Sermon audio here.
Despite all of the emphasis Scripture puts on life together, it’s really common for Christians to see faith individualistically. Of course you can’t believe for anyone else, but it’s easy to overlook the impact your faith (or lack thereof) has on others.
This goes back to the Garden when God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18). To be in relationships is to affect each other’s lives. For better or worse, the things we say and do rub off on each other (at least to an extent).
Faith is no exception. Everything you say and do—and not just the overtly religious things—is a catechism lesson to those around you. The question isn’t whether or not you will catechize, but whose catechism are you teaching? Christ’s or Satan’s? Nothing is neutral: every thought, word, and action either proceeds from Christ or from sin. There is no middle ground.
How you live is a confession of faith or unbelief and encourages others to do likewise. Ask any parent if they’d rather their teenager hang out with the kids on the honor roll or the ones in the principal’s office. When it comes to certain things, we understand how profoundly we can affect each other’s lives. The same is true of faith. To those who are watching, everything you say and do is as practical of a catechism lesson as there is.
It’s not that a Christian will always live by faith and an unbeliever will only do harmful things. Some of your actions proceed from faith, but too many flow from unbelief. Sometimes you promote the Gospel, but other times you further the work of Satan. And so the prayer of the Christian is, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22). This is where a lot of thinking about the Christian life goes wrong.
Christians are every bit as wicked as Judas (who, by the way, actually did some good things[i])—but while the pagans live under the delusion that they are good people, as a Christian, you know that you are a Judas at heart and repent.
At the same time, God regards you as every bit as holy as Jesus, not because of what you’ve done, but because Christ bled and died for you, rose again, washed you clean at the font, and continues to absolve you in preaching and the Sacrament. What makes Christians different isn’t that you don’t sin; it’s that you repent of it and have it forgiven.
This is why the Church is so important. If it weren’t bad enough that we live in a culture that is thoroughly pagan, your faith is constantly being assaulted by Satan and your own sinful flesh. You would surely drown in an ocean of evil if it weren’t for the Holy Ark of the Christian Church, where you receive shelter and forgiveness.[ii] As we hear, eat, and confess the Gospel together in this place, Christ gives you a much needed reprieve from those things that choke out the Gospel.
The men in today’s Holy Gospel knew how badly their friend needed the reprieve that only Jesus can give. Because they believed, eventually their friend believed, too. Not necessarily because of what they said, but because of what they did. They brought their friend to see Jesus.
We could easily fail to appreciate just how extraordinary this was. To us, it’s a no-brainer. If you have a deaf and mute friend and Jesus is around, you go and see Him. But not in the Decapolis! That little geographical note that introduces today’s Holy Gospel might sound like unimportant detail at first:
“Then [Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis,” (Mark 7:31).
But looking for Christians in the Decapolis would be like looking for masses of Cubs fans at U.S. Cellular field. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen!
The Decapolis was about as hostile to Christianity as it gets. The last time Jesus was there the people actually begged Him to leave. He was bad for business (Mark 5:17). In the process of healing a demon possessed man, He sent about 2,000 pigs rushing headlong down a hill to drown in the sea! Any mention of Jesus in the Decapolis would have been salt in the wound to those farmers. Still, the man Jesus exorcised went ahead and preached the Gospel in the Decapolis anyway (Mark 5:11–13).
Because of this, some believed—including those who brought their deaf-mute friend to Jesus. The faith of the formerly demon-possessed man rubbed off on those who brought their deaf-mute friend to see Jesus, which eventually rubbed off on the deaf-mute himself. These men knew who Jesus was and that He alone could help their friend.
When you care about the Gospel, you don’t appoint a committee to do evangelism or need marketing campaigns. You just bring your friends to see Jesus. What these men in the Decapolis did spoke volumes about what they believed. They were the living catechisms that brought others to the Great Catechist.
You too are a living catechism—or, as St. Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3, God’s letter of recommendation to the world, to be read and known by all (v.1–3). You might think the Church is the only place where God’s Kingdom comes on earth. It comes here, to be sure, but Christ also manifests His Kingdom in less likely places—including your life. As we confess,
God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.[iii]
That’s how God’s kingdom comes. As the apostle says in 2 Thessalonians 1,
“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ,” (v. 11–12).
Christ was glorified in the lives of Timothy’s faithful relatives, through whom he came to believe. St. Paul writes,
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well,” (2 Timothy 1:5).
Notice how St. Paul puts it: Timothy’s faith first dwelt in his grandmother, was passed down to his mother, and finally, took up residence in him.
These women knew that apart from faith, baptism will do nothing for you. They knew they needed to nurture the faith of their children or it would die. They knew that to come to the Lord’s Supper apart from faith would result in judgment. They understood well what Moses taught about the importance of ongoing catechesis, who commanded them to teach God’s Word diligently to their children, both in word and deed (Deuteronomy 6).
When your words and actions promote our Lord’s catechism, you continue Christ’s work of opening deaf ears and loosing mute tongues. Bringing young children to church may indeed be one of the greatest challenges a parent will ever face—but it’s well worth the effort.
While the disciples were off trying to usher them into children’s church, our Lord picks up a baby—probably the one that’s crying the loudest—and says, “Look! This is what God’s Kingdom looks like,” (Matthew 18:2–3) Christ wants your children to be acquainted with Him from infancy. They might not understand everything right away, but they learn by hearing and seeing. The liturgy with its ceremonies, the church with its adornments, and especially your words and actions, all teach the faith.
A good life can advance the Gospel, but a wicked life dulls its edge.[iv] Holiness begets holiness, but evil begets evil. Satan doesn’t need you to renounce Christ to get you to do his work. All he needs you to do is worry or be impatient with others. When you’re preoccupied with your own concerns, you’re providing a flesh and blood illustration of what Satan’s kingdom looks like, and are encouraging others to do likewise. A father’s sin can be passed down for three or four generations and destroy the faith of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
The farmers of the Decapolis were so preoccupied with making a living that they actually drove Jesus away from them. You’re no different. You’ve become so preoccupied with other concerns, there’s little room for Christ. No doubt you wantto be faithful, but your words and actions fail you more than you would like.
Unfortunately, good intentions don’t have any catechetical value. Even the smallest sin does infinitely more to promote the kingdom of Satan than all of the good intentions in the world do for the Gospel. Repent.
Thanks be to God that Jesus remains the Chief Catechist! He always acts on His intentions, and they are never evil. He shows His love for you in that while you were still sinful, He died for you (Romans 5:6–8). While you were still sinful, He baptized you (Titus 3:5). He invites you, a sinner, to hear the Gospel (Luke 10:16), have your sins forgiven (John 20:21–23), and eat and drink with Him at His Table (1 Corinthians 11:25). Everything Jesus says and does is a catechism lesson in His steadfast love for you.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Mark 7:31–37
The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, 2015: “Living Catechisms”
Zion, Summit: https://www.facebook.com/zionlcms
Immanuel, Hodgkins: https://www.facebook.com/immanuelhodgkins
Around the Word Bible Studies: http://www.whatdoesthismean.org/bible-studies.html
Image: Edward Burne-Jones, “St. Timothy and His Grandmother Lois” (c. 1872), Vyner Memorial Window in Oxford Cathedral.
[i] Judas was sorry he’d betrayed Jesus (Matthew 27:3–4), and, like all people, no doubt displayed a measure of civic righteousness during his lifetime.
[ii] See Luther’s Flood Prayer in LSB’s Baptismal rite.
[iii] Small Catechism, second petition.
[iv] Luther, Sermon for Trinity 12.