Enemies Of The Gospel

Text: Luke 18:9-14

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Enemies of the Gospel are counters. Yes, enemies of the Gospel are counters; they are all about counting and tallying everything they do, so that they might put confidence, not in the Gospel, but in themselves.

Here is how this works. These enemies of the Gospel keep track of all their good works – all they do before God. They then look at others and count how much they have done. And when it is determined that everyone else has not done as much as them, they thank God that they are so much better than everybody else and proceed to snub those around them as inferior.  

But just to make sure this makes sense, why are they enemies of the Gospel?

The answer, they are enemies of the Gospel because they fail to realize that they are sinners. Yes, they fail to understand that they are sinners because they are so busy counting the good things they are doing as a basis of their worth and value.

For example, we see one of these enemies of the Gospel in our reading from the book of Luke.

In Luke, chapter 18, we read about a Pharisee. This Pharisee was not like other people. He was not a thief or a rebel or an adulterer, for he fasted twice a week and gave a tenth of all his income. Indeed, we know that he is not like everyone else because he confesses his greatness. He has counted how much he has fasted and how much he gives away. If asked about other areas of his life, I am sure he would have a list of things counted up – things he does to make himself great.

So, as we can see, this Pharisee does not have much use for the Gospel because he has put all his trust in himself and what he has accomplished. He is an enemy of the Gospel because he does not seek the forgiveness of sins in God’s mercy, but rather, has rejected the Gospel by counting up his good deeds and determining that he is not a poor miserable sinner like everyone else.  Indeed, he is an enemy of the Gospel because he does not see himself as a sinner. And if he is not a sinner, there is no need of the Savior of sinners – Jesus Christ.

Now, this Pharisee was neither the first nor the last to be an enemy of the Gospel. In our Old Testament reading, we hear about a man named Cain. He too was an enemy of the Gospel. He was counting on his sacrifice and his work to earn him recognition before God. When his self-righteous plan did not work, though, he flipped out and murdered his brother.

We also see many enemies of the Gospel in the sixteenth-century, when the people spent all their time counting up their indulgences, their pilgrimages, and the number of Masses they attended as a basis of their worth.

And today, unfortunately, we are no different. Tragically, more often than not, we see enemies of the Gospel at funerals, of all places. Yes, at funerals we see pastors and family members being the enemy of the Gospel, when they spend all their time proclaiming the goodness of a deceased love one as a basis of why they are in heaven. Now, please do not misunderstand me, I am not talking about the pastor and family rejoicing over the past blessings of a deceased person – rejoicing and thanking God for all the good that the recently deceased did in their lifetime as a blessing to others. But rather, I am talking about those sermons and eulogies within the funeral that go on and on about a person’s goodness as a basis of why he or she must be in heaven. Tragically, whenever we knowingly or unknowingly count up the good things of a person to present it as the reason and foundation of why a person must be in heaven, we have not gone the way of the powerful Gospel, but rather, denied it.  

Sadly, my friends, whether it is with sixteenth-century indulgences or whether it is with funerals, when we go the way of counting and tallying up good things that we have done to try and show that we have acquired eternal life, we go the way of being an enemy of the Gospel. We are not justified by our works, no matter how good they are, because we are all tainted by sin.

Dear friends, the only thing that counts concerning our justification, is not our good deeds or how much we have done or how well we have done it, but rather, the only thing that counts is the mercy of God in Christ Jesus for sinners. Yes, the only thing that counts is the sheer grace of the Lord, not our counted deeds or our tallied righteousness. 

Take a moment and consider the Tax Collector in our Gospel reading. He beats his chest and says, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Notice that he has not counted anything. He has not counted up how much he has fasted or how much he has given or how much good he has accomplished. Yes, take note that he simply keeps quiet about himself and his works. He brings nothing forward about himself, except that he is a sinner in need of mercy.

I believe the old hymn, Rock of Ages, captures the outlook of the Tax Collector best, when it states,

          Nothing in my hand I bring;
Simply to the cross I cling.
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

Dear friends, anytime that you or I start to count out and itemize our goodness, like the Pharisee, we become enemies of the Gospel. Indeed, no matter how pious or good our deeds might be, we become enemies of the Gospel when we count them up as a basis of our worth and identity before God. The reason why this is so? When we go the way of the counting Pharisee, we deny the reality that we are sinners, and when we begin to go down the road of trying to convince ourselves that we are not sinners, like everyone else, well... Satan has us right where he wants us.

