“Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.” Psalm 73:12-14 (Read Psalm 73)

Have you ever noticed how the unbelieving and wicked prosper in this world? While Christians struggle to survive and are plagued with troubles, the ungodly appear to be blessed with all their hearts desire.

Like the psalmist, it would be easy for us to think that we have cleansed our hearts in vain and that there is no reward or gain for following after the LORD and walking in His ways. But consider the rest of the psalm.

Though the wicked prospered in this world at every turn, when the psalmist entered into the sanctuary, he saw their end and realized that truly he was blessed. The end of the wicked was coming, and he had the everlasting blessing of the Almighty. God was with him and holding his hand through life.

The psalmist wrote: “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (v. 24).

God leads and guides us through life with His Word. He holds our hand and never leaves or forsakes us (cf. Ps. 32:8; Heb. 13:5). And, when we die, He receives us to Himself in glory — all for the sake of Jesus Christ, who suffered and died to pay the penalty for all our sins and rose again in glory!

In this life, the wicked and unbelieving may prosper and we may struggle. They may possess the world and we may have nothing. But, by the grace and mercy of God, we have God Himself. Through faith in Christ Jesus and His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross, we have forgiveness for all our sins, are accepted as God’s dear children and have an eternal inheritance in heaven which can never be taken from us (cf. Gal. 3:26ff.; Eph. 1:3ff.; 1 Pet. 1:3ff.).

With the psalmist, we can say: “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever” (v. 26).

When the unbeliever dies, he leaves all his wealth and prosperity behind in this world and stands before the Judge of all naked and with nothing. He is condemned.

When the believer dies, he leaves behind the pain and suffering of this life and stands before the Judge of all the earth clothed in Christ’s righteousness — all His sins have been washed away in Jesus’ shed blood and Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to him. He is received into the everlasting joys of heaven and dwells with His God forever and ever!

As we read in Psalm 17:14-15, the men of the world have their portion in this life and God fills their bellies with his hidden treasure: “they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes. As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.”

Keep me from doubting Your Word, O Lord, and strengthen my faith that I might not desire the goods of this world which shall pass away but desire and wait patiently for the eternal blessings promised in Your Word to all who place their hope in the Lord Jesus Christ and long for the everlasting joys of being in Your presence. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Matthew 7:15-20

It is the responsibility and duty of every Christian to be watchful and on guard against false prophets; for outwardly false prophets may appear to be fine Christian pastors and teachers, but inwardly they are ravening wolves which destroy and scatter God’s flock.

The Apostle Paul, too, warned against such when he said to the elders of the church in Ephesus, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:28-32).

It will happen. There will be false prophets and false teachers who do not faithfully preach and teach God’s Word. And, they will cause divisions in the church and gain followings for themselves. Instead of building upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets — the Word of God — with Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone (cf. Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:1-10), they will build on the sands of false doctrine, human understanding and opinion. The end result, of course, is that those who do not love the truth and hold fast to Christ and His Word are deceived by the lies of the devil and robbed of the salvation Christ won for them when He suffered and died on the cross for the sins of all.

The Bible tells us: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19; cf. 2 Thess. 2:3-12).

That is also why Paul wrote to Timothy: “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:10-17).

Thus, for the sake of each of our soul’s salvation, Jesus would have us judge those who preach and teach God’s Word to us. Like the believers in Berea, we should search the Scriptures daily to be sure that what we are being taught is in truth God’s unadulterated Word (cf. Acts 17:10-11). If we don’t, we might easily be misled into unbelief or sin.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:16-20: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

And what is the fruit of a prophet? What does he produce that we might judge? First and foremost, it is his teaching. Thus, we must always compare the teaching of pastors and teachers to the Scriptures, for the Scriptures are the inspired and unerring Word of God.

Isaiah also wrote: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20; cf. Jer. 23:16ff.; Deut. 13:1ff.). If a pastor or teacher is not speaking and teaching in full accord with God’s unerring Word, he is a false prophet and we ought to flee from him and hear him no more.

