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Sermon Text for October 27, 2013
"Absolute Truth" #81-08 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 27, 2013 By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour (Luther's Harsh Words) Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: John 14:6
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed! These seven words are the center of the Savior's story of salvation for sinners. By God's grace may we know they are the only and absolute truth which saves souls. God grant this truth to us all. Amen.
Recently a listener of the Lutheran Hour sent me a letter. In that letter he said he was disappointed that I kept talking about Jesus and the Bible being true. Using statistics to back his claim, he said, "71% of all Americans and 40% of Christians have come to believe there is no such thing as absolute truth. To give you an example of how far "truth" can wander, I am sharing the following story..." In truth, the story he sent me was an interesting one, so, with only the most minor of changes, I share it with you now.
The story begins with "The Family." For the purpose of this message, I will only refer to these relatives as "The Family." No, I won't give you their names, I will only tell you they are an old family, an incredibly wealthy family who have a multi-acre compound on the super-exclusive, ultra-expensive Martha's Vineyard. True, their family came over on the Fortune, the second boat which brought Pilgrims to America, The Family has produced distinguished ministers, senators, lawyers, judges, a noteworthy surgeon who was a pioneer in the use of anesthesia and a gaggle of successful Wall Street financiers.
With such a pedigree, it is understandable why some of The Family leaders decided it was time to record The Family history for the benefit of generations yet unborn. To that end they employed a writer who had shown considerable skill in both newspapers and magazines. The author did his work efficiently and uncovered wonderful details about The Family which had long since been forgotten. He also managed to find the rather embarrassing particulars of a childless great-great-uncle who had been electrocuted by the state in the early 1900s. It was a story The Family didn't know how to present. Finally the author said, "Trust me, I can handle the situation tactfully."
The limited-edition, leather-bound book was published. No, I won't give you the book's title, although I did a search on the web and know it can still be found. At any rate, from what I have been told, after the members of The Family got their copies of the book, they immediately turned to the story of the uncle. Some laughed, some smiled, some were amazed at the author's creativity. You see he had described the black-sheep uncle this way: "He occupied a unique chair of applied electronics at a government institution to which he was attached by the strongest of ties. Although there had been indications of his passing, those who were at his side said death came to him as a shock."
So, my friends, that's the story which was shared with me. What do you think? Does it prove beyond any contestation that truth is something which can be bent, spindled, folded, and mutilated? Does it demonstrate that there is no such thing as absolute truth? On this day which is best remembered because God's Son rose from the dead and defeated death, on this day when parts of the Christian Church remember how the Lord used Martin Luther to bring His Church back to the doctrines which are founded on Scripture's truth, I find myself in the minority and confessing: "Truth still stands. Complete, total, verifiable, absolute truth is alive and well."
Does that shock you? I can see how it would. After all you live in a world where truth is thought of as a Silly Putty which flows and molds itself to an unlimited number of different shapes. Although you may never have thought of it in these terms, your life has been an endless search for truth and an almost endless set of disappointments. For most of us, our childhood was shaped by the truth that our parents knew everything and could do anything. It was a great disappointment to find your father can't pilot a Boeing 747 by himself and your mother's kiss doesn't always make boo-boos feel better.
It didn't take long before our parent's perfection was replaced by a favored school teacher. Back then we knew she lived 24/7 in our classroom. Since she had no other life or purpose than to teach us, she had a lot of time to read and learn. In short, we knew she was the smartest person on the planet and Solomon would been humbled by her wisdom. Then, somewhere during the school year we found out teacher had feet of clay. Maybe she put a wrong answer on the blackboard or maybe she blamed us for talking when it was the nice girl behind us who was babbling. No matter the cause, we found teacher was not the one who had truth.
During those years there were other things which rattled our faith in absolute truth. On the TV, we saw breakfast and fast food commercials which had giveaway toys which seemed almost alive. What a shock to get them home and see those toys just lie there. Then we found out the truth about those special childhood friends who showed up around Christmas and Easter and when we lost a tooth. There was the shock of finding the person who promised to be our BFF, our Best-Friend-Forever, was a Judas. In our teens we first found true love. What an emotional heart throb moment it was to find someone actually loved us. Their pledge of loving us forever made us giddy. Then we found out their definition of "forever" was quite different and much shorter than ours. Little wonder we became distrustful of anything which said it was true.
