"Accept No Substitutes"#85-34
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 22, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Accept No Substitutes)
Copyright 2018 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Acts 4:1-12
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Lord, we live in a world where there are many who would try to supplant and supersede the Savior. Grant that we may reject any substitutes and prove faithful to the Christ, who is our one and only Redeemer. Grant this, Lord, to us all. Amen.
Almost a century and a half ago, the head honchos at Proctor & Gamble started to receive letters from enthusiastic customers. Each of those letters wanted to know where they could buy more of the soap which floats. It seems people had quickly become enamored of the new Ivory soap which had helped them avoid sloshing around bath and laundry tubs for an elusive and incredibly slippery cake of soap.
The executives knew they had a good thing going, so they quickly went public with the story of how a factory workman had unintentionally left a liquid batch of soap mixing longer than normal. His was an accident which had whipped air into the product, and the end result was Ivory, the soap which floats. That was the official story. It took more than 100 years before company historian, Ed Eider, revealed chemist James Gamble, son of one of the company's owners, had deliberately invented the company's winning product.
And a winning product it was. By 1890 more than 30 million bars of Ivory soap were being sold every year. For P&G, that was the good news; the bad news was, all things considered, it is easy to make soap and even easier to mix in some air. This meant P&G found themselves facing a gaggle of competitors who were marketing their own brands of floating soap. Desiring to keep their market share of sales, P&G launched programs which warned the public to beware of imitators.
Since those early days of mass marketing a product, many other companies have echoed the phrase, "Accept no substitutes." Turn on the TV, listen to the radio, and you will be bombarded by companies that are investing fortunes with the sole purpose of convincing you that they-and they alone-have the product which you need.
To the advertising world, your life is a poor thing indeed, if you don't drink the beer with the lowest calorie count, or drive the car with the highest approval rating, or use the dish washing soap which can clean oil off a penguin as readily as it can lift dried ketchup from your dinner plates. All this is said to guarantee you accept no substitutes for their superior product.
Now so far, everything I've said about accepting no substitutes has centered on things and stuff. But accepting no substitutes also applies to our relationships with people. Consider the situation of Austria-born Doris Gruenwald who, at the age of 22, found she was not a blood relative of the people whom she thought were her parents. It was a shock to Doris and to her folks who never imagined that when they left the birthing hospital two decades earlier, they had been given the wrong child. Now, let me ask, if you were Doris' foster-parents, what would you do? What would you say? Most certainly you wouldn't drive from home the girl you had loved and raised, but I doubt if you'd say, "It's no big deal, one child is as good as any other." No, you would want to know what happened to your child.
Now the hospital has combed its records and come up with a list of 200 babies which might have been accidentally swapped. To find Gruenwald's biological child, they have contacted those 200 families and offered to give them a free DNA test. Of the 200 possibilities, only 30 families have come forward to check things out. That's 30 out of 200. And why has the figure been so low? Simple, these families and these young women don't want to be given a new family, and they most certainly don't want to have to accept some substitute parents.
Accept no substitutes. The truth is, my friends, we live in a disposable age. Contact lenses, plastic silverware, as well as plastic containers from takeout restaurants, aluminum foil, Christmas wrapping paper, and ten thousand other items are designed to be used and replaced. For such products, substitution is the name of the game. But there are products and personal relationships where no substitutes is preferred, allowed, or wanted.
According to Peter and John, two of Jesus' closest disciples, accepting no substitute ought certainly to be the rule when it comes to the selection of a Savior. You will find them sharing that message in the third and fourth chapters of the book of Acts. The story begins with them healing a crippled beggar who spent his days asking for alms from the people who were entering the temple. When he asked the disciples for an assist, they turned to him and Peter said, "I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" Peter didn't give the beggar time to explain how his walking was a medical impossibility. Instead of waiting, Peter took the man by the hand, raised him up, and the man's feet and ankles-atrophied by years of disability-were immediately made strong.
It was a special moment. It was a special moment for the ex-cripple who went into the temple laughing and jumping and shouting. He was, as you might readily understand, positively giddy with the instantaneous change that had transformed his life. But it was also a special moment for the folks who were visiting in the temple that day. They saw, and recognized, the man who no longer had to beg for a living, and they also saw how the man was pointing to the two disciples as fellows who had, in the Name of Jesus, made the impossible possible.
