Date: August 28, 2022
Festival: 12th Sunday after Pentecost (Welcome Back Sunday)
Text: Hebrews 13:1-17
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Proverbs 25:2-10; Hebrews 13:1-17; Luke 14:1-14
Sermon Hymn: LSB #842 Son of God, Eternal Saviour
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Introduction: Christians Live in A Hostile World
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the author of Hebrews wrote to an audience who were struggling to live the faith life of a Christian in a world that was constantly hostile to them—even to the point of being martyred for their faith. It is in such a contentious world that, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the author gives them some advice in our selected reading today—advice all of us should heed whether you’re a first year college student, returning for another year, or an adult returning to work on Monday morning. Because whether you’re a college student or an adult in the workforce, you also live in a world that is hostile to your faith.
Simply consider the political climate. When the political left elect representatives who share their metaphysical presuppositions about when a baby becomes human and how many genders there are, it’s called “democracy.” But when Christians do the same thing, it’s called “Christian Nationalism.” Or as you retain your Christian confession in a classroom or office, mockeries and many invectives with the word “phobic” at the end of them are thoughtlessly launched at you.
Like the saints before us, Christians continue to be mistreated and face imprisonment as the verdict for committing various thoughtcrimes. The marriage bed continues to be defiled with various sexual immorality issues and love of money in the career you pursue is more honourable than having a baby. The world continues to pressure Christians into renouncing their confession or face the consequences, and what better place to start than college in the time of your life when you are most impressionable? So, what advice can you take from Hebrews as you students begin or continue your educational journey in a college atmosphere that’s hostile to your Christian confession, or as you adults return to the workforce where maintaining your Christian confession may cost you your job?
Advice from the Law (2nd and 3rd Use)
Now, advice cannot be given without first confronting sin, be it from the devil, the world, or our own sinful nature. When you go to college, or hang out with your friends, or go to work, ignoring everything you’ve ever learnt about God’s Word is easy to do, preferring to do what you think is right in your own eyes. The history of the church tells us what happens when God’s people ignore His Word and do whatever they feel is right: He gives them what they want and lets them continue in their wickedness as they begin to suffer from their godless decisions.
We see this especially in the Book of Judges. The people of Israel are frequently described as doing what is right in their own eyes by violating every commandment and following after false gods and religions, which causes them to be oppressed by their enemies; then they repent, the Lord sends a judge (or a saviour) to deliver them from their enemies, and then they live in a time of peace for a while until they start doing what they think is right in their own eyes again, and the cycle repeats itself.
College is an exciting time. There are many great opportunities for you here. You will make new friends, some of whom you’ll have for the rest of your life. But it does you no good if we’re not also realistic. College, and your jobs or careers, will present you with many challenges—it will challenge your faith and your catechesis. You will be tempted to be “led away by diverse and strange teachings” [v. 9], even by your professors. These will be teachings that are contrary to your Christian confession. You may also face rejection and betrayal because you’re Christian. Just as you believe in the One who was denounced by the entire world for your sake, so this means you will also be denounced by those who denounce Him—it may be a friend, a professor, a co-worker, or a family member.
You will also face sexual temptations. You’ll be tempted with drunkenness—whether underage or of age—and partying with a morally questionable crowd. And you’ll be tempted to stop going to church.
Giving in to these things is exactly what the devil wants. Therefore, God’s Word advises you today, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” [v. 7]. Who have these leaders been in your life? They could be the pastors, parents, coaches, and mentors you’ve had, and anybody else who may have positively influenced your faith. They even include the people of faith in the Scriptures.
Just before this, in Hebrews 11 the author wrote about the saints who died in faith even though they had not yet received what God had promised. Imitate their faith, too—that although they did not live to see God’s promise, they continued entrusting themselves to He who fulfilled His promises in Christ. Imitating the faith of these spiritual leaders means not only heeding their words but also using the faith expressed in their own lives as a model for your own faith life. So, how have they taught you to pray, or to overcome a challenge, to seek help, to seek pastoral care, and so on? Remember these things.
