12th Pentecost Sunday
August 12, 2018
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
“Move from Milk to Meat”
1) God’s Faith-Working Word Will Make Faith Grow
2) Maturing Christians Keep Building upon Faith’s Foundation
Dear disciples of Christ,
Visiting her doctor before school begins, my granddaughter is asked about eating fruits & vegetables. Answering honestly, she tells the doctor she does not like vegetables. But, she assures her doctor, she eats three helpings of fruit every day, so vegetables are not needed. Doc does not agree. Neither do her parents. So my granddaughter & her grandpa will be eating more vegetables, as well as fruit, with fewer desserts in the future because people concerned about the health of our bodies prescribe a well-balanced diet. Focusing on our spiritual health — talking about our soul — the Lord also stresses a balanced diet. God’s gift of salvation is simple enough for a baby to believe. The milk of the gospel brings a soul life, eternal life. Yet God expects faithful children to chew on more than just the simple truths of Scripture. Our Lord urges us to eat meat as well as milk.
‘Move from milk to meat’ our Lord orders, for faith, like our physical body, is designed to grow. You know, by experience, a baby drinks milk, nothing but milk, three or more times a day. Gaining weight, my body grows. In a matter of months, mom feeds me soft food – pureed fruits & vegetables, perhaps. As teeth appear in my mouth a little later, I start biting into solid food – I eat meat, along with fruits, vegetables & milk because this body God created requires all types of nutrition to keep growing stronger; to become more productive.
A faithful, living soul similarly develops. Whatever our earthly age – if we are baptized as babies or are adult converts – a simple, saving trust in Jesus first flows into our heart from basic truths revealing God’s love for us. The milk of the gospel makes me realize Jesus loves me; Jesus died for my sins so I will live with him in heaven forever. Bringing new believers to life as a spiritual infant – a baby Christian, if you will, whatever our earthly age – God’s faith-working Word is designed to keep faith growing stronger so maturing saints will be equipped to wrestle with more complex concepts.
Our Lord’s imputed righteousness – ‘Jesus’ perfect life on earth’ & Jesus’ obedient suffering becoming ‘the source of salvation for all who obey him’ – Jesus being ‘designated by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek’ is this writer’s reference as he expresses regret, ‘We have much more to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear because you no longer try to understand – it is difficult to explain, since you are too lazy to understand.’ Not that our Lord’s truth is all too lofty for human beings to grasp! The problem here lies in a lack of effort. Like a pastor with a less than perfect group of believers, the writer lovingly scolds his readers, ‘In fact, although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food.’
Baptized as a baby – with God promising Jesus’ redeeming blood washes away our sin, the Holy Spirit plants saving faith in our hearts, the Father adopts us as a child of God – I am saved. Like Nora Cornelius, being baptized this morning, I am given eternal life. Peter cannot speak more clearly, ‘baptism saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. Baptism saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.’[1 PT 3]
What does this mean in our daily life? If a baby dies the day he is baptized, as one twin did after being born prematurely in my ministry many years ago – while new parents experience a great amount of grief – we thank & praise God for bringing this baby Christian eternal life as God’s gift of faith connects him to his Savior. If a baby does not physically die, but lives on earth a little longer — as a son or daughter moves from drinking milk to eating meat — we dare not leave their faith unfed. A parent’s grief is even greater, with no salvation to celebrate; no resurrection to anticipate, when their daughter ends her own life after having no connection with God’s life-giving Word for more than two decades since she was baptized as a baby. Faith, I pray we understand, is never stagnant. Faith not being fed God’s truth will begin to fade, just as life will fade from our body if we never feed it. Instructing us to ‘make disciples,’ Jesus connects ‘baptizing in the name of Father, Son & Holy Spirit’ to ‘teaching everything Christ commands.’[MT 28]
Not letting our souls, not letting our naturally sinful self be ‘too lazy’ – as we never ‘stop trying to understand’ – loving parents feed our children the milk of the gospel. We read Bible history stories about Jesus’ birth at Christmas, Jesus’ death & resurrection at Easter; Jesus ascending & pouring his Holy Spirit upon his disciples at Pentecost. Do children, do ‘baby Christians’ understand all that is involved when God the Son is born the Son of Mary, becoming true man as well as true God? Do we more mature believers grasp every nuance included as Jesus suffers our hell on his cross? No, we saints on earth will never completely comprehend all the truth our Lord reveals in his Word. But we will never stop reading the Bible. We will never stop studying Scriptures the Holy Spirit uses to create saving faith; to keep making our faith in Jesus grow stronger.
