The Battle Within (Luke 12:35-40)
Rev. David French
My friends, we are in a war. A war that goes back to Eden when Satan first challenged Eve’s faith with the words, “Did God really say …?” It’s a war that will continue until the day Christ returns. And like it or not, all who call on His name in faith are both the soldiers who fight and the battlefield were the war is fought. In other words, we are both sinner and saint.
All of us were born into this world as sinners, and as we just confessed a few moments ago, we still are. And because we are born sinners, by nature we have no axe to grind with the world, if you will, because the world is as cursed as we are and feels perfectly normal to us. And because it feels normal, we think we have peace. But if we really have peace, why is there so much anxiety in our lives? The truth is, it’s because what the world calls peace is really the silence of the grave. But the grave is the thing that God has rescued us from. Remember that Christ did for us what we cannot do - He obeyed the commandments, and so He lived His entire life without anxiety or uncertainty, without worry, without sin or any of its side effects. Jesus could see beyond the pain to the separation that it caused between God and humanity, so He willing took our sin upon Himself so that when God poured out His wrath against sin, it would land on His Son.
That’s the essence of the Gospel: Jesus willingly taking God’s wrath for our sin. And now, by grace through faith, we and all who have been brought into His kingdom are soldiers on the front line of that war. In our baptism, our sinful nature was drowned, and we were given a new and holy nature and suit of armor, and that is when the battle within began.
Now, understand that Satan doesn’t care that our sinful nature is dead. He uses our dead sinful nature like a zombie that attacks the new life we have in Christ. And make no mistake, the attacks never end. They are the reason Paul would say in frustration, “the good I want to do I do not do but the evil that I hate I keep on doing.”
In our Gospel lesson this evening, Jesus was teaching His disciples, people like you and me, that He understands our dilemma of living with two natures. In fact, He’s warning about one of the weapons our old Adam uses against the new life we have in Christ. A subtle but destructive weapon we call anxiety.
You see, anxiety uses the things of this world to seduce us. The thing is, we really do need the things of this world. If we don’t eat, we will eventually starve to death. If we don’t have clothes, we will get wet in the rain, burn in the sun, and freeze in the winter. Clearly, we need all the things God has given us to support this body and life, but our sinful nature will use the needs we have in this life as bait in the trap that is anxiety.
This evening’s lesson comes right after that story of the rich fool who stores up treasures for himself, and Jesus finished that lesson with the words, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.” In other words, Jesus wants us to look at our possessions from an eternal perspective. Food and clothing are things confined to this world, and we do need the support and protection they offer, living in this world. But the source of our hope is knowing that our lives won’t end without them. In fact, our lives don’t end at all. Remember, “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.”
Jesus used the examples of food and clothes because the Jews at that time were both poor and being occupied by a conquering nation. We, on the other hand, are a free people with plenty of food and clothes. But this warning still applies to us. I mean, even though we are wealthy beyond the dreams of most people in this world, we still worry, and worry is simply a result of trusting ourselves instead of our God.
In our wisdom we ignore that we are eternal beings and bind ourselves with the temporary things of this world. When we become anxious and worried about something, that “something” becomes our top priority; it becomes a god that we worship, not with our prayers and praise, but with our anxiety and worry. With His words, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his life?” Jesus is teaching that anxiety is a worthless form of worship.
Think about the way of the world as we know it. Wake up - eat - work - eat - go back to sleep. Is that really all there is to life? And if so, what lasting “treasure” do we expect to find? All the treasures of this world rust or wear out. The stock market goes down. The car begins to leak. The roof needs to be replaced. Eventually, every earthly thing we treasure will be gone. And so, people who rely on the treasures of this world are destined to have worries, frustrations, and ultimately nothing to show for their struggles.
The Holy Spirit, however, has given us a new and holy nature when He created faith in our hearts. By faith each of us is a saint before the God of heaven and earth, and life can look very different when viewed through the eyes of a saint. You see, a saint looks at his or her experiences and sees the Father at work. Jesus said, “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you …!”
You see, God’s ceremonial law said that ravens were unclean, and yet He feeds them. Lilies became fuel for the fire, but still God dresses them with more glory than Solomon. The point is that if God cares for the things of the earth that are temporary, how much more He will care for you who are eternal, you who have been clothed with His righteousness.
In today’s lesson Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” That kingdom, His kingdom, provides you with the things that don’t grow old and the treasure that will not fail. His kingdom is the one place where no thief can steal and no moth destroy. His kingdom is the place where, through word and sacrament, God says to you and to all who confess their sins, “My child, you are forgiven.”
How good to know, as we begin a new year, that while the battle within us may go on, the victory has been won by Christ our Lord who, even at those times when we may not treasure Him, will always treasure us. May God be with you and grant you a blessed New Year.
In His name, Amen.