He Died For All, That Those Who Live Might No Longer Live For Themselves. Quinquagesima 2017. St. Luke 18:31-43
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 18:31-43 (1 Cor. 13)
February 26, 2017
“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves”
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15
For whom do you live your life? For yourself? Or for Jesus?
There was a grandmother who had a grandson that she loved. When he was little, his parents would bring him over to her house on Christmas and at his birthday and other important days. The grandmother had very little money, but she always gave him the best present she could on Christmas and his birthday, because she loved him. When he was little, he would open his present and say, “Thank you, grandma!” and give her a hug.
When he got to be a teenager and started to grow up into a man, he didn’t have much time for his grandma. She still saved up to give him gifts at his birthday and Christmas, and his parents still brought him over, even though he usually looked like he wanted to be somewhere else. And when he opened the card with money in it, he still said, “Thanks, grandma,” and gave her a hug. But except for those occasions when he came over, she never heard from him.
Later he went to college and then got a job in another city, far away. His grandmother still loved him, and still sent him gifts. And sometimes he would call her on the phone and say “Thanks, grandma” when he got them. Other times he wouldn’t.
Soon she went into a nursing home. The family had all moved away. She seldom got visitors. Her grandson called very little. He was busy with work and his family. The grandmother didn’t feel any bitterness toward him. She loved him. She never sent him those gifts because she wanted to buy his affection; she just loved him.
When she died, and her grandson came to her funeral, he didn’t have any flash of insight where he realized he had been ungrateful. He went home and went on with his life, never realizing how he had been loved.
Has anyone here ever seen this story happen in real life? I have not only seen it; I have been the grandson—so wrapped up in my own desires and problems that I did not recognize when love was being shown to me. So I did not receive it. I did not respond to it. I appreciated the gifts, but did not receive the love of the person that motivated the gifts. How tragic.
You might feel indignation that the grandson—or the many people who are like the grandson– didn’t call his grandma more, or come over and help her more. But not doing those things isn’t really the heart of the matter. What was really the issue was that he didn’t love his grandmother, or his love for her was less than his desire to be with his friends, find a girlfriend, be successful in his career. If he had forced himself to call his grandma out of a sense of duty, it would have been work. He might have resented her or the expectation that he give her his time when he had so many other obligations. But if he received her love and loved her in return, the time it took for him to call and visit her wouldn’t have even entered his mind.
Which brings me back to the question: who do you live for? Yourself? Or Jesus Christ?
Today is Quinquagesima, which means “fiftieth”, because it is roughly 50 days before Easter. On this Sunday the Gospel reading records how Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and how, near the city of Jericho, a blind man heard the crowd that was going with Jesus travelling through. He cried out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” We heard how even though the crowd told him to stop making a scene he kept shouting this, and how Jesus stopped, called the man over to Him, and restored his sight. Then, St. Luke records, “He immediately recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.”
The formerly blind man immediately begins to follow Jesus. Where is Jesus going, and what will happen to Him there? The formerly blind man doesn’t ask; he doesn’t care. He follows Jesus without worrying about what will come from following him. He loves Jesus and wants to be with Him. He loves Jesus because he has received not only his sight, but Jesus’ love.
You might think, “Of course he followed Jesus after Jesus did such a great miracle for him!” But it’s not obvious at all that he would do this. A chapter before this in Luke’s gospel Jesus healed 10 men with leprosy, and only one came back to give thanks to the Lord.
No. Many times Jesus does wonderful things for people, and they are like the grandson in the story I told you. “Thanks, Jesus,” they say. “Now I can get back to my life—to my job, my family, my friends, my cell phone.” In fact, that is how people normally respond to Jesus’ gifts. Even more often, people don’t even acknowledge that Jesus has given them a gift.
They go on living for themselves.
When it is pointed out to us that this is what we are doing, we frequently get mad. Look, we say, what do you expect from me? Don’t you know I have to pay my bills? Don’t you understand that it is impossible to follow Jesus the way the world is now without being an outcast, without suffering financially? Don’t you understand people are already doing all they can without you demanding more? And are we not supposed to have any enjoyment and pleasure in life? You’re telling me Jesus doesn’t want us to be happy?
What I’m saying is that the first commandment of God is this: You shall have no other gods—which means, We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. God is always commanding His servants in the Bible to do things that seem impossible to do without risking their happiness, their good name, even their lives. We heard it in the Old Testament reading. The Lord said to Samuel…Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons. And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me. And the Lord said…I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you. (1 Sam. 16:1-3) And Samuel goes and does what God commands, because he loves the Lord, and he trusts the Lord even though he doesn’t understand.
Yes, God commands us to love Him, fear Him, trust Him above all things. Those who don’t love God above all things are sinners. They provoke Him to anger, real and serious wrath that will burn for eternity. Those who don’t love and trust God above all things are as wicked in His sight as men who dishonor their bodies with other men, as women who murder their infants in their wombs, as those who defraud and rob and steal. We do not become good in God’s sight because we refrain from the grave sins others do. Lack of love for God in your heart means you love someone or something else more than God. When we devise excuses for this in the Church—and we do it so easily, both me and you—we become just what the world accuses us of being: Pharisees.
No, let us admit the painful reality. Just like the world, we don’t love God above all things. When we look at the blind man, who out of love jumps up and follows Jesus, not caring where Jesus is going or what will happen if he follows Jesus, we see in the mirror of his example that we are the grandson who doesn’t respond to the love of his grandmother.
Jesus has done more for each one of us than He did for that blind man. He healed not only our eyes but our entire body and soul. He joined our bodies of dust and ashes to His resurrected, immortal bodies, and renewed our souls when He baptized us. Yet we often say, “Thanks, Jesus! See you in heaven when I get done living my life for myself.”
