Contrast Clarifies


German poet Goethe said, "Where there is much light, the shadow is deep." Look at the wedding pictures on display. See the difference between B & W and color. The black and white are sharper, crisper; the images jump off the paper. In contrast to Christ, the Light of the world, everything else is dark. So when the Light speaks, as He does in our text, everything jumps into focus. This great contrast clarifies.

The contrast Christ's words create clarify the difference between false and true teachers and teaching. People on their own think the difference is one of degrees. There's a sliding scale of truth. Like in a color picture there are dark blues, light blues and blue-greens. If true teaching and false teaching is a matter of degrees, then there is never any reason to separate from false teachers. Indeed, at some point true and false bleed into each other. The point at which you would say, "We are not in fellowship with that teaching," would be arbitrary. What is one person's sea green is another person's blue.

And make no mistakes about it; that's exactly how faithful Missouri Synod Lutherans are perceived: as arbitrary. And indeed we are if the difference between truth and error is a matter of degrees, of shades of color. But if truth is a matter of black and white, well then that contrast clarifies things sharply. Christ shines His light on false teachers and shows the difference between true teaching and false teaching is a difference in kind not degree. Anyone can tell the difference between grapes and thorn. Everyone can tell the difference between figs and thistles. Does anyone go to Super Walmart for grapes and come back with a rose bush? Does anyone go to HEB to get figs and decide that the thistle growing in the parking lot is close enough?

Friend, a difference in degree can be hard to spot; a difference in kind is not. Repent therefore of believing you have an excuse for not being able to tell truth from error because the difference between them is a matter of degree. Doctrine is like math; answers in math don't admit of degrees; there are only 2 kinds of answers: right and wrong. Likewise, Christ says there are only 2 kinds of teachers: true and false. Not true, false, and somewhat true. Moreover, just like your math teacher says you can know right from wrong answers, so Jesus says, promises, you can know true from false teachers.

Jesus twice says, "By their fruit" you will know a true teacher from a false teacher. He warns us not to go by appearances. False teachers look no different from true. They don't have serpents springing from their mouth. You can't see horns on their head. You can't go by how they look; you must go by what they say. The fruit of a false teacher is not what he or she does, but what comes out of their mouth, and Jesus says you can and you must judge what comes out of their mouths by what comes out of His. Our life is to be built on His words not ours, so His Words are the standard to judge by.

So either Jesus is right when He says, "Baptize all nations," or the person is who says, "Don't baptize babies though they belong to all nations." Either Jesus is right when He says, "No one comes to the Father but by me," or they are who say,"There are many paths to God." Either Jesus is right when He says Communion Bread is His Body and the Wine is His Blood or those are who say Bread and Wine are symbols. Both cannot be true, and you can't pretend there is no difference between the teachings. The difference is as great as that between grapes and thorns, figs and thistles, light and darkness.

Jesus speaks and the light that comes from His mouth produces a stark contrast with all things dark. This contrast clarifies the difference between knowing Jesus and being known by Him. People naturally think knowing Jesus is what counts. They think that knowing Jesus is what will get you into heaven. They say things like, "You have to know Jesus as your Savior." "Do you know Jesus as your personal Savior?" Or, "I know Jesus as Lord."

Is knowing Jesus what saves? Then why does Jesus have the damned saying: "Lord, Lord, we taught in your name; in your name we drove out demons and performed many miracles." These people know Jesus as Lord; they taught His Word not their own; they drove out demons and performed many miracles in His name, yet they're lost. Why?

This goes back to a sermon several weeks ago. If you think your personal orthodoxy is what will get you into heaven, you're damned wrong. If you think your knowing Jesus as Lord, your correct teaching of His name, your powerful use of His name is what will save you, you're not doing the will of Father. The will of the Father is that you believe on Him whom He sent. The will of the Father is that you be saved by His grace in Christ not by your right believing or doing. The will of the Father is that you be saved not by your knowing Jesus but by Jesus knowing you. Want proof? Read the text. What damns the souls in the text is not their huge sins, not even their unbelief, but the fact Jesus never knew them.

