Let’s start with some questions this morning. Keep the answers in your head and keep score on your fingers. Okay? Alright, here we go:
How did you do? Get them all right? You should have. Those are questions for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. I mean, 10-year-olds can answer those questions. You already learned those answers in fifth grade! Aren’t you smarter than a fifth grader?
That exercise proves that what was once learned can be forgotten over time. You may give wrong answers instead of the right answers. You can create some very incorrect answers. You forget what was learned. Knowledge must be renewed and reinforced.
During this past education year, you have had many opportunities to increase your knowledge, understanding, and application of God’s Word. Now, Retain What You Have Gained! Sell the excuses. Buy the truth.
Sunday School, you gained new knowledge and added to ‘old’ knowledge. Remember Adam and Eve? The first two people in the world. They play all the time, never fall down and scrape a knee, never get into trouble. Then, they ate fruit God told them not to eat. You might go in timeout when you do something wrong. God did not put Adam and Eve in timeout, but said they could no longer live in the Garden of Eden. From there, people do not get nicer, they get meaner. It hurts God. So, he covers earth with a flood. Noah builds an ark, brings two of every kind of animal inside, and floats safe. After the flood goes away, Noah had a big family. Some people in his family are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham (for example) was Jesus’ [52-times ‘great-] grandpa (Matthew 1:17). Remember what things Jesus did? He heals sick people. He stops a bad thunderstorm. He dies on the cross for our sins. God wants Pastors like [missionary] Paul (or myself) to tell you this good news. In Sunday School, you learned ‘new’ things about God; you remembered stories learned last year.
Adults, you may remember these Bible lessons from your Sunday School days. Each year you added ‘new’ knowledge. Sometimes you added ‘new’ information to existing knowledge. You gained knowledge.
You gained even more knowledge in catechism class. As a teenager, young adult, or a little older, you opened your Bibles and learned God’s teachings. You explored three ways God the Father cares for you. You pondered why Jesus had to be both true man and true God at the same time. You learned what the ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ keys are, when they are used, and who uses them. Catechism class has a purpose. You explore God’s great love for you and how he keeps you in faith. You can explain what you believe. You can defend your faith. You gained knowledge.
Now what? Well, standing at the end of another year of Bible classes, Retain What You Have Gained! That’s what our Proverb says: Buy the truth and do not sell it… Continue adding new Bible accounts to life; continue connecting Bible teachings to life’s many situations. Because if you do not gain truth, you will sell it. Sell— like ‘reducing inventory,’ ‘subtracting possessions.’ You can sell what you have learned; you can let Bible stories fade or minds subtract from Scripture’s true teachings.
Maybe you sit here, arms folded, chest puffed, scoffing: “Ah! That will never happen to me! I know so much about the Bible! I can never possibly lose my great knowledge!” If so, then congratulations! You are a stronger Christian than Peter, who denied Jesus (Luke 22:54-62). You are a more faithful disciple than the Twelve, who abandoned Jesus in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:56). You are better than Jesus Christ— because we know that even Jesus worshipped each week (Luke 4:16). You are so advanced in your Christian life that you do not even need this proverb: ‘Buy the truth and do not sell it’! (That is sarcasm.)
That sarcasm is meant for some honest reflection. In my short ministry, I have encountered two types of students: (1) those who listen and (2) those who talk. (1) Listeners realize they still have much to learn. They might be lifelong Christians, but they still pay attention in worship and see how Christ intersects in life. They desire to drink in more knowledge and find even more answers to life’s questions. They may have read the Bible several times through, but still pay attention in Bible Class, cling to every word, and take it to heart. (2) Yet, talkers think they know everything about Christianity! Catechism students brag that they can recite all the books of the Bible, as if this is really what Jesus came to teach us. Some are more interested in telling me what they think Baptism and the Lord’s Suppers means, instead of letting God, in his Word, teach them. Even fellow believers refuse to read devotions, read a Bible chapter, attend Bible Class simply because they think they know every point of Scripture. Talkers sell the truth; they create a myriad of excuses to keep the Bible shut.
I have also learned that the use of God’s Word reveals its priority in our hearts. If we love God with all our heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37), then nothing would keep us out of worship, out of a devotion-life, or away from studying the Bible in Class, Catechism, or Sunday School. Yet, excuses abound:“I have fair season, I have ballgames, I have reunions, I have vacation. I am too busy… too tired… too focused on the kids. I have no time.” That is another way of selling the truth; excuses literally reduce your time with God’s Word.