When we are challenged on this and asked, “Shouldn’t you follow Jesus? Shouldn’t you run to hear His Word when it is offered? Shouldn’t you gladly serve Him in His Church? Shouldn’t you give Him Your life, and follow Him in giving it up for the people He wants you to serve? Shouldn’t you give Him the firstfruits of your wealth so that others can hear the joyful news of salvation? Shouldn’t you use all your strength to see the gospel of Jesus given to other people?” Then we say, “But Jesus is going to be mocked, treated shamefully, to be spit on, to be flogged and nailed to a cross!”
Even if we agree, to our shame, that we should follow Jesus with joy like this man who had been blind, we find that we cannot do so. We look ahead of Jesus and see the cross and suffering. The fear overwhelms our joy.
And the more we are told that we should follow Jesus, that we should do it out of love and not out of compulsion, the more we find that we can’t. Those who are annoyed to be told this become more annoyed and resistant. Those who agree but are afraid become more afraid and less joyful.
This is the terrible reality of original sin. We are born not loving God, and we cannot will ourselves into loving Him. The love of God must come to us from outside into our hearts, and once it has begun to come in, it must continue, and we cannot make this happen.
The grandson who didn’t respond to his grandmother’s love needed not to force himself to act like he loved her. He needed to receive the love that was already there from his grandma. That is the way it is with us and God.
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be mocked, treated shamefully, spat upon, flogged with whips, crucified. He told his disciples this not to scare them, but to cause them to see when it happened that this was no accident. God foretold it centuries before through the prophets. In eternity He planned it, before the world began. It was His will that Jesus should suffer all these things. It was Jesus’ will also. As He pulled His disciples aside and explained it to them again, now for the third time, He saw it coming clearly. He could have avoided it and said, “We’ll go up to Jerusalem next year.” He didn’t do it. He saw it clearly and unmistakeably, and journeyed toward it.
Those were Jesus’ actions, motivated by His will, by the engine of His heart. What powered that engine was this—love. Love for human beings who do not love Him. Love for His enemies, love for His disciples, love for you, love for me. In love He saw us with a clear eye. He saw that our love of ourselves had to be punished by a just God with shame, mockery, physical suffering, with endless spiritual torment.
So He journeyed to Jerusalem to receive it for us—to be treated with contempt. To be mocked and spit on. To have His flesh opened with stripes from the whips. To have His hands and feet pierced and pinned to the cross and be lifted up from the earth as a curse. To cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” To bring to an end God’s anger against us, His righteous condemnation for the lives we have lived for ourselves, spurning His love. And then on the third day to rise again, God declaring our sin paid for in full, God announcing that Jesus and we are no longer in bondage to our sins. He no longer counts them.
Consider the love behind this gift. Meditate on it.
You are not able to stop living for yourself. But Jesus has blotted out the life you live in the flesh. He lived His life on earth in love toward His Father and in love toward you. For His sake the Father’s anger against your life of self-love has ended. For His sake, the Father counts you and all who believe in Jesus not only as if they lived their life following Jesus, for Jesus, but as if you lived Jesus’ life.
As you receive this love of Jesus, which is given to you when His Gospel is preached, when the Scripture is taught, when you read the Bible at home, when you receive the body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament—as you receive His love in these ways, His love is born in you. The death He died for all becomes active in your life. Just as the grandson would have loved his grandmother if he had paid attention and received the love that was behind her gifts, so as you hear the word of the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus’ gift of His life for you, His love will enter your heart and do what it did in the man He healed of blindness. It will cause you to forget yourself and follow Jesus, not out of compulsion, but out of love, with joy.
On Wednesday the season of Lent begins, with its call to baptized Christians to renew the fight against our flesh, with its constant desire to live for ourselves. This fight, in which we exercise our will, is necessary. No one can be a Christian without it. We have to daily drown in Jesus’ death, in which we died in Baptism, the desires, thoughts, and impulses of our flesh that want us to live the old way—for ourselves, in sin, with our hearts denying Jesus’ love, closed to it.
We have to fight. But our fighting, our willing to no longer live for ourselves doesn’t create love. Love comes from seeing the love Jesus has in His heart for you—the love revealed in His joyful willingness to go to Jerusalem, to be treated with contempt, to be spit on, whipped, pierced with nails, and forsaken by God.
In that love we are secure, now and forever. That love has destroyed the life you lived for yourself.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 8:4-15
Feb. 19, 2017
“Broken Hearts are Good Soil”
The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth. LSB 656 st 4
Surely the people is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever (Is. 40:7-8). Jesus’ parable this morning reveals the mystery of how the eternal Word of God is given to us, who are otherwise grass that withers and fades.
Jesus preaches to the great crowd that has gathered to him from cities all around that the Word of God is spread like seed when a farmer goes out in the spring and sows his fields.
But Jesus doesn’t explain this to the crowd. He just tells them a story about a sower casting seed into the field. Most of the seed lands somewhere where it doesn’t grow up into a crop. Then Jesus calls out, He who has hears, let him hear!
Only to His disciples does Jesus explain the meaning of his story. To you it has been given to know [or understand] the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for others it is in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Jesus is quoting the prophet Isaiah, who tells how he saw God in the temple and the seraphim flying around His throne singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth!” Then, says Isaiah:
I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing,[c] but do not understand; keep on seeing,[d] but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull,[e] and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Wait! God told Isaiah to preach His Word so that they would not understand it? So they would not turn to God and be saved?
That’s what it says; and Jesus says that’s why He preached a parable to the crowd—so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand.
That’s not very loving, is it? What it is is a terrifying warning about the consequences of “not having ears to hear.” The consequences of taking lightly the Word of God, of ignoring it, of valuing it less than other things, of treating it as if it is only the word of men. God may cause those who hear His Word but do not listen to it to no longer be able to listen to it, understand it, and be saved by it.]
Then Jesus goes on to explain His parable to His disciples. The seed, He says, is the Word of God.