Just as we move our babies from milk to soft food; we guide our children to eat solid meat, fruits & vegetables their body needs to grow healthy, stay healthy. We continue feeding their souls increasingly tougher truths to digest in our Lutheran Elementary School, in our Sunday School, in confirmation classes, as well as continuing to read the Bible in our family devotions. If our eighth-grade son or daughter answers questions & confesses faith in our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ on Confirmation Sunday – as young Christians promise they will faithfully follow Jesus until the day he ushers them into heaven through their earthly death – is their faith a finished product? What is your earthly experience? Do our grocery bills drop drastically because teenagers who may have grown as tall as they will ever grow suddenly stop eating? I assure you, if our bodies still need to be fed, our souls will need to be fed all the more – will need to be fed meat, not just milk, not just be taught the ‘elementary truths of God’s Word all over again.’
Growing in faith, ‘moving beyond the elementary teachings about Christ; being taken forward to maturity’ is the picture our inspired writer paints of saints who become lifelong students or the Scriptures. Notice, loving people will never disparage ‘baby believers.’ In fact, Jesus ‘takes children into his arms, places his hands on them & blesses them.’ Jesus at that time highlights the unquestioning, trusting faith of a child as the greatest faith. ‘I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’[MK 10]
In a Christian congregation – as in our world’s population — there will always be young Christians, baby believers; souls who are new to our Lord’s saving faith. We praise God for this! But we dare never let ourselves become satisfied with faith staying where it is today. Remember, if faith is not growing, it is dying. If I find myself too lazy to read or not willing to study God’s Word – the Holy Spirit’s tool for growing faith – my faith will be decreasing; disappearing. In a Christian congregation – as in our world’s population – beside baby believers there will also be souls whose faith is developing, as well as some more learned, more mature followers of Christ. Addressing every level of faith, our Lord’s encouragement will always be appropriate, ‘Let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ & be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death…’
For faith to keep growing throughout our life as a Christian, Bible study will be critical – personal Bible study – participating in congregational Bible study – also beneficial, smaller group Bible studies. But Bible study should not simply touch the ‘A, B, Cs’ of God’s truth – we should not simply ask the same questions receiving the same answers – not any more than a home builder should pour the foundation, pour the foundation a second time; then re-pour that same foundation month after month after month. A solid foundation for our home is critical. But if a builder just pours the same foundation again & again, we will never have a new house to inhabit.
Not that we never retrace our steps as we study God’s truth. With differing levels of faith in any group of believers, we regularly reiterate basic truths about ‘repentance, faith in God forgiving us because Jesus’ innocent death paid our sins’ penalty, the resurrection of Jesus previewing our resurrection & Jesus’ eternal judgment applying God’s unwavering declaration, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus; you will be saved;’[ACTS 16] ‘Whoever does not believe in God’s one & only Son will be condemned.’[JN 3] The point is, maturing Christians will build upon faith’s foundation. Our faithful, unquestioning child-like trust in God’s truth dare never disappear. But we will never stop trying to increase our understanding of our Lord’s truth. Chewing on the meat of the Scriptures as well as the milk of the gospel, our goal is to more properly apply our Lord’s instructions for our Christ life, to be better ‘trained to distinguish good from evil.’
‘God permitting,’ our writer reminds us, ‘we will do so.’ Studying God’s truth, we will grow in faith & in our faithfulness – we will be well-fed disciples.