When these crowds approached the apostles, Jesus' spokesmen quickly set things straight. "No", they said, "we didn't do this miracle by our own power or piety. This fellow is healed by the power of Jesus. You remember Jesus, don't you? Jesus is the Fellow who was sent by God to save you from your sins, and rescue your soul from damnation. Maybe you also remember how, when He was on trial for His life, you called for His death. On that day, you accepted a substitute for your Savior. You asked the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, to crucify Jesus and free a substitute, the murderer Barabbas.
Well, you accepted a substitute, and Jesus ended up dying on a Roman cross. "My friends," they said, "you should know the cross was not the end of the Jesus' story. Three days after He died, the living Lord Jesus came out of His tomb and let all the world know that He was the world's Savior, and anyone who believed on Him would not perish but be given everlasting life." The Apostles continued. "Yes, in ignorance you called for Jesus' death, but now He has told us to let you know that He wants you to be saved. Just as Jesus is responsible for saving this man from his crippled condition, He can also be responsible for saving you from an eternity of punishment.
The fourth chapter of Acts tells us the message of the apostles had a positive result: that day, the Holy Spirit called more than 5,000 men away from their sin and to faith in Jesus. Not surprisingly, the shouting and leaping ex-cripple, along with the loud sermon from Peter and John, also produced a negative effect. The temple guards singled them out as being the cause of the disturbance and threw them into jail to await a hearing on the following day.
When the next day dawned, Peter and John were brought before the Jewish religious leaders. Their hearing began with a simple question: "Who is giving you the authority to do what you did, and to say what you've said?" Peter's defense was equally simple. He began, "Oh, you're talking about this good thing done to the beggar. You can be sure that he wasn't healed by any power we possess. No, this healing was brought about by Jesus."
Peter continued, "You do remember Jesus, don't you?" He was the One you hated and rejected. You had Him arrested, had Him tried, and then made sure He was crucified. You do remember Jesus, don't you? He was the One God had designated to be the Cornerstone of our salvation, but whom you rejected and had murdered. Today we want you to know Jesus was raised from the dead and is our Savior. In truth, the world needs to know "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." In other words, Jesus is the world's only Savior and if you are to be forgiven of your sins and rescued from eternal damnation, you dare not, no, you dare not accept any substitutes.
Sadly, in its desire for spiritual rescuing, humanity has almost always preferred second-rate substitutes over the superior Savior. Turn to the opening chapters of Genesis. There you will see our original ancestors Adam and Eve living the perfect life in the perfect garden the Triune God had given them. They had no worries, no cares, no complaints, no fears, no frustrations. It was all, as God had observed, "very good." And just how did these originals show their appreciation to their divine Benefactor? They showed an ingratitude beyond comprehension. They turned and twisted the single law God had given them and accepted a substitute. When Satan came calling with some sinister suggestions, Adam and Eve jumped ship in their loyalties and brought death into their no-longer-perfect paradise.
Now if you thought their disobedience was the end of humanity's accepting of substitutions you would be wrong. Many years after the fall, God rescued His people from slavery in Egypt. This He did by sending a series of ten devastating and miraculous plagues. It was an impressive display of force, but in an incredibly short time these freed members of God's family threw away their loyalty and accepted a substitute. Exodus 32 has the Lord directing Moses to "Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'"
Time and again, the Holy Word tells of how God's people accepted a second-rate Substitute over the Savior. Time and again we read of how they were punished, eventually repented and were restored by the Lord. The one thing we do not hear of is how they learned their lesson, straightened up and refused any substitutes for the Lord who had loved them so completely and totally. Amazingly, when the promised Savior came into this world, things still had not changed, and the sacrificing Savior was ignored, so people could select second-rate substitutes.
My friends, it is no different today. As I look around, I see all kinds of substitutes being promoted and accepted over the Savior, the crucified and risen Redeemer. There are numerous religions that tell you that through sacrifice and self-discipline, you must save yourself from the Day of Judgment. Sadly, these religions never wrestle with the all-too-obvious truth which says our sinful natures make us incompetent to complete, or even begin, such a task.
