YOUR REAL TEST IS JUST BEGINNING

5.6.18 Easter 6B Confirmation

1 John 4:1-6

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

 

Jakob and Hunter, I bet you’re glad to finally be here. You’ve been studying God’s Word with me for two years, and with your parents and Sunday School teachers for a lot longer than that. Then, this past Thursday you had the Examination…ation…ation…ation. You sat in front of your family and some members of the church and faced a thorough body of questions. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here, but I saw it on FaceTime while I sat over in the parsonage basement. I told you before and Pastor Wolfe said it again Thursday night that it wasn’t a test, but I know it felt like it. You were still up front, and you still had to answer questions all on your own. I’m happy to say you both did well. I know how much effort and interest you put into your studies. And everyone there Thursday found out how much study you put into your examination. Hours and hours, right?  That’s good.

So now, maybe the last thing you want to hear this morning is that your real test is just beginningYou see, there’s a growing thought in Christianity that confirmation is maybe not the best thing for young people. This whole day looks a lot like the end of something, doesn’t it? You’re done studying! You’ve accomplished something. We put you in robes, we have a reception.  Your family throws you a party where you get cards, money, and presents.  I remember it well.

But confirmation is NOT a graduation. Confirmation prepares you for the testing that you have to face and have to do for the rest of your life. For far too many people, the day you are now having is the height of their faith and knowledge of God’s grace. They worked their way up to this day, with studying, memorizing, praying, worshiping, learning…  And then they stopped. They stopped reading God’s Word. They stopped gathering together for Bible study, and then all too often, even stopped coming to worship.  And do you know what happens to your faith when it isn’t fed by God’s Word?  (whistling sound down) Statistics tell us that about 4 out of 10 people confirmed in 8th grade are no longer attending church by the end of high school.

I don’t want that to happen.  Your brothers and sisters in this family of God don’t want that to happen.  God certainly doesn’t want to see his young children turn from their loving eternal Father.  That’s why I think this section from 1 John is great for you and all of us today. The Apostle John tells Christians that our whole life is one of testing.  It’s not like God has his red pen out, watching and waiting to whip another check mark.  But there are certainly many opportunities in our life of faith to be tested.  It’s good.  It helps us grow.  Like lifting weights, it’s hard but it makes your faith stronger.

What John is talking about here is that as we live in faith we also need to test for something, the truth. We need to test the voices that we listen to. Are they speaking from God or from God’s enemies? When our testing shows that we have found a pastor or a church that speaks the truth, then we will listen gladly and faithfully to the Lord. Here is how John puts it: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

The whole concept of “fake news” has been in the headlines for the past two years, but fake news is nothing new. Even in the church, false teachers have been around as long as there have been teachers of God’s truth. In the time the Apostle John wrote these words, fifty or so years after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the “fake news” was a denial that Jesus was both true God and true man. There were other “religious” people coming up to Christians to convince them that what the Apostles said about Jesus wasn’t entirely true. Specifically, back then, they were combining Bible truth with Greek philosophy to highlight that the Christ was only a spiritual thing. He wasn’t actually human, just looked like it. He didn’t actually die, just made it look that way.

So the Holy Spirit gives believers here an easy way to test for the truth. Verses 2 & 3: “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit [every person] that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” Jakob, Hunter, and everyone here, your lives have to be a life of continual testing based on this same truth. If someone comes to you with a good sermon, nice worship, cool programs, a good philosophy, an amazing opportunity that sounds so good… but they don’t acknowledge Jesus, they aren’t coming to you as God’s messengers.  They aren’t helping you for eternity.

Today we don’t run into Greek philosophy so much. I think the biggest false teaching you will face is not a denial that Jesus is human.  The biggest false teaching is that Jesus just isn’t that important.

Atheists, agnostics, and rationalists, and humanists say you don’t need a savior because either there is no such thing as heaven and hell or we all end up in “the good place” anyways because you try to be good and divine beings, whoever they are, care about you. Some churches and pastors will teach you that the Bible is just a book that you have to search to find your own truth. Some teach you to add to what Jesus has done for you in order to make it to heaven.  Some teach you that being a Christian is all about God’s great blessings and how they can all be yours if you make the right choices and commitments.  Others say that your feelings and emotions are what bring you close to God.  Even your own brain and sinful heart will try to teach you that you’ve got it all figured out. Do you notice what’s wrong there?  Jesus isn’t that important.  He’s not the beginning, middle, and end.  He’s not the foundation.  He’s not the champion.  You are.

