John 8:31-36 – Free

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John 8:31-36

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn. 8:31-32). And the people respond to Jesus, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and we have never been in bondage to anyone.”

Really? What about all those years in Egypt when Pharaoh forced you to make bricks driving you with his whips? What about all those times you cried out to God for deliverance? You’ve never been in bondage to anyone?

What about the seventy years of exile in Babylon? And what about now? What about the Roman soldiers who are patrolling the streets of Jerusalem to make sure Caesar keeps you under his heavy thumb? You’ve never been enslaved to anyone?

Yet, they insist, “We have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘We will become free’?”

Imagine that an evil man came and kidnapped your children when they were very young. He made your children his slaves. He treated them wickedly and cruelly. But you never give up trying to find your children and bring them home.

After many painful years, you finally track the kidnapper down. There are your children bound in chains at the kidnapper’s feet. Even though they don’t recognize you, you stand before them and say, “I am your father. Come home with me, and I will never put you in shackles. Come home, and I will never stop loving you unconditionally.”

But the kidnapper stands up and says to your children, “No, I am your father. Stay here with me. Be my slaves forever. And if you want my love, you will have to earn it because I will never give you anything for free.”

Imagine your children look at you, and they look back at the kidnapper, and they look back at you and say, “We are going to stay here. This is where we want to be.” Pointing at the kidnapper, your children say, “He is our father.”[1]

It is bad enough when you are deceived by a lie, but it is even worse when the lie that fools you is more appealing than the truth.

You here, brothers and sisters, you are not free. Sure, you live in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” You live in a country with rulers and judges who recognize (at least for now) that you have “certain unalienable rights.” And in this land, you have neighbors who are willing to die to protect the freedoms you enjoy.

But you are not free. You are a slave. The cemetery is proof of your bondage.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3:23). “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:34). But, my fellow sinners, we say, “We have never been in bondage to anyone.”

Your sin has blinded you. You have been in its clutches for so long that you have become accustomed to it. In fact, you enjoy it. You prefer the shackles of anger, lust, greed, and covetousness over the freedom that Christ has come to give freely.

The next time you are tempted by the devil and fall into sin, your preference will be exposed. You would rather sit in those chains of sin and earn the love of your father the devil.

Repent. The truth will, as Jesus says, set you free. And the truth is this:

Though you are a slave to sin, Jesus has come. He has done what the Law could not do. He has justified you by His grace as a gift. Christ has shed His holy and precious blood as a propitiation. And through God-given faith, you are made alive. You are declared righteous. You are forgiven. You are set free, and if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

On January 25, 1546, just twenty-four days before he died, Luther was in Halle. He had preached and was administering the Lord’s Supper. Luther’s health at this time was terribly poor. As he was administering the Blood of Christ, his hand quivered and some of the contents of the chalice spilled on the floor. Luther fell to his old, failing knees and sucked up the wine with his mouth so that it would not be stepped on.

The congregation looked on in astonishment, and it was recorded that not only could you hear a pin drop you could hear the tears hitting the floor.

Some might say that was a slavish thing to do. And yet, I think not. That very blood of Jesus sets you free from the shackles of sin, death, and the devil. Through the Body and Blood of Jesus, you who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied.

My fellow sinners, hear the voice of Jesus. He is here to speak to you, to put the memory of His face back into your mind so that you can be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Jesus says to you again today, “I am here to set you free, and you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36). Amen.

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

[1] I am thankful for a sermon by Pr. Hans Fiene for this analogy.

Matthew 22:15-22 – Jesus & Things

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Matthew 22:15-22

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Pharisees think they have Jesus. Their little entourage of disciples and Herodians ask Jesus a yes or no question. They butter Jesus up first, “You are true, and you teach truthfully. You don’t care about opinions and aren’t swayed by appearances.” And you can just imagine the Pharisees back in the corner watching their disciples along with the Herodians (those who were sympathetic to Herod) talking with Jesus and the Pharisees are giving each other the elbow and snickering. Then the trap is set, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

A little history is helpful here. For about 95 years, Israel had been a province of the Roman empire. Caesar had put Herod the Great on the throne to watch over Israel, so Herod and his sons who ruled after him were actually an extension of Caesar. Now, the Jews hated this Roman occupation and considered it to be punishment from God. The Jews thought that the Messiah was going to come and lead a rebellion against Rome and make them free from foreigners.

So, in the eyes of the Pharisees, when Jesus gets asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” there is no answer that Jesus can give that will not cause Him trouble. This question is like a sword pointed right at Jesus’ chest. If Jesus says, “Yes, pay the man,” the Jewish people will despise Jesus and stop following Him because He isn’t the Messiah they expected and wanted. But if Jesus says, “No, don’t pay taxes,” the Herodians will see Jesus as a rabble-rouser and have Him arrested and killed for trying to start a rebellion.

