INTRODUCTION: We are saved by grace alone, by faith alone, by scripture alone. That is so simple and beautiful. Yet, it is so difficult because, even though it is what the Bible clearly teaches, it goes against sinful nature and a sinful world and is under constant attack by Satan.
HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF THIS DOCTRINE IN THE REFORMATION ERA:
Grace, we Lutherans know from the Bible, is God’s undeserved love. But grace didn’t mean that in Luther’s church. Grace was the ability that God gave people to complete their salvation. The church still officially teaches: If any one says that he who is justified…does not be good works himself…merit an increase of grace, let him be damned. This is why people felt they could buy forgiveness when they bought indulgences. This is why people worshiped relics and made pilgrimages to Rome: The church lived in darkness not knowing it was saved by grace alone.
Grace alone is under attack. You are forgiven, but you have to ask for it. You are forgiven, but you have to repent. You are forgiven, but you have to walk the walk.
The Bible says, “God made us alive when we were dead in sins.”
The Bible says, “It depends not on man’s effort, but God’s mercy.”
The Bible says, “But now a righteousness from God apart from law has been made known.”
The Bible say, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves. It is the gift of God not by works so that no one can boast.” If the Lord gets all the credit call it grace. If you help the Lord, it is not salvation by grace.
There is a righteousness from God apart from the law.
A beggar is given money. A drowning man is rescued. A man who cannot breath is resusitated. I’m a beggar, but look at the salvation God gave me in Christ. I was dead, not just drowning, and now I’m made alive in Christ. Luther learned, and so have we, that grace is not God giving the power to save ourselves, but that grace is God’s undeserved love. Thank God for salvation by grace alone. We are saved by grace alone.
In grace God searched out Adam and Eve when they ate of the forbidden fruit.
In grace God pledged the promised Seed to save them from their sins.
In grace God commanded Noah to build the ark and in grace he gave the people decades to repent of their sin while Noah preached and built the ark.
In grace God called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt even though Moses killed a man in cold blood.
In grace God promised to give David a greater Son even though his love triangle led to conspiracy and murder.
In grace God reminded a whining prophet Elijah there were still 7,000 believers who hadn’t bowed yet to Baal.
In grace God called a doubting Thomas to faith and made him a believer.
In grace God took a persecutor of the church and instead of destroying him he made Saul the greatest missionary the world has ever known.
HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF THIS DOCTRINE IN THE REFORMATION ERA:
By faith alone, the Bible means that we are given Christ’s righteousness through the vehicle of faith. Faith is a gift of God, not our doing.
Luther’s church said, If anyone says that the ungodly is justified by faith alone in such way that he understands that nothing else is required which cooperates toward obtaining the grace of justification…let him be damned. This is why Luther went without food or sleep, or when he would sleep he would do so on a cold floor without blankets and whip himself. Luther and the church was in captivity, not knowing it was saved by faith alone.
SERMONETTE: My good friends at New Lisbon Correctional Institute said that it wasn’t enough to be saved by faith alone. Brother Marty, you also gotta walk the walk and talk the talk. Over the years I’ve heard a number of people say, “I used to be Lutheran, and then I got saved.” I got saved. We’ll hear people say that they know they are children of God because they made their decision to follow Jesus.
How many times I’ve heard that because a so-called Christian committed such a terrible sin/crime, he wasn’t a true believer. True believers are true sinners. Read the Bible and you’ll see that clear enough.
It is by grace you’ve been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.”
The Bible says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”
The Bible says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The Bible says, “Now when a man works his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness.”
The Bible says, “Since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Bible says, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
Is faith about what I do or about what God has done? Is faith about the one who does the believing or about the one who makes the promises? Faith is about what God has done in Jesus. Faith is about the promises God has made. Faith is the hand that receives the blessing of salvation from God through Jesus Christ. And this faith is a gift. Saving faith can be strong or saving faith can be weak, because of the object of our faith is the Son of God. We thank God that we are saved by faith alone.
In faith we pour water over an infant’s head.
