Beloved. In today’s epistle we find out who exactly we are as Christians. Look at the way St. Paul here describes us: those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God; and you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we call out, “Abba, Father!”—that is, because we have the Holy Spirit we know God rightly and are His dear children; and then that glorious summary statement at the end of our epistle: Now if we are children, we are also heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. That’s who we are as Christians—whether it seems like it to us or not. We are in Jesus God’s dear children and heirs of heaven. Think of that for a moment—the almighty God of heaven and earth knows us and has called us, dear Christian, to be heirs of heaven. To do that, He has given us a new birth in the waters of holy baptism. All of this is His work for us. We do not make ourselves His children and heirs of heaven, but He has done this for us by giving us in the new birth of Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit, who creates in us this new life, who works faith in Jesus in our hearts—faith that receives the forgiveness of sin that Jesus brought about by His holy life and His pure and holy suffering and death; faith that clothes itself in Jesus and His perfect righteousness. You are God’s dear child and heir of heaven; your baptism is your certainty of that. For remember, Holy Baptism is God’s work for/ on you. God began the work and is faithful to His work, His word and promise to you at your baptism—even when we fall away from our baptism, God’s promise to us in baptism/ our baptism stands. That’s why we can always return to it when we sin. Baptism is the foundation of confession and absolution. Treasure your baptism for what it is and does.
Holy Baptism, though, dare not be misused as an excuse to live a life of sin. The thought must never be: I’m baptized so I’m certain of heaven, so I can go out and sin; it doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do. This is a despising and a rejection of baptism. Remember what we read in the epistle: those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. That means that once we have been baptized, we have the Holy Spirit and work with the Holy Spirit to fight against sin and to strive to live a life of holiness, to strive to live according to the holy Ten Commandments. We do this from the heart; we do this in faith.
There is a true danger to our sonship, to our being the children of God. The one is the despising of our baptism by using it as an excuse to sin—and that St. Paul warns against in the epistle: we do not owe it to the sinful flesh to live in harmony with it. For if you live in harmony with the sinful flesh, you are going to die. The other danger we face is hypocrisy, that is, going about as if we were children of God but without faith in Him in our heart; pretending we are Christians when we really, in our heart of hearts, are not—even though we can deceive others and even ourselves. That’s the danger we focus in on today and that’s what Jesus warns against at the end of today’s Gospel: ”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and drive out demons in your name and perform many miracles in your name?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’”
The danger for us, dear Christian, is for us to go through the outward actions of the faith, even to the point of living an outwardly decent life, without faith in Jesus, thinking that the outward actions make us Christians, children of God and heirs of heaven. Instead, what makes us Christians is faith in Jesus; the truly good outward actions flow from this faith.
This hypocrisy—going through the outward motions of the faith, without faith in the heart—has always been a problem with the people of God. It is a way the devil has led many away from the faith—getting them to think they are God’s dear children only by doing a few certain outward things. We read from the OT prophet, St. Isaiah: This people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips but have removed their hearts far from Me. Again, the outward works/ show are there, but what is truly vital, faith/ the heart is far from the Lord. That is why it is vital that we approach the Lord in faith. When faith in the Lord is there—in His grace, mercy, forgiveness; that He is our dear heavenly Father and Savior; in the sufferings and merits of Christ—then the actions are good; then, using the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, I know you.
The preparation of our communion liturgy begins with the confession and absolution. And what is that call/ invitation to confess? The simple words: Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching Him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness. Did you catch that? –Draw near with a true heart and confess our sins! Not just being in church, not just saying some words makes the confession but faith; approaching God in the faith that He can and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness for the sake of Jesus. That makes the confession. When there is no faith, but merely the drawing near and the honoring God with the lips there is no good work; all that it does is show the sin of hypocrisy. How vital that true heart is—the heart full of faith in and love of the Lord; the heart of a child of God.
The outward “nearness” to God—even being near to God in church—does not matter if the heart is not right/ full of faith and love of the Lord. Think, for example, those men who hoisted Jesus on to the cross. They were so physically near to Jesus, touching Him, but yet stood afar off from Him in their hearts. Think of all the saints of the OT times who were far removed from Jesus and His day, but yet drew near to Him in faith and held Him firm with the hands of faith.
