Now that’s odd, you might think. What reason could Jesus possibly have to not speak plainly about the Father all the time? This is related to what’s sometimes called the “Messianic secret”, or the fact that Jesus often told His disciples, after witnessing some miracle, not to tell anyone about it. Why in the world not?
The answer is because His hour had not yet come. Plain speech about Christ is offensive. Had Jesus spoken plainly about the Father from the beginning, they would have crucified Him on Christmas Day.
In the next chapter our Lord will speak plainly about the Father, praying that His disciples would be one, even as He and the Father are one. And in case you haven’t been keeping score, that was the very claim—that He and the Father are one—that got Jesus nailed to the cross.
For a time, then, Jesus spoke in figures of speech. He did this because there’s nothing more offensive in the world than the pure proclamation of God’s Word. Even these figures of speech were enough to work Jesus’ enemies up into a murderous rage. Once He started speaking so plainly, it would be easy to accuse Him of blasphemy, which was a capital offense.
How long before speaking the truth of God’s Word is a capital offense here in America? God’s Word met with hostility everywhere, even here in His own Church. If blasphemy was the cardinal sin to the Jews, today it’s being intolerant and inflexible. Christ is both. He does not tolerate sin, and He’s not willing to compromise the truth of God’s Word, not on a single point.
And notice, there’s a big different between tolerating sin and forgiving it. Jesus does not tolerate sin. You must be perfect, Jesus says, as your heavenly Father is perfect. He’s not exaggerating here. You will not get into heaven unless you’re every bit as pure and holy as Christ Himself. And that’s exactly why Jesus died, so that He might cleanse you of your sin and give you His own perfection.
This is what happens in Holy Baptism: you are clothed with the robe of Christ righteousness that covers all your sin. In Holy Baptism, your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees and is equal to that of Christ Himself. Being baptized was the most significant thing that has ever happened to you in your entire life. At the font, Christ receives you as His pure and Holy Bride, without spot or blemish. And though you’ve defiled yourself, He restores the penitent again and again to absolute purity as often as you receive His Holy Absolution.
This all goes to show that Christ is not tolerant or permissive. He’s merciful. If He were tolerant, His suffering, death, and resurrection are all meaningless, as is your baptism and preaching and the body and blood of Christ. All meaningless if He’s tolerant of sin.
God does not tolerate sin, and that’s for your own good. A broken and contrite heart He will not despise, but God is absolutely intolerant of the proud and defiant. They will perish eternally, without exception—even if they go to church on Sunday morning. You can go through all the right motions and still lack contrition and faith. That’s just atheism with a religious veneer.
Christ is intolerant of sin, and He’s inflexible when it comes to His Word. He said whoever relaxes one of the least of God’s commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. It doesn’t get much more stubborn than that.
Jesus insisted that we teach the world to observe all that He has commanded us, just as Moses warned the people not to stray from God’s Word in the very least, not to the right or to the left. He’s entrusted pastors with the responsibility of not only giving instruction in sound doctrine, but also rebuking those who contradict it. Again and again, Christ teaches us to stubbornly hold to the pure Word of God. He’s a jealous God and is not willing to compromise on a single point.
Luther knew this well, and it is what emboldened him to make his famous “Here I Stand” speech at the Diet of Worms. And although you can buy cute “Here I stand” socks from CPH for $10, there was nothing cute about Luther risking his life when he spoke those defiant words before the Holy Roman Emperor, who had demanded that Luther recant of his teaching.
So like a good German, Luther said he’d rather die than compromise his confession of Christ. The threat to Luther’s life as a result of this was so serious that his own prince kidnapped Luther as he left Worms to keep the emperor from getting a hold of him. Had that not happened, we would most likely have known Luther as a martyr, not a reformer.
Luther was prepared to suffer death rather than compromise God’s Word, and at confirmation, every Christian makes that same vow: to remain faithful to Christ, even to the point of death. As our Lord said, Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Now we don’t usually consider stubbornness to be a very positive quality, but stubbornness is holy and precious in God’s sight when it comes to His Word. Luther wrote,
“We can stand the loss of our possession, our name, our life, and everything else; but we will not let ourselves be deprived of the [pure teaching of God’s Word]. And that is that. Accursed be any humility that yields or submits at this point! Rather let everyone be proud and unremitting here, unless he wants to deny Christ.