In faith the pastor puts a wafer into the hand or the mouth, trusting the body of Christ is there along with the word.
In faith Abraham trusted God would give him a baby though he was old and his wife’s Sarah’s womb was as good as dead. And God credited it to him as righteousness.
In faith the thief on the cross said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus strengthened that faith with his promise, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Hmmm? A criminal in heaven. Must be by faith alone. Thank God for salvation by faith alone.
HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF THIS DOCTRINE IN THE REFORMATION ERA:
Luther’s church believed that the scriptures and traditions of the church both come divinely inspired of the Holy Spirit. So the Bible and the traditions of the church are to be on the same level. Luther’s church believed that the some of Christ’s teachings have actually come down to earth only by word of mouth from the apostles through the bishops of the church. This allows the church to hold to and defend teachings that are not in the Bible. Luther’s church said, “No one, relying on his own skill, shall-in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of the Christian doctrine (shall) presume to interpret the said sacred scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church hath held and doth hold.” So, you needed the church to tell you what it said and you’d better believe what it said.
SERMONETTE: By scripture alone is still under attack. The Bible is still the only authority for the Christian in matters of faith, life and conduct. The teachings of the church and the and traditions of the church are to be completely subordinate to the Scriptures.
I once had a young man in my prison ministry Bible Study. He said, “I don’t know what to believe. I get this from Brother Bob’s outreach. I get that from Way Out Ministries. And I get something different from you. I don’t know what to do. I said, “Stay in your cell and read your Bible. Don’t go to any of the studies. You have God’s promise that the Holy Spirit will guide you in all truth.”
The Bible says, “These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The Bible says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”
The Bible says, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it.” The Bible says, “But even if we are an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to let, let him be eternally condemned.”
The Bible says, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God might be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Scripture alone tells us who the true God is: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Scripture alone reveals that Jesus Christ became true man to live and die in our place.
Scripture alone reveals that Jesus from the dead and made the promise many years before it actually happened.
Scripture reveals to us that there is “no other name under heaven give to men by which we must be saved.”
Scripture alone, that is, God’s Word is the only vehicle by which this salvation comes to us.
Scripture alone saves. Listen to Jesus who said, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them.” If they don’t listen to the Bible a different miracle won’t bring to faith.
Listen to the disciples through the mouth of people. When the people were leaving Jesus by droves because of difficult teaching, Jesus asked his disciples, “You don’t want to leave me too, do you?” Peter answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go you have the words of eternal life.”
We are saved by scripture alone.
Amos 5:6,7 10-15
Reformation Sunday is only a week away. Are you ready for it? I’ve been humming “A Mighty Fortress” and I’ve been thinking about the 95 theses. I’ve thought of Luther saying before the mighty Emporer, “Here I stand.” I’ve been thinking how Luther wrote the Bible into the language of German so his countrymen could read the Bible for themselves.
Reformation is not a pep rally where we say, “Uh-rah-rah Lutherans!” We sing Reformation hymns, read Reformation readings, review reformation history and give thanks for Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone.
To reform is a verb. It means to amend what is wrong, corrupt, or unsatisfactory; to abandon evil thoughts and evil ways. If Reformation ends the moment we leave the church, we’ve missed point. If you’re wondering why I’m making a big deal about Reformation a week before the day of Reformation, you’ve missed the point.
But we are consistent. How often we have treated Christianity like a spectator sport and not something to work at. How often is Christianity something to watch, or something to go to. How often is Christianity something to cheer, but when it’s over we go back to the same-old, same-old. Christianity is not spectator sport. Christianity is our life. Jesus defined the Christian life: Love the Lord your God `with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….Love your neighbor as yourself. This doesn’t sound like something you watch, but something you do. This sounds like the Reformation, the life, that Amos calls for this morning in our text when he says, “Seek the Lord and Live.”
Amos did his work during the reign of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, probably between 760-750 BC. He prophesied during a time of political success for Israel. It was a second golden age. Under Jeroboam, the northern kingdom of Israel expanded to her greatest territorial size.
