Matthew 25:31-46 – When?

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Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

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

Dear Nikko, today you are Baptized. Today, God has placed His name upon you – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has made you His child and heir. God has made you to be His sheep. So, Nikko, today you begin a life of service to your Savior. But what does this mean? How do you go about serving the God who created everything? What can you offer Him?

These are questions that we, your brothers and sisters in Christ, continue to struggle with. But the answer Nikko, and all of you here, is given to us by Jesus in this text.

But t’s not an easy text. Now, let’s be honest. If this was the only word that we had received from Jesus, then a religion of works and salvation by human effort would be the logical conclusion. Sheep do acts of kindness, and they receive heavenly praise and eternal rewards. Goats don’t, and get hell.

But Scripture is clear. We do not earn our way into God’s good graces. We don’t buy our way into eternal life. And even this text agrees. Notice, Jesus’ first words to the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The sheep are sheep because God has made them sheep. They are chosen, predestined, elect. They are not sheep because they did acts of kindness or because they made a choice to be a sheep or because they worked hard to become a sheep. They are sheep for one reason – God has done it. God makes them sheep. God makes them righteous. And then, these sheep live like His sheep.

They go out into God’s creation, out into their ordinary lives, and they take care of those around them. They help the sick, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, and clothe the naked. They do sheep things. God’s sheep act like sheep.

And the goats? Well, the goats choose what God never planned. They choose to ignore the call of God and the cry of their fellow creatures. They reject grace and choose death. And so, in return, God gives them what they choose. They share the unintended and unsought fate of Satan and his hoard.

But not you. You are a sheep. At the Font, God made His claim on you, gave you His Name, and made you His sheep. You belong to Him.

And so you, His sheep, live like His sheep. You go out into God’s world and meet the needs of fellow creatures who cry for your help. That’s what sheep do. And when sheep do what God gives them to do, they are serving the God who made them sheep. That’s the point of the text.

The point is that what sheep do as sheep is never wasted and never lost. Because you are God’s sheep, your work, your normal daily work, is transformed. Whatever you do for the sake of those around you who need your help, whatever you do in fulfillment of your God-given vocation, whatever you do that God has given you to do is exactly the work you should be doing, and that work is never wasted and is never lost.

It’s not what makes a big splash. It’s not what makes others applaud. It’s not what earns financial perks or accolades or A’s. It’s not what makes you feel good. None of these things determine the value of the work you do. The only thing that counts is that you are doing what you have been given to do in service to others. And so, know that whatever it is you are doing, you are doing it as God’s sheep. And whatever you do as God’s sheep is holy work.

So, you get up and go to work and put in your eight, ten, or twelve hours. You prepare another report, meet another deadline. You clean the kitchen, fold the laundry, and scrub the toilet. You sit through another lecture. You study for another spelling or history or science quiz. You make your bed, clear your dishes, and straighten your shoes and coats in the entryway. You change the day’s eighth dirty diaper, prepare the days’ fourth bottle, and you wipe your child’s snotty nose because it is holy work.

As God’s sheep, all the work you do is done in service to the one who needs what God has put you there to give. God has put that needy person in your life – even if their need seems inconsequential. Everything you do can be done with a sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude at the sheer holiness of the work you are doing.

You don’t need work that is more meaningful. You don’t need a vocation that is more prestigious. You don’t need to do things that will impress those who watch or grade or evaluate. No, you just need to do what you have been given to do to care for those around you who need it. And when you do that, you are doing an incredible, holy work.

Notice, the sheep are totally unaware of all the holy works they had done. They ask Jesus, “When? When did we do all those things?” These sheep appear before Jesus with hands empty of good works. But Jesus praises and rewards them anyway.

Also notice, the goats were shocked. They ask Jesus, “When? When did we not do all those good things?” They appeared before Jesus with hands full of what they thought were their good works. But since their hands are full of their own works and merits, they had no room to  receive the mercy, grace, and forgiveness Jesus freely gives.

So, when are you doing your best works? When are you serving the God who has created, redeemed, and sanctified you? When you don’t even notice because that work seems so inconsequential and insignificant.