But Jesus sees right through it. “You hypocrites, show Me the coin for the tax. Whose picture and writing is this?” On that coin was a picture of Tiberius Caesar, and the writing said, “Son of the divine Augustus.” The fact that the disciples of the Pharisees had this coin showed they acknowledged Caesar’s rule over them. So, Jesus asks, “Whose coin is this?” the malicious hypocrites say, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus says, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” If the question was a sword pointed at Jesus, Jesus snatches the sword out of their hand, and points it right at their throat.

We need to consider these phrases from Jesus. “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” God is no anarchist; He has given order and authority in this world. We see this first in the family. God gave Adam a wife, Eve, to be his helper. And God gave Adam and Eve children. And God has given the 4th Commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” When husbands, wives, and children recognize God’s intention and stay in their God-given roles, it is a beautiful thing. When husbands care, protect, and provide for their wife and children, when wives respect and support their husbands, and when children honor their parents, life is good. How many problems in this world would vanish if we followed God’s order for the family?

But God didn’t stop establishing order and authority with the family. God has also given authority to the state. Read Romans 13:1-7 and recognize that Paul was writing this while Nero (the guy who slaughtered Christians and was terribly wicked) was Caesar, and you will see that all earthly governments – even the most evil – are established by God. And this is also good.

Through the government, God provides for us. Through the government God has given teachers to help you and your children learn. Because of the government we have safe buildings and roads that help you get to work and move goods from one place to another. Because of the government we have a police force, firefighters, and army to protect us.  All of those things that we benefit from in this country are done by government and paid for by taxes. So, pay your taxes (Ro. 13:7).

Now, there is a place to discuss how much of a role the government has in these things and how much could be done better without the government getting in the way. And we can thank God for a country where we as citizens get a say in that through voting. But that falls outside the scope of this sermon.

Of course, it is true that governments and leaders can go beyond what they should do. They can rule in an evil way and make life hard. But God will hold them accountable for that. And those who are in positions of authority had better be careful so the Christians under them are praying for them rather than against them. That’s enough on, “Render to Caesar.”

“Render to God the things that are God’s.” First, what isn’t God’s? What thing exists that isn’t God’s? Remember that you belong to God. You were made in His image. Remember that God has made you a Christian. He has declared you righteous, forgiven, and holy. You need to reevaluate your worth and the worth of the work that you do in this life because everything you do – whether you are a parent, child, soldier, employee, or retiree – you do as a Christian.

This means that your whole life is given to God. There isn’t one part of your life that is holy and another part that is neutral. Raising children, raking leaves, pumping gas, thanking the soldier for his service, and throwing frozen fish sticks or corn dogs into the oven – it is all service to God. Now, do we do all these things cheerfully? I don’t, and it is a safe bet to say that you don’t either. But we should still do them.

When a mother gets woken up in the middle of the night because her child wet the bed, she probably doesn’t get up immediately and cheerfully. She probably doesn’t say, “Thank You, God for an opportunity to show love to my child.” Instead, she might sinfully think to herself, “I wish I didn’t have that child.” But she gets up. She cleans the child, changes the pajamas, and washes the wet sheets even though she does it with sin. Praise God for that.

Even though her heart isn’t pure, she keeps God’s law of caring for her child in an outward way even though she sins in an inward way. But the child is still loved, provided for, and cared for. This should never be minimized. All of you who have sinfully grumbled at a task God put before you but did it anyway, thank you. You have rendered to God the things that are God’s.

And your sinful heart? Well, that was Jesus’ job. He came and took all your sin. He suffered God’s wrath and died for it. Jesus rendered to God the things that are God’s. He gave Himself up as a ransom for us all. He has given Himself as a ransom for you. Amen.

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

Matthew 22:1-14 – Ready

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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 had been called to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who have been called, “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 torched their city. 8 Then he says to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those who had been called were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and call 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 says to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here even though you do not have 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 the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ladies and gentlemen, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright and locked position and that your seat belt is correctly fastened. As we fly through this parable, we do expect some turbulence. However, as your captain (pastor) I guarantee we will reach our destination safely. Thank you.

Jesus tells us this parable about the kingdom of heaven. The parable is about how God has arranged for us to be together, but it is a bumpy ride. Ready?

A king is giving a wedding feast for his son. An event like this is the talk of the kingdom. Even in the good ol’ US of A, people get excited about Great Brittan’s royal weddings. Think William and Kate, or, if you are older, Charles and Diana. The invitations have been sent, but no one shows. So, the king tells his servants to go out again, “Call those who were invited to the wedding feast. Maybe they forgot to mark their calendars, or maybe their phones are on DND and the notifications haven’t popped up.” Still, the guests would not come.

