For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men?
For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
Our Lord Jesus says to his disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me” (John 15:18-21).
Those who seek to please Christ are those who seek to abide by His Word and remain in it, regardless of the cost involved (John 8:31-32). Such cost may include the loss of friends, family members, or job. The hatred of the world may include isolation and persecution. Collectively, also, for Christ’s Church, for His people gathered around Word and Sacrament, such hatred of the world may present itself in the refusal to hear the Word of God preached by the pastor, the denial of Christ’s absolution, the promotion of schism contrary to the true doctrine, the despising of God’s Means of Grace, and the desire to change the worship service from being that which God works through to deliver His blessed gifts of life and salvation in the hearing of His Word and the distribution of Christ’s body and blood, to what we give to God, without first acknowledging the extent of our sin before Him.
Like the Pharisee, we come to God’s house to tell God what we have done and how we have lived, and thus do we seek His favor based on our work and apart from His mercy in Jesus His beloved Son. Contrast this pharisaical approach to God based on oneself with the manner that the tax collector approached God. He could not even look up. He did not claim any goodness of himself, but simply confessed what was right and true. He had nothing to give. He had nothing to offer to God-only his sin. So he says, “God, be merciful to me the sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14, my translation: the definite article is in use here in the Greek text, v13).
This “poor miserable sinner” claimed no merit of his own. He did not at all trust in himself. Nor did he look to himself for any “spark of goodness” whereby he might gain God’s favor. Instead, He trusted only in the mercy of God for help and salvation. He came expecting to receive from God, not to give. And Jesus says receive everything, this sinner did, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other” (Luke 18:14).
To be justified before God means nothing less than having peace with God (Romans 5:1ff), having your sins forgiven, being unconditionally in God’s favor, and having nothing but God’s compassion and kindness upon you. On the other hand, to not be justified before God means nothing less than having God’s wrath and judgment upon you and to not at all have God’s favor towards you.
Only in Christ Jesus do you have such true and lasting peace with God! This is the Christ who God reveals in His Holy Word. And this is the Christ which God’s Holy Church proclaims and who God’s people unashamedly confess. This, too, is the same Christ which the world hates, and for which God’s people joyfully suffer. But God’s people suffer for the sake of Christ and for the sake of His Name because He is their Savior, “for there is no other Name, under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). They know no other God, for there is no other God (1 Corinthians 8:6). All others are nothing but false God’s, man-made, and of the devil (Revelation 9:20).
This is why the world hates Christ, His Church, and His people—they are of God, not of the devil, the world, or of sinful man. They teach the way of God aright, neither compromising or weakening God’s message. They boldly confess and unashamedly proclaim the way of God in truth.
God’s people come before God’s throne of grace, not giving to God, but seeking to receive from Him the mercy that God gives through faith in His Son (Hebrews 4:16). And by God’s mercy, that have it!
This is indeed not a popular message, for many, even within the church, reject it. But it is only Christ who gives life (John 6:63). We are lost and condemned in our sin, with nothing to give to God. But God covers such sinners with Christ’s righteousness (1 John 1:8-9), and we, now, live unto Him, rejoicing in His bountiful goodness and believing His unmerited and undeserved mercy on account of Jesus, His Son and our Savior. Amen.
“We do not seek the favor of men by our teaching either, if we may be permitted to say this without boasting. For we teach that all men are wicked; we done the free will of man, his natural powers, wisdom, righteousness, all self-invented religion, and whatever is best in the world. In other words, we say that there is nothing in us that can deserve grace and the forgiveness of sins. But we proclaim that we receive this grace solely and altogether by the free mercy of God and His works, universally condemning all men for their works (Ps. 19:1). This is not preaching that gains favor from men and from the world. For the world finds nothing more irritating and intolerable than hearing its wisdom, righteousness, religion, and power condemned. To denounce these might and glorious gifts of the world is not to curry the world’s favor but to go out looking for and quickly to find, hatred and misfortune, as it is called. For if we denounce men and all their efforts, it is inevitable that we quickly encounter bitter hatred, persecution, excommunication, condemnation, and execution” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p.58).
Prayer: Dearest Jesus, preserve us, Your Holy people. Keep us from compromising Your Holy doctrine or accommodating ourselves to the ways of the world for superficial peace in the world. Give us strength to endure the temptations that befall us that we not forsake Your Word, but remain steadfastly in it and in the true faith for our salvation. Amen.
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