Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Testing the Spirits: Are You Sure That What You Believe Will Lead You to Heaven?


Those of you who are my age or older will immediately recognize today's title.  It comes from the logo of RCA Victor records. There was a picture of a small dog looking down the horn of an old victrola, listening attentively.  The idea was that the reproduction of sound was that good.  A dog would believe he was hearing his master.  For those of you who are younger, records were large disks with analog recordings using grooves.  Before the days of CDs they were the principal delivery system for music.  In the text we just read we heard the Apostle John calling us to be Jesus' faithful dogs, listening always for the sound of our Master's voice.  We need to be very discriminating.  If we want to hear Jesus, we must not put on the wrong record.  That means we cannot take for granted anybody who claims to be preaching or teaching God's Word.  The message must have Christ, that is the Incarnate Son of God, as its center.  False prophets may have dreams or notions.  Everybody has opinions, but notions and opinions are not the Word of God.

Long before the time of Jesus, the prophet Jeremiah complained because so many false prophets were telling Israel the wrong message.  Jeremiah was called by God.  He had to proclaim the message of repentance.  The false prophets contradicted him.  Their message was I'm OK; you're OK.  Of course the false message was much easier to hear.  It made no great demands.  It fit in so well with the culture, so most of Judah listened to it, and then they wondered why the ax fell on their heads.  The Antichrist has his message in the world, competing with and contradicting our Master's voice.  Centuries ago there was Mohammed, who designed a false religion, taught that Jesus was not God Incarnate but merely a prophet, and misleading people to think that they could be righteous before God by following five simple rules.  That false religion did not go away.  There are followers of it here in Cleveland today.  They teach that we are disobedient because we come to the Father through the Son. There is no way to reconcile that with our Master's voice.  If they are right, then we are wrong.  If we are right, then they are wrong.  You cannot compromise the deity of Jesus.

Suppose you asked the Lord's own question today, What do you think of the Christ?  Several years ago the magazine Christianity Today asked that very question.  The figures were appalling.  One question was whether or not the death of Jesus was a sacrifice for sins.  You would think every Christian would answer in the affirmative.  Wrong.  Only 55% of the Methodists, 66% of the Episcopalians, 83% of the Baptists, and 91% of the Lutherans said Yes.  Don't get smug because our number was a little higher than the other guys'.  This was a poll of clergy.  Almost 10% of our own denominations' preachers don’t believe the Gospel.  Is it any wonder that they cannot faithfully reproduce our Master's voice?  What you do hear, all too frequently, is that what you believe doesn't matter, that we're all going to the same place.  Jesus never said anything like that.  He said the broad road leads to hell, the straight and narrow path was what He advised us to take.  In John 14 He told His disciples I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me.

In the early days of the Church, St. Paul was a high-fidelity recording of the Word of God.  He tells us in I Corinthians 2 When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom … I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  Through his letters that great saint warns us against those who would make all sorts of rules to bind us.  Make no mistake about it.  When the true servant of the Word speaks, the voice of Jesus must sound out loud, and the sheep of His flock will attend His voice.  The way He leads is narrow, and those who feed the flock of Christ nothing else will be called narrow-minded, bigoted, and self-righteous for this, but what the world says doesn't count.  We are not of the world.  We don't need its false messages.  What is important is what Jesus calls us -- His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Believe me, we want to be that.

Test the prophets.  You, the people must judge whether your shepherds are feeding you the genuine Word or some substitute, so let's beware the traps that are about.  First, don't think of the Church as an outward organization.  Denominations come and go, synods flourish like a flower, human associations are temporary.  The genuine Church of Jesus Christ abides forever, successfully charging the gates of hell.  Second, don't be snowed by sincerity.  There are many who sincerely believe false doctrine.  Yes, there are many who preach for personal gain, and some people are actually silly enough to follow them.  Far more dangerous are those who are sincerely devoted to falsehood.  Third, you cannot let yourself be ignorant of the Bible.  That can be a paralyzing weakness.  You must read it regularly, memorize the great texts of the faith, as we say in one collect, "inwardly digest them."  Make the Word the sword of the Spirit in your hand.  Seek a faithful recording of your Master's voice that doesn't add a lot of static.  Remember the true prophet teaches that Jesus came in the flesh. Unless He actually came as mortal man He could not take away our sins.  Unless He actually rose again in the flesh, He could not really conquer sin and death for us.  Unless he ascended into heaven in the flesh He could not reign over all things, but He did. He was God Incarnate and still is, and we have the privilege of serving the Word made flesh.

Along with the Word every Christian needs a generous helping of the Blessed Sacraments which it is his minister's duty to provide him.  Again St. John would warn us against those who deny that Jesus is present in the flesh to give Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist.  Our Master said This is my body.  A faithful recording will not add words that weaken that statement.  Jesus wants us to grow in grace, to be strengthened for the daily fight.  No one is too old, too smart, too brave, too simple, or God forbid too busy to receive this.  Sacraments are not a second record. They are another band on the one record with the Word of God.  They must also be a high-fidelity recording producing our Master's voice.  One and all, listen.  Listen!  Listen!  Hold to the Word you have been taught.  Jesus wants His flock well-fed, well-taught, well-cared-for.  He is the Good Shepherd.   AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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