Eventually we reached adulthood. In that journey the higher levels of our education had given us enough history to show us that not all scientific facts are scientific, factual, or truthful. Today we know it is not wise to subject a person who has been in a serious accident to the letting of blood, but that was good medical practice a few hundred years ago. We know the world isn't flat, but there was a time when a flat earth was embraced by the common man. We know that tomatoes aren't poisonous, but there was a time in the 1,600s when the wisest of men thought it so. Today we can split the atom, but you don't have to go too far back in time to find the day when most brilliant minds doubted the atom's existence...even as they once doubted, germs, bacteria, and the earth's revolving around the sun. Ask the scientific community today if dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold-blooded and you will see some serious battle lines. Ask astronomers about water on Mars and you will see they are conflicted.
Yes, our journey to adulthood was littered with broken, battered illusions which we had been told were true. It was no different when we struck out on our own. Listening to the news we discovered the President of the United States may not always be telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
We have heard conflicting reports and differing truths in regard to JFK's assassination, Neil Armstrong's moon walk, what really happened on September 11th, and who is ultimately responsible for the most recent recession. Advertisers tell us their beer, toothpaste, deodorant, car tires, vacuum cleaners, automobiles, hamburgers, credit cards, and computers are the best. But by now we are smart enough to figure out not everybody can be the best so, logically, somebody, maybe a lot of somebodys, maybe everybody is lying to us.
And we are still not done, for we have not yet touched upon religion. In our age, as in every age, humanity has taken a look at the religions of the world and asked, "Tell us, which is the truth which can save?" Truth-seekers challenge: "Give us the proof that your faith is the faith which has a monopoly on truth that excludes all others. Tell me how I can decide if the Christian, the Buddhist, the Hindu, or the follower of the prophet's faith is correct? How do I know who is right or if anyone is close to being right?"
Now to be fair, most truth-seekers looking at the difference, division, dissimilarity, and divergence between denominations and faiths have not expected to get, nor have they really waited, for an answer to their challenges. That is because experience has taught them any reply they get will be little more than the opinion of a person who is promoting his own ideas.
Since this is so, truth seekers have begun to make up their own answers and invent their own religion which is supported by doctrines based on their own point of view. Although particulars differ from person to person the following tenets are usually held in common. First, and quite rightly, they believe there is a God who began and maintains the universe. Second, the Lord expects His people to be nice and live in harmony with others. Third, God wants us to be happy and feel good about ourselves and the things we do. Fourth, God really doesn't expect people to consult with Him unless they encounter some difficulty which they can't handle on their own. Lastly, all people who have tried to do good, they believe will end up in heaven after they die.
So there you have it: 21st century do-it-yourself religion. And now perhaps for the first time in history, it is the Triune God's turn to ask questions of us. I can almost hear Him say, "My dear son or daughter, I truly appreciate your search and the thought you have put into your new religion. I want you to know just how much I am grateful that you mentioned Me as the Creator and Preserver of the universe. But I was wondering... can you tell Me how you know your religion is true? I mean have you been so right throughout your life that you are willing to gamble eternity on your religious invention? You should also know, I think people living in harmony is a grand idea. Unfortunately, as the Supreme Observer of human thought and interaction, I've found that when someone says: "People should live in harmony" that usually means they mean, "I want people to do what I want."
God could continue with something like, "Now I do confess to having a concern about you consulting Me only when you have a problem. Now you may think otherwise, but doesn't that sound just the least little bit like you're taking advantage of Me? Really, am I to be nothing more to you than a genii in a bottle who is to be taken down shelf when you want something?" "Finally," God would say, "you should know I am in complete agreement with you when you say, 'All good people should go to heaven when they die.' Take it from Me, you're right on the money, you hit the nail on the head; all good people do go to heaven when they die."