Jakob and Hunter, more than ever you need to test the spirits. Test the people that will try to influence you and “educate” you.  Test the teachings to see if they stand on the Savior who lived, died, and rose to save you from hell.  Test the churches to see if they are built on all of God’s Word or just some of it.  Test churches on Baptism and The Lord’s Supper to see if they say the arrow is point up – it’s something we do for God – or if the arrow is pointing down – something God’s grace does to us and for us.  Test things with this blessed faith in Jesus that God himself has planted in your heart.

Because your trust in who Jesus is and what he did is the most important thing God will ever give you. You know about Jesus’ miraculous birth, his perfect life, his innocent death, and how he did all of that to save you from sin.  You know that your sins condemned you to hell, but Jesus’ work and promises carry you to heaven. You know you’re saved by his work and not your own. You know the Bible is the Word of God and the trustworthy source of truth. You know that the stone was rolled away.  Christ is risen.  He is risen, indeed! You know it and believe in it.

But the world denies it. The world makes Jesus less important, or it removes him altogether.  John calls that attitude toward Jesus the “spirit of the antichrist.” Now this isn’t the Antichrist with a capital “A” in 2 Thessalonians. That’s a real person and a real office that we can cover in a different sermon or Bible study, but John is talking about the same mentality: the desire to make Jesus less important or replace him altogether. With your own good habits and works. With sacrifices that you make instead of the sacrifice Jesus made. With pride in yourself and how you do you. With the rules of society or the manmade traditions of the church. That’s the spirit of the world.  It is not for Jesus.  It is against him, making him less important or totally replacing him with something more socially acceptable.

Today you are making a promise to be different from that – to stand before God and your families and your whole congregation and be willing to say no to the world. It’s not a vow to take lightly. In this vow you are saying, “I’m willing to be different. I know that Christ has set me apart in faith, made me a child of God.” You’re saying today that you will keep on testing everything you hear and read. Everything the world and your neighbors and your teachers tell you is right. You’ll compare what people say to what God says. That’s what you’re committing to today. To be faithful to God because you recognize the great gifts of forgiveness and faith that he’s given to you first.

Now if you’re going to do all this testing, you’re going to need the standard to judge by, an “answer sheet” you could say. You know where the answers are, right? In the Bible, God’s holy, inerrant, eternal Word. So read it! Read your Bible. If you need help with that, ask what your parents do. I’ll show you what I do and what I use to help me. Check out our church Facebook page where I post devotions almost every day.  Go to our WELS website.

For years you’ve spent an extra hour a week studying the Bible with other people. Don’t give that up now. Make Sunday morning a two-hour time with the Lord. Come to adult Bible study where the Lord uses his Word to continue your growth and development so that you can be a better and better tester of truth.

You can keep reading your catechism, too. It’s not a textbook, and it was never meant to be a textbook. I almost wish we didn’t use it that way. That little blue catechism is filled with God’s Word in a really organized layout. Let it be the blessing from God that it can be. Read it. Review it. Rejoice in the good news of Jesus that fills it.

By the way, this is not just stuff for two teenagers.  This is how God works for all his people.  He’s not an ogre, trying to ruin your life with all this studying and testing.  He’s your Father trying to keep your life from ruin.  Use his Word, that is where your Savior Jesus is.  It will be a blessing to you.  That’s God’s promise.

You think today is about the promises you two are making.  But God has so many many more promises for you.  Listen to this one from God in 1 John 4:4: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them [false teachers, enemies], because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

God is in you and that means all the false teachers and all the temptations of this world cannot beat you.  God is greater.  Jesus came to overcome all of them, and he did.  That’s the love God has for you, and that is the love that God has put in you.  It rolls away all the hatred and doubt and worry.  God’s love in Jesus is everything you need.  The one who is greater than all the world keeps you in his hands and guides you in all you do.

You have successfully finished catechism class. Those tests are over, but your real tests are just beginning.  But you don’t need to worry because God has overcome them for you. To him be the glory. Amen.

