Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | October 10, 2010

Sermon on Hebrews 11:32-34

Downloadable version

Faith Gets Us Ready for War

Lessons:  Daniel 3:1-30, 1 Peter 4:12-19, Mark 13:5a, 9-13

Hymns (From Christian Worship):  457, 428, 201, 203

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Paul tells us to speak the truth in love.  What we say and how we say it are important.  But it doesn’t take long to realize which we tend to err towards today.  If one must be sacrificed, it’s truth.  At all costs, peace must be maintained.  We’d rather not deal with the tears of children, so we tell little white lies.  We’d rather not go through a big rigamarole with spouses or parents, so we tell little white lies.  We’d rather not “get into it” at work, or school, so we tell little white lies.  We do the same in the church.  Doctrinal agreement after doctrinal agreement has been signed by various churches throughout the world creating new church bodies and relationships, not based on actually sorting out truth from error, but out of a misguided sense of “love.”  We’d rather have nice, peaceful relationships then to fight battles because we’ve laid the truth out there.

But while the intention may be good – love for our neighbor – it’s often misguided.  “What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”  Sometimes little white lies we tell our children snowball out of control.  Sometimes little white lies we tell wives or bosses get found out, and the situation is worse than if we’d told the truth.  And in the church, when we compromise the truth, when we let the camel’s nose of false doctrine into the tent, before we know it, the entire tent is filled with false doctrine.  Where once truth reigned, there is only error and death.  Love without truth is not love.  When it comes to God’s Word, telling the truth is always the loving thing to do.  Even if it means war.  And faith gets us ready for such a war.

Hebrews 11 refers to some of our heroes of faith in this way: who became powerful in battle. The word for battle is the root of our English word “polemics.”  To engage in polemics means to dispute, often aggressively.  It means to engage in controversy, that is, arguing for one side or the other.  Polemics are not in favor in our day.  It’s not nice to criticize someone’s point of view.  It’s especially gauche in religion.  To engage in polemics is to assert that you have the truth, the ultimate 21st century sin.

But this isn’t new.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego dealt with this.  Their king said:  “Everybody must worship this statue of the king no matter what religion you are.”  To bow down to this statue would be a sign of loyalty to the king and would have kept the peace.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not.  Because they have one master – the LORD – who demands their whole heart, You shall have no other gods before me. And when they were called before Nebuchadnezzar, rather than sort of shuffling their feet and saying, “Gee-whiz, you know, we would have bowed down, but…” they engaged in polemics, We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand…. But even if he does not, we want you to know…that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

The commands and promises of God armed these young men for battle.  And whatever the consequences, they stood firm.  This is the confidence offered and given by the Word of God itself.  Jesus spoke in similar terms to the apostles.  He told them that they would face situations just like these three young men, and when they did, they would have the words, It is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

The command of God then isn’t just to wear this armor and to hold these weapons, but to use them.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego made a public statement.  They refused to bow to the idol and defended their actions.  The apostles refused to stop talking about Jesus when threatened with imprisonment and death.  They spoke the truth in love, love for their own souls, and love for the souls of the world around them.  They held forth the sword of the Spirit and by God’s grace were made powerful in battle.

The situations have not changed.  What happened to those young men and the apostles were previews for us.  Jesus assures us that life will not get better for the Church on earth, only worse.  More will fall away, more false teachers will come, more will deny the truth, more will bring pressure against us to deny the truth.  But we must fight.  We refuse to bow before the altar of generic religion.  We will not unite ourselves with those who make God whatever you want to define him, as do the Scouting movements in America and the Masonic Lodges.  Even if it means our kids are made fun of or we lose business opportunities.  We refuse to bow before the altar of what’s accepted.  We don’t care if everybody else thinks it’s okay, if God has spoken – as He has against homosexuality, abortion, sex outside of marriage, pornography, lying and cheating in various ways to get what we need, and so many others – if God has spoken, we will not bow down to anyone else.  Even if it means having laws applied against us or being viewed as puritanical.  We refuse to bow before the altar of doctrinal compromise.  A little false teaching is like a little cancer or a little poison.  We wouldn’t let our neighbor’s kid with measles come infect our children, nor will we let false doctrines infect us, no matter how small or harmless they seem.  Baptism saves.  The Lord’s Supper is the body and blood of Christ.  Christ is the one and only way to salvation.  I didn’t choose to believe in Jesus.  The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God.  We will say these things and more, even if we are called stodgy, unloving, or stupid.

We say all this by faith.  Hebrews points all the power for these things to faith.  Who through faith…quenched the fury of the flames…became powerful in battle. This God-given armor allows us to stand when others bow, because faith assures us of victory, not faith in our faith or our strength, but in our God, in His strength, in His Christ, who promises, He who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Those young men stood firm and weren’t just delivered from fire, but were promoted.  And yet not even this is our assurance.  Our assurance of victory goes beyond earthly blessings, for they come and go, and we aren’t qualified to judge when God is blessing us, because we don’t have His thousand-years-as-a-day perspective.

And so, while we rejoice when God blesses us from an earthly perspective, our assurance of victory is elsewhere, just as it was for the three young men.  Their words: the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand…. But even if he does not, we want you to know…that we will not serve your gods…. Or, Peter:  Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. We may not be delivered from flames exactly as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Or, not always.  After all, eventually, those young men died.

So, we fix our eyes on Christ.  As Peter said, when we stand firm, when we wage war with the Word for Christ, we participate in the sufferings of Christ.  Suffering as Christ suffered is a sure sign that we’re on the path Christ took, the path that ended with cross and tomb, with His victory, which by God’s grace through faith is our victory.  That’s our assurance: Christ.  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things. Christ fought the war and won the war.  His death destroyed the devil’s work.  His death made atonement for the sins of the world.  His death satisfied God’s justice, so that God can declare us not guilty, so that God can speak the truth to us which He spoke through Isaiah:  Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine….  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior….  …because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you…. God exchanged Christ for us.  He bowed before only His Father’s altar.  He laid upon the altar of the cross and on the slab of His tomb.  Jesus stood firm so that now we can.  To the end.  And be saved.  Amen!



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