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Know the Truth
Mark 12:18-27

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost / Christian Education Rally Day—September 13, 2009

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

Over the past several weeks I have received many comments and questions about actions taken recently by another American Lutheran church body, that you may have heard about in the news.  It is shocking that they actually gave official approval to a sinful way of life.  The most common reaction and question is simply, “How could they have done such a thing?”

That is a very puzzling question. We have a common heritage with this church body, and many great conservative Lutheran theologians, and standard works of conservative Lutheran theology, came from the ancestors of this group. The 12-volume New Testament Commentary by R.C.H. Lenski is the standard conservative Lutheran commentary on the New Testament; The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology by Charles Porterfield Krauth is the standard conservative Lutheran history of the Reformation; The Lutheran Liturgy by Luther D. Reed is the standard conservative Lutheran explanation of our Lutheran way of worship; and there are hundreds of other such books on the shelves in my study, which came from the conservative Lutheran predecessors of the group which has now made this appalling decision. Their own forbearers in the faith from generations past, like Lenski, Krauth, and Reed, would be horrified by what they have done.

“How could they have done such a thing?” indeed.  In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus tells us how such a thing could happen. 

“Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.”

The Sadducees were the theological liberals of their day.  They denied all supernatural occurrences, including resurrection.  So, the question they pose to Jesus about resurrection was not sincere, not actually seeking an answer.  They were only trying to find a way to make Jesus look foolish, by presenting him with an extreme, hypothetical case of a woman who marries seven brothers in succession. “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Jesus explains that the presupposition behind their question is all wrong.  “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”  Scripture tells us that we will certainly know and rejoice with our loved ones in heaven.  But, marriage is an earthly institution, which does not carry over into the heavenly realm.  So, it is really their question that is foolish.

Jesus tells us why they ask such a foolish question, and why some church bodies take such foolish actions as we have recently witnessed: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

In one sense, the Sadducees actually did “know the Scriptures.”  It was actually customary to memorize large portions of the Old Testament in Hebrew, and they surely had a much greater familiarity with and “head” knowledge of these Scriptures than any of us.  In the same way, there are many theologians within modern liberal denominations who also have a great “head” knowledge of the Scriptures.

A lack of “head” knowledge isn’t the problem.  But, “head” knowledge isn’t enough.  James puts it very bluntly: “You believe that there is one God.   Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”  You see, even the Devil himself has “head” knowledge about the Christian faith.

When Jesus says, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God,” you could translate it, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures AND the power of God”; the Scriptures “in conjunction with” the power of God; the Scriptures “read through the lens of” the power of God.  Jesus is talking about the two sides of faith: not only in the head, but also in the heart.

The Sadducees had down pat head knowledge about what the Scriptures say.  But, the problem was, they didn’t actually believe it.  The book of Hebrews puts it this way: “The message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.”

That’s also the problem with modern day liberals and liberal denominations.  Not so much the people in the pews, but their radical leaders.  They have the head knowledge, but do not “combine it with faith.”

A pastor in the Lutheran church body that made these recent decisions, who is a leader of a group that opposed these actions, said in a radio interview that he doubted you could find a single seminary professor in their denomination who believes in the resurrection of Christ and other fundamentals of the faith.  And a retired seminary professor in this church body, who also disagrees with these actions, said in a radio interview: “At the church headquarters, and the seminaries, and the colleges . . . one could no longer get a job . . . if one articulated traditional opinions . . .”

“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”  Sadly, though the radical leaders in this and other liberal denominations may know the Scriptures academically, in the head, as Hebrews says they do not “combine it with faith” in the heart.  Jesus put it this way: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

Peter prophesied, “There will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.”  The decline of many once strong church bodies actually began decades ago, when the truthfulness of Scripture as the inspired Word of God was attacked, at first secretly and subtly, then brazenly and openly.  That’s what the Sadducees in today’s Gospel Reading are doing: calling into question the truthfulness of Scripture as the inspired Word of God.

Paul warns in Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ.”  That describes exactly what has happened in these church bodies.  At the recent Lutheran convention a lay delegate who was opposed to the actions they took put it this way during the debate: “We are asked to affirm a description of sexuality based on a reality that’s shaped not by Scripture but by today’s culture.”  Jesus put the sad situation in this and other church bodies taking similar actions this way: “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” 

Paul says in Romans, “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better ? No, not at all! We have already made the charge that . . . all alike are under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one.’”  Our reaction to such developments, which are actually taking place in many church bodies, should not be one of superiority, but of sorrow.  Sorrow for our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are being led astray by unfaithful shepherds; and also sorrow for our own sins. 

When Martin Luther died, in his pocket was found was found a small slip of paper with the last words he wrote: “We are beggars, it is true.”  That is the true Christian and true Lutheran attitude.  We are in no way spiritually superior, but poor beggars, who rejoice in the mercy of God, who forgives you all your sins because of Christ’s sacrifice for you.

We should also be inspired to a greater personal commitment to the Word of God.  A greater commitment, as today’s Collect says, to “hear them, read, mark, learn, and take them to heart that, by patience and comfort of Your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.”

Today is Christian Education Rally Day, as we begin a new year of Christian Education classes in our congregation.  In worship, Sunday School, Midweek School, and Bible Classes, hear, read, mark, learn, and take the Scriptures to heart.

“If you continue in my Word,” Jesus says, “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth.” “By this Gospel you are saved,” Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “if you hold firmly to the Word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”  “Therefore,” Hebrews says, “. . . let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”  “So then, brothers,” Paul says in 2nd Thessalonians, “stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you.”


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