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LSB Proper 22 Sermon – Luke 17:1-10

October 3, 2016

October 2, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”

Jesus is serious about His disciples’ welfare. He has redeemed them. He has called them to follow Him in the way to everlasting life. He is bound to them as an older Brother, sharing the same God as Father. He is their Lord; they are His bondservants. Jesus’ concern is rooted in that connection He has to them.

That concern is seen in the words that He speaks to His disciples, words that address them and others: “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Jesus’ words are stark. He doesn’t conceal anything with them. No, Jesus lays it out plainly. If someone is going to mess with His disciples, they better beware!

You heard Jesus’ words. But before we discuss them further, I want to point out something that our English text didn’t quite convey. When Jesus says, “Temptations to sin are sure to come” and “cause one of these little ones to sin,” that word “sin” is a bit more serious than simple transgressions of the LORD’s Law. The Greek terms σκάνδαλα and σκανδαλίσῃ aren’t referring to basic sins. No, as some other English translations render them better, they mean “offenses” and “to offend” or “stumbling blocks” and “to stumble”. Or in our modern life, we might think of them as trip-wires.

What Jesus is getting at is this: there will be times when His followers will be tempted to do things that are opposite to the life of discipleship. The lures will be tossed out to trip people up, to make them fall as they try to walk the path that Jesus laid out for them. And some of those trip-wires could even lead people to stop being a disciple of Jesus altogether, to lose faith in Him.

That’s why Jesus is so serious about this matter. He knows that His people are vulnerable. For this world is full of individuals opposed to the LORD’s holy will. Remember what you learned in the Small Catechism about the Lord’s Prayer petition: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In the explanation of that petition, you learned: “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.”

The devil, the world, our sinful nature: none of them want the LORD’s will to be done on earth or in heaven. They are completely opposed to it. They would have us not abide in that will, including being Jesus’ followers. But Jesus knows this. And He is saying to anyone who might cause harm to one of His followers: “There will be a time when I deal with those acts of opposition eternally.” For when Jesus says “Woe,” He is giving a warning about what will happen when He comes to fully exercise His divine power and judge the living and the dead.

In today’s Old Testament Reading, you heard the prophet Habakkuk expressing his angst and grief. That angst and grief stemmed from what he was seeing being done among the people of Judah, the people who were supposed to be the LORD’s holy kingdom. In his complaint, the prophet asks the LORD why He has made him witness all these vices being done in Judah: “Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”

The evil activities openly being done in Judah became a trip-wire for Habakkuk, so much so that he seems to abandon all hope and trust in the LORD: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not hear? Or cry to You “Violence!” and You will not save? Why do You make me see iniquity, and why do You idly look at wrong?” But the LORD speaks to bolster Habakkuk’s faith, just as He would also do for the faithful remnant in Judah: “The vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If if seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” The LORD is telling His people, “My promises will come true. They will be fulfilled. But it will happen in My time. Be patient.” And He gives the important statement: “The righteous shall live by his faith.” 

But the LORD was also preparing the nation of Judah for destruction. His great “Woe” is spoken against Jerusalem. If you read in Habakkuk’s prophecy, you will see how the LORD was raising up the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to wreak havoc against Judah, exiling many of the people and destroying the Temple. The LORD’s “Woe” was spoken against the violent and unjust, the wicked who were surrounding the righteous and drawing them away from the hope and trust that they were to have in Him, making His people despair like Habakkuk was.

So as the Church hears Jesus’ words, the seriousness of His statement should be noted: “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” His “Woe” is spoken against anyone who causes Jesus’ disciples to trip up in their walk of discipleship. It is directed toward anyone who lures people away from hope and trust in Jesus and His work and His way of life. That would certainly include anyone who might be doing that in one of His congregations, just as they were applied to the people in Judah doing so.

Jesus’ serious concern for His disciples also stands behind what He says after speaking His great “Woe.” Recall Jesus’ words: “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turned to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Jesus isn’t saying that His followers are to tolerate sin. He isn’t saying that they are to just put up with people causing offense. No, He instructs His disciples to point out where offense has been given and to bring the guilty to repentance and restoration.

This means that excuses about sinful behavior—“Well, it’s no big deal…. That’s just the way so-and-so is…. He or she can do that because of the position they hold/the family they belong to/the talent they have”—shouldn’t be heard in the Church. That’s not how Jesus says to deal with the matter. Most definitely not, if the sinful behavior is causing people to doubt or to fall away from faith!

But even more importantly, you heard Jesus’ exhortation: “Pay attention to yourselves!” Those words call for self-examination. They point Jesus’ disciples to consider both their own record of behavior and their future actions. They direct all Christians to think about what they’re doing among their fellow disciples of Jesus, particularly as they are on their pilgrimage together, surrounded by all sorts of wicked and evil people who desire them to abandon the faith. In a way of speaking, Jesus is saying to His disciples: “Remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together.” And as a band of brothers, with Jesus as the Eldest, we are a family who is to have concern for each member. Jesus has already shown His concern for each of us in the statements He gave; the same concern is also to be shown by us.

So what does this all mean? What might the takeaway for this week be? First is to heed the statement that Paul gave to Timothy: “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” Paul’s exhortation drives Timothy—and all believers—back to the hope and trust that they have in Jesus, “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” That hope and trust clings to Jesus, even in the face of opposition. It clings to Him, because of what you and I have been given to know about Him and His work to bring us salvation. So in this world where great temptations to sin arise, we are driven back to the safe refuge that Jesus gives His people.

A second takeaway is to remember that we also have the sound words of Jesus that give instructions to His followers. Those form the charter of our life together as His disciples. We need to pay attention to them. We need to be led by them. Our lives are to be shaped by them. Jesus’ instructions about how His followers are to act should be the blueprint for our congregation’s life together. By constantly reading and hearing Jesus’ teaching, we can then pay attention to ourselves. For His words give us the touchstone to evaluate ourselves with and the compass to guide us.

A third takeaway is to be willing to implement what Jesus says, even when it seems difficult. His instructions about rebuking the sins of our fellow disciples and then forgiving them when they repent seems so very hard to do. It is even more difficult when years of ill feelings and grudges have built up on top of the incident, so that the actual offense might be forgotten, but no forgiveness has been granted. But where offense has happened, let us try to actually fulfill Jesus’ words, so that we live as the LORD’s household is intended to.

Yes, it might be difficult, even impossible. But remember what Jesus said: “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Our Lord Jesus has given us much more than a mustard seed faith. He has the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We receive a sincere faith as we heard the sound words of Jesus: we have been purchased and won by Him; He shows His great concern for us; He is our great refuge and rock both in this lifetime and the life of the world to come. He will keep His people firm in His Word and faith until that day when there will be no more temptations or trip-wires, but only His good and gracious will being fulfilled.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


From → Sunday Sermon

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