Just as He Transforms You – Sermon on Matthew 22:1-14 for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

Matthew 22:1-14

1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

If this text was your only indication of God‘s character, what would be your opinion of Him? Because this parable is about the kingdom of heaven, we know that God is the king, but we see that this king gets very angry. He sends out his troops and destroys the murderers. He burns their city and then mocks the very same people he invited to his feast calling them ‘unworthy.’ But what might be the craziest thing about this king is his super strict dress code. He doesn’t just kick the underdressed man out. He has him bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Now, maybe you get a little uncomfortable with a text like this. You might find yourself wishing that Jesus would stick to good parables – happy, nice parables like the Prodigal Son or the ones about seeds and birds. Or, maybe, you wish that God always talked like He did in our Old Testament lesson (Is. 55:1-9) where He lovingly invites, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money come buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” We like that kind of God. But the God Jesus presents here – maybe not as much. I mean, seriously, who wants a God who gets all bent out of shape over a guy who doesn’t have the right clothes? Why does God have to be such a hardnose?

Well, dear saints, what if the God that Jesus presents in this parable is just as lavish, just as loving and inviting, as we heard in that Old Testament lesson? In fact, I would argue that even the ugly things that happen in this parable show God’s protection and provision, His mercy, grace, and love.

The king just wants people at his feast. So, he sends out “save the date” cards. When the time to feast comes, he sends his servants to invite those who received those notifications. Still, nobody comes. If we’re being honest, this king is a little too eager to have people at his banquet. Wouldn’t it be better if he was a bit more aloof? “Oh, you don’t want to come? That’s cool!” But the king isn’t that way. He desperately wants these people there at his feast. He wants them to celebrate with him.

So, he sends out his servants again saying, “See, everything is ready. The food is hot, the wine is poured. The music is playing. Come to the feast!” But now the people act wickedly towards the king’s servants. Yes, some only ignore the invitation, but some treat the servants shamefully even kill them. Not a good idea! To attack the king’s servants is the same as attacking the king himself. This cannot stand. The king is done sending his beloved servants to these wicked ingrates. Now, he sends his army to destroy those murderers and burn their city. All the king wanted of them was their presence so he could provide the feast of feasts for them. But they didn’t want anything to do with him.

We should be surprised that the parable isn’t over yet. The story continues. The king still wants a party. He wants guests. He wants people with him to celebrate the marriage of his son. So, he sends more servants out into the streets to invite anyone they can find – good or bad, it doesn’t matter. Just fill the banquet hall with people so we can celebrate. The servants go, and here we see how the servants love their king. The servants know what had happened to the last batch of servants the king sent out. But out of love for their king, they go despite the danger. And surprisingly, they have success! The hall is filled. People arrive at the palace. And every guest finds a place prepared specifically for them at the table even though they have come directly off the street. These guests have come just as they are, and everything is ready.

Now, a lot could be said about the king’s servants. A whole sermon could be preached from this parable about how the king cares for his servants and avenges them when they are wronged. We could consider how God protects you as you go about your work, witnessing for Him as you invite others to the feast. But you are smart people and have been paying good attention. So, I’m going to let you fill in those blanks because this parable is mainly about being worthy to be at the king’s banquet. And there’s one more glitch, one more snafu, in this parable that reveals God’s grace and mercy.

The king enters the banquet hall and spots one of the guests who is there without a wedding garment. So, the king walks over to him and says, “Friend,” or to put it in today’s vernacular, “Dude, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” No response. Nothing but utter silence. The awkward pause turns into a tragic and even terrifying moment when the king summons his servants and renders swift judgment saying, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It’s shocking. This underdressed man gets punished even more severely than the people who murdered the king’s servants. They were only killed and had their city burned to the ground, but this underdressed, speechless man with no excuse, he gets hell.

Why? Why does the king get so bent out of shape when a guy, who has been brought in from the street, looks like a guy who has been brought in from the street? Well, here’s the thing. The wedding garment that this man was expected to be wearing but wasn’t, that garment would have been provided for him at the door. The king would have provided all the guests with wedding garments along with all the food and wine and entertainment. The king didn’t expect his guests to provide anything to be at the feast, not even the clothes on their backs. So, this underdressed man had despised the king’s gift which meant he despised the feast, despised the other guests at the party, despised the king’s son, and even despised the king himself.

So, dear saints, what does this parable teach us about God‘s grace? Well, there is no question God calls you just as you are. God certainly doesn’t need you at His feast, but He desperately wants you there. He wants you for Himself for all eternity. That is why God sent Jesus to shed His blood and die for the sins of all people (1 Tim. 4:10). In Christ’s death, everyone has been reconciled to the Father (2 Cor. 5:19). But the sad reality is that not everyone wants the forgiveness and restoration Christ has won and purchased. The eternal wedding banquet of God is only for beggars who have absolutely nothing and need everything provided for them – even the very clothes that they wear.

For the self-righteous and self-satisfied, the Gospel is insulting. Imagine going to a wedding reception and being told by the host, “You can’t come in here like that. You look and smell disgusting. Strip off all your clothes. Leave your filthy, smelly, smutty rags in the dumpster. Get hosed off and put these fine, fancy, designer clothes on instead. They’re yours to keep. By the way, we’re so glad you are here. Welcome! Enjoy the feast!” Now, if you are infected with lice, homeless, dirty, and hungry you will appreciate that cleansing and gift and have the most marvelous time at the feast. But if you like yourself just as you are, if you are comfortable with yourself in your sin and shame, hearing that is a total, complete insult.

Dear saints, God has invited you just as you are, but your God has no intention of you remaining just as you are. God loves you more than that. He transforms and elevates you. God has given you new clothes, splendent and radiant clothes. In your baptism, God closed you with the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21Gal. 3:27). In that robe, you are without spot or wrinkle or any such thing; instead, you are holy and without blemish (Eph 5:27). Sure, you can despise that gift and treat it as though it is nothing. But you do so at your own peril.

God wants you at his feast, and at His feast there is only one rule: You don’t pay for anything. Everything is provided for you because of what Christ has done. And here’s the best part: Your God invites you now to this banquet where everything is ready. Come. You are invited just as you are. And God accepts you just as He has transformed and clothed you in Christ. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Fear of a Fraud – Sermon on Genesis 28:10-17 for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Genesis 28:10-17

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

With a stone under his head, imagine what was going through Jacob’s mind as he lay down to sleep. We have to track what has happened in Jacob’s life up to this point. The name ‘Jacob’ name means ‘deceiver,’ and he had certainly lived up (or down) to his name (Gen. 27:36). Jacob was the younger twin of Isaac and Rebekah. Esau was the older brother by a foot (Gen. 25:25-26) because Jacob was born clinging to Esau’s heel. As the younger sibling, Jacob wasn’t in line to receive either the birthright or the blessing that God had first given to Abraham who passed it on to Isaac. Now, Esau was supposed to get them.

These two brothers grew up, and, one day, Jacob was cooking a pot of stew when Esau came home exhausted from working in the field. Esau asked Jacob for some of the soup, but Jacob didn’t act in a brotherly way. Instead, Jacob pulled off the biggest case of price-gouging in history and sold a single cup of that stew for Esau’s birthright (Gen. 25:29-34). Of course, Esau was a fool to agree to this sale (Heb. 12:16-17), but that doesn’t let Jacob off the hook for being a total jerk.

Later, when their father was old, blind, and thought he was near death, Isaac asked Esau to prepare a meal for him so he could pass God’s blessing on to Esau. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, heard about this and told Jacob to pull a fast one over on his dad so he would get the blessing. Initially, Jacob was hesitant, but ultimately, he went along with his mom’s plan. Jacob dressed up in Esau’s clothes so he would smell like Esau. He even put animal skins on his arms so he would feel hairy like Esau in case his blind father touched him. The plan worked pretty well. At first, Isaac was skeptical because he recognized Jacob’s voice. But after Jacob lied several times, insisting he really was Esau, Isaac gave Jacob the blessing that the Messiah would come from Jacob’s descendants (Gen. 27:1-29).

After this, Esau decided he’d had enough and planned to kill Jacob after their father died. Rebekah heard about Esau’s murder plot, so she sends Jacob from their home in Beersheba to Haran (which is about 450 miles away as the crow flies) to find a wife. Our text here picks up about 50 miles into the trip, maybe two days into the journey.

So, again, imagine all the fear Jacob must have faced as he lay down. He had reason to fear because, for the first time in his life, he is away from his parents. He had reason to fear because his brother has plans to kill him. He had reason to fear because he is going to an unfamiliar land where his mother wants him to get a wife. His past is full of fraud, and his future fat with fear. And now, as the sun goes down, he has nothing to lay his head on but that rock.