But not all was well. Amos’ ministry came 40 years before the Assyrians wiped the northern kingdom off the map. Things were rotten beneath the surface. And God used His prophets to warn the people. Amos warned about the consequences of idolatries and and gross, open sinning. He warned them of the Assyrian danger and he warned them that the end was near. “The LORD will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire.”
Why was the end coming? Just listen to the litany of sin in Israel. They sought the help of worthless gods. They made justice bitter. They trampled the poor. They hated truth. They exacted taxes from those who already had so little. They built mansions and vineyards for themselves. Those who did right were punished. They accepted bribes. Those with money won They didn’t try to hide their sins but made them in public, in the courts. No one upset the status quo, no one blew the whistle. To put it plainly, life in Israel wasn’t fair. The wicked prospered and nice guys finished last. And Amos says, “Stop it now, or else!” But they didn’t. 2 Kings reports: They would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the Lord their God. They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.” And “or else” came. The Assyrians swept through, and in 722, the nation fell, the people were taken and they never returned.
Sound familiar? You might guess that Amos is describing today’s conditions. There are false gods that people seek help from instead of going to God. Justice is a word we sometimes roll our eyes at. The system doesn’t seem to work. Those who need help don’t get it, but the dishonest work the system. Who speaks up about injustice anymore? Does one vote really matter? Yes, the world is a mess. The US looks like Israel shortly before its destruction.
But instead of talking about how we can reform our world, let’s talk about our reformation. Amos’ words are for us. They are damning words. So what needs fixing? What needs amending? What role have I played in the conditions that surround me? Perhaps I haven’t been overly unjust or oppressive, but I have sought my own needs first and ignored my brothers and sisters’ needs? Where have I failed to act on behalf of others? Where must I admit that perhaps instead of hating evil, I’ve tolerated it, compromised with it, made a deal with it, or embraced it whole-heartedly? Where have I treated my faith as a spectator sport, being purely passive in my Christian life, letting others do all the work? In other words, when have I failed to give God my whole heart, and expressed that whole-hearted love of God by loving my neighbor in the exact same way that I love myself? How long have I sat on the sidelines of my Christian life? How long have I lived blissfully ignorant of my actual situation – that when God condemns sins like this, God is talking to me too? And while you may be ignorant of your sins. God is not. I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. And we have no response.
Well, we have one. Amos said “perhaps.” Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. It was iffy, at best, for Israel, given their track record, that things could turn around. But, it had happened in Nineveh. They listened to Jonah, and God spared them. And it would be iffy for us too, except that God stepped in, literally. The Bible says, “The Word became flesh.” God became flesh. God didn’t wait for us to reform ourselves, He achieved the reformation Himself. He didn’t wait for us to seek the good before He came. He came and was with us. We who would not seek the LORD were sought by Him. Christ came to seek and to save the lost. Christ came to save all the oppressors of the poor and all the destroyers of justice. He came to reform us. And He did it well. Hebrews says: Fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. He was faithful to the one who appointed him….But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. Christ didn’t sit on the sidelines as a spectator. He jumped into this rotten mess and cleaned it up. The indictment that was ours for our sins, He said, “I’m guilty. Take me instead.” Hebrews describes Jesus’ active life on your behalf: He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. And later: He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them….Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
Our sin is great. But praise God that his mercy is greater than our sin and disobedience. The first reformation happened 2,000 years ago, when a lowly Jewish rabbi died for the sins of the world. But it didn’t end there. That rabbi rose from the dead, declaring death dead, declaring your sins paid for, declaring Himself with power to be the Son of God. This was God’s eternal covenant, made in Eden, kept in Christ, made with you in Baptism, renewed in you as you receive the sacrificed body and blood of Christ.
This first reformation is the source of all other reformation. Christ for you is the beginning of Christ in you. Christ for you changes your whole outlook on life, equips us with everything good, and works in us what is pleasing to Him. And that comes and remains as we are connected to Him. And so, as always, the coming Reformation is a reminder to seek Christ, for only seeking Christ where He is found – Word, Water, Meal. And as we seek him where he is found, we seek good, we hate evil, we love our neighbor.