Then, I think the Lord might add, "You've done a good job here and I'm sure you've thought everything through; but I was wondering, and I don't want to make you too upset by saying this; have you given any consideration as to whose definition of "good" you are going to use to get into heaven? If you are using the human definition, I think you'll be OK. After all, I'm sure there are a lot of people in the world who are far meaner, nastier, and more sinful than you. Compared to them, you are good. Of course, if you're using My definition of "good," you may want to think this religious thing over a bit more."
And then God would say, "Let me explain. You've already noticed that there are differences between the world's religions, but have you noticed their similarities? If you haven't, let Me share. All of the world's major religions believe humans are sinful. They may use different words to describe sinfulness, but they all agree humanity isn't good enough to get into heaven. On their own they just won't make it. Which means, all of the world's religions say your religion is nothing more than a wish designed to make you feel good and offer an assurance that you'll make it into heaven. I hate to break it to you," God would say, "but your religion, as sincerely as you may believe it, is a pretty sorry thing."
And thus it happens that truth-seekers, and you may well be one of them, have come full circle. Their own religion isn't true and they can't be sure any other religion is giving them the absolute truth. It reminds me of something I saw during a recent visit to the hardware store... you know those mega-buildings with all the glass windows in front? Well, a bird had managed to walk through the door and was now trying to find his way out. This he did by repeatedly throwing himself at the large pieces of plate glass. He could plainly see where he wanted to go, but he just couldn't get there. People tried to shoo him toward the door, but their actions only increased his frantic flights into the glass. Finally, with his futile and frustrated efforts having convinced him the situation was hopeless and there was no way for him to get out, he just lay there in helpless exhaustion. That was when, gently and slowly a cashier picked up the bird, walked him through the door and set him down. From my car I waited and watched. Five minutes later, having been given his freedom, the bird flew away.
Is it possible that the story of that bird is also your spiritual story? You know you want to please the Lord, you know you want to get into heaven, but you're just not sure how. You've taken a look at one religion after another and for whatever reason, have found it wanting. It has not given you the peace, the forgiveness, the hope, the salvation you need. At this point in time you are exhausted, ready to give up, ready to shut down. If that is the case for you, or someone you know, I would like to speak to you as a friend. Understand, I will never get anything from what I say to you in the next few minutes. My purse and my church will not be made more full if you listen.
What I want to tell you is this: there are absolute truths in this world. The first truth I want to share is this: you, my friend, are going to die. That is absolute truth number one. Truth number two is: every religion of the world, and your own conscience, say you are going to have to answer for all you've done wrong. That also is an absolute truth. The third absolute truth is this: every religion, with the exception of Christianity, tells you what you are to try and do if you are to escape the penalties which Judgment Day will bring. That is absolute truth number three.
The last absolute truth I have to share is this: Christianity tells you that the Triune God, knowing you would never be good enough to get into heaven on your own, sent a Substitute into this world to take your place. God's only Son became One of us and was born in a town called Bethlehem when Caesar Augustus was ruling the Roman empire. I tell you that because what I am saying is truth and not a "once upon a time" story. The narrative of Jesus Christ is rooted in history and it is founded on fact. Because He was God's Son, He could do things we could not; because He was a Man, He could take our place. Indeed, Jesus' entire life was spent for you. He sidestepped temptations which were placed in His path and He said no to every sin that we might find to be seductive. From the beginning of His life to the end and beyond, He fulfilled the prophecies which only the real Messiah could do.
Then, after He had done all which had been asked of Him, this sinful world crucified Him and He died. He died for you. He died to take away your sins. He died so that, if you believe on Him, you will know on Judgment Day, God will not condemn you. On the contrary, because of Jesus, He will welcome you into heaven. And that, my friend, is absolute truth. Jesus is the Door which allows you to escape the condemnation of hell. Jesus is the Way who will get you into heaven. Jesus is the Truth, not a truth but THE Truth whom you can trust completely and totally and for all time.