Why does Jesus tell a parable about proclaiming and preaching God’s Word? It isn’t as if God’s Word was never preached before Jesus came. It’s not new. God sent prophets to proclaim His Word since the beginning of the world.
But there is something new here. God sent the prophets to proclaim His promise that salvation would come for the world in the future. The seed of a woman would crush the head of the ancient serpent; the offspring or seed of Abraham would bring blessing, salvation to all the nations of the earth to replace the curse that all human beings were under. The descendant of Abraham, born of a woman, would bring God’s Kingdom to the earth. Satan would no longer control us. In place of sin ruling in human hearts there would be righteousness; instead of death there would be eternal life. Instead of God being absent from us and angry with us, God would dwell in the midst of us and have pleasure in us.
That is what God told His people through the prophets would happen in the future. But Jesus proclaimed and preached: that day is now. Now forgiveness of sins is happening. Satan is being cast down. Death is being overcome. Sinners are declared righteous. God is present with and pleased with all who believe this good news.
That was and is the Word of God that Jesus preached and still preaches, which endures forever. But there is something else amazing and mysterious about this Word of God.
You know the story of creation. When God wanted to create the world, He didn’t get out a plumb line, a saw, a hammer and some nails. He spoke. And nothing disobeyed His Word. The light didn’t say, “No, I won’t shine.” The waters didn’t say, “I don’t want to be gathered together and let the dry land appear.” When God spoke, creation obeyed. God’s Word is omnipotent, almighty. What God speaks happens.
But when God speaks to human beings, it’s different. God allows His almighty Word to be resisted and rejected by human beings, who were made out of dirt. He says, “You are forgiven and saved,” yet many people say, “No.” Or more likely they say nothing, because they aren’t listening. Or laugh and say, “Listen to that fanatic, that crazy fool,” or “This has been going on for 17 and a half minutes already.”
And so it happens that God’s almighty, eternal Word that gives pardon from sin, brings God into our hearts, saves us from being damned forever on the day of judgment gets sidelined, thrown into a closet in the Church, rejected.
Jesus says God’s Word is a seed. When it is sown, when it is thrown onto ears and hearts through preaching, it lands in many ears and hearts where it is not permitted to do what it is meant to do. It is meant to fall into the ear canal and find its way into the heart. There it will grow up like a plant into eternal life and joy and with it bring fruit to the praise of God—much fruit, a hundredfold.
The Word is the Word of Jesus; it brings Him and His full atonement for our sins, accomplished in His death in our place on the cross, where God’s anger against not listening to His Word and believing it was poured out in full on Him. In those who hear and believe is planted the death and forgiveness of their sins. Where this is planted in the heart, the Holy Spirit who is present in the seed of the Word causes a new life to grow in our hearts that were formed from dirt. In the midst of these bodies of dust and ash which rebel against God, love self more than our neighbor, the life of Jesus grows. We begin to love God, desire His Word, find comfort and pleasure in it; we trust Him and call on Him with confidence that He will hear and help, and we begin to seek our neighbor’s good—his well-being here on earth and in spiritual things.
But Jesus says this doesn’t happen in most people to whom God’s Word comes. Many people have hearts like the hard-packed dirt of a footpath, made rock-hard by the weight of many feet. They hear the Word of God, but it never enters their heart. It just lies there on the top of the hard crust of their hearts. They don’t understand it, and even if they do, they don’t put their trust in the message it proclaims. Then the demons swoop in and take the Word of God away. If our eyes were open to this, we would see how every Sunday morning demons descend on so many hearers of God’s Word like crows and grackles to take away God’s Word from their hearts.
Others receive God’s Word and believe with joy for a time. They hear that salvation is accomplished, finished by Jesus, and they rejoice. But beneath the soil at the surface of their hearts is rock that prevents the Word of God from taking deep root. God’s Word is planted, but it gets no moisture. The seed is not watered; they do not continue to hear and learn the Word of God. They may keep hearing it, but it doesn’t get in; they don’t acknowledge their need for ongoing daily repentance and renewal. So when it gets hot and they are tested by suffering or persecution, the new life of faith dies.
And then there are those among whom God’s Word takes root and grows, but alongside it also grow the weeds of worry about this life, the desire for wealth and pleasure here on earth. These weeds are not pulled out. They are there in the heart with God’s Word—worry, love of wealth and pleasure. And the Word of God is not able to grow with these things. It grows stunted, sickly, fruitless. The Word of God in their hearts becomes knowledge that produces no fruit—in essence, another weed.
There is only one kind of soil, one kind of heart, that receives God’s Word to salvation—the good soil, the noble and good heart. Hearts that are not packed down and hardened against God’s Word; hearts that are not rocky and unwilling to continue in daily repentance for sin and renewal by God’s Word; hearts that are not divided by obsession with the worries and pleasures of this life.
In this parable Jesus is comforting future preachers, who will experience how few people seem to receive the Word of God, continue with it, and bear fruit. But He is also calling us to examine ourselves, to ask ourselves, How do I receive God’s Word? Do I bring forth fruit that testifies that my faith in Jesus is living and genuine?
It is a question that requires serious attention from us and honest self-examination. It is a question that Jesus brings before us not to kill us, but to save us. And this self-examination will have this effect on nearly everyone who honestly does it, as they prepare to receive the body and blood of Jesus each week—we will be disturbed. At how often we fall into the same sins—perhaps at how we live in those sins without repentance, bearing fruit for the devil. And at how little of the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, thankfulness and praise to God we bear. How little we endure suffering without complaining, trusting in God; how little we can endure mistreatment from other people and still love them.
This kind of disturbance is good, if it is excited by the Holy Spirit and not by our own efforts to feel the right way. We are not born good soil to receive God’s Word. We can’t make ourselves good soil either. It is God’s work.
