November 17, 2013 Twenty-fifth Sunday After Trinity
The Prophets' Profit
1 St. John 3:1-8, St. Matthew 24:23-31
The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, known to some as Christmas Day, draws nigh. In a fortnight,
we embark on our joyous journey through the season of Advent.
And whom will we celebrate? That sweet little Jesus child, One so meek and mild. Lowly born, He rests in a manger. His poor parents, lacking the price of a proper sacrifice, make their way to the temple and offer a paltry pair of pigeons to God to commemorate the gift of their firstborn son.
True, kings and angels rejoice at His coming, but most of the creation hears them not. Who will recognize Him? The spirits will. “Even the demons believe” (St. James 2:19). But the natural man, having not the Holy Spirit of God within him, will look but will not see.
Soon Joseph must bear God’s Son into Egypt to save Him from the murderous wrath of a human king who fears the King of Glory . . . as a usurper of his puny throne.
Who will know Him for who He is? John the Baptist will send disciples to ask, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (St. Matthew 11:3). Some will mistake Him for this John the
Baptist, some for Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets (16:14).
Pontius Pilate will say, “What is truth?” (St. John 18:38), for he is unable to discern Truth standing nose-to-nose with him in the form of a man. He is the “Man of sorrows,” despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3), the Suffering Servant who will be mocked, scourged, crowned with thorns and crucified between two common criminals.
This is the Christ we remember in Advent, but not the One whose second advent we await. None will be left in doubt when He returns. In our gospel lesson today, St. Matthew tells us our Lord will appear like lightning and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
When He comes again in glory, He will judge potentates and princes. No scoffers will greet Him then. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Isaiah 45:23). The King of Kings will transfer His throne to earth and He will reign on it forever.
Jesus Christ is the manifestation of God in the world. He reveals God, makes Him known to us. In this time between His advents, much controversy attaches to His methods. Many today will tell you quite forthrightly that God has botched the job. Human reason cannot solve God; ergo, God is not.
And, they say, we have a further problem. The gospel has not penetrated every remote valley, every faraway jungle. How can God judge those He has not reached? St. Paul addresses this matter in Romans 1, teaching that God has manifested Himself in His creation and in those He has made, so that all are without excuse (vv. 18-20).
I would be a deceiver if I claimed to know how God has manifested Himself to every image-bearer He has ever created. We can make of this a theological conundrum: How many natives can dance on the head of a pin?
And then we can make our conundrum our hiding place: God? Oh, I have no time for Him.
He might have overlooked a soul in Borneo.
But a simple soul am I. I seize as much truth as I may know, and cling to it for dear life. And
so, what can I offer you?
I tender this assurance: If He has revealed Himself to you, draw near to Him and hang on tight. Then draw nearer and hang on tighter. Set aside things that separate you from Him – even those that at first seem good to you, wholesome as apple pie.
If they insinuate themselves between you and Him, cast them away from you. And as you grow in faith you will grow in grace as He broadens and deepens your understanding.
Only keep in mind that you are engaged in a dialogue you do not control. You will stagger under
the burden of your ignorance, gasp at answers you neither anticipated nor desired, chafe at the insufferable delays imposed by a God whose only deadline seems to be . . . eternity.
Would you have it otherwise? What might you learn from yourself?
The evangelist assures us that a reckoning awaits. At the last day, equivocations and evasions will splatter like overripe gourds fallen from a tree. Distractions and distortions will do us no good then. Enough of speculations!
Here He is! The powers of the heavens are shaking. But now it is too late. “The tribes of the
earth shall mourn,” for the time for repentance is past. The great and terrible day of the Lord is come (Joel 2:11).
All He asked was a minute measure of faith, the size of a tiny mustard seed. That smidgen of faith would have swelled until it toppled a huge redwood of worldly wisdom.
Until the reckoning, His mercy endures for all who draw breath. God has made Himself manifest in His creation and each one may declare with St. Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (St. Matthew 16:16). But God allows the Tempter to dangle his lies like sparkling diamonds
made of paste before those who invite deceit.
Some will proclaim the Lord’s return prematurely. In time of calamity, people look for salvation and deceivers rush in to offer a counterfeit of it. Pay them no heed. False christs and false prophets will rise and produce signs and wonders, and they will lead many astray.
As Christ is the manifestation of God in the world, a false christ is the creature of Satan. As a true
prophet reveals God’s truth, a false prophet delivers the devil’s falsehoods.
These frauds sow heresies like tares in a field of good grain. Like tares, heresies look for a time like the good stalks they have infiltrated. When the master of these deceivers tempts Jesus in the wilderness, he takes Him to the pinnacle of the temple and tells Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down” (St. Matthew 4:6).
Had not God promised that His angels would protect those who trust in Him (Psalm 91:11-12)? But Jesus knows a bit of Scripture as well. He knows the commandment that one is not to test God (Deuteronomy 6:16).
