On Guard


Do you know what one of the most serious crimes is in the military?  Falling asleep on guard duty. It’s so serious because it jeopardizes the lives of everybody in the unit. Physical harm can result if just one soldier fails to keep guard. That's why the military has guards, to guard against physical danger. The church has guards too, not against physical  danger but against spiritual danger. I’m one. The Lord has appointed me to stand watch on the church's wall. If I fall asleep at my post, if I fail to keep watch, I’m not just done for as a guard, I am damned as a person. I am called by God to be on guard constantly against spiritual danger. You people aren’t. You people are called to be constantly on guard against guards. 

So be on guard against false guards. A false guard tells you what you want to hear. He is the town crier who calls out, "It's 10 o'clock and all's well" when he knows the enemy is at the gates. He's the soldier who reports “all quiet” when he can see the enemy moving into position. Spiritually this is how it happens. According to Jeremiah the false prophets cries out, "Peace, peace" when there is done. The false guard tells you God is at peace with you when in reality His judgement is hurtling toward you. The false guard says the Lord is hammering His swords into plowshares and His spears into pruning hooks when in reality He is sharpening His swords and aiming His spears at your heart.

Hear Jeremiah's lament over false guards: "’Ah Lord God!' I said, 'Look, the prophets are telling them, 'You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.' Then the Lord said to me, 'The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them, nor commanded them, nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds’" (Jer. 14:13-14). A false guard tells you what you want to hear not what really is. He describes how people would like things to be not how they really are. The false prophets, the faithless watchmen, the guards to watch out for in the OT were always upbeat, always positive, always telling God's people how there was no way they could lose. Although Jeremiah and other true prophets said Babylon was going to defeat Jerusalem, the false guards said Babylon would be defeated by them.

   Most of the time the false guard is unfaithful because it's profitable to him. Rom. 16 says of them, "Their god is their belly." That's why Luther called them "belly servers." Micah 3:11 tells us, "[Jerusalem's] prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean on the Lord saying, 'Is not the Lord in our midst? Calamity will not come upon us.'" False guards not only don't warn of danger, they foretell certain victory, all because the price is right.

   On guard against false guards who tell you, "You can accept your sins and still be forgiven for them." On guard against those who tell you since everybody is a sinner, sin is no big deal. On guard against those who tell you, "You don't have to struggle against your sins; just believe in forgiveness and you’ll be fine." On guard against those who see the sins of our day of going to church when you feel like it, sex outside of marriage, gossip, greed, and prejudice, as not that bad because they’re so common.

   False guards don't tell you what you need to hear to be healed, to be helped, to be saved. They heal with superficial medicines; they apply bandages where radical surgery is called for; they call cancer a cold and give aspirin. Listen to some examples from Scripture. Jeremiah, a true guard of Israel, lamented, "[False prophets] heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially" (6:14). They made it seem that a  severed leg could be healed by wrapping it with cloth. In Lamentations, Jeremiah says these false guards purposely misdiagnosed the problem: "Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; And they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity, but they have seen for you false and misleading oracles” (2:14).

   False guards were everywhere in the OT, the NT, and the early church. Can't you see there are more now? Can't you see that our airways, our "religious" books, our "Christian" pulpits, our social media abound with false guards and belly servers? Do you think that because they claim the name Christian, they really are? Do you think everyone with the title pastor, priest, minister, or brother is really a faithful watchman standing on the church's wall? Don't you know that you’re being lied to left and right?  Don't you know that judgement is coming? Read the prophets. Not one single nation was ever exempted from judgement. Every single drop of innocent blood a nation ever spilled was avenged by God. Yet somehow  you think the blood of millions of unborn babies is not crying out to God. You think that America alone is not going to have to answer for perverting sex, marriage, and faith. You think that America alone is going to be allowed to taunt God and not be judged. Think again.