Yes, the rock would have been an uncomfortable pillow, but what really made Jacob uncomfortable is his rightly guilty conscience telling him how big of a fraud he had been. Sure, in the eyes of men Jacob had gotten both the birthright and the blessing, but what about in the eyes of God? Would God honor the blessing that had been passed down to him?

Well, God came to Jacob that night and gave him the comfort he wasn’t expecting. In a dream, Jacob saw a ladder set up between heaven and earth. That ladder was the connection between the two as the angels of God ascended and descended on it. And God said to Jacob, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring will spread abroad to the west, east, north, and south. And in your offspring all the families of the earth will be blessed. Jacob, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

In other words, God is saying, “Jacob do not be afraid. You may be a fraud, but I am not. I’m going to keep My promises. Yes, you took advantage of your brother to get the birthright, but I’m still going to give you the offspring and land I promised to give to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, you fooled your father into giving you the blessing, but he still spoke the words that I put into his mouth. So, I’m going to give you what was promised even though you received that promise deceptively and impurely. The Messiah that I swore to give to Abraham and to your father is going to come from your own body. And when the Messiah dwells in this land that I promised to give to you, heaven is going to touch earth. The Messiah, who will be your descendant, is going to unite heaven and earth, unite God and mankind, and bring my forgiveness and blessing to all the families of the earth. With His forgiveness, all mankind will have the right to ascend to the throne of God. Jacob, don’t think for one second that your fraud and deceit will make My promises void and go away. My promises are My promises. Your sin, deceit, and trickery cannot change what I have promised.”

Do you ever find yourself having similar fears as Jacob had? Do you ever worry that God’s promises aren’t really for you because you are unworthy? Do you think His blessings aren’t for you because you have too much sin and baggage? Do you see all your unfaithfulness think His mercy cannot be yours? You have confessed to have faith in Jesus in the past, but do you question if you’ve really meant it? You recognize that the sins you speak against publicly are the same sins that you privately love. You are surrounded by all sorts of evidence that you are a fake Christian and a complete fraud. You know that God can see through your façade, so you figure His promises aren’t for you.

Dear saints, do not fear. Even though you are a fraud, God is not. When you are filled with that doubt and fear, close your eyes and look for Jacob’s ladder, and you find that ladder in Christ. Jesus is the One who unites heaven and earth (Jn. 1:51). The eternal Son of God took on your flesh and blood and shed His blood which cleanses you from all your sin. This Jesus is the one who has given you the right to become children of God (Jn. 1:12). A right that you have not earned or deserved, but God Himself has stamped His seal of approval on your adoption papers with the very blood of Jesus.

It is absolutely true that those who do not believe in Jesus will be eternally condemned. But know this, the sincerity of your faith does not and cannot change the fact that Jesus died on the cross and rose again for you (1 Jn. 2:2). Your faith is not what causes your salvation. Faith is what receives that salvation. God doesn’t save you because you believed His promises purely. God saves you because He sent Jesus to be Jacob’s ladder connecting heaven and earth and reuniting God to the sinners of this world. Look to the cross. Look to the perfect work of Jesus alone.

Notice Jacob’s reaction after this vision. Notice how, in the last verse, we are told that Jacob was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” All of Jacob’s fears of leaving his family, the threats of his brother, even the fear of himself because of his doubt is all removed. The only fear Jacob has left is God alone. The multitude of God’s grace promised to him brings Jacob a holy and right fear of God.

I’m going to change gears a bit here because we might find it surprising that Jacob would fear after hearing all these wonderful promises. The thing is: fear and service go together. Hebrews 2:15 teaches us that our fear of death actually causes us to become slaves of the devil. We don’t like to think about it this way, but the truth is that we end up serving what we fear. For example, if you are afraid of public shame and humiliation, you might be hesitant to share about your faith in Christ and end up serving your reputation instead of God. But there is a right fear – the fear of God. Luther’s explanation to the 1st Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” is, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” And Scripture repeatedly says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Pr. 1:7Pr. 9:1015:33; and Mic. 6:9).

Even though we live in the safest time in all of history, there is a lot of fear today. The best explanation for why that is is that we fear things that are not worthy of our fear (Lk. 12:4-7) and we end up serving them instead of fearing and serving God alone. But when we fear God alone, He casts out all other fears (1 Jn. 4:18).

I’ll close here with a few verses that are so interesting. (I printed them on the back of the Scripture insert for you.) It’s Jer. 33:7-9 where God gives all these wonderful promises. He promises there that He will bring Judah and Israel home from their captivity. He promises to cleanse them from their sin and rebellion. He promises that their city will be a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who hear about all the good God will do for them. And here is God’s conclusion to all those promises: “they shall fear and tremble because of all the good and prosperity I will provide for them.”

Dear saints, like He did for Jacob in our text, God has a multitude of promises to love you, forgive you, care for you, deliver you, and rescue you out of every trouble. Let Him alone be your fear, and He will cast out every other fear with His love and mercy. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Fear, Love, & Trust – Sermon on Matthew 22:34-46 for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Matthew 22:34-46

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

44 “The Lord said to my Lord, 

       ‘Sit at my right hand, 
until I put your enemies under your feet’?

45 “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Well, here they go again. Those tricksy Pharisees. Trying to catch Jesus, trying to get our Lord to say something that would get Him in trouble. Last week, it was at a banquet watching to see what Jesus would do with a sick man (Lk. 14:1-11). This week, it’s with a test question. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

To be honest, there isn’t really anything wrong with the lawyer’s question as it is. (More on that in a bit.) But the motive behind the question was sinful. The Pharisees wanted to catch Jesus pitting one part of God’s Word against another. It’s impossible to know exactly what they had planned to do with Jesus’ response. Maybe, they figured Jesus would say that the 1st Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” was the greatest. Then, they could falsely accuse Him of teaching that profaning God’s name, dishonoring parents, murder, stealing, or lying wasn’t a big deal. Whatever their plans and thoughts were, they were trying to make Jesus look like a fool with this question about the Law.

They miscalculated. Badly.

They didn’t realize with Whom they were speaking. Jesus is the Author of the Ten Commandments. He carved them into stone tablets and declared them to Moses and all the people of Israel (Jn. 1:18). Trying to trick Jesus with a question about the Ten Commandments is like trying to trick Herman Melville with a question about Moby Dick, Mark Twain with a question about Huck Finn, C.S. Lewis with a question about Aslan, George Lucas with a question about Luke Skywalker, or Dr. Seuss with a question about the Cat in the Hat. (Hopefully, one of those combinations works for you.)

Jesus, the Author of the Law, will not let one part of His perfect will – which is expressed in the Commandments – be pitted against the rest. The Commandments are not in competition with each other. To love God with the whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind is the first and great commandment. And notice how Jesus continues. He says there is another commandment, a second commandment, that is like the first and great commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Now, it is interesting in Mark’s account of this same encounter with the Pharisees Jesus says there’s no other commandment – singular – greater than these – plural (Mk. 8:31). In other words, perfect love of God and perfect love of your neighbor go together. The two are inseparably tied together and are really one commandment. On these hang all the Law and the Prophets. Love for God is demonstrated by love for the neighbor. 1 John 4:20 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” In other words, when you love your neighbor, you are loving God who has commanded you to love your neighbor.

Some people today will say that since Jesus distills the Commandments down to, “Love God, and love your neighbor,” that we don’t need the Commandments or any other teaching about God’s Law. Basically, they will say, “We just have to love each other.” Be careful with that. The reality is that we need the Commandments, we need the Law, to teach us what love looks like.

If you want to love God, love your neighbor, and here is what that looks like: Loving God is obeying His command to honor your father and mother by serving, obeying, and respecting them. Loving God is obeying His command to not murder your neighbor or cause him any suffering. Loving God is obeying His command to not commit adultery – which means, husbands, live a chaste life for your wife, and wives, live a chaste life for your husband. Love is not stealing, rather helping your neighbor improve and protect his property. Love is not bearing false witness and putting the most charitable construction on all that your neighbor does.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you think what you are doing is motivated by love; if your thoughts, words, or actions fall outside of these Commands, it is not love. In fact, we could go a step farther and say that, whenever your actions fall outside of the Ten Commandments, they are selfish and sinful actions motivated by hatred toward both God and neighbor.

Dear saints, all of this is to say, we all have a lot of reasons to repent. We do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and we do not love our neighbor as ourselves. We let our fear of things other than God dictate how we act. We let our love of things that are not God distract us from the God who loves us. We let our trust in things other than God draw us away from God. Again, dear saints, repent. The Law always accuses us and shows how we fail in our obligation to love God and neighbor.