So the king sends out servants again, “Tell the everyone I’ve invited that the wine is poured, the steaks are done.” (In Jesus’ day weddings were planned by men, and you can tell by the menu of meat and drink – rich food full of marrow, aged wine well refined [Is. 25:6].) The king wants his servants to tell the invitees, “Everything is ready. Come! Come to the party!” But still, even with this third invitation, they paid no attention. Instead, one went off to his farm and another to his business. Seriously, lame excuses.

There is an irony in the things that the invitees chose to give their attention to instead of going to the wedding feast. In Deuteronomy 20:[1-9], God gave Moses a list of several things that a man could use as excuses for not going to war. The farm and the business that the invitees prefer over the feast are two things that would excuse a man from going to war. So, you see, these invitees are treating the king’s invitation to the wedding feast is a call to war and not to a joyful feast. But look what happens – war finds them anyway.

Some people, instead of offering excuses, take the king’s servants and seize them. They treat the servants shamefully. Whatever horrible thing you are imagining is probably accurate. They even kill the servants. Can you imagine it? All these servants were doing was extending the king’s gracious invitation to the feast of a lifetime, and they get killed for it.

The king is, of course, outraged. He is done sending servants. Now, he sends his troops. He musters his tanks, helicopters, and bombs – all his military might. And he torches the city and everything these party-poopers and murderers prefer over the feast.

Let’s stop here for a minute and ponder all of this. Jesus is teaching us about the kingdom of heaven, and there are implications for today. Every Sunday morning, God is inviting you to come to His banquet. Every week, God is here to love on you by giving you His Word. His desire is that you would be here to listen to His Word, to receive His Gospel. He wants to prepare His tale before you in the presence of your enemies, to anoint your head with oil, and to overflow your cup, as Psalm 23:5 says.

What is better than that? And yet, what lame excuses do you offer? Maybe, you aren’t treating the servants shamefully and killing them. But what happens when others do? What will happen to the things that you enjoy more than God’s feast when, on the last day, God sends His troops to destroy you who have treated His invitation as though it wasn’t worth your time?

Now, this isn’t to say that you are saved by coming to church. You aren’t. And this isn’t to say that you are damned by missing church. You aren’t. But every time you chose something else over what God offers here, it gets easier and easier to say, “No,” to His mercy.

Back to the parable. The king’s wrath and anger is spent. The city is torched. But rather than singing a duet with Leslie Gore, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to,” the king still wants to feast. This is, after all, his son’s wedding. The king tells his servants, “We are having this party. Those who didn’t want to be here are going to miss out. Go to the highways and invite anyone you find.” So, they do. The banquet hall is filled with all sorts of people – good and bad.

None of those who show up are worthy to be at this feast. They need to be washed and clothed for such an occasion. No problem. The king is happy to do it. It is his feast of grace and mercy. In this way, finally, the king’s hall is filled with guests. But the parable still is not done, and there is no Hallmark ending.

The king comes in to the hall to look at the guests. And he sees a man with no wedding garment. He held up his hand and scoffed at the Armani suit he was offered at the door. Now, the king walks up to him and says, “Hey, buster, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And the man was speechless.

Now, ‘speechless’ implies that the man was surprised that he had been caught. But the word Jesus uses here is actually, ‘silent.’ The implication here is that the man refused to acknowledge the king was even talking to him. Imagine the king walking up to him with his guards, looking him in the eye, and addressing the situation, but this fool turns away from the king and tries to yuck it up with his buddies standing next to him.

A simple, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me,” would have worked with how patient this king has proven himself to be. But this moron ignores his host, and he gets what he deserves. He is bound up, hogtied, and thrown into the eternal, outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

My fellow failures, don’t treat the God’s grace as cheap. Don’t test His patience. Repent. The feast is open to the unworthy and even the bad but not for the unrepentant.

God wants you at His feast. He calls you, unworthy though you are. In your Baptism, He has clothed you in the robe of Christ (Gal. 3:27). Enjoy the feast. Delight in the King’s grace. His table is set, prepared for you. Are you ready to party? Amen.

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

Matthew 21:23-32 – Can I See Your Authorization?

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Matthew 21:23-32

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Just who do you think you are? What gives you the right? Who gave you the authority to do these things?” The chief priests and elders want to know because Jesus has been throwing their world into chaos.

