. Amen.