Now, I said earlier that there isn’t anything wrong with the lawyer’s question about what is the greatest Command. But that question, by itself is incomplete because the Law leaves us hanging out to dry under God’s wrath and punishment. At best, the Law can only curb and deter people from sin, but that’s as far as it can go. The Law is good because it tells us what we must do, but the Law is limited because it can only reveal what we have failed to do. The Law is never helpful in saving us unless we also know the One who hung upon the cross for all our sins of failing to love God and neighbor.

That is why Jesus asks His question about the Christ. Just like in last week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus turns the tables and asks the Pharisees a question, “The Messiah, whose son is he?” And the Pharisees were right when they answered, “David’s son.” God had promised that a son of David would sit on David’s throne forever (1 Sam. 7). But David also wrote in Psalm 110:1, which is the verse that Jesus quotes, that this Son of David is also David’s Lord. So, Jesus’ question is, “How can the Messiah, David’s son, also be David’s Lord?”because a father would never call his descendent, “Lord.”

Here, Jesus is teaching the Pharisees and you that the Messiah is both God and man. Here’s why that is so important:

Because the Messiah is God, He has kept the Law perfectly. And because He is man, that keeping of the Law is for you. Jesus perfectly loved God and your neighbor in your place. And through faith, that perfect keeping of the Law is credited to you (2 Cor. 5:21).

The easiest example of this is the 4th Commandment. The Law says, “Honor thy father and mother. Love God by loving your parents as yourself.” And you are left saying, “God, I haven’t done that. I need Your help.” If the Jesus had not come to earth as a Man, God would have to say, “Well, I’m God. I don’t have a father or mother, so I can’t help you. You have to do that yourself.” But God did become a Man. Jesus had a mom and a dad. He did love and honor them perfectly. So, He can and does help you by reckoning His obedience and keeping the Commandment to your account. And this applies to each and every one of the Commandments.

Jesus, the eternal, righteous Son of God, became a Man, perfectly loved God and neighbor, died, and rose again. Through this, He has brought the Law to perfection. This might be too simplistic of an explanation, but it might help shape our thinking.

In His answer to the lawyer’s question, Jesus shows us that the Law has a divine aspect and a physical aspect – love God (divine) and love neighbor (physical). God be praised, that He has given you a Savior who is also divine and physical – God and Man. So, now, when you hear the Law and what it requires of you, you realize that you are lost and deserve God’s wrath and judgment in both body and soul. So, you cry out, “God I’m lost. I deserve punishment and death, could You take that punishment and die for me?” And because the Son of God has taken up your flesh, Jesus says, “Sure. I already have.”

Dear saints, Jesus has perfectly loved God and neighbor for you. All of His perfection and righteousness – His perfect fear, love, and trust in God – is given to you through faith. And to strengthen that faith, your Savior is here now to give you His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. For that, God be praised. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Humbled – Sermon on Luke 14:1-11 for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Luke 14:1-11

1 One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 

2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things. 

7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus eats with all sorts of people. He eats at His friends’ house with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (Lk. 10:38-42). He eats at His disciples’ houses. He eats in Peter’s house and Peter’s mother-in-law serves Him (Lk. 4:38-39). Jesus calls Matthew the tax collector to be His disciple and eats with him and other sinners. And you remember that the reason Jesus tells the parable of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Prodigal Son is the Pharisees accusing Jesus of welcoming and eating with sinners (Lk. 15:1-2).

We aren’t surprised that Jesus would eat with His friends and disciples. We do that too. And as Christians, we are comfortable with the fact that Jesus eats with sinners. But we might find it surprising that Jesus would even eat with Pharisees. The Pharisees were our Lord’s enemies. From the beginning of His ministry, the Pharisees were butting heads with Jesus (Lk. 5:21Jn. 5:18).

Think of the person in your class or at work that you most regularly butt heads with – no matter what you just can’t seem to get along. He takes everything you say and turns it into an accusation against you, so you’re always on your toes, always analyzing everything word out of your mouth. Being around a guy like that is exhausting. Now, if that person invited you over for dinner, you’re going to decline. (Unless they tell you that they are going to be serving dry-aged Wagyu steaks. Then, you probably go, you just don’t stay for dessert.) But as difficult as the person you are imagining is, he probably isn’t trying to find some way to get you the death sentence. That’s exactly what the Pharisees wanted for Jesus, but our Lord still repeatedly ate with the Pharisees.

Once, Jesus went to Simon the Pharisee’s house where He was anointed by the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Lk. 7:36-50). Another time, Jesus was invited to eat at a Pharisee’s house and didn’t wash His hands the way the Sabbath traditions requires (Lk. 11:37-54). When Luke finishes recording that meal, he notes that the scribes and Pharisees were lying in wait for Him, to catch Him in something He might say.

Now here, in our text, an important Pharisee has invited Jesus to his house for a Sabbath dinner. And, what d’ya know? Jesus goes. 

Now, we have to imagine this scene of everyone arriving for the fancy dinner. Luke here gives us enough details to sketch this out, but they are interspersed in the account. So, let’s bring them together into one picture. Jesus arrives at this ruling Pharisee’s swanky house. As the guests arrive, they might give a nod or a handshake to their friends, but each of them is more interested in positioning themselves to get the best seats. They are cutting in front of each other to get as close as possible to the head of the table. I don’t know how a Pharisee would save a seat – maybe he’d drink half of whatever was in the cup or lick the silverware. Who knows? But they are all claiming their spots and making sure their position is secure and no one else takes it from them. Then, their gaze turns towards Jesus.

When Jesus arrived, He wasn’t concerned with sitting in the high, prominent spots. So, we can assume that there was only one spot left at the table – the lowest. Jesus finds His place, and the eyes of all the Pharisees are on Him. If you were there and watching Jesus approach His seat, you wouldn’t notice the fine dining couch or the fancy china. The only thing that would catch your attention was this man.

Luke, the doctor, tells us that the man before Jesus has ‘dropsy.’ The term does appears in medical literature about 300 years before Jesus by a guy named Hippocrates (from whom, we get the Hippocratic oath). The word is actually two words mushed together – “water” and “appearance.” In other words, the guy was swollen, grossly bloated. It is not stretching the text at all to assume the Pharisees brought this man in so they could accuse Jesus of breaking the 3rd Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”

Now, the Pharisees had lengthy discussions on what was and what wasn’t permitted on the Sabbath. They wrote all sorts of rules that defined what you could and couldn’t do on the day of rest. It went so far as to define where you could spit. Every other day of the week, you could spit wherever you wanted, but on the day of rest, you could only spit on rocks because spitting on soil might be watering a plant and considered work. Also in their discussions, they considered how much help you could give to a person who was sick or injured. For example, if someone had a cut you could apply a bandage to keep the wound from getting worse, but you couldn’t apply the bandage in a way that would help the person get better because that would be considered work.

These Pharisees are all closely watching as Jesus sees this man, ballooned up with disease. But Jesus turns the tables. Notice, they don’t ask Jesus a question, but He responds to the situation asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” The Pharisees don’t say a word. Jesus heals the man. His swelling is gone. His features return to normal, and Jesus sends him away. Then, Jesus exposes the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”After this question, the Pharisees aren’t just silent. They aren’t able to answer. With two pointed questions, Jesus humbles the Pharisees into deafening silence.

Then, our Lord throws the knock-out punch. They had been watching Jesus carefully as He approached the table, but He had been watching them too. They had been scrambling, shoving, jolting, and jockeying for the best places. It’s interesting: for all the discussion and debate the Pharisees had on what was and wasn’t considered work on the Sabbath, they didn’t debate about contending for prominent positions in their regulations. And Jesus echoes what we had in the first two verses of our Old Testament lesson (Pro. 25:6-14). Basically, if you put yourself forward as being important, you’re likely going to be humbled, and it’s going to be a public spectacle. Instead, be humble, and wait for your host to exalt you.

Now, of course, this is some solid, practical advice. Any motivational speaker could take what Jesus says here and teach a helpful lesson: Don’t strut around blowing smoke about how important you are. Instead, go about your business quietly, and your recognition will come in due time. But this isn’t a self-help seminar, and I’m not a motivational speaker.

Instead, notice what happened at this meal. Jesus, who was by far the most important person there, ended up in the lowest seat. And even though no one changed positions, Christ elevated His place back the peanut gallery to be the prominent place, and those who were at the head of the table end up in the bleachers.

Dear saints, as our Epistle lesson (Eph 4:1-6) said, “Walk in a manner worthy of your calling.” Humble. Gentle. Patient. Bearing with one another in love. Paul will say a similar thing in Php. 2:5-11, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” But Jesus didn’t remain humbled and lowly in death. The text goes on, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Dear saints, this humbled mind is yours. You, Christian, are saved by God’s grace. Live that out. You were sinful and low, but Christ has invited you, by the cleansing of His blood, to sit at His table. He has given you the seat of honor next to Him. Through His death and resurrection, you have been raised with Him. Your life is even now hidden with Christ in God. And the day is coming when Christ who is your life appears, you also will appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:1-4). Christ will call to you, “Friend, move up higher.” And you, and all believers, will be honored in the presence of all creation. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Doxology – Sermon on Ephesians 3:13-21 for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Ephesians 3:13-21

13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. 