 As a faithful guard I am required by my Master to tell you these things. Therefore, be on guard not only against listening to false guards but against not listening to true ones. I know what you're thinking. That's only my opinion. That's only  my interpretation. I'm only one person against literally thousands of others telling you "peace, prosperity; I'm okay, you're okay." Whether you listen to me or not is on your shoulders not mine. I’m required by God, says Heb 13, to give an account of the souls entrusted to me. I will stand before God with this very sermon and say, "Lord I told them these things." The Lord will then turn to you and ask you to give an account of how you heard me. At that point, no word I say, no prayer I offer can help you. And even those who regularly stay away from services, who come when they feel like it, will be accountable for those hundreds of thousands of God’s Word they missed from my mouth.

On guard now people of God. Now is the time to be on guard against not listening to true guards of the Church. Listen when I proclaim to you the Law in it's terrible ferociousness. Listen so the Law might do its work: That is, listen so the Law might kill you. Stop responding to the Law with your excuses. Stop thinking, "But I'm not as bad as so and so." Stop saying, "Everyone is doing it." Stop saying, "But I believe in Jesus so my sins really don't matter." Listen to this faithful guard: The Law's main mission is to kill you. It either does it now in time or it does it forever in eternity. By your excuses you're only dodging the Law for a time not for eternity. Listen to this faithful guard trying to kill you with the Law; don't make excuses for your sins, and don't make promises to do better. The Law is meant to kill you not to drag out of you promises to do better. If you go out of here thinking, "I'll change. I'll stop being this; I'll stop doing that. I'll be different." This can only lead to pride or despair. Pride for believing you have satisfied God's Law or despair for realizing no matter what you do, you can't satisfy it.

   Be on guard against not listening to the Law. Listen and admit that no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you promise, no matter how many excuses you make, the Law exposes you for what you are: a sinner with no hope of salvation. A sinner with nothing good to put before God. A sinner who can only look for judgement and damnation for your sins of thought, word, and deed. But don't stop listening at this point. Listen as a faithful guard warns you of the Law's coming judgement, but keep on listening as he proclaims to you the sweet, free, unconditional gospel of Christ. If you stop listening at the Law part, you'll believe being a Christian means walking around with judgement constantly hanging over your head while you try to keep God’s commandments. 

   Listen as a true guard tells you the Gospel in all of its sweetness. That Law which is so heavy it crushes you to death. That Law was put on Christ Jesus. He carried that Law from womb to tomb. He never broke one of its commands, ever. Jesus, God in flesh and blood, fulfilled the Law. There is not one commandment hanging over your head that needs fulfilling. Jesus fulfilled everyone of them in your place. But you say, "What about all of the ones I've broken? What about the big ones I broke long ago but nobody knows yet I can't forget? What about the little ones I break everyday which everybody knows yet I don't remember?" No doubt about it. There is hell to pay for our breaking of the Law. Thanks be to God that Jesus paid it in our place. He who never broke a commandment suffered every step of the way to the cross as if He had. He shed His innocent blood from His body on the cross to cover our guilty bodies. His suffering and death caused the angry God to smile upon sinners.

    Now here’s the point at which to really listen to this faithful guard:  I forgive you all your sins. I loose them from you. I can forgive you not because you keep the Law but because Christ did. I can loose them not because you have or can pay for your sins but because Jesus did already. Listen to me. The sins of yours that I've just loosed, just forgiven here on earth are loosed in heaven. You can believe that as sure as I'm a called and ordained servant of the Word standing here by the command of Jesus. Your sins are forgiven you, and though judgment is indeed still coming, as a forgiven sinner, you will be safe under the outstretched arms of the cross of Christ. That doesn't mean our churches, our homes, our bodies won't be harmed, but it does mean we will be saved body and soul for eternity.

On guard both against listening to false guards and against not listening to true ones. Now both will claim to speak for the Master, both may look like they speak for Him, but only one speaks with His voice. The one who speaks both the Law in all of its undiluted bitterness and the Gospel in all of its unconditional sweetness is the one to listen to. Amen.   

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20230917); Ezekiel 33:7-9