Compromise Is Not The Way
February 12, 2023 Speaker: Ray Lorthioir Series: Sermons 2023
Passage: Matthew 5:21–37, Deuteronomy 32:1–9
Pastor Ray Lorthioir
Trinity Lutheran Church
W. Hempstead, NY
Includes the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Matthew 5:21-37
Compromise Is Not The Way
Thirty-eight years ago, Thursday, I first stepped into this pulpit to preach. No one who was here on that day is left among you. Even those of you here today who were members of this congregation in your youth weren’t present. You returned later. So, if I do the math, counting out vacation Sundays and adding Christmas, Good Friday and other services, I’ve preached over 1,900 times from this pulpit. The years go fast.
I have no record of that first sermon. In those days I spoke free style with just the Bible text in front of me like I do at bible studies. I didn’t start writing sermons again until the later part of 2009. And the reason was a certain amount of vanity. In those days, we were starting to put audio sermons up on the internet. And when I listened to recordings of myself, I realized that there were too many pauses, “ums” and “ahs” that didn’t add to the experience. So, that’s why I started reading from a prepared text again. It eliminates that stuff. Of course, I still get tangled a bit over words sometimes. And I must confess, I’ve always hated writing. Nevertheless, I do quite a bit of it these days.
But, let’s get to the important stuff. I begin this morning with a portion of the Song of Moses from Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 32:1-9, “1 Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. 2 May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. 3 For I will proclaim the name of the LORD [Yahweh], ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A god of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. 4 They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation. 6 Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you? 7 Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations, ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you. 8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. 9 But the LORD’S portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.” (ESV)
If you notice, I’m quoting from the English Standard Version. And there’s a reason. What’s called the Masoretic text is the standard Hebrew manuscript from which most all English translations of the Old Testament are made. The oldest copy of the Masoretic text in existence is from about 1,000 A.D. But in 1947 older manuscripts of the Old Testament dating to about 100B.C. were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. In addition there’s a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek that was made about 300B.C. We have existing copies of that manuscript. It’s called the Septuagint.
In verse 8 of Deuteronomy 32, the Masoretic text says that when Yahweh divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the “sons of Israel.” Israel — Jacob — had twelve sons. And this is the translation most English bibles use. The pew bibles we have here say that.
There’s only one problem. Yahweh divided mankind at the Tower of Babel in Genesis chapter 11, long before Jacob and his twelve sons lived. In corroboration of that, both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint say in verse 8, “according to number of the Sons of God.” And, those are the texts that the English Standard Version translates verse 8 from. It’s probably a much more accurate reading of the original text.
But, just who are the “Sons of God?” We get an understanding from Yahweh’s question to Job in Job 38:4-7, “4 ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (ESV)
Ignoring the allegorical carpentry terms Yahweh uses to describe His act of creation, we see that the “Sons of God” were present at the creation of the earth itself. At that point there were no humans. So, these “Sons of God” can only be spirit creatures that Yahweh created ahead of His creation of the earth.
From Job, other books of canonical Scripture, and apocryphal books we get additional information about the “Sons of God.” For instance, they are heavenly courtesans that surround the throne of Yahweh their Creator. Yes, friends, both the Old and New Testaments teach that we’re not the only intelligent beings Yahweh created. There are “aliens,” if you will, including angels. These other created beings exist in the heavenly dimensions of this universe. Sometimes they show up in human form in our dimension. It happened in biblical times and there are still modern testimonies of angelic interaction with humans.
Now, Scripture tells us that some of these “Sons of God” are disobedient and rebellious. There’s the serpent, the tempter of Adam and Eve, in Genesis chapter three. There’s the dragon, and all the evil characters of Revelation. There’s Satan who came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. But the rebels we will concern ourselves with in today’s teaching are the Sons of God that Yahweh appointed as gods to serve the nations that He divided humanity into at the Tower of Babel. Remember, at Babel Yahweh confused our languages and divided us into people groups. And Deuteronomy 32:8 tells us that when He did so, Yahweh put each people group under the authority of one or more of these “Sons of God.”