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

This text is a prayer that you would be strengthened, rooted, and grounded in faith so that you would know the love of Christ. Whether you know it or not, that is why you are here today. You are here so that you would know the love of Jesus. Now, beware. The prayer in this text is very humbling for us. But if you are willing to be humbled, you will receive a gift greater than you can imagine. So, let’s walk through the text.

In v. 14-15, Paul is basically getting to his knees to pray. Then, in v. 16, the prayer begins. Paul asks that God would strengthen our inner being so we would know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Now, Paul wouldn’t pray that we be strengthened if our inner being were already strong enough to hold on to and grasp Christ’s love. And we can’t make ourselves strong enough by working harder than others or being smarter than others. Of course, it’s good to be smart and work hard, but this text isn’t about that. This strength comes from outside of us.

As we come to v. 17, we need to remember that Paul is writing this text to and praying this prayer for Christians. If you go back to the opening verses of this letter, you see that Paul is writing to the saints who are faithful and have already been blessed in Christ and have been given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:1-3). So, it is good and right to imagine that Paul is praying this for you. But his prayer asks for something you would expect to have already happened. He prays that you, Christian, would be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit so that Christ would dwell in your hearts through faith. Isn’t that interesting? Doesn’t Christ already dwell in the hearts of Christians? Yes. And don’t you already know this? Yes!

But this prayer shows that even you, God’s people, His saints, you who are chosen by God, you need to be rooted and grounded so that you have strength to comprehend the love of Christ. Let’s consider this idea of being rooted and grounded because it helps us understand why Paul can pray that we would have something we already have and know something we already know.

A lot of our learning moves from one thing to another. In school, you are taught numbers then, when you master that, you move on to addition. When you master addition, you move to subtraction then multiplication then division, etc. Sometimes, we are tempted to think we don’t need to learn something anymore because it’s simplistic. If you showed up for calculus your senior year and the lesson was learning how to count, you’d drop the class! But the Christian life is about learning, and learning again, and again, and again the love of Jesus.

How young were you when you learned the lesson, “Jesus loves me this I know”? Isn’t that teaching for baby Christians? Yes, it is. But Christian, you don’t move beyond those lessons. The teaching of Christ’s love is as elementary as learning that 2 comes after 1, and 3 after 2. But that teaching is also more advanced than differential equations.

Christian, be humbled to learn that simple lesson again. You need to be strengthened to be rooted and grounded in Christ’s love. Rooted and grounded means that you don’t move. You don’t go anywhere. You stay put. You roots go down deeper and deeper where you already are. In other words, there are incredible things to know, but it is the same. Same soil. Same location.

Here’s where those roots dig down – look at v. 18-19. Those roots dig down into the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. You already know this love, but Paul is praying that you would know more fully the love of Christ.

Now, we know that the place we learn of Christ’s love is always through the Scriptures. But for that message to take deeper root, there needs to be some breaking up of hardened soil. In other words, for your inner being to become stronger, God will come to you through His Word to break you up a bit first. You will hear the Law and learn about your needs, your weaknesses, your limitations, and your sin. And God uses that Law to break you up and expose your failure and sin. Then, the soil is prepared for your roots to go deeper as you hear God say, “You knew before that I loved you, but you didn’t know that I would love you here and in this situation.”

Just briefly consider our Old Testament lesson (1 Kgs. 17:17-24) which is a continuation of the story from last week. The widow of Zarephath learned that God loved her and cared for her during a drought that left her with only enough flour and oil for she and her son to have one more bite before they died. But in the midst of her plight, God loved her and provided so that her little bit of ingredients wouldn’t run out. In today’s text, she learns that God still loved her even when her son died.

Remember what she said. This widow figured that her son’s death was God simply reminding her that she was a sinner (1 Kgs. 17:18). She thinks that God’s love was only enough to provide for her next meal. But God had more blessings and love to pour out on her. Her son was raised. God loved her and did far more abundantly than she could ask or think. God had more love to give that widow even in midst of the death of her son. Her son was raised, and, God be praised, her roots went deeper into the love of God.

Now, that’s her story, how she was broken, strengthened, and more deeply rooted in Christ’s love. I can’t say how this will specifically happen for you. But you will face a time of suffering or weakness. You will encounter something that simply knocks you down so all you can see and feel is how weak and powerless you are. Then, God’s love will come to you in that weakness and place of inability. That love isn’t new, but His love will come into that place, and you will know again and more fully than before the love of Jesus which you already know.

Dear Beau, that brings me to you. Beau, today you are Baptized. Today, God has made you a Christian and saved you (1 Pet. 3:21). God has made you His disciple by placing His name – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – upon you (Mt. 28:). He has claimed you as His own. God has joined you to the death and resurrection of Christ (Ro. 6:3-10). God has clothed you with Christ (Gal. 3:27). But, Beau, today is just the beginning of God’s love for you in Christ. There’s more. More gifts. More blessings. More love that God will continue to pour out on you. Beau, may God give you the strength to let your roots sink deeper and stronger in the love of Christ as you grow and mature in the faith. May each day of your life be filled with lessons of Christ’s infinite love for you.

And all you saints, may this be the same for you. May God give all of you the strength to sink your roots further and deeper into the knowledge of God’s love so you may know His love which surpasses knowledge. And may you unite your voice with the entire church in a doxology, in praise to God.

Dear saints, your God is able to do far more abundantly than all you ask or think. And His power is at work within you. To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[1]

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Portions of this sermon were adapted from a sermon by Rev. Dr. Jeff Gibbs on this text.

Today – Sermon on Matthew 6:24-34 for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Matthew 6:24-34

[Jesus says,] 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Of all the things we humans do, there is nothing more pointless and draining than worrying and being anxious. A reasonable argument could be made that worry is a bigger waste of time than watching television, playing endless video games, or scrolling on your phone all day. Anxiety not only fills our mind and distracts us from doing productive things, it can, depending on how anxious we are, also zap us of physical energy. But now, kids, listen to me carefully: Don’t use that statement to argue with your parents when they tell you to stop wasting time watching TV or whatever. You don’t have my permission to say, “But pastor says it’s better than being worried.”

How many times have you been really worried and incredibly anxious about something, but then everything fell into place and life simply moved on? We all remember times when we have been incredibly worried, but it can be easy to forget what we were worrying about because everything worked out just fine. God gave you what you needed, and you made it through. There are other times you weren’t worried about anything, and God still gave you what you needed. So, whether you are anxious and worried or not, God provides.

Three times in this text, Jesus commands you, “Do not worry.” One other time He asks almost sarcastically, “Why do you worry?” Jesus cares a lot about us not worrying because He has an interest in your confidence and trust. He doesn’t want you to be anxious. In this text, Jesus makes two things clear: First, God wants to and does give you everything you need for life. And second, God wants you to have confidence that He will give you everything you need.

We sit in strong, solid, well-built homes that have cupboards, pantries, and refrigerators full of food. In fact, we often end up throwing perfectly good food away. We have dressers, closets, and storage bins filled with more clothes than we could ever use, but we wonder if God cares about us. Birds and grass have a lot to teach us about trusting our Creator.

God cares for the birds by feeding them. Each day, every bit of food eaten by every bird on the planet was put there by God. God knows you need food just like a bird does. He’ll make sure you have it. God cares for the flowers by clothing them more splendidly than Solomon was ever clothed. If God clothes the grass like that, He will make sure you have what you need.

We live in a world surrounded by unbelievers who are always worried about the future. The sad fact is that they think their worry actually accomplishes something. Christ doesn’t want you to live like that. Jesus says you are free to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things – food, clothing, house, home, money, goods, etc. – will be given to you as well.

Listen, God promises that if your regular source of food and clothing is depleted or cut off, He will provide another one. Our Old Testament lesson (1 Kgs. 17:8-16) is a great example. God sent a drought to punish Israel during the days of Elijah, so God told Elijah to live by a brook named Cherith promising, “I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1 Kgs. 17:4). Scripture doesn’t say how long Elijah lived there with the crows waiting on him, but as the drought went on, the brook dried out, and that is where our text picks up. God tells Elijah to go the city of Zarephath because, “I have commanded a widow there to feed you” (1 Kgs. 17:9). That line really struck me this week. 