Now, keep in mind that the Devil wants nothing more than for you and me to be smug in our sins. That is to say; the Devil wants nothing more than for us to deny that we are sinners. The Devil rejoices when we pretend to be sorry for our sins and then walk around bragging about all the good that we have done as a basis of our worth and identity. Yes, the Devil rejoices when we become unconscious about our sin or when we celebrate our sin, for when we fail to know, feel, and acknowledge that we are guilty of sin and subject to death; we do not need Jesus and certainly, do not need the Gospel. 

There is another side to this as well. If we acknowledge our sin, the Devil then tries to convince us that we must somehow flee from God and hide. He says to us,

“You certainly feel ashamed and guilty because of your sin! Just think how God thinks of you. You should not raise your eyes to heaven; you should be afraid of the sight of God. In fact, you should be so scared that you should run away and get your life together. Only when you can fix your sins or improve on them, can you come into the Lord’s presence.”

As you can see, Satan’s tactic is to either make you and me smug in our sin or fearful in our sin. Either way we go, the result is the same; we have been disconnected from the Lord Jesus Christ and His mercy.

Dear friends, we must never surrender to these satanic arrows – these lies.

If you do not recognize yourself to be a sinner; if you do not know, feel, and experience that you are guilty of sin and subject to death – if you are busy counting your good deeds trying to convince yourself that you are not a sinner like everybody else around you, then repent. Yes, repent. You have placed yourself with the Pharisee and have become an enemy of the Gospel. You have succumbed to a satanic lie.   

On the other hand, if you know yourself to be a sinner – if you know, feel, and experience that you are guilty of sin and subject to death, but feel trapped and are afraid of God; know too that you have bought into Satan’s false theology.

Dear friends, we must never surrender to these evil lies! But rather, look to the Tax Collector of our Gospel reading.

In our Gospel reading, the Tax Collector neither counts his good deeds to convince himself that he is not a sinner nor does he hide from God because of his sins. But before the temple he confesses, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Think about this a moment! The Tax Collector dares to say that he is a sinner. He is a sinner who is tempted by flesh and blood. He is a sinner who has anger and hate; lust and greed. But his hope – as a sinner – is in the mercy and goodness of God.

What this means is this. You and I are surely sinners. We indeed should confess, know, feel, and experience this guilt of sin, otherwise we are trapped in the lies of the Pharisee; however, we should also know the opposite, that the Lord is full of mercy and grace for us. Yes, here is the bold news – the Gospel – for you today. When you feel most like a sinner – when you are bombarded by the reality of your failings, the aging of your body, and the pains of life, that is precisely the time when you can resist the Devil and say,

“If I am a sinner, so what? God is merciful. If I am an unfit sinner, then that is precisely why I need the sufficient Savior.”

Then after you boldly confess this before the evil one, you can beat your chest and confess even louder,

“God have mercy on me, the sinner.”

This is the nature of what it means to be a Christian. As a Christian, we daily confess and acknowledge our sins. However, in the midst of our sighs, we know the bold news of the Gospel that the Lord has mercy on sinners. We know that the Lord loves to show mercy and grace and salvation to sinners who feel their sins.

Dear Baptized Saints, all of your life is framed within God’s mercy. All of your sins cannot be set against you, for God’s mercy is for you because Christ Jesus died for you. So, you are shielded from God’s wrath.

You need not depend on your works and your deeds, for you have Christ’s work and His deeds. You need not count your works, for you can count upon God’s mercy in Christ.

Yes, because you are a baptized child of God, you have the comfort that you do not need to flee from God or pretend that you are not a sinner, but rather, you can confidently and continually plead for His mercy along with the tax collector, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

And the good news for you and me today is this: the Lord gladly gives His mercy to you. The Lord graciously forgives you all your sins.  He washes you clean and creates a new heart within you through His Word and Sacraments.

Lord have mercy on us! And He does; over and over and over.  This is the Gospel for you and for me too.     

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

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