With the help of God, therefore, I will be more hardheaded than anyone else. I want to be stubborn and to be known as someone who is stubborn. Here I bear the inscription “I yield to no one.” And I am overjoyed if here I am called rebellious and unyielding. Here I admit openly that I am and will be unmovable and that I will not yield a hairbreadth to anyone.
Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7); therefore it yields. But not faith; it will not stand for anything… Where faith is involved, there we should be invincible, inflexible, stubborn, and harder than adamant, if this were possible; but where love in involved, we should be softer and more flexible than every kind of reed or leaf and ready to yield anything,” (AE 26:99, 103).
Satan is constantly tempting Christians to compromise God’s Word. Christ called the church at Ephesus to repent because that’s exactly what they had done: they had abandoned Him, their first love. Something else had become more important to them than faithfulness to Christ.
The temptation to compromise is particularly strong because God’s Word is demanding not only on a personal, individual level, but because it also insists on governing our relationships. For Christians, we not only need to keep watch over ourselves; we are also our brother’s keeper.
There’s hardly anything more antichrist than the common “live and let live” attitude you find, even among Christians. Personal repentance is painful enough, but Christ also calls you to correct and to love your neighbor. This means we can never turn a blind eye to sin, nor write anyone off. Christian love is more demanding than it is pleasant. It requires us to have the hard conversations and then continue bearing with one another in love.
Speaking the truth is difficult. It will inevitably result in conflict. But if you stop there, you’ve only done half the job. Christians need to be just as committed to bearing with one another and working toward restoration as they are to speaking the truth in love. God’s Law is like fire, but He’s not a pyromaniac who delights in watching things burn. His Gospel is Living Water, and unless we are as committed to one another as Christ is to us, we’re doing the work of Satan.
This is why Christ has called you into His family. He has made you a member of His own household that you might be borne up by His love and that of your brothers and sisters in Christ in this place. Remember what we said to Rebekah this morning in the baptismal liturgy? “We receive you in Jesus’ Name as our sister—a new member of the family—in Christ, that together we might hear His Word.”
Christ has called you into His family and into this congregation that we might bear one another’s burdens and not run away from each other at the first sign of trouble. Family is about sticking together, especially when times get tough. Christ expects that our commitment to one another will be no less than His commitment to us.
Again, Luther says,
“Therefore the apostle has established this as a rule for the saints: that they should be servants of one another through love, that they should bear one another’s weakness and burdens, and that they should forgive one another’s trespasses… It is unavoidable that you are offended frequently and that you offend in turn. You see much in me that offends you; and I, in turn, see much in you that I do not like. If one does not yield to the other through love on matters like this, there will be no end to the argument, discord, rivalry, and hostility… through the Spirit [bear with your brother’s] weakness, and love him, in accordance with the command: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ For you brother does not stop being your neighbor simply because he lapses or because he offends you, but that is the very time when he needs your love for him the most.”
We just sang: “Our Father, who from heaven above, bids all of us to live in love as members of one family and pray to you in unity.” As members of Christ’s family, we are called to bear with one another in love, even as Christ has loved us.
The way of the cross is never easy, but it’s the way of Christ. Standing firmly on God’s Word and bearing with one another may seem impossible at times, but it’s always good for you. And with Christ, even this is possible. Not because you can do it, but because He does it for you. He forgives us our trespasses and creates faith that we might forgive those who trespass against us.
That’s what the Christian life is all about: receiving God’s Word in childlike faith, living in daily contrition and repentance, and sincerely forgiving and gladly doing good to those who sin against you, even as God sincerely forgives and gladly does good to you in Christ. The post-communion collect sums it up nicely: faith in God and fervent love toward one another.
When it comes to God’s love for you in Christ Jesus, there is no limit. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Soli Deo Gloria