Take a look and see how fashionable it has become for humanity to say there is no such thing as sin, wrong, evil, divine judgment, or a day of reckoning. In the closed minds and hard hearts of such individuals, the Ten Commandments are disregarded, and the need for a Savior is ignored. Contentment overrides conscience, and self-satisfaction replaces the Redeemer. I could go on. Instead, I will merely point out that accepting a second-rate substitute for the Savior is going to lead where it has always lead: to the Day of Judgment and an eternity in hell.
If Peter and John are right, and they are right, "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Jesus, God's Son, our Savior, came to earth, and lived the perfect life which eludes us. He resisted every temptation which seduces us, and He conquered death which had once defeated us. He alone could carry our sins, and He alone could say, "I am the Resurrection and the Life, no one comes unto the Father except through Me."
Years ago, actor Kevin Bacon recalled how, when his six-year-old son saw the movie Footloose for the first time, said, "Hey, Dad, you know that thing in the movie where you swing from the rafters of that building? That's really cool! How did you do that?"
Kevin Bacon said, "Well, I didn't do that part. It was a stunt double."
"What's a stunt double?" the boy asked.
"That's someone who dresses like me and does things I can't do."
"Oh," the boy replied and walked out of the room looking a little confused. A little later he said, "Hey, Dad, you know that thing in the movie where you spin around on that gym bar and land on your feet? How did you do that?"
Kevin Bacon said, "Well, I didn't do that. It was a gymnastics double."
"What's a 'gymnastics double'?" the boy asked.
"That's a guy who dresses like me and does things I can't do."
There was silence, and then the boy asked, "But then Dad, what did you do?"
"Honestly," the actor humbly confessed, "I got all the glory."
That, my friends, is what our one and only Savior has done. Jesus carried our sin and did all we couldn't do, so we might be forgiven and brought home to glory. The wise soul will accept no substitutes, which leads me to say-if you need to know more about the Redeemer, please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Reflections for APRIL 22, 2018
Title: ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and that was Pastor Ken Klaus. Dr. Dale Meyer joins us now here in the studio. Hello, Dr. Meyer.
Dale Meyer: Mark, I'm glad to be with you, glad to be with our listeners, as always.
Mark Eischer: And I understand you have some special reflections for us today.
Dale Meyer: This is a special week. You know, Pastor Klaus talked about substitutes for the Savior.
Mark Eischer: Right.
Dale Meyer: And it is so easy for us to substitute whatever in place of Jesus. First Commandment says we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. One of the things that religious people are tempted to do is substitute our own religious work and our faithfulness to God in place of Jesus so that we begin to rely upon our religious life, and, "Oh, I've been faithful my whole life long. Therefore God must be impressed with me."
Mark Eischer: That was certainly one of the themes of the Reformation, in which Luther put the focus back on Jesus and what He has done for us and then what we do in response to that.
Dale Meyer: And we thank God for Luther and the reformers who brought grace into the focus of our relationship with God. Now, this week we have another great anniversary. April 26th is the 500th anniversary of something called the Heidelberg Disputation.
Mark Eischer: Why is that event important for Lutherans and for people who aren't Lutheran?
Dale Meyer: Well, yeah, you might think we're getting into some Lutheran trivia here, but it's important for all of us, because Martin Luther, in his Heidelberg Disputation, critiqued our good works. He didn't critique evil works, crimes, the things we all know are wrong. He turned the spotlight on the religious works and faithfulness that we do that we might be tempted to trust before God.
Mark Eischer: Briefly, what was the Heidelberg Disputation? How did it come about, and what happened there?
Dale Meyer: Last year, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. And that began when Dr. Luther posted the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. That set off the conflagration that we now look back on as the Reformation. Interestingly enough, Luther wanted to debate those theses.
It wasn't until Heidelberg, in April of 1518, that Luther was able to lay out all of his thoughts. Significantly, the Heidelberg theses of Luther-there are 28 theological theses-are more significant to reformation theology than the 95 Theses of October 1517. And as I said, this is where he laid out for the Augustinian order, his matured thought.