Satan stokes pride and misplaced priorities in order to reduce our time with the Word. The less we use the Bible, the less we strengthen faith. The less we strengthen faith, the less Bible teachings we get right. The less Bible teachings we get right, the less we see a need for Jesus. Eventually faith shrivels up, Jesus is reduced to a good person, and my confidence for heaven is set in my moral behavior. If I sell the truth, I will sell my Jesus.
Dear friends, there are sections of Scripture where one simple sentence leaves an eternally profound impact. This is one of those places. Retain What You Have Gained! Sell the excuses. Buy the truth.
Buy—like ‘hold to what you have,’ ‘acquire new knowledge,’ ‘add new insights to what already exists.’ Buy the truth.
Here’s the truth: God is not content with our excuses. God does not ignore a proud know-it-all attitude. God will not tolerate our critiques of his teaching. God does not buy our excuses of busy-ness. God demands a heart that holds him always as the foremost priority— and he finds that heart in Jesus.
Here’s the truth: God loads our proud, detestable excuses on Jesus and hangs his Son on the cross. There, God rips off each excuse one-by-one. He throws away the know-it-all attitude. He destroys the critiquing of his teaching. He rejects excuses. God sells Jesus to death— yes, death, punishment, suffering for our proud excuses. Jesus’ pure life is more than enough to buy this splendid truth: ‘Forgiven. Restored. Redeemed.’
That, dear friends, is a truth that never grows old. In fact, that is truth you can keep buying forever and you will never reach a point where it becomes ‘old’ or ‘unneeded.’ You have gained: you have gained faith— a trust in Jesus as Savior. You have gained eternal life. You have gained peace and comfort and happiness. You already hold this. So, Retain What You Have Gained! Keep holding to your gift. Keep it in your heart, in your mind, in your life. How?
Buy the truth… get wisdom. True wisdom acknowledges the poisonous devastation sin wreaks on the world and sees Christ as the antidote. Yes, you already believe this. So, build on it. (1) Hold to what you have, (2) acquire new knowledge, (3) add new insights to what already exists. You will see forgiveness continually drown high school regrets. You will see the Jesus who calms wind and waves still control Oklahoma tornadoes. In a constantly-changing world, you find a never-changing Jesus. Yes, sin saturates this world, but faith sees Christ as the antidote. Keep the Word central in life and gain wisdom.
Buy the truth… get discipline. Remain in God’s Word and you will grow. Discipline corrects bad behavior and strengthens good behavior. The purpose behind discipline is to save life. So, someone might ‘discipline’ you. A parent tells a still-maturing child, ‘I know you want to stay home Sunday, but that will not help you. For your eternal good, we will worship today.’ A child might ask her mother, ‘Why are we not at worship?’ or ‘Why do we not attend Bible class?’ Those words steers the heart to Godly behavior.
Sometimes you may ‘discipline’ you. You may force your hand to turn off the television for just a few minutes so that you can concentrate on a devotion. You may shake off a nap so that you make it to Bible class. You may find new ways to remember one key point from the sermon each day during the week. You may tell the coach: “We’ll be a few minutes late. We have church.” You may tell mom: “We’ll be at dinner after worship.” On vacation, you might be far from a Wisconsin Synod congregation, but you can still pack Meditations [Devotions]. Discipline corrects bad behavior and strengthens good behavior.
That discipline does something for you: You add to what is already there. As God’s Word remains central in life, excuses to push it aside decrease. More than that, your heart and mind will delight in hearing God’s great love for you.
Buy the truth… get understanding. To ‘understand’ is to apply knowledge to life’s situations. As you remember the three things God the Father still does for you, you will take that knowledge and live confident that he has created all things, still provides for you bodily, and will send his angels to keep you safe. You will see how Jesus is true man to obey for you—every single temptation you faced too—but he is without sin—and as true God, his life covers yours! You know the ‘binding key’ refuses forgiveness and the ‘loosing key’ grant forgiveness. What a delight to know heaven remains open to those who confess wrongs!
Yes, we stand at the end of another Christian Education year. You have explored the Amish way of life. You have studied the parables of Jesus. You have learned about Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, and Jesus. You learned the terms ‘Verbal Inspiration’ and ‘Real Presence.’ You have gained much. Do not stop there.
Retain What You Have Gained! You (and I) will constantly encounter the slippery temptation to think there remains nothing left to learn. You (and I) will be tempted to believe things that are not true. You (and I) will be pulled to put our Bibles down. What is the purpose for those temptations? Never, never for your good. Sell the excuses, for excuses have no value. Buy the truth-- a truth that saves. Retain What You Have Gained!