So, see the need of those around you. Step up and you meet that need. Parents, children, students, employers, neighbors, strangers – give them what they need from you, and you fulfill your righteous vocation.

Sheep are righteous twice. Righteous before God in your election, and righteous before creation in your vocation. You are a sheep. You live without futility because you know that your labor is never in vain. No deed is insignificant. No act is forgotten. God saves you and your labor. Neither is ever lost.

You may feel that your work is insignificant and meaningless. You may feel like what you do goes unnoticed. But it is not. You, you are a sheep. And that changes everything – everything about you and everything about what you do forever. Amen.[1]

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

[1] This sermon was taken largely from a sermon by Dr. Joel Biermann on this same text (


Matthew 25:14-30 – How Is Your Master?

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Matthew 25:14-30

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

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

Please, let it be clear, the talents in this parable are not skills like singing, dancing, juggling, playing the harmonica, and pulling a rabbit out of a hat. A talent is a sum of money, in fact, a large sum of money. One talent is equivalent to twenty years’ wages. The master freely gives it away. No conditions. No instructions. No expectations. To one five talents, to another two, and to another one – each according to his ability. One-hundred-sixty years’ wages. Maybe, he needed to lighten his fat wallet before he goes away.

Two of those servants do very well with the money and double it. The third is a total flop. He digs a hole in the ground. Like a broody hen warming an unfertilized egg, he sits on his master’s money in a way that nothing will be lost, but certainly nothing will be gained. What was his problem? The third servant was terrified of his master because he believes wrong things about his master. And in his fear, he does nothing.

This third servant didn’t know his master well at all. His own words condemn him, “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. So, I was afraid. And I went and hid the money in the ground.”

Imagine the master. He has given away – with no strings attached – 160 years’ wages, and is called a hard, demanding, cruel, even violent man. Well, there is nothing to do except treat that wicked servant exactly how he believes. The master condemns the servant and casts him into the outer darkness where there is nothing but weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But this is not how the master really is. The master is actually merciful, gracious, and giving. The first servant who was given five talents gets to keep those five. And more than that, he gets to keep the extra five he profited, and he gets the eleventh talent as well. Since when do servants get to keep the principle, the interest, and on top of that get bonuses?

Here is the point of the parable. However you believe God to be is how He is to you. If you believe God to be a deity who demands that you work and slave to get back into His good graces, that is how He will be to you. But if you believe God to be merciful, forgiving, gracious, patient, loving, and kind, that is how He will be to you. So, how is your God? How is your Master?

Jesus is the Master in this parable, and He gives His Kingdom away. He empties the treasuries of His palace and gives it to His servants. Your God is not a hard man who reaps where He does not sow. He sows for others. He sows for you to reap. And to you, who have been given much in the waters of Holy Baptism and made His heirs, He gives even more. Your faith is multiplied like money well-invested.

The God who has bestowed gifts to you is coming back. He has given you life, house, family. He has blessed you with everything you need for this life. He has given you His Word. But, most importantly, He has given you Jesus, His Son, who has poured out His precious, holy, innocent blood to remove your sin from you as far as the east is from the west. Because of the abundance He has given to you, you don’t need to be afraid of losing it. So, use what He has given!

One of Aesop’s fables goes like this: A mouse lived near a magician’s house, but the mouse was terrified of cats. In pity for the mouse, the magician turned the mouse into a cat. But then the mouse, who was now a cat, feared the dog. So, the magician turned it into a dog. But then that dog feared the tiger. So, the magician said, “Be a mouse again. Since you only have the heart of a mouse, it is impossible to help you by giving you the form of a noble animal.”

God has made you who you are. And, yes, maybe God hasn’t physically given you as much as He has given others. But use what God has given you for the furthering of His kingdom. He has given you the precious blood of Christ poured out for you on the cross. He has given you His name to call upon Him in prayer. He has given you brothers and sisters in Christ who need to be strengthened and encouraged by your words and by your example.

Jesus is your gracious master who takes of His own property, that which is His, that which He earned, and gives it to you. And then, in the end, allows you to keep it not only as stewards, but as a dear beloved child.

So, use what God has given you, and on the last day, you also will hear your Savior say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Amen.

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

Matthew 25:1-13 – Wake, Awake!