For however long he lived at Cherith, Elijah had become accustomed to the ravens flying to him and providing his food because God had commanded them to feed him. Now, he gets to Zarephath, but this widow doesn’t come up to him and say, “There you are. Diner is at my place. God commanded me to feed you.” Not even close! Elijah watches this widow picking up a couple of sticks and asks her for a drink of water, and the woman heads off to get it. Only then does Elijah decide to add a bite of bread to his order, and the woman doesn’t say, “No way! I can’t give you anything.” Instead, her response is, basically, “I’ve only got enough ingredients for my son and I to have a bite. I’m grabbing these sticks so we can bake it, eat, and die.” I wonder if this is how Elijah recognizes that she is the one God had commanded to feed him. Then, there is the promise that the flour and oil will not run out until God would send rain and provide relief from the drought (1 Kgs. 17:1416). Again, once Elijah’s supply of food from the ravens was gone, God provided Elijah another supply of food.

Dear saints, God will provide all you need for this life until He calls you to heaven. And in the New Creation, God will provide you with a feast of rich food for all eternity (Is. 25:6). He has promised!

Now, all of that brings us to v. 34 which is where I really want to focus our attention, and if your mind has been wandering, come back. After telling us to not be anxious about what we will eat, drink, or wear, Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.” Again, Jesus has given us ample reasons to not worry about food and clothing, but I honestly don’t know many, if any, people who are anxious about those things. (God has certainly blessed us!) But I do know a lot of you here are worried about what will happen tomorrow, a month from now, a year from now, and in the coming decades.

Some are worried about the virus and the variants. Some are worried about what long-term side effects the vaccines might have. Some are worried about the government becoming too authoritative. Some are worried the government isn’t doing enough to stop the virus or terrorists, and with the 20th anniversary of 9/11, some are worried about another terrorist attack on our soil. Some are worried about the world becoming more and more hostile toward Christians. All of this can pile up and make us worried about the world our kids, grandkids, and great grandkids will live in. But Jesus straight up tells us, “Do not worry about tomorrow.”

Now, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to say this succinctly since Tuesday, and I still haven’t found it. So, bear with me. When Christ commands us, “Do not worry about tomorrow,” Jesus almost gives us permission to worry about today, but it’s like we are to draw a line at the end of the day and not have any worry whatsoever about anything past that line. To be sure, Jesus tells us to not worry about our life – food, clothing, etc., but the evil and ugly things we face today are enough for us. And we are to do everything God gives us to do to confront and combat those evils each day God gives us.

Here’s what I mean, with all of Jesus’ talk about not worrying, we can fall off the other side of the horse and become sinfully passive and idle. We might be tempted to think we don’t ever have to work or do anything to combat the evils we face and think God will just take care of everything. Well, that isn’t right either. For example, it is a sin to pray for a hole when God has given you a shovel.

And since each day has enough evil of its own, don’t let tomorrow’s evil distract you with worry from the evil you face today. Jesus promises that He will give you everything you need to meet the evil, ugly challenges of today. And, if He gives you another day tomorrow, He will do it again.

For example: Some of you have watched the pain family endures while their child is being treated for cancer. Some of you have actually gone through this. But for those of you who haven’t, you might think, “I could never handle that. I don’t have the strength.” You were right. God hasn’t called you to do that – at least not yet. But Jesus doesn’t want you to worry about that diagnosis coming tomorrow because it distracts you from meeting the challenges and evil God has called you to face today. If the day comes when God calls you to meet that evil (or any evil like that), Jesus promises to give you the strength to meet that evil each and every day it is yours to endure.

You see, when you get to the end of the day and are completely worn out, remember, God designed your tank to be empty at the end of the day. So, go to sleep in peace (Ps. 4:8). And when you wake up again, be ready to face the trouble that comes your way that day.

Above all, remember what Christ has done by taking on our flesh. Jesus Himself got hungry and thirsty and tired and hot and cold, so He knows the struggles you face. He endured it all without a shred of worry because He trusted that God the Father would provide the strength He needed to endure it. Even as He went to the cross, carrying all your sin of doubt and anxiety, He entrusted Himself to God (1 Pet. 2:23), and there on the cross Jesus provided what you needed most – His forgiving blood shed for you. On the cross, Christ overcame and defeated all the evils of every day that you face and opened the kingdom of heaven to you.

So, when you face the evil of each of your todays, remember that God has promised to take care of it.Ps. 37:32-33 says, “The wicked watches for the righteous and seeks to put him to death. The Lord will not abandon [the righteous] to [the wicked’s] power or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.” That means that none of the devil’s charges against you can stand in God’s court, and nothing that the world can throw at you will ever change that.

Dear saints, be comforted and be at peace. Your God knows what you need to face today and all your future todays. And He will provide the strength you need. He has promised. He is faithful. He will surely do it (1 Thes. 5:24). Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rise & Go – Sermon on Luke 17:11-19 for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Leprosy wasn’t simply a skin disease. Scripture repeatedly equates leprosy with punishment for sin and a sign of God’s wrath. In Dt. 28(:15, 27) Moses says, “If you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God,… [He] will strike you with the boils of Egypt, with tumors, with scales and [leprosy] of which you cannot be healed.” We see this happen several times in the Scriptures.

When Moses’ sister Miriam spoke against Moses (Num. 12:1-10), she became a leper. David’s general, Joab (and later Joab’s descendants), were struck with leprosy after he unjustly killed Abner (2 Sam. 3:29). After Naaman was healed from his leprosy, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, took a bribe from Naaman and became leprous (2 Kgs. 5:20-27). King Uzziah of Judah contracted leprosy when he offered incense in the Temple even though he was not a priest (2 Chr. 26:16-21). The rabbis in Jesus’ day taught that leprosy was never contracted by people who lived moral lives. (I don’t think we can or should go that far, though.) There is little doubt that these ten lepers concluded that their condition meant they were being punished by God.

In desperation, they cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us.” What were they asking for? Did they know that Jesus had cleansed lepers before, so they were crying out to Him for healing? Did they want food or money? Honestly, we don’t know, and it’s possible that the lepers didn’t know themselves. Notice, they don’t call Jesus ‘Lord’ as many other people do when they call out to Jesus in faith. Instead, they call our Lord, ‘master,’ which opens the door to all sorts of possibilities. Jesus simply responds, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

Now, this statement from Jesus was probably not received well by the lepers. They already knew that the priests were supposed to examine people with skin diseases and declare them to be clean or unclean, and, since these ten have leprosy, they are unclean. Going to the priests would be a pointless exorcise for lepers. The best-case scenario for a leper being examined by a priest would be for them to be declared unclean again. Because we know the end of the story, we know that Jesus has a hidden word of promise here. We know that their leprosy would be gone by the time they got to the priests. But some have argued, and I think convincingly, that these lepers heard the opposite. Instead of hearing the hidden promise, they heard a hard, “No, I won’t help you,” from Jesus.

Let me explain. I frequently and regularly get phone calls and people coming in to the church asking for help. I listen to their story and ask questions to discern how we as a congregation can best help them. Nine times out of ten, the individual is simply looking for one more excuse to continue some type of sinful, destructive behavior.

A few years ago, a man came here telling me that he was homeless and wanted money to buy food. I listened to his story, prayed with him, offered him some godly advice, and told him, “We have some food I can give you in the basement.” (And just so you know it was perfectly good food that I ate a couple days after he came.) But he didn’t want what we had, so I told him that he could go to Northlands Rescue Mission or to the Food Shelf because we support those ministries monthly, but he wasn’t interested in that either. He wanted money to get something from the store. I simply told him, “Listen, we are happy and willing to help you. You can have this food here, you can get a meal at Northland, or you can get something from the Food Shelf.” He became very upset, and as he left he yelled at me, “[Bleep] off.”

I’m very glad that we, as a congregation, send monthly support to different ministries in our community that can assist probably 95% of the people who come to our congregation asking for help. Those ministries serve as a clearing house to make sure people aren’t abusing the generosity of Christians and can come along side of people to help teach them to make better decisions. And I want to be clear, we still help many who need assistance through our Deacons’ Fund, but some people refuse to receive the help they actually need.

I think the nine lepers were like that man. He was offered three ways to get food, which is what he said he wanted. But he only heard the refusal to give him money as a refusal to help him. These lepers probably heard Jesus’ statement, “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” in a similar way. It was as if Jesus was saying, “I’ll only help you if you are declared to be clean by the priests.”

The other thing we have to consider is the timing of all this. When were these lepers healed, and when did they discover that they were cleansed? I’ve typically imagined that the ten lepers start marching off to Jerusalem, and after they had walked for a couple hours, discover that they were healed. Nine of them continue journeying to the Temple, but the Samaritan hikes his way back to the village, back through the streets, back to Jesus’ feet where he falls down and gives Him thanks. The thing about this is that the text doesn’t actually supply any of those details. It’s certainly possible that it happened that way, but the grammar that Luke uses actually seems to imply something different.