Disputation was a normal academic exercise, wherein someone would put up a thesis and it would be debated and discussed, to bring clarity to whatever the topic of the disputation was. Luther was asked to preside in April of 1518 at this gathering of the Augustinian order. And that's what he did, and he gave us then what we know as the Heidelberg Disputation: 28 theological theses and then also 12 philosophical theses, but we don't need to bother with those today.
Mark Eischer: What would you say are some of the key themes that came out at the Heidelberg Disputation?
Dale Meyer: A scholar named Gerhard Forde, compared the 28 theological theses to an arch. And having Lutheran Hour Ministries headquartered here in St. Louis, Missouri, we can really, really relate to that. The first base is the Law, by which we cannot, even with our religious works, make ourselves acceptable to God.
The other base is the Gospel, where God creates what He loves. God creates out of nothing the objects of His love. Up toward the top of the arch comes the transition. Thesis 16, "The person who believes that one can obtain grace by doing what is in oneself, adds sin to sin and thus becomes doubly guilty." So, this is Luther's slam at, "Well, I'm trying to be a good religious person." Uh-uh. Luther just skewers that.
The next Thesis, 17: "Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair but rather for humility, for it arouses the desire to seek the grace of Christ." When Luther critiques our good works and he says they are nothing before God-Isaiah calls our good works "filthy rags," he doesn't want us to despair. He wants us to turn to God for the grace that he gives us in Jesus Christ. So, our sorry situation becomes an incentive.
Thesis 18: "It is certain that one must utterly despair of oneself in order to be made fit to receive the grace of Christ." This is all at the top of the arch and then as we move closer and closer to Thesis 28: "The love of God, which creates us as people beloved of God," the Gospel gets clearer and clearer, louder, and louder.
So, when we look at the whole arch, we see the story of Law and Gospel in our own religious lives.
Luther makes the point, going throughout the rise and the descent of this arch, that we human beings find certain things attractive. We find certain religious works attractive. "Oh, look at that minister. He does ..." "Look at that layperson; they spend all their time at church." And we find that attractive.
Luther says chances are that what we think is attractive is not because we're taking pride in it. Luther says the works of God are not attractive. The works of God are how He shows us our sin. The things that come at us in life, that grind us down, that make us suffer. This is God's strange way of teaching us that we are sinners and have nothing before God that makes Him impressed with us. As the hymn says, "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling."
Luther lists some of God's "unattractive" works in our lives: punishment, humbling, frightening, foolishness, sorrow, despair, death. And he says this ugliness comes into being in us, either when God punishes us, or when we accuse ourselves. This is the unattractive work of God. And the purpose of God's unattractive work is not to punish us; God is love, but He wants to lead us to humility and a total dependence upon the grace He gives us in Jesus.
Mark Eischer: And perhaps the most unattractive work of all is the cross and the idea that God would work through a cross to accomplish His greatest work on our behalf.
Dale Meyer: Absolutely. We look at the cross as something repulsive, and it is. But Luther says that is where we find God. Forde, the scholar that I mentioned, says that the cross is a mirror where we see ourselves. And this has made an impact on me. As I look at the cross, as I look at a crucifix with the body of Jesus on it: "Whoa, that's you, Dale." Because in a mysterious way, we have been united with Christ.
St. Paul talks about that in Romans, chapter six: "We are buried with Christ by baptism into death." The cross represents my total death. In a mysterious way, that is the only way that God can bring forth new life. Jesus was totally dead Good Friday night. He was raised to new life by the Father on Sunday.
So, also you and I, in repentance and humility before the awesome God, by our union with Christ, are totally dead and out of that God who created the world out of nothing, out of our total death to our old way of living, God creates the newness of life, that one day will find us in heaven because of our resurrection with Jesus.
Mark Eischer: And for listeners who'd like to know more about the Heidelberg Disputation, there's an excellent article written by Dr. Gerald Perschbacher in the most recent edition of our periodical The Lutheran Layman. If you'd like to read that, we'll have a link for it at our Lutheran Hour homepage, that is, lutheranhour.org.
Dr. Meyer, thanks for being with us today.
Dale Meyer: Mark, you're welcome.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"The King of Love My Shepherd Is" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)