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Matthew 25:1-13

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

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

If this parable makes you uncomfortable, good. That is exactly what Jesus intended. The parable is a warning. You can lose the faith. You can give up hope. You can have the mountaintop experiences, you can rededicate your life a hundred times, you can feel really close to God now, but still be left outside when Jesus, the Bridegroom, is delayed in His return.

Jesus has told us to watch, but none of us have watched as we should. We have not believed as we should. We have ignored what we know to be right and have fallen into sin. We have had opportunity after opportunity to read, hear, learn, study God’s Word, and come to receive God’s gifts Sunday morning, but figured, “I can do it tomorrow, or next week.”

Jesus tells us that five of the virgins were μωραὶ where we get our English word, ‘morons.’ Now, these are not those who were confirmed but stopped coming to church. These five foolish virgins are those who stick it out. They keep coming to church. They serve on the church council, helped with the pot-lucks, and put their offering in the plate every week. The five fools have every mark of what would be considered a ‘good Christian.’ However, when the Bridegroom arrives, they are unprepared to meet Him. They have no oil. They have no hope or faith.

The other five virgins are ‘wise,’ but it is not the normal New Testament word for wise, σοφία. Jesus uses a different word, φρόνιμοι. This is a particular kind of wisdom that plans for the future. It considers everything that is known, but it also recognizes and plans for the unknown.

So, these wise virgins know the Bridegroom is coming, but they don’t know when He will arrive. And because they know that they didn’t know, they made provision for that too. They were ready. They were ready if He came right away – they had oil in their lamps. But they were also ready if He is delayed – they had extra oil in their flasks.

Of course, we should be ready for Jesus to return today. We should put away our sin. We should be repentant. We should reconcile with those we are fighting with. We should watch and pray and expect that Jesus will be here at any moment. All this is to have oil in our lamps.

But we do not know when Jesus will return. It may not be today or tomorrow or next year or even in our lifetimes. So, we should be making preparations for that as well.

We should go to work and school tomorrow and the days and weeks and months and years after that too. We should be preparing for our future careers. We should get married, have children, and teach those children the faith. We should be sending out missionaries to preach the Gospel in other places so they and their children will be ready for Christ’s return. We should be planting new churches, strengthening existing churches, and writing hymns for us today but also for those of future generations because it may not be tomorrow that Jesus returns.

If you thought that Jesus was going to come in ten days, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you wouldn’t bother thawing out your turkey. You wouldn’t go to the store to buy all the groceries you need (or make your travel plans) for Thanksgiving Day. But if you are wrong, and Jesus doesn’t return in ten days, it will make for a very poor Thanksgiving. You won’t have any tryptophan in your system to help you fall asleep while you watch Giants play the Redskins. Yuck.

Be ready for the return of Christ. Be watchful. Stay awake. Don’t be away from the house when Christ arrives frantically trying to find oil for yourself because when He comes, it is too late. But none of this is to say that you are worthy of entering the feast because you are prepared. As important as they are, you aren’t welcomed into the wedding feast because of your good works.

Notice, all ten virgins – both the wise and the foolish – they all fall asleep. But also notice, that when the Bridegroom comes, He washes away the sins of those five wise virgins who fell asleep. He doesn’t hold their slumber against them. The Bridegroom is the one who died for their sins, so their sins aren’t going to stop Him from welcoming them to the wedding feast (Rev. David H. Pedersen).

Brothers and sisters, Christ is returning, and we do not know either the day or the hour. We do not know the general time or the specific time.

Be ready and remember what you are waiting for. You are waiting for a party. You are waiting for a time of unimaginable celebration and unspeakable joy. Absolutely, you need to be ready, but only because it would be a travesty to miss all the fun. Amen.

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

1 John 3:1-3 – So You Are

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1 John 3:1-3

1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

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

Dear saints. Yes, you, you Christian are called a saint by Scripture.

Too often, when we think of saints, we think of people who are without sin. Maybe you watch your grandma getting older. Her arthritis makes her fingers twist in ways they aren’t supposed to, but she doesn’t complain. And she lovingly puts up with all of your grandpa’s eccentricities. Or, maybe, when you think of a saint, you think of the people in our first reading (Rev. 7:9-17), people who have gone to heaven.