The way the verbs work seems to suggest that the healing happened more or less immediately, or at least while the ten are still within earshot of Jesus. Imagine if their cleansing happened immediately, basically just as they turned away. The Samaritan, unlike the nine, turns back and praises Jesus with a loud voice. He recognizes both his healing and the source of his healing – which came from the Word of Jesus. In faith, given by the Holy Spirit, the Samaritan believes that Jesus is the good God who has good things for him. He receives the gift of healing, but even better, he believes in the healing Savior, who also gives salvation and eternal life, which is exactly what he gets. Those last words of Jesus in our text are better translated, “Your faith has saved you.”

In the end, the nine ungrateful lepers didn’t expect God to be good to them. And Jesus’ statement, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” would be a direct rebuke of them – something along the lines of, “Are you nine going to ignore when I have just done? I’ve given better than the mercy you asked for, and I have even more to give you.” But even if that isn’t the case, when the nine are healed, they refuse to recognize their Healer. The fact that they are cleansed is a wonderful thing, but it is only temporary. Their skin is restored, but their souls were still leprous in sin. They are the embodiment of the un-thankfulness that Jesus talks about in Mt. 5:45 where He says, “[God] makes the sun rise on the evil and on and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Dear saints, how often does our merciful God gives good things to draw us to Himself, but we fail to recognize it?

But the Samaritan sees God’s goodness and comes back for more. He returned to Christ from whom all blessings flow.

It’s one thing to be grateful, but it is a different thing to be thankful. There is little doubt that the nine lepers were grateful that they were better, but they didn’t recognize how they had been healed. But the one, the Samaritan, the doubly outcast, was thankful. He was not only happy for the gift of healing; he was also thankful for and to the Giver of the gift. That is why he returns to Jesus and gives Him thanks and praise.

I’m going to abruptly change gears here, so bear with me. The church has commonly used Psalm 116:12-13 as a prayer before receiving the cup during Holy Communion. Here’s that prayer: “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,” which fits perfectly with what this Samaritan leper does. Jesus is good to him by healing him. So, what thanks and service does he offer to God? He goes back and receives more. He receives the salvation of his soul which is even better than being cleansed from leprosy.

So, let’s bring this to us today. Too often, we are like the nine. We see and feel our suffering and think that God has forsaken us. We pray and ask God to remove whatever crosses we bear, but in our impatience, we think that any delay of relief is a hard, “No,” from God which makes us doubt God’s goodness. As that sinful doubt creeps in, we grow less and less thankful, and even when God does remove that suffering, we do not recognize His goodness and mercy. May we repent.

Dear saints, even in our most difficult times, we can wait on the mercy of God. Yes, we suffer in this life, and “Our sufferings are not trivial, but neither are they eternal” (Rev. Petersen). We can wait on and trust in God. We can praise Him even in times of sorrow because He has bought us with His blood and will never leave nor forsake us.

And from this Samaritan, let us learn to always return to Jesus. When Jesus tells him, “Rise and go,” He doesn’t give him any direction. The man can go wherever he wants. But notice where he did go after being healed, he went back to Jesus, back to the goodness of God for more. And the interesting thing about Jesus’ command to ‘go’ is that the Greek word is a little ambiguous. At its root, it means ‘journey’ which means that It doesn’t necessarily mean, ‘go away,’ it could also mean ‘come with me.’ And it doesn’t make much sense if Jesus praises the man’s faith and tells him to go away. Faith always returns to Jesus in thanks to receive more of what Jesus has to offer. That is why Ps. 116 answers the question, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?” with, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”

Dear saints, we can expect God to be good wherever we journey. And we always desire to come back to Christ because He has more good things to give to us. Faith wants to be with Jesus and continue to receive His gifts. He is our Temple. He is our Priest. And He is here now to cleanse us and freely give us His forgiveness.

God has given you every good thing. So, what will you do to repay Him? Come and get more. Come now to His table and lift up the cup of salvation. Come, eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ for the salvation of your soul. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The End of Judgment – Sermon on 2 Chronicles 28:8-15 for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

2 Chronicles 28:8-15

8 The men of Israel took captive 200,000 of their relatives, women, sons, and daughters. They also took much spoil from them and brought the spoil to Samaria. 9 But a prophet of the Lord was there, whose name was Oded, and he went out to meet the army that came to Samaria and said to them, “Behold, because the Lord, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven. 10 And now you intend to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as your slaves. Have you not sins of your own against the Lord your God? 11Now hear me, and send back the captives from your relatives whom you have taken, for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.” 

12 Certain chiefs also of the men of Ephraim, Azariah the son of Johanan, Berechiah the son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah the son of Shallum, and Amasa the son of Hadlai, stood up against those who were coming from the war 13 and said to them, “You shall not bring the captives in here, for you propose to bring upon us guilt against the Lord in addition to our present sins and guilt. For our guilt is already great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel.” 14 So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the princes and all the assembly. 15 And the men who have been mentioned by name rose and took the captives, and with the spoil they clothed all who were naked among them. They clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them, and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

To get at this text, we need to set the scene. The first three kings to rule over God’s people were Saul, David, and Solomon. King Solomon wasn’t that great, though. Despite all the wisdom, wealth, and fame that God gave him, Solomon went after the pagan gods of his many wives. So, God tells Solomon that He will take away the kingdom from Solomon’s son, Rehoboam (1 Kgs. 11:9-13). After Solomon’s death, God’s people were split into two kingdoms. There was the kingdom of Israel in the north who had wicked, unfaithful kings. And there was the kingdom of Judah in the south who had some kings who were faithful to God, but also many who were wicked. And, I have to admit, this time of the divided kingdoms is a confusing time.

All of 2 Ch. 28 is about the reign of Judah’s most wicked king, King Ahaz.[1] (And don’t confuse Ahaz with wicked King Ahab who ruled Israel about 140 years before Ahaz ruled Judah. Like I said, it’s hard to keep everything straight with two kingdoms and similar names.) Ahaz was the twelfth king of Judah and his reign began about 200 years after Israel and Judah split. During his reign, King Ahaz made sacrifices to all sorts of false gods. Scripture says he made these sacrifices under every green tree (2 Ch. 28:4). He even burned his own sons in an attempt to appease these false gods (2 Ch. 28:3). Because of his wickedness and idolatry, God sent judgment upon Ahaz and Judah through the kings and armies of Syria and Israel. These two armies came and killed 120,000 of Judah’s men of valor in one day (2 Ch. 28:5-6).

God brought this judgment upon the people of Judah so they would repent of their sin. Hosea, who was a prophet during the time of King Ahaz, wrote, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn us, that He may heal us…” (Hos. 6:1a). Dear saints, God sends judgment and punishment so that we repent and return to Him. Remember that in times of pandemics, economic trouble, terrorist activity, and when our soldiers are killed.

Now, beyond the 120,000 soldiers of Judah who were killed, the kingdom of Israel also took captive 200,000 men, women, and children and took much spoil and brought them to Israel’s capitol city which was Samaria.[2] The Israelites planned to make these captives their slaves. They were treating their relatives the same way barbarian people would treat their enemies. In the minds of these Israelites, the devastating judgment that God had doled out on the battlefield wasn’t enough. They planned to pour on more judgment by taking the people of Judah as their slaves and plundering what God had left them after their defeat.

But this obscure prophet of God named Oded stands up and basically says, “Listen, you Israelites, the reason you defeated Judah was that God was judging them through you. But now you plan on making your relatives, these fellow children of Abraham, your slaves. This is a bad idea. You Israelites aren’t any better than the people you have defeated. You have your own sins to repent of. The battle is over. Stop pouring out judgment. Send these people back before God turns His judgment upon your own heads” (2 Ch. 28:9-11).

You see, what Israel was doing to Judah happens all the time in our day. You turn on the news and see a person who was caught in some sin. Judgment has been poured out upon him – either through the court system or through that sin being made public. And what happens? Everyone starts pouring out more judgment by making that sin more public and mocking and ridiculing that person. It’s like social media was made for this very thing. God allows a sin that someone committed in the dark to come into the light, and everyone jumps on and does everything they can to spread that sin farther and farther. We see how far we can go to ruin that person’s life. We loot and pillage whatever hasn’t already been taken from that person – make him lose his job, take his friends away, and turn his family against him. We don’t think that the punishment God poured out on the battlefield was enough, so we do everything we can to add to that judgment. And we do this because we think it makes us look more righteous. We spread the sins of others as far as we can to distract from our own sins. 

My fellow failures, repent. We are all guilty of this. Any time we gossip we are doing this very thing. And I hope and pray we are all tired of it. May our conscience be a little Oded on our shoulder telling us to knock it off and repent instead of pouring out more judgment once the battle is over.