What if the error is only a small point here and there? Is it alright to continue to hear such a preacher? Consider how Satan worked in the Garden, causing doubt regarding the fruit of a single tree. Consider that any error and false teaching comes from the devil, the father of lies, and is meant to deceive us and lead us away from Christ and His truth, even if only little by little (cf. John 8:44).

Consider that Jesus, earlier in His Sermon on the Mount, warned against changing the smallest letter or portion of a letter of God’s Word (cf. Matt. 5:17-20). If a preacher will not humbly yield to the clear and plain truth of God’s Word, he is a false prophet — beware of him, Jesus said, for in the end his errors will tear, divide and scatter the flock like a ravenous wolf. Cf. Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 John 8-11; Titus 3:9-11; Eph. 5:11; Jer. 15:19.

If one added a single drop of a deadly poison to a clear and clean glass of water, would you drink it? I dare say that none of us would; for even if that drop of poison were not enough to kill us, it could still do damage and might over time, if we continued to ingest it, cause our death. So why then would anyone wish to continually expose himself to the deadly poison of error and false teaching? Even if it did not immediately destroy faith, it very well might over time. And, even more importantly, why would any believer and disciple of Christ wish to be unfaithful to His Word in any point? Cf. 1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9.

A preacher and teacher of God’s Word must also be judged on the basis of his conduct and manner of life — not that any will be perfect and without sin, but there should be the sincere and earnest purpose to live in accord with God’s Word, repent of all sin and error and be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus.

Where one lives in continual disregard of God’s commandments and in open sin, one would not expect to find the good fruits of faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word and an exemplary life to lead and guide God’s flock in the way everlasting.

Thus, our Lord Jesus, who shed His holy and precious blood for the sheep, desires that none of us be misled and deceived by false prophets and be separated from Him. He desires that we all continue in the true and saving faith — revealed to us in God’s unadulterated Word. He warns us against false prophets that we might always hear Him and His Word and continue to trust in Him unto life everlasting.

Dear Lord Jesus, Shepherd and Redeemer of our souls, grant that we be not deceived and misled by the many false prophets who have gone out into the world, but hold fast to You and to Your Word unto life everlasting. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” Colossians 1:24-29

Why was the Apostle Paul suffering? Why was he persecuted, imprisoned and facing death? And Paul, like the other apostles of our Lord Jesus, faced many hardships.

To the Corinthians he wrote (2 Cor. 11:24-28): “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”

Paul suffered all these things because he was a minister of the Gospel — he preached Christ, and Him crucified, as the only way to heaven, as the only salvation for sinful mankind. The Apostle called on men everywhere to repent of their unbelief and sin and return to the only true God through faith in the crucified and risen Son of God. And for that, Paul suffered greatly in this world — though he now wears a crown of righteousness in heaven with his Savior (cf. 2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Paul was a prisoner when he wrote this letter to the believers in Colosse. He was in bonds for preaching forgiveness of sins and life eternal in the crucified and risen Christ Jesus. Paul didn’t hold back from setting forth the truth in order to preserve his own life or to avoid trouble from those who opposed the Word of God. Believers could and still can rejoice in the Apostle Paul’s sufferings because he was suffering for his faithfulness to Messiah Jesus.

So, should we be surprised at trouble and even persecution here in this world? Should we be shocked when people speak evil of us for seeking to be faithful to God and His Word?

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).

Jesus said, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).

Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).

As Jesus said, and as His apostle Paul said, those who preach the truth of God’s Word, pointing out sin as sin and proclaiming the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus as the only source of forgiveness and life everlasting, will be hated and persecuted in this world. People will hate them and persecute them because they don’t want their own sins exposed for what they are — wickedness in God’s eyes. And people will persecute them because they do not believe and trust in Jesus as God the Son and the Messiah and Savior of the world.