 

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A SHEPHERD HAS TO USE THE GATE FOR HIS SHEEP

5.7.17 Easter 4 Confirmation

Easter Season A

John 10:1-10

1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

 

 

EASTER GREETING: Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!
I have a confession to make. I don’t know much about sheep.  I know; maybe that’s not the best confession for the start of a sermon on Good Shepherd Sunday.  But I have a feeling that is a common thought among most Americans.

Here’s my experience: I remember a farm of sheep outside of Watertown, WI where I grew up. Whenever we would drive to Milwaukee or when I was on a longer run on that country road I always remember seeing those sheep.  There weren’t many, but I remember thinking sometimes how simple it must have been for that farmer.  There was a fence around a couple acres of grass.  That was it.  Maybe the farmer had to call in the shearer to cut the sheep’s wool once a year, but besides that it didn’t look that tough.  I don’t even know if I would call a present day farmer who has sheep under his care a shepherd.  Their job is pretty easy.

That’s the way we Americans think about sheep and shepherds, but that is not even close to the way people in Old and New Testament times thought about sheep and shepherds.  Lush grassy fields covering the landscape did not exist in Israel.  There were no places to put up fences outside of town and let the sheep eat their fill every day in serene safety. Judea was a dry, arid, rocky, and rolling place.  Shepherds had to take their flock out into the wilderness, over rocky and threatening terrain, where they would graze on hillsides for little pieces of grass here and there.  The sheep were exposed to danger and attacks could come from any direction so shepherds had to keep a watchful eye at all times. They had to protect the sheep from danger.  Shepherds back then had to work – hard.

No wonder the idea of a shepherd watching over sheep was such a beautiful picture for the people living in Israel.  No wonder the kings of the Old Testament were called shepherds over God’s people.  No wonder Jesus used this concept of sheep and shepherds to describe who is he and what he does.

Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday, it’s also Confirmation Sunday for Emmy.  What a fitting day it is for this celebration, where the Church rejoices in our Good Shepherd, Jesus. He doesn’t leave us alone in this wild world, but guards us, guides us in our journey, and leads us safely to his eternal home.  It’s such a good thing, because sheep need shepherds.

The interesting thing in this section of John 10, also known as the Good Shepherd chapter, is that Jesus is not yet calling himself the shepherd.  We are most certainly the sheep, but in the first 10 verses of this chapter, Jesus refers to himself as the gate for the sheep pen – the only way in to the safe place where the sheep could rest for the night.

Sometimes the shepherds in countryside nearby would keep watch over the flocks at night.  Does that sound familiar?  Yes, like on the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  But if the flocks were well watered, they had found enough little clumps of grass during the day, and they were close enough, the shepherd could take his flock to the sheep pen.  This isn’t like the that modern sheep farm I saw growing up in Watertown, WI.  The sheep pen wasn’t the place for feeding or drinking.  It had one purpose, protection.  It had high enough walls that kept out wild animals looking for a meal and safely kept the sheep in.  There was only one way for the shepherds to get their sheep in or out, through the gate.  And, as Jesus says, there was a watchman at the gate, who would only allow access to the shepherds of the sheep.

Jesus is the gate.  He’s the one who opened heaven to us by living in our place.  He took our punishment on himself to free us from the destruction of sin.  He rose from the dead to show us the victory was won.  Death holds no power.  We have life in the safety of the Father’s sheep pen forever.  The only way in – THE ONLY WAY – is through the gate, through Jesus, the Savior who conquered sin, death, and the devil for us.

All of this protection was necessary not just because of wild animals, but also because of thieves and robbers.  Sheep were valuable back then.  It was an agriculture, animal based economy. Their wool made clothing.  Sacrifices were a huge part of worship that God had set up for his people, and sheep were needed for those sacrifices.  Owners of flocks were always looking to add to their business.  If you had bigger, healthier flocks you were successful.  And so sheep and lambs were sought after.

We are sought after, too.  God wants us, but so does the devil.  And the devil has a lot of thieves and robbers looking to carry out his evil purposes.  They want your heart and your mind and your allegiance, but what they don’t want is Christ.  They won’t come through him.  They are trying to sneak over the wall and get you away from God and the safety of his sheep pen.

That can include friends or even family members, who don’t really think you need to hear God’s Word and praise his name that much.  “It’s not that big of a deal, you know all that stuff already,” they say.  The thieves and robbers can include your devices and the internet and anything else that is trending.  These things call for you attention, but they don’t use Christ.