However, instead of leading humanity to serve Yahweh, each of these heavenly beings led humanity into the process of rebellion that St. Paul described in Romans 1:18-32. The very first and crucial step of this rebellion is the deliberate denial that there is a Creator God, so that humans cease to worship Yahweh and give Him thanks. The next step down is the poisoning of philosophy so that man is put at the center of creation, instead of Yahweh, our Creator. From there, the ancients went on to the worship of idols — the worship of created things instead of the Creator. For this, Yahweh gave them over to lust and the degrading of their bodies through sexual impurity and immorality. The next step down is homosexuality. Then it continues into every kind of depravity imaginable. And if you notice, that’s exactly the path our own civilization has been on for quite a while.
Now, it has always puzzled me that the ancients fell into the worship of gods and goddesses. But an understanding of what happened at Babel solves the puzzle. Yahweh Himself disinherited the nations and put real “gods” and “goddesses” in charge of them. Only these spiritual beings, these “Sons of God,” betrayed Yahweh, and led the nations to worship them instead. And the worship of these gods and goddesses could get real serious. We know from Scripture that at least two Israelite kings, Ahaz and Manasseh, burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to the gods of the nations. And being conquered by Spanish Christians is the only thing that stopped the human sacrifices of the South American native nations.
In the past, we humans have worshipped statues of our own imagining. But, it’s the unseen powers behind the statues that pull whole nations along. That’s the frightening thing difficult to believe. Yet, when we look at the course of Naziism and Communism in the last hundred years, it shouldn’t be that hard to believe. For how do we explain the whole nations of Germany and Russia following these violent, evil paths, and rebelling against their historic Christian roots? Indeed, what’s pulling the United States on its present course?
In our case, the Bible is no longer taught in American schools, even as cultural history. Second, in our schools we’ve replaced the Judeo-Christian doctrine of human origins with essentially a Hindu or Buddhist origin myth. In this latter myth the universe itself is uncreated, self-existing and eternal. It’s got unseen and unknown mechanisms within it that over eons of time can bring everything we see into existence. Where did this myth get its power over the American imagination, if not from unseen rebellious powers?
So, if the fiction is believed that the universe is millions and billions of years old like is taught in our schools, then it’s very easy for a young person to dismiss the Bible as fiction. And many now say it’s impossible to believe in a good God when there’s all this evil in the world. That’s because they don’t know God and have no clue about the consequences of sin.
In our time many people have abandoned Christianity for so-called spirituality. And spirituality is nothing more than old fashioned idolatry. For in spirituality, everyone can imagine the unseen things behind this world in any way they want. That imagining is the very same thing the unseen powers did to the minds of the ancients
And some of what’s being imagined today is quite frightening. Indeed, I just saw a very woke clip from a Disney plus children’s show that’s designed to do only one thing — indoctrinate children in racism of the Critical Race Theory variety. And a whistle blower in the FBI just outed a scheme within that organization to prosecute conservative Christians as national threats by tying them to white racism, anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ activities. This would have begun with the ultra-conservative Roman Catholics that won’t give up the Latin mass. Now that the scheme has been exposed, it’s been withdrawn.
But, this kind of stuff is coming from the heads of those who have been educated in American schools. Therefore, just what kind of religion is being taught in our schools? It looks like the sort of paganism that Paul described in Romans 1.
Ken Ham, head of the Answers in Genesis organization, believes that the present course of our civilization began when the church abandoned the fight against the pagan origins myth of macro evolution. And the church continues to yield sacred ground against paganism, even to the point of absurdity.
If you remember, last week we looked at these words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:13, “‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.’” The word translated “trampled” has a figurative sense: to “reject with disdain.” And this past week I saw this headline on the Town Hall website that proves Jesus’ point — “A Proposal One Church Is Considering Is So Woke Even an Atheist Is Calling It 'Utterly Bonkers’” Without paying money, I couldn’t read the article. And I don’t pay money if I can help it. But I think the headline says it all. If the church loses its saltiness — if it waters down its divine message in an attempt to please the world — atheists and others will not respect it. They will only reject the church with even more disdain. Compromise with the false teachings of the gods and goddesses is not the way.