What had Jesus been doing that was causing such a ruckus? Well, the day before this confrontation had been Palm Sunday. Jesus rode into Jerusalem like He was some kind of Messiah. He marched His way straight into the Temple, tossed around the tables of the money changers, and drove the merchants and their animals out with a whip saying, “This is My house” (Mt. 21:13). Then, Jesus had the audacity to heal the blind and the lame in the Temple as the children continued to cry out, “Hosanna (‘Save us now’) to the Son of David!” (Mt. 21:15). It had been anything but a relaxing Sunday for the leaders.

Monday morning rolls around. Jesus enters the Temple again, and before He can even hang up His coat or get His coffee. There they are asking, “Let’s see some credentials here, Jesus. License and registration, please. What and who gives you the authority to do all of this?”

Today, it seems like we usually think of ‘authority’ in terms of having power to do this or that. But authority has more to do with having permission to do certain things. A judge has the authority, the permission, to make rulings on cases. A police officer has the authority, the permission, to pull you over for speeding. As much as I would like to pull people over for their traffic violations, I don’t have that authority.

Instead, the authority I have has been given to me by God through you, my dear congregation. You have called me to be your pastor, the Word and Sacrament guy, in this house of God. And that is a responsibility and authority I do not take lightly. Please, pray for me.

But what gives Jesus the right to do what He is doing? It should have been clear to them. With all the healing and miracles going on, it’s pretty clear this rabbi from Nazareth isn’t your typical son of a carpenter. The crowds had seen it too. Remember, after Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds were astonished at Jesus’ words because He taught as one who had authority and not as one of their scribes (Mt. 7:28-29) – not like these guys.

But when you ask the wrong question, you will get the wrong answer. And when you ask Jesus the wrong question, you’re likely to have a question asked of you. And that is exactly what happens. “I’ll tell you by what authority only after you answer Me this, wise guys: John’s baptism, where did it come from? I’ll even make it multiple choice – from God or from man?”

And you can hear their discussion as they huddle up. “It had to come from God.” “No, you idiot. We can’t say that. He’ll ask us why we didn’t listen to John.” “Ok. Fine. Let’s say that it came from men.” “Are you insane? The people thought John was a prophet, and we can’t make them mad at us.” “Well, what do you suggest we say then?” “Hey, I have an idea. Let’s just say, ‘We don’t know.’” “Yeah, I like that plan.” “Me too.” “Ok then. Go team. Break!”

I like to imagine one guy coming out of that huddle thinking, “I hope no one ever writes this conversation down because we’ll look like idiots for the rest of recorded history.”

Because they come back with their pathetic excuse of a response, Jesus refuses to show them His authorization. But Jesus, being God, still wants them to turn from their wicked ways of unbelief and live. So He tells them the parable.

A man tells his two sons to work in the vineyard. The first one is a wishy-washy twerp and says, “Naw, I don’t think so,” but later changes his mind and goes. The other son is a politician and says, “Yes, sir. I go, sir,” but doesn’t go. Who does the will of the father? The most obvious answer is the first, but what kind of parent is proud of their child who verbally defies them at every turn even if they eventually do what they are asked.

But that’s the point, and here’s the rub. How many of you do the will of your heavenly Father? The God who has given you the Ten Commandments – have no other gods, keep My name holy, listen to My Word, honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet – do you do these things?

You end up being both of these sons. Sometimes, you say, “Yes, sir. I obey, sir,” but then you go gossiping and hating your neighbor. You do not gladly hear and learn God’s Word, so you aren’t keeping the Commandments. Sometimes, you say, “I don’t want to do that,” but, for some reason, you end up doing it anyway.

But here is what Jesus wants to get these leaders to understand, and what He wants to get you to understand. You know that the first who says, “No, I’m not going,” but changes his mind, he is the one who does the will of his father. That is the main point of the parable – the change of mind. Repentance. Repentance is what this is all about – and faith.

That’s why Jesus says that the tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of heaven before the religious know-it-alls. Those sinners believed John. What was John’s constant sermon? “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2).

You see, repentance is one aspect of saving faith. To repent is first to believe what God says about your sins. They are damnable.

The tax collectors and prostitutes believed John. They believed that their lives of sin weren’t getting them anywhere. Neither is yours. Your selfishness and pride, your words of piety but lack of love, your actions that are done simply out of a sense of obligation – they don’t get you into the kingdom of heaven.

Repentance is the first part of faith. Believe your sins are what they are. And believe Jesus when He says about your sins that they are forgiven. Believe what Jesus says as He invites you to His table now and says, “This is My Body. This is My Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Jesus is asked, “By what authority do you do these things?” And how does Matthew’s Gospel end? With Jesus saying “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20).

Jesus takes His authority and does not us it for His own advantage. He uses it for yours. Repent. Believe. Be absolved, forgiven, washed, and fed. Amen.

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