Thursday, April 5, 2007

He spoke openly

John 18:15-27
And Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought in Peter. The slave-girl therefore who kept the door said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. The high priest therefore questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. Jesus answered him, "I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. "Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold, these know what I said." And when He had said this, one of the officers standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying, "Is that the way You answer the high priest?" Jesus answered him, "If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?" Annas therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said therefore to him, "You are not also one of His disciples, are you?" He denied it, and said, "I am not." One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, "Did I not see you in the garden with Him?" Peter therefore denied it again; and immediately a cock crowed.
There is much to be said on the Gospel you have just heard. I hope you will forgive me, then, if I keep my remarks brief. In fact, I have nothing to say tonight about Peter’s denial of Jesus. Stuck in the middle of that sad story is this exchange from the Annas’ interrogation of Jesus. I don’t think it is often preached on. Christians are apt to overlook it as just one of many details from the Passion of Jesus. But it does speak to the situation the church finds itself in today.

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus replied, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in the synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold, those know what I said.” We know as well, because Jesus’ teaching has been passed down to us through the New Testament scriptures, especially the four gospels. Jesus still proclaims his Word in the church, still teaches young and old about who he is and how he has saved us. And he has told us in advance that we should expect opportunities to tell others what he has taught us. This means that he teaches through you and me, when we teach his word. It also means that when we are called on to confess his faith, we must be prepared to do so. When our faith is put to the test, we will need to know what God’s Word teaches and to speak from the courage of our convictions. So when the enemies of Christ demand to know about the doctrine of Christ, we can and must speak what he has spoken to us, through his word and ministry and all who have taught us the Gospel.

When the opportunity to confess the truth arises, he will speak through us—unless, like St. Peter, you would rather deny our Lord than confess him. But bear in mind what Jesus told his disciples: “Everyone who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” To speak out and proclaim Christ may take courage, and it may require overcoming some fear… fear of public speaking maybe, or fear of people, what they will say or think about you, if not what they will do to you. But remember what Jesus said: “A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they had kept My word, they would keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” And again: “Do not fear them who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; rather fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

On the brighter side, Jesus also said: “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you and persecute you and slander you for my sake; rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And again: “Fear not, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.” And yet again: “I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents can resist or refute.” Now if you fear making a public confession of faith because you’re not sure you know enough, then it behooves you to study it and seek instruction in God’s Word. You need to know what Jesus says; for when the world questions Jesus, you may be the one who has to answer.

“Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold, those know what I said.” I hope that is still true of our church today, and that it will remain true as long as God’s Word needs to be confessed. But it is natural to be daunted by this task, for if Jesus God’s Son can take a blow to the face for saying this, imagine what the world may do to us! But hear Jesus’ response: “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” If we are ridiculed, or hated, or called fools, or even persecuted for teaching what Jesus has taught us, that is no reason to change our tune or to reconsider whether we are telling the truth. Unbelievers will deal out blows without regard for truth or justice. We are not to be discouraged by them, or waver in doubt as to whether our cause is just or our teaching is true. An opinion poll does not establish truth. A majority vote does not equate with “Thus saith the Lord.”

Gospel proclamation, evangelism, outreach, call it what you will, is not to be a popularity contest. In many places the church has taken up such an attitude. Showing people that you care, and being welcoming and inviting, and providing attractive programs and a nurturing environment, are all very nice in and of themselves. But asking the ministers and teachers to tone down the confession of the truth, why, that’s just plain out of line. Some will tell you that making disciples is more important than clutching rigid doctrinal standards, but you could ask them: What are you making them disciples for? Disciples of what? Disciples of niceness and welcoming and inviting and learning to make more disciples? But for what? Following what master? Listening to whose voice? Believing what? Hoping for what? Leading to what eternal destiny? Some say they put making disciples ahead of doctrinal discipline, but how can you make them disciples without discipline? Some say you don’t have to put all your doctrinal priorities on display up front, let it wait until after you’ve brought people in—but when will the time ever be right to introduce them to the whole truth? And after you’ve lied to them and deceived them or withheld part of the truth from them, will they not have every reason to shake the dust off their feet and leave?

If the truth offends, so be it. If it gets us in trouble, if it earns us a slap in the face, so be it. It happened to Christ, and a servant is not greater than his master, is he? “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” If our teaching is obnoxious, if it is scandalous, if it drives people away, that alone is no reason to go about changing it or challenging it. The real question is, is it right? Is it the truth? And if you cannot show me where it is wrong, then what’s your problem?

Jesus declared his truth to the world. How? Openly. When? Always. The time was always right, no matter how he declared it, no matter how upsetting it was to some, it was always God’s Word and it deserved to be spoken openly, in the light of day, in the hearing of all. We are not to hide anything, we are not to keep any secrets; we are to tell the whole world, whether they like it or not, what Christ has delivered to us to speak. Of course we will be questioned, which is why we must know what we are talking about. But we will not be moved even if we are slapped in the face, even if we are dragged away in chains, even if we are whipped and beaten and mocked and put to death. By so much less will we be discouraged if we are merely sniffed at and declared silly, uncouth, or crude.

For where Christ’s word is not proclaimed, always and openly and truthfully, no disciples will be made. It’s a funny thing, but the same word that is foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others, is God’s power to save. The problem is not that the truth is bad, or God’s Word is wrong, but that man’s heart is set against it by nature. Through that Word of Christ, the Holy Spirit changes hearts and installs life and faith and the love of God. Through the doctrine of Christ faithfully and unwaveringly preached and taught, God will install Lutheranism right here—as long as we do not hide it and keep it a secret. And we can put our best foot forward by being all of one mind about it, and standing together in brotherhood and mutual support. We can serve God’s Word best by knowing what it teaches, by testing every spirit accordingly to see whether it is from God, by throwing out what is wrong and championing what is right. But God’s Word will do its work, whether through us or in spite of us. Which way would you prefer?

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