THE COST OF CONFESSING
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. John 16:4 – “But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Speaking openly and truthfully about the one true confession of the faith can be a difficult thing to do. There is always a chance of some kind of repercussion. It is much easier simply to blend in with the crowd than to live a life that bears faithful witness to Christ Jesus. And that is the temptation faced by Christians, especially Christians in this country.
God’s people in the Old Testament faced a similar temptation. They were God’s chosen people. God had promised them every blessing. He rescued them from bondage. They were sent to conquer the land of promise and take possession of it and live before God as a nation whose actions would confess the holy name of Yahweh, and His goodness toward those who trust in Him.
But they failed miserably in fulfilling that role. Instead of clinging to the God who had loved them so greatly, they quickly turned away to idolatry. Instead of standing out as a nation set apart by God, they tried their darndest simply to blend in with the ungodly nations around them. When the other nations were ruled by kings, Israel rejected God’s leadership and begged Samuel to anoint a king over them. When they witnessed the power of the other nations, they rejected God and made political treaties with their enemies. When they saw that the women of the other nations were desirable, they rejected the women God had given them and took for themselves wives outside of the covenant.
When they saw the other nations worshipping all kinds of idols, they set aside the exclusive worship of the true God and began worshipping idols along side of Him. God had called them to be holy, but they wanted to be anything but holy. They did not want to make the good confession of God’s name. They wanted the easier path, the path of compromise, the path of lease resistance.
And God was NOT pleased with them. Listen again to what the prophet Ezekiel said: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says Yahweh God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am Yahweh…”’” (Ezekiel 36:22-23) God’s people were called to be holy, but they profaned His name among the nations. They made it seem as if God was just another idol, another puny god of a puny and weak nation.
Indeed God’s wrath would be poured out on the Israelites, and the offending individuals would surely be judged. But God promised mercy in the end in order to sanctify His name, to show that He is not a puny tribal god, but the one true God, who is Lord over heaven and earth. And how would He make the nations to know who He is? He would hallow or sanctify Israel. The nations would come to know Him as God because He would keep His promises to Israel even though Israel kept none of her promises toward Him. He would show His greatness by making them what they could not be on their own. He would send His Holy Spirit and sanctify them; He would cleanse them with clean water, and give them new hearts.
And all of this, of course, was fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and, following His resurrection from the dead, in His sending forth of the Holy Spirit. Listen again to Jesus’ promise of the Spirit: “But when the Helper comes whom I shall send from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26)
Through His Holy Spirit God gives you the testimony of Christ, that is, the Gospel and grace of Jesus. He cleanses your filthiness and idolatry by sprinkling you with the water of Baptism. And by the power of His word and Spirit you are clean. In this washing He buries your hearts of stone and gives you new hearts of flesh, hearts which are alive with faith and trust in Christ. He puts His Spirit into you in order that your spirits may live and become active through faith. And He gives you the promise that you will dwell in the land of promise as His people, a promise already enjoyed in the Church through the Word and the Supper of Christ. You see, then, how through these gifts of grace the Holy Spirit testifies of Jesus and points to HIm. For these are the things of Jesus which deliver to you the salvation He has earned for you.
Now the Spirit who bears witness of Jesus to you also bears witness of Jesus through you. That is, having been given the gift of faith by the Spirit’s power, you also now confess His name and work. The word used here in the original Greek is marturete a word that has something to do with being a martyr. Martyrdom does not necessarily mean giving up your life, although that is certainly a possibility. It simply means speaking and confessing the truth about Jesus. And that confession is given both by the way you live and by the words you say. In our text Jesus speaks about the consequences confessing His name, consequences that bear the darker sense of the word martyr: “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” (Jn 16:2)
Confessing the Faith is difficult, it is sometimes frightening, for it opens you up to any number of uncomfortable consequences. There may be social ramifications. Family members might get upset with you; they may even stop speaking to you. Friends may quietly drift away from you. There might be ramifications that touch upon your livelihood too. As a Christian you may suffer for confessing the faith by simply insisting on ethical work practices, or speaking of Christ to a coworker, employee, customer, or client. As a student, you may find yourself penalized for confessing the Truth in your course work or for taking a stand that doesn’t comply with politically correct opinions and policies.
Your confession of Christ claims something that makes others uncomfortable. It claims to be an exclusive truth because that is exactly what it is. That confession makes a demand on the hearer whether or not that person will receive the truth. In a culture that praises individual spirituality and many “truths,” such a confession is offensive. Many would even claim it is offensive to God; for God, if he or she exists, they say, would never be so demanding and harsh – as if those who say such things know better than God.
Even within churches today a faithful confession is all too often met with hostility. Too many churches are too busy trying to conform to this world instead of confessing the truth. There is too much pressure to grant a little compromise here and there.
For example, churches have bought into the feminist movement and have ordained women to the Office of the Holy Ministry. This is something contrary to Scripture, but when you lay aside the Scriptures, anything goes. Churches have laid aside the claim that Jesus is the only path to God the Father and the only Savior of the soul. Instead, they say, there are many paths to heaven; you just have to find your own.
We now even have “churches” – and I use that term loosely – churches blessing same-sex marriages in direct defiance of the Lord’s Word. There is one Presbyterian “church” in Greeley where on their church sign it says, We are non-religious, and we support the LGBTQ Community.” When I drove by it the other day and saw that, I threw up a little in my mouth. You speak against these things and make a confession in line with the Lord’s own words, and you will quickly find yourself condemned by these churches, not to mention being labeled as a homophobe and hate-filled bigot.
Even within Lutheranism in general solid confessions of faithfulness to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions are scoffed at by a growing and hostile number of people. And none of this – at home, in the workplace, in the classroom, or in the churches – is anything compared to the suffering Christians endure in other nations where they are losing their very lives for the clear confession of Christ. The news reports of Christians being murdered and beheaded never seem to end. Jesus said, “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”
So does this mean that we should not confess? Should we, out of fear and societal pressure just try quietly to blend in with the world in which we live? Absolutely not, for to do so would be to repeat the gross sin of unfaithful Israel. The church must not go down that path.
Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.” Your Lord wishes for you to be emboldened; for even as He knows that you will face adversity ahead of time, surely He will help you as you face it. After all, what do you have to fear from men? The most they can do to you is take away your life and the things of this life. But the Lord is the maker of body and soul. You fear and obey God rather than men.
And God continues to be gracious to you, even as you struggle to confess His name faithfully. By the Holy Spirit He continues to testify to you of Jesus and His Gospel. He gives you His Word and even the Body and Blood of Jesus that you might be strengthened again in the faith and in the confession of Christ by the forgiveness given in the Sacrament. He gives you Holy Baptism wherein you are given God’s Trinitarian name, rescued from death and the devil, and made His own dear child. You are given the gift of Holy Absolution, the deliverance from God through a man your forgiveness. And to confess these things means also to receive them as often as they are offered in order to keep you spiritually alive and healthy.
You confess not because you are better than others, not because you are morally superior to the world. You confess because you have been saved from eternal destruction. It is the grace of God that makes you a Christian. And as you continue in His grace, His Spirit will be active in you, moving you forward to bear this good witness. And though many will reject Christ by rejecting you, some will listen, some will be drawn to Him, some will be strengthened in the faith they already have. And in all things, whether they believe or reject your witness, God will be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever.
God strengthen your hearts and lips to be faithful to His Word in this world.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.