22nd Sunday after Pentecost
October 21, 2018
1 John 1:8-10 and Matthew 16:18
“The Gates of Hell; Sin”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today as I start a new sermon series called “The Gates of Hell” is actually 2 texts: from 1 John 1:8-10 and Matthew 16:18:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” And “(Jesus said) on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
My dear friends,
According to “Pew Research,” an organization that conducts public opinion polling, 80% of Americans believe in God…so, where are they? In 2016, the Barna Group reported that almost half (46%) of the Americans that do attend a church worship with 100 or fewer people – a 16-year low. Closer to home, all 35 Districts of the LCMS from 2005 to 2015 are on the same trajectory of decline: baptized membership is down 2%, communicant membership is down almost 2%, and weekly worship is down 3%. Those numbers might not sound scary, but a downward trend is a downward trend. If it continues that way for an extended period…well, we all know what that means.
However, before anyone pushes the panic button, let me share a couple of quotes with you: “The Church has had small influence of late, and seems likely to have little more in the immediate future.” That was written in “The Atlantic” magazine in October…October 1942, more than 75 years ago. Also, consider the following: “The symptoms of the decline (in our Synod) are evident and increasing among us…While we are richer in earthly things than our fathers, we are weaker in faith and Christian love.” That was spoken by former LCMS Synodical President Friedrich Pfotenhauer in a sermon he preached…in 1897.
Does that surprise you? That people have been preaching and teaching doom and gloom for the future of the Christian Church? That proclamation is not a new thing. Did we think that perhaps the devil would just say, “Oh well. I’ve been bested. Guess I’ll just keep my nose out of God’s work.” AS IF!
They say that numbers don’t lie, and numbers can be made to say whatever you want them to say. Regardless, no matter what statistics are cited, the Church has one problem and one problem only…sin. Not that we need the devil’s help to sin against one another. We are quite capable of that all by ourselves. The Church in every age, every situation, every cultural, social, and political climate has struggled against sin – the sin outside of the Church, and the sin inside the Church. And yet…here we are – the year of our Lord 2018. It’s been more than 120 years since President Pfotenhauer lamented our decline, but again, here we are. Why? Over the next four weeks I hope to re-assure you that not even the gates of hell itself shall prevail against the Church of God, and that especially includes the destructive force that is sin.
The truth is, and there are no statistics necessary here, that we are sinners through and through. God’s Word tells the truth about me…about us; the sinful things we do and the sinful things done to us. But if that’s the truth about us, we confess an even greater truth about God. If we confess our sins, God is faithful—God keeps His promise. God is just in Jesus, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s because in Jesus, God Himself did what we could never do.
The Book of Hebrews says Jesus was like us “in every respect…to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17). “Propitiation” is one of those big, churchy words we rarely use. The dictionary is NO HELP with this word. If you look up “propitiation” in the dictionary, the given definition is “the act of propitiating.” Helpful, right? Saying that Jesus made propitiation means that Jesus took all our sins. They were ALL heaped on Him, every single last one. On the cross, Jesus absorbed the full blast of God’s wrath for all sins; the sinful things we do and the sinful things done to us. He took it all for us. It’s all gone. That’s what propitiation means. The wrath of God was all poured out on Jesus. There’s none left for us. That’s a good thing.
Who does the Father see now? Only Jesus, in our place. And the Father’s verdict? Not guilty, but righteous; by faith, washed clean in the blood Jesus shed on Calvary’s cross for you and for your sin. That sin that plagues us..the Church…washed away by the sacrificial death of Jesus, meaning that even though sin is still very real, it CANNOT prevail against the blood-bought Church of God…His people…His children.
Do you know who Charlotte Elliott is? Charlotte Elliott was born in 1789 in England and was a gifted artist and writer. In 1821 when she was 32 years old, she contracted a severe sickness that removed her from her healthy social life. As a result she was lonely, ill, and depressed. About this time, a visiting pastor asked her whether she was at peace with God, a question she resented at the time and refused to talk about. A few days later she called on the pastor and apologized, saying she had been thinking about heaven, hell, grace, the grave, and wanted to cleanse her life before becoming a Christian. The pastor answered, “Charlotte, come just as you are,” and she came to faith that day. 14 years later, she wrote a hymn to commemorate that time. You know that hymn as “Just as I Am, without One Plea” (LSB #570). The now-sainted Dr. Billy Graham wrote that his team used this hymn in almost every one of their crusades, since it presented “the strongest possible Biblical basis for the call of Christ.”
Just as you are. When we confess, we come to God just as we are…sinners, yes! But we also confess Jesus, for in Jesus, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness; the sinful things we do and the sinful things done to us are ALL FORGIVEN. Is the Church in decline numerically? Maybe. Will the Church fall because of sin or anything else? NEVER! Our sin, as great as it is, has been paid for by Jesus, with the result that not even the gates of hell themselves will prevail against God and His Church. Never.