Seek the Lord and live. Praise God that his mercy is greater than our sin and disobedience. "If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared"(Psalm 130:3,4). God is not like man. God forgives and forgets. Seek the Lord and live. “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18) God blots out our sins. Our evil thoughts, wicked words, and disobedient actions are removed forever. Sins are erased as if they never existed. Who is a God like this? There is none but one: the LORD.
Seek the Lord and live. Our sins are great. But his mercy is greater than our sin and disobedience. Seek the Lord and live. Our lives are changed. We are no longer slaves to the sins that once entangled us. What a life: with sin forgiven and peace restored because of Christ for us, Christ is in us. With Christ for us and in us we truly live. Amen.
Car manufacturers like to compare their cars to their competition. They will compare the price, the warranty, the size, the mileage, the horsepower, and the extras that are included. Of course, they only compare things that make them look better.
If you wanted to buy a new TV you could spend hours comparing prices and features at stores like Circuit City, American and Best Buy. You can compare brands like RCA and Toshiba, Motorola and Philco, Sony, Samsung and Hitachi. To confuse things even more you can compare features like whether or not the set is HD ready, or a flat screen model, or digital, or plasma or rear projector. You would finally probably just give up, stop asking questions and buy the one that looks good.
Let’s make some comparisons today. But not about cars or TVs. Let’s compare Jesus. Let’s compare Jesus to angels, humans and the Devil. As we do that we will find this about Jesus: He is I. COMPARED TO ANGELS - LOWER, II. COMPARED TO HUMANS - EQUAL, III. COMPARED TO THE DEVIL - SUPERIOR.
I. The first thing that we find is that COMPARED TO ANGELS, JESUS IS LOWER. Here is what the writer of Hebrews reports: “But there is a place where someone has testified: "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet." These words are a quotation from Psalm 8. In order of greatness and glory, God is above everything, angels are beneath God, and humans are below the angels. In regard to man you want to note that man was made only a little lower than the angels. That is true because when Adam and Eve were created they were made in God's image and likeness. They were pure and holy creatures without any taint of sin. In that regard they were only a little lower than the angels. In purity they were equal, but in wisdom and power they were lower. God put man in such a high position that he was over all creation and was told: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
Even though man was placed in such an exalted position the writer of Hebrews observes: “In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” Instead of man being in control of everything we often see man looking helplessly weak. An earthquake causes people to run for higher ground for fear that a tidal wave would wipe them off the face of the world. Man is so helpless and not in control. The after affects of Hurricanes and Tsunamis are being felt around the world. Even with advance warning, the tidal waves and hurricanes bring damage and devastation unheard of. Nature had been subject to man, if you can imagine that.
What has happened? Why is man unable to subdue the earth as God asked him to do? The answer is so simple and direct. Sin. The introduction of sin into the world through the disobedience of the first people has corrupted the world in which we live and sin has invaded the hearts of everyone living on this earth. Man, the sinner, has sunk way below the level of the angels and is no longer just a little lower than the angels.
But what about Jesus? “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Figure this one out. Here is Jesus who is God himself. He is above everything, even the angels. He sits in glory in heaven. But then he humbles himself and lowers himself to come down to this earth. By taking upon himself humanity, Jesus allows himself to be put in the position of being a little lower than the angels. Note carefully that Jesus is in the position of being only a little lower than the angels. The reason for that is because Jesus has no sin. He is like Adam and Eve were first. When they were without sin they were only a little lower than the angels, too.
This little story appeared in Guideposts in 1988. A lady wrote: In the fourth year of his layoff from his job, Dad gave Mom a dishwasher for Christmas. You have to understand the magnitude of the gift: Our old house had its original wiring and plumbing, and neither could handle the required installation. There was no spot in the small kitchen for such a large appliance. And we hadn't even been able to meet the mortgage interest payments for over six months.