Many, however, do not, and Satan and his surrogates have been using Scripture to mislead the gullible ever since.
Do they not preach the same gospel? Go into their house – not the Lord’s house but theirs -- and pick up a book in the pew. You will find embossed on its cover the words “Holy Bible.” Many assembled there will give liberally, sing in the choir, feed the homeless on Thanksgiving, venture out on mission trips.
Your eyes may roam over familiar signs, crosses and candles. Your ears may capture familiar sounds, collects and canticles.
And then a false prophet will coo soothing syllables about joy and peace and love. And threaded through them, imperceptible to those who do not come bearing the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, will be a poisoned gospel of deceit and hate that will entice many into the way of
“If you are a son or a daughter of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle. Believe what you like, do what you wish. You need no law-giver for you are your own law. Take for yourself glory due your Creator. Knock Him aside and perch on His throne. Worship your self.
“And the God you topple will send angels to pluck you out of midair and settle you gently on terra firma. He will save you.”
They feast on a conceit so delectable only the father of lies could have concocted it. For he knows that when a man tests God, he takes the prerogative of God for himself. He knows, but does not quote, God’s words given through His prophet Moses in Deuteronomy 13:
"If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, `Let us go after other gods' . . . `and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (vv. 1-3).
Those who give ear to the false prophet will throw themselves off the pinnacle and they will plummet into the pit of hell for putting God to the test. Man does not test God; God tests man.
In the last few days I came upon a vivid illustration of the decay that sets in where false prophets are at work. Fr. Randolph called my attention to a lecture Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, primate of Kenya and chairman of the Global Anglican Futures Conference, delivered last week in South Carolina.
The purpose of GAFCON, of which we are members through the REC and ACNA, he said, is mission: taking the gospel to the world. But there’s a problem. Authentic Christian mission cannot be built upon flawed doctrine. There’s a way of reading the Bible that results in hearing our own voice.
And much of Anglicanism has adopted this method and descended into moralism. Boiled down, moralism says forget God’s revelation through the Holy Bible; rely on man’s consensus on what is right to chart our course. If we preach the corrupted teaching of moralism among the nations we will spread the false doctrine of false prophets and set back the cause of Christ rather than advance it.
The remedy, Abp. Wabukala said, is to return to the 39 Articles as the foundation, after the Scriptures, of our Anglican faith. If we read those Scriptures through that lens we will not hear our own voice and we will not publish to the world a poisoned gospel.
The human heart is a laboratory for creative expressions of the sin nature. All it takes to crank it
up is the prospect of profit. Where there’s a profit there’s a will and where there’s a will there’s a
way. The payoff, though, may come in a currency other than cash.
So, what’s the profit for those false prophets who lead others up to the pinnacle, load them down with lies about enacting their own sovereign morality and tempt them to leap into the fire of
Their reward is the same as ours: service of the master. The difference is in the master.
Our Master’s purpose is not cloaked. In our epistle lesson this morning we read, “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin . . . He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 St. John 3:5, 8).
God has made Himself known in His world to put an end to sin, which is the work of the devil. As St. John also points out in this passage, when our Lord next reveals Himself “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (3:2). This much we know today: We shall be sinless as He is sinless.
The work He did in His first advent, the work He left for us to continuein the power of the Holy Spirit, is to destroy the works of the devil. He will finish the job on that terrible day of His return. On that day, false prophets will say to Him, Did we not do many wonders in Your name? And He will reply, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (St. Matthew
But that terrible day is also the great day of His return.
When He returns, all those who remain on the earth will not be left in doubt. When the stars fall from heaven like daisy petals, look then for the sign of the Son of Man to appear, for His coming on the clouds. Listen for the sound of a trumpet as His angels gather His elect from every corner of the creation.
The figurative language does not allow for precise interpretation. The Greek word angelos
can mean “messenger.” The phrase may indicate that true prophets who preach the uncorrupted gospel are assembling the faithful today.
What we may know is that our time, the church age, precedes the great and terrible day of the Lord and that He is calling His own to Him even now. What we do know is that when God, sick of the stench of sin, purged His creation once before, He provided a way of salvation for Noah and his family, the faithful remnant.
What we must know is that God is faithful and just; if we confess our sins He forgives us and cleanses us (1 St. John 1:9).
Beloved, let no man deceive you. God will condemn those who heed the siren’s song of the false
prophets. They follow after those false prophets because they feed them that splendid conceit that they can curse God by their vile actions and then coax Him with winsome words to catch them as
They promise them that they may obliterate the image of God within them and become their own gods. The ultimate idol is the self.
And let no man deceive you, God will save those who persevere to the end in faith and righteousness. He will gather to Himself from the four winds those who have humbled themselves before this God who has manifested Himself in His creation.
When the sun is darkened by the radiance of His glory in the heavens, then all will know He has come again. And in that great and terrible day of the Lord we will rejoice, for we will have our eternal reward.