But what makes a heart “noble and good” is conviction of sin that makes us hunger and thirst for forgiveness and the freedom to bear fruit for God. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled, said Jesus. The poor sinner who is terrified of his sins, who runs to Jesus continually for forgiveness and help, and believes that He will help, He says has “a noble and good heart.” Such a sinner is glad to receive Jesus’ help, glad to confess his sins and be absolved, comes to Jesus wherever Jesus is planting and watering. This is why a long time ago I tried to teach about the benefit of private confession and absolution. I was speaking from my experience, and echoing another teacher who also knew what it was to be terrified at his lack of fruitfulness. He wrote:
Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need. If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the Pope’s command at any point, but you will force yourself to go and ask me that you may share in it…If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles to confession, not under compulsion, but rather coming and compelling us to offer it…Therefore, when I exhort you to go to confession, I am doing nothing but exhorting you to be a Christian. If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession. For those who really want to be upright Christians and free from their sins, and who want to have a joyful conscience, truly hunger and thirst already. They snatch at the bread, just like a hunted deer, burning with heat and thirst, as Psalm 42 says, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”
That’s what Martin Luther thought about confession.
But God is so gracious that both the seed of His Word and the flowing streams that water it and make it grow in our heart don’t come to us in only one way. He plants the Word in our heart in Baptism and in teaching His Word; He waters it through preaching, teaching, and His Holy Supper.
In all these things, He tells us the joyful news—your sins have been taken away by my blood. You are liberated from death and Satan. It has happened as surely as I died, was buried, and rose again. All who receive this eternal Word with noble and good hearts that hunger and thirst for forgiveness and desire to bear fruit to God will find that this Word will not return to God empty or in vain—in this world or on the day of judgment.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 18:31-43
February 6, 2015
“Jesus Will Stop for You”
Why should Jesus stop?
That may seem like a harsh question. Yet it is in the back of the minds of many people. Sometimes you’ll hear people say something like, “I don’t pray much. Why should God pay attention to my prayers? There are billions of people in this world asking Him for help. What’s so special about me, that He should listen to me?”
It’s a question that might have occurred to the blind man on the road to Jericho. It might even have seemed a little arrogant for him to shout at Jesus as Jesus passed with a great crowd down the road to Jerusalem.
After all, Jesus is the Son of David, the promised Christ, the King anointed to rule the nations forever. Does this man think this great King has nothing else to do, that He should interrupt His business and stop for a blind beggar? How do you feel when a beggar approaches your car when you’re waiting for a red light, on your way to work? Do you ever feel a little irritated or put out? What if they are yelling for help with a loud voice?
Besides this, Jesus is surrounded by a great crowd of people. Does this blind man think that no one else in the crowd might want to ask Jesus for a healing, for a miracle, for mercy? But they don’t interrupt Jesus’ procession to Jerusalem.
Maybe this is what the people who rebuke the blind man are thinking. Their rebuke could even seem devout and pious. “Why are you screaming at Jesus? You’re being prideful. Who do you think you are?”
Does this man think the world revolves around him? Does he think he’s so important that, of course, Jesus should stop what He’s doing and come to serve him, a blind beggar?
This is how we might think. But Jesus makes it clear by His actions and words that He does not think this way. He stops what He is doing to answer the blind man’s prayer. He puts Himself at the blind man’s disposal. He praises the man for his faith.
What gave the blind man such boldness?
He had heard good news about Jesus. He had heard that Jesus was able to cure the sick, the lame, the paralyzed. And he had heard that Jesus not only possessed such power, but that He was gracious and kind and did not turn away those who came to Him for help. Perhaps he had also heard about how Jesus had mercy and received even the greatest sinners in Israel. Perhaps he drew the conclusion that Jesus was the promised anointed one, or perhaps others told him that.
The blind man believed the good news that he heard. He had faith. And when his own conscience and others rebuked him and told him that Jesus had other things to do, he persevered in faith and believed that Jesus would have mercy. He believed in spite of everything that Jesus was able to heal him and that he wanted to heal him, even if it meant that he was the only one in a great crowd of people for whom Jesus would stop and give him his attention.
It was not that he thought highly of himself. He thought highly of Jesus’ mercy. He believed that Jesus’ mercy was greater than everything else. The blind man didn’t believe that he was the center of the universe. He believed that Jesus’ mercy and love were so great that Jesus was willing and able to deal with him as though he was the only one in the world.
Although this man couldn’t see with his eyes, he saw Jesus far better than most by faith. By faith He saw that Jesus was the son of David, the promised King and Savior. And by faith he saw—perhaps even better than the 12 disciples—what kind of a King Jesus was. He was and is not a king who came to be served but to serve. He came to give of Himself freely; to have mercy.
On the other hand, the earlier part of the gospel reading shows us how the disciples did not understand fully who Jesus is.
Of course the disciples understood that Jesus was God in human flesh. Three of them saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain. They saw Jesus tell the stormy winds and sea to be still and they obeyed Him. They saw Him raise the dead. Peter had confessed what all the disciples believed—that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is what the season of Epiphany that is now ending is about—Jesus revealing Himself as God incarnate, God with us in our flesh and blood.
The disciples believed and knew that Jesus was God with us, but they did not clearly see what that meant. They did not grasp well what the apostle John later wrote in his first epistle, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
They believed Jesus was God. But when Jesus told them that what had been written by all the prophets was about to be fulfilled in His going to Jerusalem, they could not understand Him. They did not understand what the Scriptures said about God, nor did they fully understand Jesus.
“And taking aside the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day He will rise.’ But they understood none of these things.” (Luke 18:31-34)
This was the third time Jesus told the disciples about His impending death. But they didn’t understand Him. Why didn’t they?
This did not fit with their understanding of who God is. They understood that God was all-powerful and glorious, holy and righteous. It was beyond their comprehension that the Son of God should be mocked, treated shamefully, spit on, and killed.