But Dad hated the thought of washing dishes; he would rather do anything else. And Mom had undergone major surgery that spring, a radical mastectomy for breast cancer, and found it difficult to do any work requiring the use of her arms.
No large box appeared, no new plumbing or wiring was installed, no remodeling of the kitchen occurred. Rather, a small note appeared on a branch of the Christmas tree, handwritten by Dad: "For one year I will wash all of the dirty dishes in this household. Every one." Jesus did the same thing by coming down to this filthy earth and lowering himself below the angels and taking upon himself human flesh and blood. As Jesus dies he took upon himself our sins, every one of them. Compared to angels Jesus is a little lower in his humanity.
II. The second comparison we want to make with Jesus is this: COMPARED TO HUMANS - JESUS IS EQUAL. Here is what the Book of Hebrews says: “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises."
Here is a marvelous thing. Jesus who is God himself, and Jesus who allowed himself to be made a little lower than the angels, still is willing to put himself on equal footing with humans and calls us his brothers. In his humanity he became equal to us for we are told: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”
The Apostle Paul traces this concept so beautifully in the 2nd chapter of Philippians when he says of Jesus: “(He) made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death‑‑ even death on a cross!” Not only did Jesus humble himself by taking upon himself human flesh and blood, but he also lived among humans as the most humble of men. He lived like a servant and even stooped to wash the dirty, smelly feet of his disciples when none of them were willing to do that for each other. But the ultimate service was when Christ humbled himself to the power of death, not just a painless death, but rather the torturous death of the cross.
Robert E. Speer says that years ago he was being entertained by the president of a small college in the South. The school had limited guest facilities, so the head of the institution offered him his apartment. "I woke up early the next morning," said Speer, "when I heard someone tiptoe into the room. I lay there quietly with my eyes open just a slit to see who it was. To my surprise the president of the college walked in, picked up my dirty boots, and walked out. I got out of bed, opened the door a crack, and watched him take them to an adjoining hallway. Then he got down on the floor and began polishing them. I could have cried at the sight. His hospitality and thoughtfulness showed me what a great man he really was. Some years after that he rose to national prominence. Because of his complete humility of spirit, God elevated him to a higher position. That is so much like Christ who humbled himself and died our death. Instead of putting himself above us, he made himself our brother.
Lest we get the wrong impression, let’s be reminded that the reason why we are God's sons and daughters. The Bible says: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” If we are sons and daughters of God then we are also brothers and sisters of Christ. In that sense we are equal with Jesus and will share with him the joy of heaven that he has won for us.
III. The final thought we need to pursue as we compare Jesus is to compare him to the Devil. When we do so we will find that COMPARED TO THE DEVIL - JESUS IS SUPERIOR. That truth comes through with these words from Hebrews: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death‑‑that is, the devil‑‑ and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
Now we see the real reason why Jesus lowered himself below the angels and became our brother in our humanity. Here is the reason: “He shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death -- that is, the devil.” The devil was at one time a good, holy and mighty angel. Many believe he was as high-ranking an angel as Michael the Archangel. When Satan rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven, he turned his anger against mankind. In his success he brought death to the world and death to all in hell. To overcome the prince of darkness it took someone more powerful than the Devil himself. Jesus was that one. Saddam Hussein had been hanged, not for the crimes of others, but for his own crimes. Jesus was the opposite. He was hanged for the sins of others, not for his own sins.
To overcome the power of death, Christ has to die. The reason for that goes back to the penalty that God had set for sin - death. As the Bible puts it: “The wages of sin is death.” In Jesus’ ministry it was obvious that Jesus was mightier than the Devil. When Jesus commanded devils to leave people, they had no choice but to leave because they were no match for Jesus. When Jesus rose from the dead he marched right through hell, like an army general marching through a captured capital city, to proclaim his victory and the Devil could do nothing to stop him. Jesus had total superiority over the Devil because he also was God, and because his work of salvation was done perferctly.