Jesus suffered and died upon the cross, paying in full for the sins of the whole world, and He rose again from the dead on the third day. Those who trust in Jesus for forgiveness and life and follow after Him will also suffer in this world. Because the world hated Christ Jesus, it will also hate those who follow Him and proclaim His Word.

For not shrinking back but being faithful to Jesus, Paul suffered and helped fill up that which was lacking in the sufferings of the church — the true believers in Christ Jesus. For Paul’s faithfulness to Jesus and His unashamed preaching of the gospel of forgiveness and life in the crucified and risen Christ we too rejoice.

Even though so many within the visible church today would hold back to avoid sharing in the reproach of Christ, when followers of Jesus do hold fast to their Head and unashamedly proclaim His Word of life, we can also rejoice, even in their sufferings for Christ Jesus; for all who follow Jesus and are unashamed to speak His Word will suffer persecution in this world, and great is their reward in heaven!

If we must suffer for our faith in Christ Jesus, if we must face trouble and persecution because we follow Christ and seek to uphold all that God’s Word teaches, we too can rejoice for the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of our Savior. And the Scriptures assure us that a crown of righteousness awaits us with our Savior in heaven!

Dearest Jesus, our blessed Savior and Redeemer, embolden us to speak Your Word faithfully as we should and not hold back, calling upon people everywhere to repent of their sinful ways and trust in You for forgiveness and life. And, if we must suffer persecution — even if that be prison or death — let us rejoice that we were privileged to suffer for Your name’s sake. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: 25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. 26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. 27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? 28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn … 36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. 37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; 38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; 39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. 40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. 41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 KJV

Jesus explains this parable for us. He, through His servants, sows the good seed. The field is the world. The good seeds are the children of the kingdom of God; but the tares (or darnel) are the children of the devil, the evil one.

Jesus, through His faithful ministers, sows the pure seed of the Gospel in this world and thus produces true believers who trust in Christ for salvation and are members of His eternal kingdom. These are the good seeds, or the wheat.

But in the same field where the Gospel is proclaimed and produces Christians, the devil and his false prophets sow error and false doctrine which produce false Christians. These may appear to be genuine Christians, but they do not have saving faith in Jesus Christ and their fruits or works are unacceptable to the Lord God.

In this world, true believers and false, unbelieving hypocrites continue to dwell side by side until the day of judgment. Then God’s holy angels will separate the true believers from the false.

Those whose religion did not spring up from the good seed of the Gospel will be separated from the true believers, gathered up and cast into hell! But those whose faith comes from the pure Gospel — who despair of their own righteousness and trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins and for eternal salvation, who also as a fruit of that faith produce fruit acceptable in God’s sight for Jesus’ sake — will be taken to heaven where they will live with Christ in righteousness and purity forever!

This is a warning to us that, wherever the Gospel is sown and true believers are, the devil will also sow his lies and false doctrine to lead people into a false confidence and hope based on their own works and righteousness or upon some other lie or deception of the evil one. They may appear to be a part of Christ’s church in this world but they are not. In the end, they will be gathered up and cast into the fires of hell!

Only those who hear God’s Word, repent of their sins and trust in Christ and His blood shed upon the cross for all will be gathered up by God’s angels and given eternal life in heaven!

Let us hold fast to Jesus Christ and continue in His saving Word lest we also be misled by the working of the evil one!

Defend Thy truth, O God, and stay this evil generation; and from the error of its way keep Thine own congregation. The wicked everywhere abound and would Thy little flock confound; but Thou art our Salvation. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, #260, Verse 6)

The Confession
I now ask you in the presence of Almighty God, who searcheth the heart: Do you truly acknowledge, confess, and lament that you are by nature sinful, and that by omitting to do good and by doing evil you have in thought, word and deed, grieved and offended your God and Saviour, and thereby justly deserved His condemnation? If this be the sincere confession of your hearts, declare it by saying: Yes.