But Jesus told them this so that when the Scriptures were fulfilled and Jesus was handed over to shame and execution, they would not think that it happened accidentally, that Jesus didn’t know about it and couldn’t prevent it.
How could God be handed over to enemies, be mocked and spit on and be killed? Clearly, the only way this could happen to the eternal, Almighty God is if He let it happen. If He allowed Himself to be taken captive. If He allowed Himself to be mocked and spit on and nailed to a cross.
But in their minds, God would never allow this to happen. Why would He?
For the same reason He let Himself be stopped by the blind man on His way to Jerusalem. God is as great in mercy and love as He is in majesty and power. As His power and knowledge far exceed our ability to understand, so does His mercy.
His mercy is so great that He interrupted His procession to Jerusalem to be the servant of one blind beggar. He stopped to give this man his request, to heal him.
But His mercy is greater still. He finished His journey to Jerusalem so that He might serve each one of us individually by becoming sin for each one of us. He went and accomplished what no one was asking Him for, what no one would think of asking Him for. He bore our sin and atoned for us with His death.
Jesus saw clearly what was coming in Jerusalem and He went anyway. He did not go grudgingly but willingly to shame and spit and abuse and flogging and death. He went joyfully and suffered for the sins of each one of us. As He was lashed, as He was spit on, as He was laughed at and scorned, He healed us our guilt before God. As the prophet prophesied seven hundred years before, Jesus was “wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (Is. 53: 5)
If the disciples had understood the Scriptures, they would have understood that this is what Jesus came to do, and that nothing short of this would save them from their sins and from condemnation.
And if they had known that only Jesus’ blood would save them from their sins, would they have dared to ask Him? Would they have said, “Please bear my sin; let Your divine majesty serve me, a sinner with no excuse. Let yourself be captured, mocked, put to shame, spit on, and crucified to pay for my transgressions”? Do you think they would have dared to ask for that?
Would we dare to ask that of the high and holy God, of our innocent and gentle Jesus?
Yet this is what God proclaimed through the prophets that He would do.
Like the disciples, we are slow to believe the Scriptures, and we are slow to believe in the love of God for us. We do not think highly enough of His love toward each one of us individually, or grasp the greatness of His mercy.
When the blind man yelled out for mercy Jesus allowed Himself to be stopped and caught by the man. He made Himself the man’s servant. In the depth of His love He allowed Himself to be taken captive by the man’s faith in Him.
Like the blind man we also cry out to Jesus for mercy in the liturgy. Like beggars we sing, “Lord, have mercy upon us” in the Kyrie. When we pray that to be sure we are asking that Jesus would bless and help and heal us in this life. But we are asking for an even greater gift; the forgiveness of our sins and for salvation.
But long before we started singing that, Jesus answered our cry. Or better—He answered your cry individually. He did not go to Jerusalem simply to die for the sins of the world as a mass. He died for each one of your sins individually. For your guilt, for your sins which cry out for your condemnation, Jesus willingly went to Jerusalem and was mocked, spit on, flogged, and killed to present you holy and righteous before God.
In answer to our cries for mercy, Jesus still stops and serves each one of us. He cleanses us with His blood as it is sprinkled on us in the preaching of the good news of his cross.
He feeds us the body that was nailed to the cross for us; He tells us to drink His blood which was poured out for us for the forgiveness of our sins.
Today as we prepare to enter the season of Lent in which we remember His suffering and death, Jesus tells us that He willingly endures all this for each one of us. Nothing else can take away your sins except for Jesus, who has mercy on you and endures your shame and punishment.
By the blind man’s example He encourages you to hold fast and believe that His mercy is for you, and is greater than you can comprehend. His love is deeper than we can grasp. No matter how much your faith expands it will never be able to exhaust the riches of His love and mercy.
We are often doubtful about whether God will listen to our prayers. He is so great and we are so small; the world is full of people and we are just average individuals, with nothing special about us. More than this He is holy and we have provoked His anger with our many sins.
We would never have dared to ask God to pay for our sins with His own humiliation and suffering. Yet He did, even when we did not ask. He did it for each one of you specifically and bore your sins. And if He did that, how will He deny us any other good thing?
Take courage. Jesus will stop for you.
In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
Quinquagesima + St. Peter Lutheran Church + St. Luke 18:31-43+February 15, 2015+
”See, We are Going Up to Jerusalem”
Jesus says, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem.”
And the twelve disciples look with their mind’s eye to Jerusalem. What do they see there? Paradise just around the corner. Jerusalem is the place where David reigned and where they expected Jesus, the Son of David, to reign. The Scriptures of the prophets foretold that a descendant of David would sit on his throne and reign over a more glorious kingdom than David had. His kingdom would bring peace to the whole earth. Jerusalem has had its bad days under Roman rule, but that is all about to end. The disciples, too, have had their time of testing. They have been following Jesus with no place to lay their head, without money or food, harassed and harried by Jesus’ opponents who have rejected Him as a fraud and a blasphemer. But soon this is coming to an end. It’s inevitable, after all. Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah. It’s impossible for Him not to come out on top.
Jesus knows this is how they think and that it is also the way we think. Suffering can only be a speed bump on the inevitable progression of Jesus to glory, and we with Him. But that is not quite right, and Jesus wants to correct this blindness. Because if we think Jesus is going to set up an earthly kingdom like David had we are liable to fall away in disgust with Jesus when we realize the reality of the situation, like Judas did.
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”
No, what is totally unthinkable and impossible to the disciples and to us is what is actually going to happen in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city where God dwells, is going to be the city in which God dies. Jesus is the Son of God, the Holy One, well-pleasing to the Father. And He tells the disciples Himself that He is going to be put to shame in Jerusalem. He is going to be mocked and abused. People will spit on Him. He is going to be handed over to the Gentiles. God is going to allow His Son to be put under the power of people who do not know God and despise Him. He will be torn by whips like a criminal and finally put to death, not lifted up on a glorious throne to rule over the Jews and Gentiles and all the ends of the earth. He will be placed in a grave. And then, but only then, will He rise.
