Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
October 7, 2007
Text: Luke 17:1-10

Temptations, scandals, stumbling blocks… These things are inevitable, even for Christians, perhaps especially for Christians. Our Lord has promised them. Things that lead us to sin and even, in the worst-case scenario, tempt us to forsake the holy Christian faith are bound to plague us as Christians. Therefore our daily prayer is “Lead us not into Temptation.” God tempts no one. But the devil tempts. The world tempts. Our own sinful flesh tempts. These things tempt us to forsake our first love. And God allows these temptations and scandals to refine our faith, as a fire refines gold. So temptations will come. Therefore “Pay attention to yourselves!” (Luke 17:3; ESV). Watch out! “(W)oe to the one through whom (these temptations) come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (vv. 1-2). Temptations will come, but don’t be their cause. Don’t be the stumbling block over which one of these little ones, which is to say, a fellow believer, falls into apostasy.

It is not easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus promises temptation, scandal, the cross and suffering. The devil does not want you to be a follower of Jesus. He shoots his flaming darts at you (Eph. 6:16). He is a roaring lion seeking to devour you (1 Peter 5:8). He wants to bring you with him into hell. He uses all the enticements that the world can throw at you. Money, sex, power, possessions, all of the things the world runs after. He takes God’s good gifts and skews them, twists them, distorts them, so that their abuse is more appealing than the proper use God intended for them. Your sinful flesh is all too willing to give in to these temptations. And the devil is all too ready not only to lead you into manifest sin, but also to cause you to doubt God, to doubt His love for you in Christ, to doubt the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness you have in Christ, to doubt and so to forsake the Christian faith. The world encourages you to doubt as well. “You don’t really believe all that mythical stuff about a 6 day creation, do you? Every intelligent person knows evolution is true. You don’t really believe Jesus is God, do you? Or that He was born of a Virgin? Impossible! Or that He rose from the dead? Ridiculous!” Such is the verdict of the unbelieving world. And our sinful flesh is all too willing to listen. Especially when not listening to the world brings persecution, violence, and even death.

Repent. Temptations will come. But do not let them trouble you. Do as the disciples did. They bid the Lord Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:6). Such should be our prayer as well. “Lord, increase our faith!” For only God can increase it. Only God can create faith in the first place. Faith is not our work. It is the gift of God. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (Small Catechism, Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed). Only God can create, sustain, and protect our faith in the day of temptation. So we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.” “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory” (Small Catechism, The Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer).

“Lord, increase our faith! Lead us not into temptation!” There is help in every time of temptation with the Lord. He gives us faith by the power of His Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, the Word and Sacraments. Jesus tells us in our Gospel lesson what the life of faith looks like. “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (v. 6). God-given faith does great things, even when it is weak and small like a mustard seed. Of course here we always need to emphasize the fact that if it is not the Lord’s will that you uproot the mulberry tree and plant it in the sea, or move the mountain, then you will not be able to do it, so don’t put the Lord to the test. The point is, though, that God-given faith does great things, like forgive our brother’s or sister’s trespasses when they sin against us, speak God’s forgiving Word of comfort in Christ when they are burdened by the guilt of sin, believe in Christ in spite of the temptations from the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, do our Christian duty even when the rewards are not apparent and even when we are persecuted for our faithfulness. Faith that you create within yourself cannot do these things. But God-given faith can and does do them. Lord, increase our faith!

God-given faith even does hard things like rebuke the brother who sins and forgive him when he repents. This miracle is even greater than commanding a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the midst of the sea. It is greater because it is harder. It is not easy to confront a Christian brother or sister who has sinned. It is not easy to tell them what they have done or are doing is not God pleasing, that it is an offense against God’s commandments. But God-given faith speaks hard words in love and gentleness. It is not easy to forgive a brother or sister who has sinned, especially when that sin is against you. Yet that is what God-given faith does. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (vv. 3-4). This is a great miracle, for when you forgive the brother or sister who sins against you, you do what Jesus does. You release that brother from his sins. You declare that there is no punishment, no retribution, no grudge. You make peace. You reconcile. These are the things Jesus does for you, and so He gives you power in God-given faith to do them for your neighbor.

Yes, there is great power in God-given faith. But don’t let that go to your head. In faith you will do great things, but this is your duty as a Christian. In faith you will also be a humble slave of Christ. Learn this lesson from experience. Slaves serve their masters. Masters do not serve their slaves. The master does not invite his slave to sit and eat when he comes in from a hard day of plowing or shepherding. Rather, when the slave comes in from his duties, he must first prepare supper for the master, and then when the master is satisfied, the slave may eat. The master does not thank the slave, for the slave has only done his duty. “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (v. 10). Be humble, like a slave. Humiliate yourself to forgive others. Humiliate yourself to serve others. Give all glory to God, as a good servant of the Master.

But here’s the irony. Jesus is our Master, yet He is among us as One Who serves (Luke 22:27). He gives us faith by serving us. He gives us faith by drawing us a bath. He calls us, unworthy servants that we are, in from the field and serves us a Meal. He calls us brothers, for He has taken on our flesh. He is our faithful High Priest Who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, for He has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). We don’t deserve it. We have only done our duty. In fact, we haven’t even done our duty. We are sinners. We have been unfaithful. But the Master loves us. Jesus forgives us and serves us anyway. There is no limit to His forgiveness. He forgives us even when we sin against Him seven times a day. He forgives us even when we sin against Him much more than seven times a day. He forgives us and He releases us. He releases us from our bondage to sin and death. He releases us from our bondage to the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. He releases us and gives us power to overcome temptations, scandals, stumbling blocks. And He promises us His good Spirit to give us faith, sustain us, and keep us. There will be temptations. There will be trials to purify our faith. Our Lord has promised them. But on account of Christ, we have a loving Father who also promises that all these things will work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Lord, increase our faith! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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