Martin Luther had a dream in which he stood on the day of judgment before God himself--and Satan was there to accuse him. When Satan opened his books full of accusations, he pointed to transgression after transgression of which Luther was guilty. As the proceedings went on, Luther's heart sunk in despair. Then he remembered the cross of Christ--and turning upon Satan, he said, "There is one entry which you have not made, Satan."
The Devil retorted, "What is that?" And Luther answered, "It is this--the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sins."
Ever have a dream where you die and were whisked off to hell. I’ve had a couple of people tell me they’ve had this dream. That will wake a person up. Remember Luther’s experience and say, “If that is you, Satan. Forget it. I believe in Jesus and I’m going to heaven.” And go back to sleep.
That message makes us strong before the Devil. He has no answer for that one. In fact the Bible tells us, “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.” Remember that Jesus is superior to the Devil and by his power we are superior too.
“And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. A friend of mine was working at a camp, and was preparing for the nightly bonfire with his son, who was four at the time, when a stranger, strolling through the campground camp up and started to talk. It turned into a witness opportunity for my friend. When he shared the gospel with the stranger he took two big pieces of wood, formed them into the shape a cross. He then laid on the cross and told him how Roman soldiers had nailed him to the wood. The four year old was seized with horror and said, “No Daddy! No! Not like Jesus!” It made a big impression on the stranger. Why would the child react so? Childlike faith.
An elderly woman, who was expecting to pass away soon, said to me, “When I get to heaven I’m going to give Jesus a big hug.” Childlike faith.
One of the great theologians of our synod, Siegbert Becker was asked, “Of all that you have learned what is the one thing you wish to pass on to everyone. He said, “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” Whether you are two years old, 92, or the seminary professor, Jesus invites, and enables a Child-like faith. Let’s talk about the qualities and blessings of CHILD-LIKE FAITH
Hanging on the walls of many Christian homes is a picture of Jesus with little children. It’s not hard to understand why artists have chosen this theme. The Gospels make it clear: Jesus dearly loved children.
In the verse serving as our text we see firsthand Jesus’ fierce love for His "little ones." He issues a strong, stern and graphic warning to anyone who might cause them spiritual harm. Listen to how he talks about these children. He refers to them as "little ones who believe in Me." In the next chapter of Mark, at a different time and place, He expands upon that thought. Holding up children as examples of faith, He says: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it" (Mark 10:15).
His point: The faith of a child – that 1) simple, 2) humble, 3) unquestioning and 4) trusting faith that believes the message of salvation and all to the other promises of God without a hint of hesitation – that is the kind of faith Jesus holds up as the model for our imitation. Let’s now briefly examine the qualities of faith which Jesus speaks of so highly by looking at the adjectives I just used to describe it…
A child-like faith if first of all SIMPLE. As you observe the faith of a child you’ll find this to be true. But while it may be simple, it is not shallow. In fact, a childlike faith knows what is essential to know.
A child may not be able to find every book in the Bible quickly, and he may not be able to recite any of the commandments, but they know this: Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
They also know that long ago on a hill outside of a city they’ve never been to named Jerusalem Jesus died on a cross to take away all their sins. And they know why: So they would be clean and pure in the eyes of God and someday live with Him forever in heaven.
They also know is that Jesus didn’t stay dead, but that He rose from the grave. And they know Him to be their invisible but living friend who listens intently to them when they talk to Him in their prayers.
Those are the elementary truths of Scripture. Nothing complicated or complex about them. The child Jesus holds up as an example simply takes at face value the truths God tells us in His Word. A child-like faith is SIMPLE.
A child-like faith is HUMBLE. When problems come it looks upward rather than inward for solutions. We live in a world which instructs us to "look inside ourselves" for answers to our difficulties. And certainly we do have a responsibility to apply the Word of God we’ve been taught to our various situations in life. But those with a child-like faith know that the power to change things comes not from within, but from without. Not from inside us, but from above us.
Abraham Lincoln governed our country during the Civil War. This was an extremely difficult time for him personally. He is reported to have made the remark that the war often "forced him to his knees." A childlike faith doesn’t let things go that far. A childlike faith humbly approaches the throne of grace well before the crisis point, recognizing that God is good and God is great and God is ever-present to help us in every situation. A child-like faith is HUMBLE.
