October 3, 2021
Pastor John Hering
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name. We tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
39 But Jesus said, “Do not try to stop him, because no one who does a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil about me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Amen I tell you: Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ, will certainly not lose his reward.
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall into sin, it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around his neck. 43 If your hand causes you to fall into sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed, than to have two hands and go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44 ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 45 If your foot causes you to fall into sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell, 46 ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 47 If your eye causes you to fall into sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good. But if the salt loses its flavor, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
You all know what it says on our church sign out front. Divine Peace in big letters and then in letters so small you can’t really read them passing by at 40 MPH is says, “Lutheran – WELS.” If you don’t know what WELS stands for then look on the Welcome page in the back of your program—3rd paragraph. Divine Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church is a member of the WELS. And because there may be someone here who doesn’t know what that means, let me remind you. It means we are partners with about 345,000 other people in about 1,250 churches proclaiming the gospel of Jesus all around the world. We learn about that work when our IT folks play the WELS Connection video, or you read the Forward In Christ magazine, Facebook or Instagram apps. Being a member of the WELS means that you help to train future pastors and teachers (8 new teachers being called into the SCD right now), and send out missionaries in the USA and around the world. When you joined the WELS (when you joined Divine Peace) you made a public statement about what you believe. You said you believe like the rest of us—that the Bible is God’s Word, and grace of God we are saved by Jesus’ death on the cross, through faith the benefits of Jesus’ death came to us, and some day we will be freed from this broken world and saved in heaven. So, being a member isn’t just an activity, it is also a confession. We work together because we believe together.
So, what about all the churches that are all round us? What happens when we don’t confess our faith like they do, or they like us? And what are we going to do with friends, relatives, acquaintances at work and neighbors next door who don’t believe like we do? For some of you this is a big deal, and for others you might not think it’s all that important. Today Jesus has something to say about that. He teaches about our attitudes and our actions toward churches and people.
Context: We’ve been traveling with Jesus the past couple of weeks as he talks to the crowds and to his disciples. Today we see John, who never knew anything about the WELS, come to Jesus with a problem that is a lot like that one we’ve been talking about. “38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name. We tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” Driving out the demons wasn’t the issue—everyone was cool with that. The issue was that this man was not one of the disciples. Jesus had a solution for John and for us when we’re faced with the similar question:
So, What If They’re Not WELS?
Accept All Who Promote The Savior’s Cause
John came with his question to Jesus and Jesus gave him the answer: “39 But Jesus said, “Do not try to stop him, because no one who does a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil about me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us.” So, who was this man driving out demons? We really don’t know much about him. I can well imagine he heard Jesus preach and believed Jesus was the Savior. I don’t know what his motive was for doing these things, but it appears God had given him the power to do these miracles. Neither was he one of the disciples Jesus had directly called. But, here’s the point we gain from Jesus’ answer: “Be patient, John. This man may not have the same background, education, knowledge and training the called disciples had, but if he’s speaking about Jesus and doing miraculous things that brought attention to Jesus as the Savior, then he’s obviously not against Jesus. His credentials may not line up exactly with those of the disciples, but they didn’t need to drive him away. The point: Accept All Who Promote The Savior’s Cause.
Now let’s talk about this a second. What happened to John also happens to people who are WELS. When it comes to confessing the truths of Scripture, we know we’re in the minority (just try talking to people about marriage, abortion, gender or Jesus being the only way to heaven). While it is good for us to be concerned about defending the truth of Scripture (as if Scripture needed any defending), the point Jesus makes is that we might get caught up so much in what another church mistakenly teaches and does, that we may fail to see the gospel and love they also offer in Jesus’ name. You probably know people like this. They may not share your confession, they are not part of the WELS, but they have caught the love of Jesus and they’re teaching little children all about the love of Jesus for them. Indeed with faith in Jesus as their Savior they are a part of the Holy Christian Church. They baptize children and have Christian schools. They have day cares and run soup kitchens, support orphanages and hospitals, and send missionaries all over the world to tell people that Jesus died on the cross to pay for their sins. So, how are we to react to this If They’re Not WELS? We love God’s Word and want to be faithful to it. We love their souls and want them to be in heaven someday. We also love our souls, too. So, are we going to turn our faithfulness and love into arrogance? Should I raise my haughty confessional Lutheran eyebrows and look down on these other churches and people? Should I assume that God can’t do great things through them? Should I be like John? “He is not like one of us!” Listen to Jesus: “41 Amen I tell you: Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ, will certainly not lose his reward.”
So, now you’re ready to answer the question, “What If They’re Not WELS?” right? Jesus teaches us to Accept All Who Promote His Cause. Jesus’ cause is telling people the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news that Jesus is the Savior. Thank God for all who promote his cause. Pray for them. Encourage them and even imitate them. Perhaps the Lord will use you to open a door for a conversation so you can witness to the truth of God’s Word to them, and who knows, they might listen to your testimony from God’s Word and join our ranks!