James 1:20 says, “[T]he anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” No matter how mad you get at the sins you see in this world, that anger does not make you righteous. That’s why we get so tired trying to make ourselves righteous; we know our little judgment doesn’t actually accomplish anything.

So, what does produce the righteousness of God? It’s the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus and His holy and perfect blood, shed for you on the cross. Christ takes all the wrath and judgment that our sins deserve to His grave, and in return He gives us the holiness and righteousness that God requires.

The voice of Oded prevailed in our text. The four guys mentioned in v. 12, whose names I won’t butcher again, they used the spoil that had been taken to clothe, feed, anoint, and return their kinsfolk to their home. These good Samaritans are a little picture of what Jesus, your Good Samaritan, does for you. Christ is your Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:23-37) who sees you in the ditch – bruised, bloodied, and left for dead. And in His mercy, He looks on you and pours out His love and forgiveness.

Dear Syrus, that brings me to you. Syrus, today you are Baptized. Today, Jesus has joined you to Himself. Through the waters that God placed upon your head, God clothed you in Christ (Gal. 3:15). Jesus saw you beat up by the guilt of your sin. But Christ cleaned your wounds by this washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5-6). And Jesus has carried you to the inn of His Church where He has set up an all-expenses paid account where you are cared for until He returns.

And to all you dear saints, this is true for you as well. Remember that. Remember especially that whatever care, compassion, and healing you need is already paid for by Christ. And now, Christ has called you to be merciful as He has had mercy upon you (Lk. 6:36). In our Gospel lesson (Lk. 10:23-37), after Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He tells the lawyer, “You go, and do likewise” (Lk. 10:37).

That’s a tough calling. There will be times when, instead of being like the world and piling judgment upon judgment, you pour out the mercy that Christ has first given you. The world will see this and take advantage of you and that mercy. But don’t let that stop you from being merciful. Don’t become embittered when they harm you and try to leave you in the ditch again. Remember the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Don’t go back to your judgmental ways. 

Yes, being merciful costs you, but your account is fully covered so you don’t have to pay a thing. Instead, you can be merciful because you live in the all-inclusive inn of the holy Christian Church fully and completely paid for by your Savior who has shown you His mercy and will cover every expense for the love and care and healing and nurturing you need, from now until the day you depart this veil of tears.

Yes, there is an end to judgment, but it is only found in the mercy of Christ, your Lord and Savior. For that, God be praised. Let’s run now to His table and receive that mercy. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] See also 2 Kings 16 for more about King Ahaz’s reign.

[2] Most of the time you come across the name ‘Samaria’ in the Old Testament, it is referring to the capitol city of Israel. In the New Testament, it usually refers to the geographical region surrounding Samaria.

Confidence, Glory, Boldness, & Freedom – Sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:4-18 for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

2 Corinthians 3:4-18

4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 

7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

This text is all about the two main doctrines (or teachings) of Scripture: the Law and the Gospel. Whenever you read the Scriptures, Law and Gospel is what you should be looking for. Put simply, the Law tells you what you must do or be judged and condemned by God. The Gospel tells you what God has done for you in Christ to forgive you for all your sins against God’s Law. Luther once put it beautifully, “The Law says, ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. [The Gospel] says, ‘Believe this,’ and everything is already done.”

Now, this text doesn’t specifically call these two doctrines ‘Law’ and ‘Gospel.’ No, this text is a lot more colorful using other terms for Law and Gospel to describe what they do and are. So, look through the verses quickly again. In v. 6, Paul calls the Law ‘the letter’ that ‘kills.’ In v. 7, Paul calls the Law ‘the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone.’ In v. 8, the Law is called ‘the ministry of condemnation.’ In v. 14, the Law is called ‘the old covenant.’ All of these terms for the Law give us a picture and understanding of what the Law does to us. In short, the Law is exposes that we are sinners who deserve nothing but death, judgment, and condemnation from God who is our holy and just Creator.

But now, listen to the terms Paul uses to for the Gospel. In v. 6, Paul calls the Gospel ‘the new covenant… of the Spirit who gives life.’ In v. 8, it is called the ‘ministry of the [Holy] Spirit.’ In v. 9, Paul says that the Gospel is ‘the ministry of righteousness.’ So, if you want life, righteousness, and freedom from sin, you don’t look to the Law. You look only to the Gospel.

But the main thing this text is showing us is just how glorious the Gospel is by comparing the glory of the Law with the glory of the Gospel.

With that in mind, let’s consider what happened when God gave the Law on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 20). Back in Exodus 19, we hear how God instructed His people to prepare themselves for the giving of the Ten Commandments. Around three months after the people had left Egypt (v. 1), God had the people consecrate themselves for three days (v. 11). God instructed the people to set up a fence around Mt. Sinai so that no one – neither man nor beast – could touch the mountain (v. 12). The third day came with glory. There was thunder and lightning. A thick cloud descended on Mt. Sinai. There was a loud trumpet blast that caused all the Israelites to tremble (v. 16). God descended on the mountain in fire, and smoke went up like a kiln. The ground was trembling, and the sound of the trumpet kept getting louder and louder (v. 19). Moses went to the top of the mountain, and God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before Me….

“Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His Name in vain.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy….

“Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

“Thou shalt not kill.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.

“Thou shalt not steal.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s” (Ex. 20:2-17).

In this way, God spoke His perfect will for His people, and the people responded to that glory with fear and terror. They asked that Moses would speak with them instead of God (Ex. 20:18-20Dt. 5:22-33; and 18:15-22). When God gave the Law, His people, who were sinners, were terrified in their conscience. They were confronted with the sins they had committed. And they understood that they were under the curse of death.

When Moses came down with the Ten Commandments written by God’s finger on stone tablets, the people saw that Moses’ face was shining. Exodus 34:29-35 tells us that his face was shining was because he had been talking with God. Whenever Moses would speak with God, he would remove the veil, and after Moses told the people what God had spoken, he would put the veil back over his face again.

So, the Law came with a glory and that glory continued to radiate from Moses’ face, but that Law brought fear and terror. It brought knowledge of God’s wrath. The Law commands and forbids, terrifies and threatens, curses and condemns.

Now, you have called me here, and God has sent me, to be your pastor. Part of that calling is for me to proclaim the Law to you. That means I have to tell you, people whom I love, things that you probably don’t want to hear. I’ve been called here to tell you that the way you handled yourself in that argument with your spouse was wrong. That you are making mistakes raising your children. That skipping church for your kid’s tournament is making an idol out of your kid and making that sport an idol for your kid. God has sent me here to tell you that you are sinfully disrespectful and rude toward your parents. That even though other people laugh, your jokes are inappropriate. That the way you talk about others when they aren’t around is sinful. That you drank too much. That you should have looked away from that show, that movie, that image. That your desires are wrong. And all these sins bring nothing but misery, destruction, and God’s wrath and judgment (Ro. 3:10-18). And I need to hear that as much as you do.

Now, we need to be absolutely clear here. The Law doesn’t condemn and judge us because the Law is bad. No. The Law is good. The Law is the perfect expression of God’s holy will for your life and for my life. The reason the Law brings condemnation and death is your sinful nature – yours and mine. The Law doesn’t causeyour condemnation; instead, it simply reveals it. Yes, the Law came with glory, but it is a glory that consumes and undoes us, like it did to the prophet Isaiah (Is. 6:5).

But there is hope for us sinners because there is something more glorious than the Law. Peter, James, and John saw the glory of the Gospel as it was manifested on the mountain of transfiguration. As those three heard Jesus talk with Moses and Elijah about His exodus the disciples were afraid, but Peter understood and confessed, “Lord, it is good to be here” (Lk. 9:30-33). The Gospel came with glory as Jesus was enthroned upon the cross. The earth trembled as Christ breathed His last and gave up His spirit. The tombs were opened and the dead were restored to life (Mt. 27:50-52). The Gospel came with glory when Christ rose from the grave as the angels proclaimed His victory over death and hell (Mt. 28:1-6). The Gospel came with glory when it spread to all nations on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was given, and people saw tongues of fire on the disciples and heard the mighty, glorious acts of God – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name, salvation, and eternal life (Act. 2). 

Again, the Law tells you exactly what you must do to have eternal life (Mt. 10:17-1919:16-19), but the Law doesn’t lift a finger to help you do it. That is why, as your pastor, I am here to proclaim the Law and the Gospel. Because while the Law only condemns and accuses, the Gospel runs to you with rescue and help from heaven. The Law leaves you sinking in your sins, but the Gospel takes hold of you and lifts you to firm, solid ground. The Law leaves you naked and cold, but the Gospel clothes you with the glorious robes of Christ.