All this was unthinkable to the disciples. It meant the shattering of their dreams. It was the destruction of what they had hoped to receive from following Jesus.
So they just shut down. They understood nothing of what Jesus said, even though what He said was quite plain. Because what kind of kingdom is it if you are put to shame and executed as a criminal, even if you rise from the dead? They couldn’t understand it, and they didn’t hold on to His Word despite not understanding it, as they should have done. They let His words fall to the ground.
Even though all the prophets had witnessed that the Christ would suffer, even though this was the teaching of the whole Scriptures, even though they had been learning in Jesus’ school for years, the disciples at this point still did not understand the central teaching of the Scriptures and the Lord Jesus Himself.
So it should not be too surprising that we have heard the same teaching of Jesus many times and are still slow to understand and believe it.
Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah. But He has a different kind of kingdom from David, a kind of kingdom that makes no sense to us. It does not consist of earthly riches, success, and splendor, although these may be there sometimes in His kingdom. Jesus does, after all, do a miracle in this Gospel reading and heal a blind man.
But His kingdom is not about fixing earthly problems and solving all earthly suffering. Jesus doesn’t come to prop up what is falling down. He doesn’t come to clear up the vision of those who can partly see. He doesn’t come to bring back David’s kingdom from its ruin and restore it to its former glory.
He comes to do a new thing. He comes to create out of nothing, to resurrect the dead, to give sight to the blind.
He comes to restore what is dead and lost beyond recovery. He doesn’t come to prevent us from falling, but to show us that we have already fallen beyond our own recovery and then to raise us up new.
Before they would see His kingdom, the disciples had to see the death of their dreams. All hope of an earthly kingdom and earthly glory died when Jesus was spit upon, mocked, flogged, and put to an agonizing, humiliating death on the cross.
Then Jesus rose from the tomb in which they buried Him to a new life completely outside of our experience in the flesh.
What seemed totally impossible—that the beloved Son of God should be shamed and destroyed—happened so that something equally unthinkable could happen to you.
Not your improvement, but your re-creation. The Son of God was put to shame, humbled to the point of death on a cross, that you might be raised up a well-pleasing Son of God free from all shame and condemnation.
You are not given an earthly kingdom or temporary earthly joys and successes by Jesus. He may give you those, but that is not what He promises you in the Gospel. What He gives you in the Word of His cross and baptism is that you are alive with Him as a Son of God even while in this world you see and experience life and death as a son of Adam.
Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom where He gives mercy to the blind and the dead, to those who are blind and dead in their trespasses and sins. The blind man in Jericho got it right. Jesus was not a king like David or Henry VIII. Then the appropriate thing for the blind beggar to do would have been to shut up and get out of the way. But instead when he was told to shut up he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
He was right. The Son of David’s kingdom is to give mercy to the blind and the dead and the irretrievably sinful. He did not come like an earthly king to dominate His subjects but to serve them. He came so that the blind might see and the seeing might become blind, so that the dead might live and the living might become dead, so that sinners might become righteous and the righteous become sinners.
So don’t be surprised if in believing in Christ your dreams die. It happened to the twelve. Don’ t be surprised when you pray to Jesus for healing and it doesn’t seem to come, for help and your life never seems to get any easier. Jesus didn’t come to save you from pain and death and weakness and humiliation but to raise you up from it into His life as a son of God.
Don’t be surprised when Jesus seems to put you to death. He puts you to death so He can raise you from the dead.
In the meanwhile, while you are being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, you have life. You have it through Him alone. His death and shame is yours. His resurrection is yours also. Baptized into Him, you are a participant in His death, but His victorious resurrection and ascension into heaven is yours also. His eternal life is yours. It is hidden from your eyes, but it is yours by faith.
And His righteousness and honor is yours too. As we seek to be justified in Christ, to paraphrase St. Paul in Galatians, it often becomes apparent to us that we are sinners. In fact we see ourselves to be plunged in sins, plagued with them, soaked through with them. That is in fact what we are. It’s the reason why Jesus’ own disciples disbelieved His clear words about His suffering. We also have such a nature in which there is nothing good. And as Christians we often see and feel it and wonder how we can be Christians at all.
Don’t be afraid when you seem to be immersed, plunged in sin and unbelief. Remember that this king, this Son of David, has come to earth for this purpose, to have mercy on those who are dead and blind in sins. That is why He was going up to Jerusalem—to do something far more glorious than we would have thought up for Jesus to do. He came to Jerusalem to be crowned with shame and suffering and death for us. He came to be sin for us and be humiliated for us. The Lord of glory wore this shame and death for you so that your sin might be cancelled in His suffering and His righteousness might be yours through faith alone.
When the Lord Jesus gives you over to death it is because He wants to resurrect you. When He lets you experience how sunk in sin you are it is so that you might find your righteousness not in yourself, but in Him who died and rose again, and in so doing destroyed your sin forever.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 8:4-15
February 8, 2015
“The Word of God Alone”
Beloved in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel for this Sunday discusses a great mystery. It tells us about the power and fruitfulness of the divine Word. It also tells us that this powerful, divine Word in many cases bears no fruit in those who hear it, and explains why that is. It is a solemn warning to us to be careful about the way we hear God’s Word; at the same time it comforts us by showing us the divine power of the Word that is preached to us and is at work among us.
First of all, notice the fact that in Jesus’ parable the Word of God does all the work. Hearers of the Word are not compared to living beings but to soil, which is as passive a substance as we can imagine. What does ground, soil, earth do? It receives what is put into it. Nothing more. Everything depends upon the seed that is sown in it.