This people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men. The right worship of God that is pleasing to Him is not merely outward actions but a heart wholly devoted to Him, a heart full of love to Him. This is the life of a Christian, a child of God—a life in which we draw near to God with mouth, lip, and heart. In Baptism we have been named with His name—we were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And so now our life must be a praise to His name. That’s why we will pray in the collect today that the Lord would give us His Holy Spirit so that we would think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot do anything that is good with [Him], may by [Him] be enabled to live according to His will.
Not all good works are good works. What do we hear the Lord saying through St. Isaiah in our text? -- Their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men. What is judged as right and wrong does not come from what God says in His word. Outward morality is based on what the ever changing opinion decrees to be right and wrong. For example, today it seems the greatest sin is the “sin” of intolerance/ judging and actually to hold to absolute standard of right and wrong. When we let go of God’s word, of what He says is right and wrong, His way of holiness, the heart is far from God but the outward impression of holiness—man’s idea of holiness—is given, but it is under the guise divine holiness. What does Jesus say of this in today’s Gospel? –Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
And what happens when human standards of right and wrong become accepted, when their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men? Behavior becomes self-willed. When we do not draw near to God with a true heart, then we do not seek the Lord’s will, nor do we let ourselves be chastened by the word.
The thing is, as Christians we are the children of God. By the work of the Holy Spirit in the word and sacrament, we have been called to be children of God. This call of Christ is enters our ears and goes into our heart and from our heart it goes through the body into our life and affects every aspect of our life, affects every decision we make. God demands from us our whole heart.
This people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men. So what is God’s antidote/ response to this? Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden. Because there is that hypocrisy, God will act and He will work in such a way that His one and the same action will punish the hypocrite but be a great blessing to those who draw near Him with a true heart. Ultimately, it would all come down to Jesus—and Jesus’ question He would later ask the disciples and us [Mt. 16.15]: Who do you say that I am? Jesus is that great divide. Jesus is that marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder.
Throughout the OT God’s saving rescue of His people is described as Him do[ing] a marvelous work among this people. The way that the Lord would rescue His people would defy human logic and figuring. Think of the Red Sea parting, the manna, the water from the rock and the quail in desert during the Exodus. Think of how here in the time of St. Isaiah the Lord rescued Jerusalem in one night by slaying 185000 of the enemy that surrounding it; although all the wise people/ the common wisdom was not to rely on the Lord for rescue but to seek a military alliance with Egypt. The ones who drew near to the Lord only outwardly, would look for their help and rescue in human things, in the wisdom of their wise men … and the understanding of their prudent men. Isn’t that a true picture of their spiritual state? –Since they don’t draw near to the Lord, hear His word and take it to heart, they don’t look to the Lord for rescue and help. That’s why the hypocrite, not drawing near to the Lord with a true heart—a heart of faith and love—will look at God’s ways as foolish and reject them. The word of the cross, the simple Gospel message that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus; that Jesus is our only Savior from sin, death, devil and hell; that message makes them crazy. They look to and think their outward, physical work counts for something and makes them righteous before God, sons of God and heirs of heaven. To them faith and the cross of Christ is foolishness. They become more hardened in their opinion and their self-alienation from God. Jesus and His work on the cross—God’s do[ing] a marvelous work among this people and faith in Him become such a huge stumbling block. It doesn’t agree with human logic of how they think it should be.
But this very same marvelous work and a wonder of God, is a great blessing to those who draw near to Him with a true heart, a heart full of love and faith—his dear children, the Christian and heir of heaven. We look for God’s work in all areas of life and especially in their spiritual rescue. We look to and hang on to His word and promise. By seeing God do[ing] a marvelous work among this people in Jesus, we see that all confidence in human wisdom is foolish; all trust in the outward works is futile before God. We hold on to the cross of Jesus and His work. We draw near to God in a true heart, glorifying Him with our mouths and lips and honoring Him with a life of faith and good works. INJ Amen