The Gospel is higher and more glorious than the Law. The Gospel declares that Jesus has finished His work to save you, and His work can’t be undone. He has taken upon Himself all the burden, all the punishment, all the wrath of God that your sins deserve. Yes, you still feel the burden of your sin, but your sin doesn’t belong to you anymore. It belongs to Christ. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29) – that includes your sin as well. Now, you belong to Jesus. You are safe in Christ, and you are sufficient as you stand before God. You are not in yourself but in the sufficiency that Christ has won for you. Yes, the Gospel is higher and more glorious than the Law, and we can see that in how each was given.

But what might be the greatest and most glorious distinction between the Law and the Gospel is what Paul says in v. 11 – that the Law passes away while the Gospel remains forever. “For if what was being brought to an end came with glory,” and I can’t for the life of me figure out why our text uses the word ‘was’ there. It is in the present tense. And let me paraphrase v. 11 to make it absolutely clear, “For if [the Law, which] is being brought to an end came with glory, much more will [the Gospel which] is permanent have glory.”

Dear saints, once the Law has done its work to show you what you deserve from God, you can flee from the Law to the light of Jesus who gives you what you do not deserve – mercy, forgiveness, freedom, and eternal life. God gave the Law to chase you to Jesus, who is your refuge and strength. And safe in Christ, the Law cannot touch you. You are free, totally and absolutely free, from the Law’s judgment and condemnation.

Dear saints, because of the Gospel, you are in Christ. You now behold your Savior in His glory with unveiled face. You stand in awe of your God (Is. 29:23). You have freedom. You are being transformed into the image of Christ. Because of Jesus, and Him alone, you can be confident. You share the glory of Christ. Live boldly because of what He has done for you. Live in the freedom you have as a child of God. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Justified – Sermon on Luke 18:9-14 for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

This sermon was preached at the 2021 East Grand Forks’ Heritage Days community church service.
Because the service was held outdoors, the audio quality is sub-par.

Luke 18:9-14

9 [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

A Pharisee and a tax collector go up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee assumes a posture that we would recognize as prayer. He stands off by himself. He is likely looking up in thankfulness to God, but his eyes are busy scanning the other worshipers in the Temple, and his eyes look down in contempt for those who are there.

Now, we need to be careful about our animosity toward the Pharisee because he is simply doing what you and I do all the time. Remember, Jesus repeatedly warns against becoming like the Pharisees (Mt. 16:6-12Mk. 8:15Lk. 12:1), and Jesus wouldn’t give these warnings unless it is actually easy to become like them. But why is it easy? Why are we in danger of becoming like Pharisees?

Well, when we see others sin and when we notice the results of those sins, it confirms that good, upright behavior is beneficial to us and those around us. The stuff God calls us to do in the Ten Commandments is really good stuff, and your life is much better if you live according to God’s Commands. Think about it. When people commit adultery, do their lives get better or worse? Of course, they get worse. When people steal, they are more likely have their things stolen. If you deal drugs, your odds of getting shot, robbed, or thrown in prison are much higher.

The reality is that God didn’t just come up with a set of ten arbitrary rules. Instead, the Ten Commandments are written into the fabric of creation. When you go against the natural laws that God has woven into creation, it isn’t going to go well for you or for those around you.

And just a little side note here: Christians, we need to stand firm on the truths of the Commandments – especially that it is good to live in obedience to them. It is not loving to condone or promote the sins of others. When there is sin, we should speak of it as sin. We need to lovingly show how it hurts the individual committing that sin and how it harms those around that person.

But when you do that, you will face hostility. The world is likely going to throw Jesus’ words in your face about the speck in your neighbor’s eye and log in your own eye (Mt. 7:3-5). But don’t let them take those verses out of context! Remember, Jesus says to first remove the log in your eye so that you can see clearly and remove the speck in your neighbor’s eye. Jesus wants eyes to be free from both logs and specks. And Christ, in His mercy, has purchased forgiveness through His death and resurrection. In other words, when you point out someone’s sin, always do it in a way that points them to the freedom from and forgiveness of sin that comes only through Jesus. Amen?

Back to the Pharisee: He is there in the Temple praising himself and his own good works rather than praising God. This is so ludicrous! The Temple is the very place where God said that He would dwell with His people in order to forgive their sins. When King Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple, he said six times that when God’s people prayed toward the Temple that God would hear their pleas and, in His mercy, would forgive (2 Chr. 6:12-42).

But there, in the place of forgiveness, this Pharisee doesn’t want forgiveness because, in his mind, he doesn’t need forgiveness. Instead, he wants recognition, he wants accolades, he wants God’s applause. His prayer is nothing less than, “Hey, God. Look at how great I am.” Not even, “Hey, God. Look at how great You have made me.” God gets none of the credit from this Pharisee. His prayer is one of the most self-centered, self-interested, self-idolizing statements in the Scriptures.

Now, let’s consider the tax collector. The tax collector, when he looks at himself, sees nothing good, nothing worthy, nothing laudable. So, there is nothing for this tax collector to ask God for except mercy. Our translation records his prayer as, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” But this translation is weak on two points. First, it is not just ‘a sinner’; in the original Greek he says, ‘the sinner.’ The tax collector doesn’t know about any sins except his own. Second, the translation of his prayer, ‘be merciful,’ falls a bit short here.

Throughout the Gospels, many people call to Jesus, “Lord, have mercy” (Mt. 9:2715:22Mk. 10:47Lk. 17:13). That is always an excellent prayer. Praying, “Lord, have mercy,” is asking Jesus to do exactly what He has come to do. But what the tax collector in this parable actually prays is something similar but importantly different. The tax collector prays to God (lit.), “Be propitiated to me, the sinner.”

You get to have a little vocabulary lesson today. The noun ‘propitiation’ and the verb ‘propitiate’ have never been commonly used in English, but it is an extremely important Scriptural word and concept. To ‘propitiate’ means to make an atoning sacrifice. And the tax collector prays that God would be made the atoning sacrifice for him.

Remember again, this tax collector is praying in the Temple courtyard. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this word, ‘propitiation,’ was also used for the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant – the place where the high priest would sprinkle the blood on the Day of Atonement and where God promised to meet with His people (Ex. 25:22Lev. 16). The tax collector prays that God would do that forgiveness, that mercy, that cleansing to him.

Scripture goes on to teach us that Jesus is the place where God makes the atoning sacrifice. Christ is the real mercy seat. 1 John 2:2 says, “[Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” So, when the tax collector prays, “God, be propitiated to me, the sinner,” he is praying that God would be reconciled to him by the blood of Jesus. And that is why the tax collector, who is the far greater sinner, goes home justified rather than the well-behaved Pharisee. He looks to God in faith and asks God to be exactly who God has promised to be – a merciful, forgiving God.

So, what should we learn from this parable? Of course, this parable teaches that the worst of sinners can go to heaven. We know this, but unfortunately, we can grow a little numb to it. But the main reason Jesus tells this parable is to destroy any self-righteousness and contempt we would have against other sinners.

Christ wants us to recognize are not better than other people, but, because of our sinful nature, we are always tempted to be like the Pharisee thinking the worst of others and imposing our conceived motivations behind others’ actions so we can look down on them. Stop it. Repent.

Maybe that waitress who seems to be annoyed with you was in court fighting to keep custody of her children and away from her abusive boyfriend. Maybe that driver who is completely incompetent behind the wheel is on his way home after watching his mother die. Maybe that rude, intrusive, foul-mouthed kid on the playground hasn’t gotten any love or attention from his parents in months. Don’t look down on them and treat them with contempt.

But we should also take this a step further. Remember, Jesus told this parable to those who trusted in themselves and treated others with contempt. We are so sinfully arrogant that we often take pride in being humble like the tax collector. We are mistaken if think, since the Pharisee’s pride condemns him, that it is the tax collector’s humility that sends him home justified. Too easily we switch out the good works that the Pharisee mentions – his upright living, his fasting, his tithing – with the tax collector’s humility.

When we do that, humility becomes just another good work, and we begin boasting about our humility. We quickly swap the Pharisees’ prayer with our own version, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men, self-righteous, pretentious, holier-than-thou types, or even like this Pharisee. I’ve given You my heart, dedicated my life to You, and made You my Lord.” Stop that too! A person’s humility is not what merits or earns justification.

The point Jesus is making in this parable is to not look to yourself at all. Don’t try to find some super spirituality inside of yourself – whether it’s good works or humility. The thing, the only thing, that the tax collector looks to is the mercy of Christ.

Dear saint, you look there too. Look to the cross. Look to the blood of Jesus shed for you on Calvary. Look to His death. Look to His resurrection. Look to His ascension. And know that Jesus promises that all of that is for you. Through Christ – and through Him alone – you are redeemed, forgiven, and sent to your home justified. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

This sermon is a reworked, revised, and merging from sermons preached in 2019 & 2020.