“The seed is the Word of God,” Jesus says. Where the seed is not sown, there is no fruit. Where God’s Word is not proclaimed, there is no salvation. But where the Word of God is proclaimed, life begins to sprout, trying to produce fruit.
So then everything depends first of all on the pure Word of God being preached. Where this happens, spiritual life will begin to grow. Wherever there is no preaching of God’s pure word, there will be only barren ground producing no fruit. This is why in the Lord’s prayer we pray first that God’s name would be hallowed. That means that His word would be preached in its truth and purity, because where that does not happen the seed is not being sown, and no life will result.
Secondly, see the divine power of the Word. It is not a mere human word which may or may not accomplish anything. It is a heavenly and divine Word that brings salvation and eternal life with it. Paul says in the first chapter of Romans, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16) The Word of God, preached in its truth and purity, is God’s power to save. It is a mighty, omnipotent Word that is preached in our midst. It has the power to snatch sinners from Satan’s kingdom, to turn their hearts to God, to make them blessed forever, to make them bear fruit that will abide forever.
Wherever the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity we can be sure that something amazing is happening there. God is establishing His kingdom there. He is gathering a people of His own there who are holy, who inherit eternal life, who do works that are pleasing to God and will endure into eternity.
God’s Word does not come back to Him empty, as Isaiah says in the Old Testament reading. It gathers a people for Himself, saves them, justifies them through faith in Jesus. That is happening here and wherever God’s Word is preached purely. It’s not happening by human strength or persuasion. It happens by God’s almighty power that is at work in the Word.
But we don’t see this happening. We don’t see with our eyes the power and glory of God’s Word, nor do we see a little community of saints being gathered. What we see is a lot of people who hear the Word and it never seems to make any impression on them. Others hear the Word for awhile and then they fall away and we never see them again. Among those who keep hearing the Word it’s often hard to see the fruit through all the weeds of weakness and sin that grow in the visible community of the church.
But even though we don’t see it, it’s happening. Jesus is gathering His harvest of souls through His Word. That will happen; it’s certain. What Jesus teaches us to pray in the 2nd petition of the Lord’s prayer is that His Kingdom will not simply come—that happens by itself, without our prayer. We pray that it would come to us also, that God would give us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
We need to pray this petition because there are many who hear the Word of God in vain. Jesus says the reason why His Word seems to have no effect in so many cases is not because the Word lacks power but because most hearers of the Word don’t keep it. They hear it. They even believe it for a time. But they resist the working of the Word.
So Jesus shows us in this parable the requirements for a faithful hearing of the Word of God.
First of all we have to give God’s Word careful, serious, and attentive hearing. “And as He sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it.” The path would be hard-packed soil. Any seed falling on it would simply lie on the surface of the hard ground, not able to sink in and germinate. On top of this Jesus says that the seed sown on the path was trampled underfoot and then eaten by the birds of the air. This symbolizes those who hear the Word of God but harden their hearts against it so that it cannot take root.
All of us by nature are born with hearts hardened and dead toward God. When someone listens to the Gospel whose heart is not broken up by repentance, the good news of Christ doesn’t take root in them. Maybe they come to church and simply have no intention of listening to God’s Word. Maybe their hearts are already set on some other false belief which they will not let go and so they resist the Gospel when they hear it. Others come to church not seriously listening to the sermon as God’s Word, but as sweet religious talk that makes us feel better. Whatever the case, the devil does not simply let the Word of God remain there on their hard hearts, lest it eventually take root and begin to grow anyway. Satan comes and snatches the Word away so that it does not remain in the heart at all. Oftentimes when people come to church not seriously ready to listen to the Word as the Word of the living God, this is what happens. The Word never enters the heart and it is snatched away by Satan before it produces any fruit. Therefore Jesus shows us that we are required to listen to God’s Word as it is—the Word of the living God—and not ignore and despise it as if it were simply a human word, the way students ignore teachers at school. And this applies not only to adults, but also to young people and children. It is the third commandment—Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy. We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Secondly, Jesus shows that fruitful hearing of the Word requires perseverance. The seed that fell on the rock “are those who, when they hear the Word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for awhile, and in time of testing fall away.” God is not satisfied with a hearing of the Gospel that only believes as long as there is outward peace and happiness that goes along with it. Jesus says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22
The Gospel is called “The word of the cross.” It proclaims a Savior who was persecuted all the way to being nailed to a cross, and the Word brings the cross with it to us. God requires that those who hear His Word faithfully and fruitfully remain with it even when life is hard and full of suffering—even more, when there is outright opposition and hostility to Christians for the sake of the Word. But our nature is weak and we want to run away from the Word whenever it does not bring us earthly happiness, but instead comes with suffering.
Finally, for fruitful hearing of the Word God requires that His Word come before the worries and pleasures of this earthly life. Often times we come to church and can barely pay attention to the Word because our hearts are occupied by other things—whether our worries or with things we would rather be doing. But even if we pay attention in church, if we then go off and spend the next six days thinking only about paying bills, or getting a new television, or playing video games, or our girlfriend or boyfriend, the Word is choked. The Word wants to bear fruit. It wants to make us into the image of Christ, so that we grow in the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Word of God wants to grow up in us so that we produce the fruit of our lips—praise of God and the confession of Jesus Christ before the world. But the Word’s growth is stunted and choked by the thorns of our self-interest.
All of this should frighten us and make us realize the difficulty of salvation—in fact, the impossibility of salvation apart from God’s grace. The Word of God grows up into salvation when it is not blocked by bad soil. But we are constantly struggling with these characteristics of the three kinds of bad soil. Often our hearts are not ready to listen carefully to God’s Word. Or we are afraid and ready to desert the Gospel as soon as it looks like we will have to suffer for it. Or our hearts are so filled with the pleasures and worries of this lie that the Word of God cannot find any space in us to grow.
So what do we do?