A child-like faith is that it is UNQUESTIONING. Children can be inquisitive, but when it comes to Bible truth they are most often unquestioning. Little children don’t generally ponder deep philosophical questions. They don’t look for ways to interject their reason into Scripture, nor do they tend to be personally dismissive toward the areas they can’t understand or make them uncomfortable. Whether it is the miracles, the instructions or the promises of God as they apply to their lives, they look to the Word with the unquestioning understanding that God has spoken and that He is in control…
A child like faith may be inquisitive when it comes to knowing more about what God says, but it is UNQUESTIONING when it learns that God has spoken.
A child-like faith is TRUSTING. Think once more of a child, this time at prayer. What a precious sight, and what a picture of trust. They trust that the Lord will hear them and that He is capable of doing everything they ask of Him.
Childlike faith is also for adults. A good Scriptural example of this aspect of faith can be found in the Old Testament figures Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (perhaps better known as the "Three Men in the Fiery Furnace"). Remember their story? For refusing to bow down and worship a man as they would God, they were threatened with being thrown into a fiery furnace. Their response? They said, "Go ahead. We trust our God can save us from whatever you want to do to us. But even if He doesn’t choose to save us, we still won’t do it."
Whether God would save them, they were unsure. That God could save them, they had no doubt. And so they went forward with the implicit trust that God would take care of them one way or another. With that trust they exhibited a child-like faith.
Simple… humble… unquestioning… trusting. These are the elements of a child like faith. These are the components that Jesus holds up before us when He speaks about the "little ones who believe in Me." In this same child-like way Jesus invites, counsels and asks us to trust Him, His Word, His promises and His offer of salvation.
And we know we really ought to do that, but that seems like wishful thinking to us adults. That’s too simplistic. Life is a little more complicated when you get older.
And that is a mistake. It’s a more than a mistake. It’s rebellion. A childlike faith is taking God at his Word. A rejection of God’s Word is rebellion.
If anyone had a complicated life it would have been King David. As the ruler of Old Testament Israel in its golden age of power and influence, every decision, problem and concern eventually came to roost at his doorstep. Nonetheless, listen to the inspired words this man wrote in Psalm 131.
“My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.” You are the little child who walks confidently side by side, hand in hand with your Heavenly Father.
Abraham was an old man when the LORD told him that his wife would give birth to a son. Abraham laughed, not in disbelief, but in awe. His childlike faith took the LORD at his word.
After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, King Herod had James killed, to the delight of the Jewish people. When Herod saw how pleased this made them, he had Peter put in prison to be put on trial in a couple of days. The night before Peter’s trial he “was sleeping between two soldiers,” and slept so soundly that he didn’t wake up until the angel brought him out of the prison. How could Peter sleep? Childlike faith. Simple, humble, unquestioning, trusting faith.
How could the widow put her mite into the collection plate? Jesus said she gave the greatest gift, because she gave all she had. Childlike faith. Humble trusting faith.
The thief on the cross—humble and trusting faith. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Simple. Humble. Trusting faith.
Are you worried? Are your anxious about life? Are you scared of what the future might bring? Maybe you being too much of an adult.
Jesus invites, and enables, a childlike faith. Relax in the know-ledge that no matter how things may look or how things may go, God has them under control. You’re the four year old child walking confidently, trustingly, walking with your Parent.
I’d like to close this morning with a prayer that pretty well sums up what we’ve been talking about today. It’s in the form of a poem…
Make me, O Lord, a child again So tender, frail and small
In self, possessing nothing In Thee, possessing all.
O Savior, make me small once more That downward I may grow
And in this heart of mine restore The faith of long ago.
With Thee may I be crucified No longer I that lives
O Savior, crush my sinful pride By grace, which pardon gives.
Make me, O Lord, a child again Obedient to Thy call;
In self, possessing nothing, In Thee, possessing all.