These thieves and robbers can even come from religion.  That’s the point Jesus was making to the Pharisees.  They weren’t shepherding God’s people; they were trying to steal them.  Any religious man or church that tries to lead people to God by good works, acts of penance, or through their pockets isn’t using the gate.  Anyone who says you can choose your own god or that all paths lead to heaven, is trying to get people away from Jesus.  Anyone who denies the Spirit’s power in baptism and communion isn’t trying feed you the way God does.  Anyone who uses some but not all of the Bible or adds their own ideas to it, is not using the voice of Christ.  These thieves and robbers come “only to steal and kill and destroy.”

Today, is a good day to remember just how much sheep need a shepherd.  There are so many voices out there and even coming from within these sinful hearts of ours who want to steal us from Jesus and destroy us for eternity.  The sad part is we have to often listened to the voices of the thieves and robbers.  We have gone astray.  We have wandered from the safety of the sheep pen.  When God says, “watch out” and “keep away” we don’t listen.  Like dumb lambs we go our own way.

But there’s one voice that will always be different.  There’s one voice that will always call us.  There’s one voice that will rescue us from the dangers of the thieves and robbers.  Jesus says, “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

That’s the interesting thing about sheep.  They might be dumb, they might wander, but there is one voice that will always get them back on track.  It’s the voice of the shepherd.  Now, if Jesus is the gate, the only way in to the sheep pen, then who is the shepherd? Well, it’s certainly not the one who tries to get your attention away from the gate, right?  The shepherd is not the one who promotes your own way.  The shepherd is not the one who lets you follow the path to destruction.  The shepherd points in the right direction, the right way; the shepherd uses the gate.  And sheep know that voice.

I get to be that shepherd.  Only by grace, Jesus can use a man like me, not because of some special skills that I have, not because I’m so exceptional, but because I go through the gate.  For a shepherd of God’s flock, that’s the single, most important factor: do the sheep hear the voice of Jesus when they listen to me?  Do the sheep hear the familiar warnings of God’s law?  Do they hear the soothing comfort of God’s gospel?  That’s what matters.  Does the shepherd take the sheep through the gate, week after week in sermon after sermon, bible study after bible study, counseling session after counseling session, visit after visit, meeting after meeting?  Does the shepherd use the gate and only the gate of Jesus?  Because there is only one gate for the sheep pen.  There is only one voice for the sheep.

That’s what Jesus’ sheep are listening for.  That is the voice the confirmation students are getting familiar with during their classes.  And that is the voice the sheep constantly are listening for.  It’s not just for a couple years.  It’s not just during the really dangerous times.  It’s not just when they are looking for food or water.  Sheep listen to the shepherd all the time, in every situation, because only the voice of the shepherd is familiar and comforting.  Only the shepherd knows them each by name.

That voice is not mine.  I am not the gate to heaven.  I am not the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep only to take it up again in victory.  That’s Jesus.  But the gate lets me be a part of the shepherding.  He allows me in because I use the gate.  It’s not my voice that is necessary, it’s his.  When I speak, I don’t want you to hear my voice or my style, I want you to hear the life-saving comfort of Jesus.  I am not perfect.  I cannot make everyone happy.  But Jesus is and Jesus will fill you with eternal joy.  He can do that because he lives now and forever.

Brothers and sisters, and especially you, Emmy, never forget his voice.  He calls your name.  He calls your name in his Word and Sacrament.  He tells you just how much he cares and how he doesn’t want you to get hurt by wandering off.  Those other voices might sound popular, sensible, or even exciting, but I can guarantee that they will be strange at the beginning.  Don’t listen.  Don’t let the voices of this world, of the devil and all his temptations, of your own sinfulness become familiar.  Listen to the voice of your Savior.

He has a promise for you that nothing and no one else can give.  He says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”  See, Jesus doesn’t tie you up with rules and guidelines.  He sets you free from sin and guilt with his promise of life.  He doesn’t want to keep you from experiencing things, he wants to keep you safe in his sheep pen.  His voice calls to a full life through the only gate to heaven.  That’s the only place where life can be full.

So listen to him.  And when you hear him, you’ll know.  It’s the voice that he used to get you out of danger and darkness into his flock.  It’s the voice he used to build you up.  It’s the voice that he will continue use to feed you and lead you until the day you are safe with him forever.

In his name, Amen.