But saints are not sinless people. If that were the case, no one could ever be called a ‘saint’ – except Jesus. He is the only sinless person to ever live. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 3:23-24).

A saint is not a ‘sinless person.’ A saint is a ‘holy person.’ The word ‘holy’ means set apart. And God has set you apart. He has made you holy. He has set you apart for Himself.

Now, this may be a bad analogy, but bear with me. In your home, you probably keep your dishcloths and your washcloths separate. You have one set of cloths to wash your dishes, to wipe the grime and grease from your pots and pans and to get the crumbs and spilt milk off of your table. But you have a separate set of cloths to scrub soap on yourself to wash your skin. And hopefully, those get less greasy than the cloths that wash your frying pan.

Now, you wouldn’t dream of washing those cloths, folding them, and just putting them wherever there was more space. Even though your dishcloths and washcloths are probably the same size and made of the same material, they have different purposes. With one, you wash the pan that fried your bacon and eggs, and with another you wash yourself. You have set each of them apart for a purpose. Each of them are, in a sense, ‘holy.’ You don’t use your washcloths to clean your pots and pans, and you don’t use your dishcloths to wipe the oil and grease from the parts of your snow blower. Did the cloths do this themselves? No. You did.

Dear saints, you too have been set apart. You have been set apart by God for God. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). You have been claimed by Him when He put His name upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism. You have been kept by God through faith in His Word.

These verses from 1 John invite you to behold this. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

Often, it does not seem like we are saints. We don’t feel particularly holy or set apart. And the world certainly doesn’t recognize that we are God’s saints, His holy ones. But right here, John says that shouldn’t surprise us because the world did not know Jesus when He came.

One of the devil’s favorite games to play with you, dear saint, is to have the world shout at you and call you a hypocrite. But the church is not full of hypocrites. The church is full of sinners, but Christians on this side of glory still do sin, minute by minute and second by second. But Christians are not hypocrites; they do not say one thing and do another. Christians are those who confess their sins and cry out to God for forgiveness. Christians do not claim to be without sin. Instead, we claim that we are saints, God’s children, even if we don’t particularly look like it. We have been set apart by God, and we live by His mercy.

If someone wants to call you a hypocrite, tell them to go jump in a lake. Christian, you are God’s child, His saint, His holy one. You have been set apart. When you sin, and you do, you confess that sin, and you have an advocate, Jesus Christ, the righteous (1 Jn. 2:1).

Remain in the things that Jesus has given and promised delivers to you the forgiveness of sins – in your Baptism, in confession and absolution, in the Lord’s Supper, in hearing and trusting God’s holy Word. All those are the places where God declares you righteous for Christ’s sake.

Will you fail? Yes!

Your flesh is weak and you sin daily and often. But whenever your conscience condemns you, know that God is greater than your conscience (1 Jn. 3:20). Christ knows everything, and He has all authority in heaven and earth. He has laid down His life for you. Because He has all authority, when He declares that you are forgiven because of His death and resurrection, no one can debate it.

And God isn’t surprised when He forgives you and you keep on sinning. God has perfect foreknowledge. Though you keep on sinning, God isn’t ashamed of you. Jesus didn’t die for nothing. Jesus didn’t die for the wrong people. He has died for you. Trust that, and you are holy no matter what anyone else may say. It is God’s declaration. Rejoice in that.

See what kind of love the Father has given to you, that you should be called children of God; and so you are. You are God’s children now. What you will be has not yet appeared, but know that when Jesus appears, you shall be like Him because you shall see Him as He is.

In all likelihood, John wrote this epistle before he wrote the book of Revelation. In that first reading today (Rev. 7:9-17), John got a glimpse of what we will be. John saw an innumerable multitude, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” That means John saw you who speak a language that didn’t even exist in his day. John saw you “standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in [your] hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

And here, now again, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He comes to serve you His holy Body and holy Blood. Though you are not yet with Jesus in heaven, Jesus comes to you bringing with Him angles and archangels and the whole company of heaven to you. He does this, dear saints, to strengthen and encourage you in the true faith until that day when you are with Him for life everlasting. Amen.

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

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.