Now, having said that, I know there are a lot of religious people who think that WELS people need to be more tolerant, more broad-minded. Have you ever heard someone say, “You WELS people need to loosen up!” Is that what Jesus was saying to John? If Jesus is urging us to be more accepting of what people say and do in his name (that is based on God’s Word), is he also encouraging us to be more tolerant of what they say (even if it goes against God’s Word)? No. While Jesus encourage us to Accept All Who Promote the Savior’s Cause, Jesus also gives a stern warning to
Reject All Those Who Destroy the Savior’s Children
Jesus takes his conversation with John to the next level. “42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall into sin, it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around his neck.” That’s a stern warning! Don’t get all upset with people who are leaning in the right direction, but get upset at people who are moving in the wrong direction! God calls for righteous anger against those who are not promoting Jesus’ cause at all! When Jesus says a person causes a little one “to fall into sin,” the word he uses is a picture word for a (mouse)trap. But, Jesus isn’t talking about traps and varmints, he is talking about wrong teachings that aren’t from or supported by God’s Word. These are false teachings that are invented by religions that can confuse minds of sincere Christians. Jesus says that anyone who uses wrong teachings to trap simple Christians and ruin their faith—well, you heard Jesus, “it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around his neck” Jesus Rejects All Those Who Destroy the Savior’s Children.
Jesus cares so deeply about his people and knows the challenges we face living in a world surrounded by the devil and his evil schemes to try and destroy God’s people. Jesus also knows that God does not tolerate sin—whether the sin living in us or the sins we commit on purpose, or the sins we are tricked into by false teachers. That’s why Jesus came. He came to take care of the sin problem. When Jesus lived he was living for us and when he died he was dying to pay the penalty of all your sins. Jesus gave us his holiness as a gracious gift. He creates faith at baptism to receive the gifts of forgiveness, eternal life and deliverance from the devil. He sustains that faith through his Word and strengthens our faith at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus has a whole lot invested in us! And when someone uses false teachings to trap his people and poison their faith to the point of trusting and leaning on the wrong thing for salvation he is furious. Jesus calls us to Reject All Those Who Destroy the Savior’s Children.
Jesus uses a very dramatic illustration to make his point: “43 If your hand causes you to fall into sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed, than to have two hands and go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44 ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 45 If your foot causes you to fall into sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell, 46 ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 47 If your eye causes you to fall into sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” If you had a hand, foot or eye with a disease in it that would take your life, wouldn’t seek a doctor’s help to amputate it in order to save your life? We’d be crazy not to! That’s how serious Jesus is about any false teacher or false teaching that could destroy our faith in Jesus Christ. We also need to heed the warning when our hands, feet and eyes are leaning toward sin and realize the danger this becomes to our faith. Or to put it positively, that’s how serious Jesus is about protecting his brothers and sisters in the one, true faith.
So, What if They’re Not WELS? You can see this is a very important question and it’s even more important to know the answer. Why does it matter? It matters a lot when parents watch their children pick their friends who will either help promote or destroy their faith. Or when picking a life-long spouse that will either help to promote or destroy their faith. So What If They’re Not WELS? Pastors hear this when members leave a WELS church that is proclaiming the truth of God’s Word for a church that doesn’t believe in the Means of Grace (The Gospel in Word and Sacrament) but has all the social programs. So What If They’re Not WELS Does it mean, “I don’t care about wrong teaching as long as it feels good to me?” Or “I’m not worried about wrong teaching. I won’t lose my faith?” People can say what they like—it’s a free country. But, anyone who talks like that sure doesn’t sound like Jesus. And says, “Cut it off!”
So, what are we going to do with our family, friends and neighbors who aren’t WELS? This: When we see them leaning with love and compassion for others by sharing the gospel of Jesus with them, we rejoice and thank God that he works through people—even those who haven’t discovered all of his truth. When we see them leaning away from Jesus and trying to trap Jesus’ children with false teachings, we grieve and label them as Jesus does.
There are so many churches around us with lots of signs. Usually you can tell pretty much what they are confessing at a church by their sign, but maybe you’re wondering how to keep this all straight? How can we know when to confess with them and when to grieve over them? Jesus has the answer: “49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good. But if the salt loses its flavor, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” The picture Jesus uses is very common. There is salt at home, at restaurants, and everybody knows what it looks like. We use it primarily to make things taste better, and in Jesus’ day it was widely used to preserve food. Do you see Jesus’ point? Jesus was using salt to make a point. Jesus was talking about the Bible. When was the last time you “licked” your Bible?!! I mean, read your Bible!!! Take the Word of God into your life. God’s law and gospel are the fire the Holy Spirit uses to bring us to faith and keep us in faith. The truth of God’s Word preserves your faith, improves your knowledge about God’s plan of salvation and enhance your wisdom (putting knowledge into practice). It is God’s Word that guides our confession and our practice. It is God’s Word that promotes the Savior’s Cause and Rejects Everything that Destroys the Faith of His Dear Children. Rely on God’s Word. Read it. Listen to it. Then you’ll be well equipped to partner and proclaim God’s Word to solve difficult problems like this one: What If They’re Not WELS? Sift what they’re saying and doing through the truth of God’s Word and you’ll either rejoice over them, or reject them because you love God’s Word, you love their souls (and want them to be in heaven), and you love your own soul (that you want to keep fresh and strong until you enter heaven). Then you’ll see lots of WELS and Non-WELS people praising God forever. Why? Because it is the grace of God working through Holy Scriptures to create and sustain faith whether WELS or not. It’s all about what God has done for us. So, whether WELS or not love God’s Word, love their souls, and love your own soul as we grow and go in Christ. Amen!