Answer: Yes.

Do you truly believe that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and that all who believe on His Name receive the forgiveness of sins? Do you, therefore, earnestly desire to be delivered from all your sins, and are you confident that it is the gracious will of your Heavenly Father, for Christ’s Sake, to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness? If so, confess it by saying: Yes.

Answer: Yes.

Is it your earnest purpose, henceforth, to be obedient to the Holy Spirit, so as to hate and forsake all manner of sin, to live as in God’s presence, and to strive daily after holiness of heart and life? If so, answer: Yes.

Answer: Yes.

Let us humbly kneel, and make confession unto God, imploring His forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord.

O God, our Heavenly Father, I confess unto Thee that I have grievously sinned against Thee in many ways; not only by outward transgression but also by secret thoughts and desires which I cannot fully understand but which are all known unto Thee. I do earnestly repent, and am heartily sorry for these my offenses, and I beseech Thee of Thy great goodness to have mercy upon me and, for the sake of Thy dear Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, to forgive my sins and graciously to help my infirmities. Amen.

The Absolution
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, hath had mercy upon us and, for the sake of the sufferings, death and resurrection of His dear Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, forgiveth us all our sins. As a minister of the Church of Jesus Christ, and by His authority, I, therefore, declare unto you who do truly repent and believe in Him, the entire forgiveness of all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[On the other hand, by the same authority, I declare unto the impenitent and unbelieving, that so long as they continue in their impenitence, God hath not forgiven their sins, and will assuredly visit their iniquities upon them if they turn not from their evil ways and come to true repentance and faith in Christ ere the day of grace be ended.]

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven: Hallowed be Thy Name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven; Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil; For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

The Collect for Peace
O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels and all just works do proceed, give unto Thy servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Thy commandments, and also that by Thee, we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen

The Benediction
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen.

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“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 (read verses 1-23)

That we are all guilty before God and stand guilty and condemned under the law of God is made clear in Romans 3:9-20.

That God provided a way for sinners to be justified and counted righteous by God through faith in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world is revealed and explained in Romans 3:21-28 and the following two chapters of Paul’s letter.

In the sixth chapter, the Apostle Paul addresses the errors of those who think they can continue in sin and still possess the benefits of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (v.1-2). We were saved for a life with purpose (cf. 2 Cor. 5:15). We were joined, in our baptisms, to Christ in His death and resurrection in order that Christ’s death on the cross would be our death and punishment for sin and that Christ’s resurrection, after He paid the price for our sins, would be our resurrection to new life in fellowship with and service to our God and Savior (v.3ff.).

“What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (v. 15-16).

If we willingly give ourselves back into sin — yielding ourselves to the temptations of the devil, the allurements of the world and the sinful desires of our flesh, we again become slaves of sin and reap the results, the wages of sin, which are spiritual death and eternal death and damnation! Cf. Gen. 2:16-17; Heb. 10:26-31; 2 Pet. 2:20-22; Rom. 6:20-23.

If we turn away from Christ and back into sin, seeking to turn God’s grace into a license to live in rebellion and enmity against God, we justly earn the penalty for our sins, which is death and the eternal wrath of God.

But if, by the grace of God, we continue trusting in Christ Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins, we are set free from the condemnation of the law and from our former servitude to sin, and God’s gracious gift to us is forgiveness for all our sins and eternal life for Jesus’ sake.

If, by the grace of God, we trust in Christ our Savior and walk in fellowship with God through faith in Christ (cf. 1 John 1:5 — 2:2), we possess and receive the gracious gifts of God which Jesus won for us — forgiveness of sins and everlasting life in fellowship with our God and Maker.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23; cf. Deut. 30:15-20).

Dearest LORD Jesus, grant we not turn away from You and back into sin but hold fast to You and the new life You have given us by means of Your death upon the cross for our sins and Your triumphant resurrection on the third day. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version.]

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