Now there is much more to be said, and not enough time to say it. But, if you are a seeker of the Truth, I extend this invitation: please call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for October 27, 2013 Topic: Luther's Harsh Words
ANNOUNCER: What about Martin Luther's harsh words? Pastor Ken Klaus responds to a listener's question. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hi, Mark.
ANNOUNCER: October 27th is Reformation Day.
KLAUS: And it's important to remember that we celebrate the Reformation of the Christian Church more than we do the man, Martin Luther.
ANNOUNCER: Although we certainly thank God for Luther's rediscovery of justification by grace through faith. Our listener, however, takes a much different view. He asks, "Weren't Luther's writings, in part, responsible for the murder of the Jews by the Nazis?"
KLAUS: Don't you just love an individual who comes right to the point? The question actually calls for a bit of background, maybe a quick history lesson. Mark, who was Martin Luther?
ANNOUNCER: Luther was a 16th century Augustinian monk in Germany whose conscience, I could say, worked overtime.
KLAUS: That's right. He felt he could never be sure whether God loved him or if he could be saved...
ANNOUNCER: ...until he read in the Bible how God sent His Son to atone for our sins by dying on the cross. God then declares us innocent of guilt, on account of Christ.
KLAUS: Yes, that is a great beginning. We should also mention Luther wanted to debate what he had discovered with church leaders. He was pretty sure he was right and that what the Church had been teaching, wasn't.
ANNOUNCER: And thus began the Reformation. The church authorities of that day said their doctrines were shaped by various human traditions along with the Bible; Luther said you can't really depend on what human councils say; you ought to put your faith, instead, in what God says in His holy Word.
KLAUS: So, I think that's the background that we needed. The long and short of it is this: Luther was highly respected in some places and considered a real jerk in other places. Some thought he was a saint who restored the Church; others said he was a wild hog that had destroyed it. Conflicting opinions concerning Luther continue to exist to this very day. Did you know, when the folks at A & E Biography listed the 100 most influential people of the last thousand years, Luther came in at #3, right behind Johannes Gutenberg and Isaac Newton.
ANNOUNCER: I suppose he ranked that high because of the changes in society that he helped to bring about.
KLAUS: That and he translated the Bible into German, which helped to unify the German people, and he wrote on just about every subject there is.
ANNOUNCER: But Luther also said Jews should be forced to do manual labor and their synagogues should be burned. What about that?
KLAUS: Luther was a brilliant thinker and theologian. Luther was also a sinner. There were times when he shot from the hip--and his aim wasn't all that good. When it came to the subject of the Jews, he started out his ministry speaking in defense of them, later in life he made regrettable comments like the one you mentioned. To be frank, some of those later writings were just plain out wrong and are highly offensive. Although he was hardly the only person his age to hold those views, his influence perhaps gave his words a weight that other writers didn't have.
ANNOUNCER: Which is why our listener wonders if Luther was responsible for the holocaust. So, was he?
KLAUS: The Nazis scoured high and low to find anybody whose writings would seem to support their genocidal tendencies. Did they use Luther? Yes, they did. Did they also use the writings of Charles Darwin? Yes, they used Darwin to support their claims of racial superiority.
ANNOUNCER: Much like Margaret Sanger did here.
KLAUS: Yeah, of course, nobody ever says that Darwin was responsible for the holocaust, do they?
ANNOUNCER: I suppose this might be a good time to mention that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod back in 1983 issued a public statement which said that while we honor Luther for his clear teaching regarding the Gospel, we deplore and disassociate ourselves from his words concerning the Jews. We should also mention that Luther's writings do not hold official status among us on the level of Holy Scripture. Again, we worship Christ, not Martin Luther.
KLAUS: Yeah, and something more we can add; in his very last sermon, we hear Luther singing a somewhat different tune. In that sermon, Luther said, "We want to treat the Jews with Christian love and to pray for them so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord."
ANNOUNCER: How would you sum it up for us today?
KLAUS: People are sinners. Their thoughts do not always necessarily agree with those that come from God. We always need to weigh those writings in light of what God says in His Word, the Bible. If the writings agree, wonderful; if they don't, throw them out and stick with what God says.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
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