Ken Ham has an interesting insight into our current situation when it comes to evangelism. In Acts chapter 2, Peter preached Jesus to a Jewish audience in Jerusalem that was thoroughly indoctrinated in the worship of Yahweh, the Creator God. The result that day was 3,000 conversions. On the other hand, in Acts 17, Paul preached Jesus to a crowd of gentile, pagan philosophers and intellectuals in Athens. Here’s the result from Acts 17:32-34, “32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”
Only a few were brought to the Lord that day. But considering that these people were steeped in pagan origins myths rather than Scripture’s origins narrative, it’s not surprising. What is surprising is that Paul made any headway at all given the situation. But that’s the power of Yahweh’s Word in Messiah Jesus.
Ken Ham’s insight is that until recently the U.S. was Acts chapter 2 territory. People like Billy Graham could speak to a Christian nation in a commonly understood biblical language. But, because so many younger people have been educated to think pagan, the U.S. is now Acts 17 territory when it comes to evangelism. The Creator God, Yahweh, is unknown and rejected by many because they have been taught and have believed a pagan origins myth. What to do in such a situation?
Certainly, an organization like Answers in Genesis can provide the children of Christians with scientific proofs that the Genesis creation narrative is quite viable. It can also provide Christian children with the philosophical grounding necessary to counter the pagan creation myths. Just as important, it places competently produced videos in worldwide forums such as Youtube to be seen by unbelievers.
Now, in the local church, we might also take instruction from what Paul did in Acts 18 when he went from Athens to a nearby city named Corinth. Corinth was just as pagan as Athens.
The following section of 1Corinthians was not in our lessons the previous two weeks, but it makes the point. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25, “20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.” As we saw Paul say to the Corinthians in last week’s second lesson — 1 Corinthians 2:2, “. . . I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Among all the gods and goddesses of this world, there is none like Yahweh. For, what god ever sent his or her only begotten son to be crucified by human beings in real time so that the same humans could be forgiven of their sin, saved from their wicked rebellion, and in time be resurrected from the dead to righteous eternal life with the resurrected Son of God? Muslims sometimes scoff that our God is so weak that He couldn’t prevent His own crucifixion. But what I want to know in return is if Muhammad was the last prophet, why wasn’t he resurrected from the dead in power like Jesus?
The Son of God crucified in real time is a message that no other religion in the world can claim and that all religions and philosophies consider absurd foolishness. And for this reason, it’s clear that a crucified God is no religious myth, no idol, that would ever be invented by humans or taught by a false god. That’s what makes the crucified Jesus real. Therefore, Paul was right in resolving to know nothing but Jesus Christ crucified in the midst of a pagan, gentile city filled with temples to other gods and goddesses.
And Jesus is intriguing to atheists, pagans and non-Christians in other ways. For instance, more than one atheist has gotten caught up in the Sermon on the Mount, of which today’s gospel lesson is a part. In today’s lesson we saw Jesus teach about the world as Yahweh meant it to be. It’s a world without violence and anger, and a world without sexual sin. It’s a world without the duplicity that comes from breaking our word. More importantly, it’s a world in which humans are not hypocrites, outwardly doing what looks like righteousness while inwardly lusting after evil.
Therefore the non-Christian reader can be stunned by two things. First, the tantalizing hope held out in the sermon of this different kind of world — a world without evil. And this hope is real, in the form of the Kingdom of heaven, both present now, and coming.
Second, readers are stunned by the absolute impossibility of us achieving such a world on our own in our present fallen spiritual condition. If the impurity of secret sexual lusting is all it takes to be condemned to eternal hell, then who can escape hell?
The answer is contained in the one who preached the Sermon on the Mount Himself. He is the Son of God crucified for the sins of the world, so that forgiven sinners may be gathered into the eternally righteous Kingdom of heaven, both present and coming.
The crucified God promises that He will do what no other god can do. By the blood of His sacrificial death, He purifies in righteousness all who hunger and thirst for real righteousness. As Jesus said in John 5:24, “‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.’” And as we hear promised every Sunday in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Hearing of the crucified Son of God, then, let the pagan come to Yahweh, his or her true Creator God. Amen.
Bible quotes are from the NIV, unless otherwise specified.
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