Wow, that pops things into focus in a good way. I mean, I don't call upon the Lord like I should. I don't always teach in His name, sometimes some of my name slips in there. I don't always drive out demons, sometimes I'm driven by them. And I've never miraculously healed the sick. But I am known by Jesus. He knew me in my mother's womb; knew me from before the world began. And He knew all of me. He knew my sins, not just the ones you all know but every single one of them, even those I try to hide from. He knew how dead I was to all things spiritual, so He knew any one of the Commandments, let alone all 10, would damn me. So before I ever knew Him, Jesus descended into my flesh and blood by a virgin's womb. Taking my obligation to keep all 10 Commandments, He lived the perfect life I never could, and went on to die the damned death I deserved.

Taking my sins upon Himself, He died the death a sinner like me should: alone, forsaken, tortured and damned. Jesus knew me in my sins, and yet didn't forsake me. Now Jesus knows me in His grace. Having done everything necessary to redeem me, to save me, He comes to Me. He knows me in Baptism as His brother. He knows me in Absolution not as a forsaken sinner but as a forgiven one. And eating and drinking His Body and Blood in Communion, Jesus knows me inside and out.

Contrast clarifies. Jesus speaks light and things jump into focus. The difference between wise and foolish living becomes apparent. People on their own can't see the difference. In the text, both houses look the same. One is as good as the other. You can't tell by looking which house is built on the rock and which is built on the sand. But be sure this jumps all the way into focus. This isn't about houses, and it's not about people inside and outside of the Church. This is only about people in the Church. This is about people who actually go to Church and hear His Word. Here too there are not degrees. There are only 2 kinds of hearers: wise and foolish.

But Jesus says the difference only becomes apparent in the face of death. You err if you think the rain coming down, the streams rising, and the wind blowing are the various storms of life people go through. No, what is being illustrated is death because it results in the complete destruction of the house. So the fact that you have weathered the death of loved ones, terrible diseases, storms of marriage, family, work, and war, doesn't mean squat. You can weather those storms without being built on the Words of Jesus. But in death, at death, in the face of death your life will be exposed as having been built on either sand or rock. And if it's on sand, you lose.

If you only believe Jesus' Words when they make sense to you, you're built on the sand of your opinions not the rock of His Word. If you believe what Jesus says must agree with what science says, psychology knows, or what people will accept, then your life is built on the shifting sands of science, psychology, and democracy, not on the rock of Jesus' words. True your opinions or the certainties of science, psychology, and polling, did stand in the face of a death, divorce, or disease, but they'll collapse when Death calls for you. Death will laugh at your opinions. Death will shred the results of science and the findings of psychology. Terror as you have never known it will grip you as Death whispers, "I will swallow your body and soul forever." Your opinions will wet themselves and all you know from science, psychology and popular opinion will shrivel.

Only the Words of Jesus can stand, will stand in the face of Death. Death says, "I'm here to swallow you, body and soul." And Jesus answers, "This baptized body and soul has been covered by Me, and you tried to swallow Me once and failed." Death says, "Your sins! Your sins! Look at your sins!" They are many and terrible and obvious even to your own filthy conscience." And Jesus answers, "What sins? The words of My absolution have sent those sins away as far as east is from west." Death says, "This flesh and blood are mine. They bear all the marks of what belongs to me; they're dying and sinful. So they're mine." But Jesus answers, "No, this sinful, dying flesh and blood has been fed by My holy precious Flesh and Blood in Communion. My holiness and immortality have been given to this flesh and blood, so they belong to Me not you."

See the contrast between true and false teaching, knowing and being known, and building wisely and foolishly. See that all these distinctions hinge on Jesus' Words. Only what Jesus says about true and false, knowing and being known, and wise and foolish building matters in life. Likewise in death only what Jesus says about your body, soul, and life matter. And in your Baptism, Absolution, and Communion, what do you hear Jesus saying? "Even though you die, yet shall you live!" Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Pentecost II (5-29-05); Matthew 7: 15-29