But now that you’re away from them in college, or when you’re at your jobs, the devil has you in his sights. That crafty serpent does not want you to remember the Word of God they taught you, or to imitate their faith, so he throws a lot of distractions at you: sex, drugs, alcohol, politics, false ideologies, depression, stress, whatever he can get his hands on whenever you’re at your weakest. And he definitely doesn’t want you to return to these very pews on a regular basis. He doesn’t want you to remember how good the 3rd Commandment is for you, that keeping the Sabbath is for your benefit. Rather, he wants you to think that it’s just another rule to control you.
As Luther writes in the Large Catechism, “you are daily under the dominion of the devil, and he does not rest day or night in seeking to take you unawares and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against these three and all the other commandments. Therefore, you must constantly keep God’s Word in your heart, on your lips, and in your ears. For where the heart stands idle and the Word is not heard, the devil breaks in and does his damage before we realise it” [LC Part 1, 100].
So, the Word’s advice is this: remember the catechesis of your pastor and other teachers. Also, obey and submit to the leaders who currently care for you—such as your pastors here—because we admonish you for the care of your very souls [v. 17]. We speak the Word of God to you in His Law and Gospel because we love you and we care about you.
Advice from the Gospel
But what if you do end up doing what you think is right in your own eyes rather than what God says is right? What if you do give in to sexual temptation and drunkenness or any number of things? What if you already have? Or what if you do end up despising preaching and the hearing of God’s Word on the Sabbath? What advice is there for such failures as these?
Do not fret, because this church/chapel—this campus ministry—is your refuge in such moments of distress. These doors—and my office—do not become closed to you; rather, they are flung wide open. Our campus ministry here is for you, and the Sabbath is still for you, because Christ is for you.
As Luther continues on the 3rd Commandment, “On the other hand, when we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that it never departs without fruit. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devotion, and it constantly creates clean hearts and minds. For this Word is not idle or dead, but effective and living.” Therefore, “be motivated by the realisation that through the Word the devil is cast out and put to flight” [LC Part 1, 101-102].
The devil, for all his pompous accusing, is really just a coward who flees as soon as a single iota from the Word of God is uttered from your mouth, in your heart, and in your ears, because it is living and active. Because Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is the same yesterday, today, and forever—the One who “suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood” [v. 12]—because Christ’s blood covers all your sins and cleanses you from them simply because you believe it.
This sanctification—this cleansing—is never unavailable to you. If Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, this means what He did for you on the cross is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It means that since Jesus endures, your faith can endure. It means that Jesus is faithful even in changing times. It means that even though you fail, you cannot disappoint your pastor—even more, you cannot disappoint Christ. He already knew about that sin before you did it; that’s why He died for you. Just as it happened on the annual Day of Atonement in ancient Israel when the sacrificed animals were burnt outside the camp to cover their sins, so Christ suffered and died outside the gates of Jerusalem for the sins of the whole world—for your sins—yesterday, today, and forever. So, the best advice you can take is not what you must do to be perfect, but what Christ who is perfect has done, is doing, and will do for you—the forgiveness of all your sins.
Therefore, if or when you are led into “diverse and strange teachings,” or are led into temptation, whatever it may be, Christ is here not to be against you but for you. None of your sins change who Christ is yesterday, today, and forever. Sorry, but your sins are not that powerful. The wages of sin may be death, but they have no power against the One who rose from the dead, the One who gives you the free gift of eternal life [Rom. 6:23]. And you meet this power of His forgiveness, redemption, and comfort here in this very sanctuary, and my office is always open whenever you need His comfort and forgiveness.
As you go to your classes or jobs, there will be times when you think yourself a great sinner, but even then, Christ is still a greater Saviour yesterday, today, and forever.
Let us pray: May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.