First, examine yourself about your hearing of God’s Word. This is painful to do because we have to come face to face with the way we have neglected and despised God’s Word. Ask yourself—do I gladly hear and learn God’s Word? Do I hunger for it? Or am I often bored by it and neglect opportunities to hear and learn it? Do I teach it to my children? Has my hearing of the Word resulted in my growth in the faith and the fruits of the Spirit, or am I the same as I was last year, or five years ago?
Second, turn in repentance to the means of grace and prayer. Take your sin in failing to hear the Word fruitfully to God in confession and receive absolution. Ask for hunger for His Word in prayer. Read the Scripture. Learn the catechism by heart and teach it to your children.
Let the awareness of your failure to honor and listen to God’s Word, your unwillingness to bear the cross for it, and your preoccupation with the cares of this life drive you to the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood seeking healing and new life.
But most importantly, listen to the Word. Listen to it today and put all your trust and confidence in the contents of that Word. Listen to who and what it proclaims.
It proclaims Jesus who came to earth for you and who always heard and listened to and obeyed the voice of His Father. He clung to the Father’s Word and persevered with it even when it brought Him to the agony of Gethsemane and the bitter suffering and death of the cross. He put aside all the desires of our flesh—all its worries and cravings—and instead gave Himself to hear and serve the Word of the Lord.
And because He heard and served God’s Word He willingly gave Himself as the sacrifice for our disobedience to God, for our taking His Word lightly, for our failures to remain with it.
For you He did these things, so that your failure to hear and hold sacred God’s Word might not be counted against you. He put to death your flesh in His body on the tree so that you might be counted good and fruitful soil.
He alone is our righteousness before God, and He is given to you today in the Word.
This Word of God alone is a powerful word. It saves those who believe it and makes them righteous before God. It works in them so that they bear fruit to God. It turns the hearts of those who hated God toward Him so that they love Him and find comfort in calling Him Father. It does this because it shows us and gives us Jesus, who turned God’s heart toward us by His death. He has made satisfaction for our failures to hear God’s Word.
This Word of God alone is everything we need for salvation. It declares that Christ alone has done it all, has reconciled us to God and presented us perfect before Him. Those who cling to this Word alone will bear much fruit through Jesus and be saved through Jesus. You are good soil because you cling to Jesus alone.
Soli Deo Gloria
Septuagesima + St. Peter Lutheran Church + St. Matthew 20:1-16 + February 1, 2015 + “Equal to Christ”
Christians should serve God. Their whole lives should be lived not in service to their own desires, but for the will of God. Scripture teaches this constantly.
For the grace of God has appeared, writes St. Paul in Titus chapter 2, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
Jesus gave Himself for us to make us His own people who are zealous, eager, passionate about doing good works. Christians have been born again so that they may live a new life of service to God in good works.
What are the good works that we should be zealous about doing? Often people think that means doing church work, and it certainly includes that. Witnessing, telling our neighbors about Jesus and what He has done for us—that is a good work. Faithfully giving, sacrificially giving to support the preaching of God’s word, both in offerings of money and of time and energy in working for the church. These are good works. So is faithfully and diligently hearing and learning God’s Word both at home and at the church.
But good works include everything we do in obedience to the 10 commandments out of faith in Christ. When we honor our father and mother, obeying them when we are young and caring for them when they are old, that is a good work. When we get married, stay faithful to our spouse, raise our children, pray with them, teach them God’s Word, those are good works. When I go to work and do my job for the benefit of my employer and seek to work in such a way that I honor God, that is a good work. In every place that God puts you, you are called as a Christian to be zealous to do good for your neighbor and honor God by your words and actions.
It’s also a good work when as a Christian you suffer and bear it patiently, trusting God and putting yourself into His hands. We need to pay attention to this because as we grow older we are called on more and more by God to suffer, whether from physical pain and affliction, from grief at the death of loved ones and dear friends, as well as spiritual temptations that often accompany physical pain, when as we suffer we doubt God’s presence or His love and grace toward us. It is a good work in God’s sight when you endure suffering, when you pray to Him for relief but say, “Thy will be done,” when you trust that the One who gave His only Son for you will make even your suffering result in blessing for eternity.
It is also a good work in God’s sight when we endure loss for the sake of Christ. Christians are told by their Lord that they will lose things they love for His name’s sake.
Jesus said, I have not come to bring peace on earth but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-38)
If we hold faithfully to Christ and His word, we can count on losing the favor of friends or relatives or the community at large, who will call us harsh or loveless or fanatical. When we suffer the loss of our good name or the loss of friendships and relationships for the sake of faithfulness to Christ and His word, that is also a good work in God’s sight.
Jesus’ 12 disciples had to lose those things and more because they followed Christ. They left behind their possessions, families, and businesses. They were despised and hated by the Pharisees and chief priests and others because they belonged to Christ.
Christians can count on losing things for the sake of Jesus’ name. All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted St. Paul says bluntly (2 Timothy 3:12). If it doesn’t happen right away at the beginning of one’s life as a Christian it will happen eventually.
Today when a young person wants to turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ, it often costs them something. They are liable to lose their boyfriend or girlfriend, because most young people take sex outside of marriage for granted. They are liable to lose friends and the esteem of their peers because actually following Christ is not something that is respected in these days—Christianity is considered intolerant and backward. This didn’t used to be the case, and we should recognize this when we see young people falling away from the church. Christianity comes with a cost that it didn’t used to in our society.
But even among older Christians there is still a cost if you hold faithfully to God’s Word. Most of us have friends or relatives that belong to churches that teach false doctrine. Some belong to churches like the Catholic church that openly deny that we are saved by faith in Jesus alone apart from works; others belong to churches that deny that baptism gives the forgiveness of sins to infants and that the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood. Still others go to churches where the authority of the Scripture is denied and sin is no longer called sin. We usually comfort ourselves that at least our friends or loved ones go to church, and we tell ourselves that all the churches are basically teaching the same thing, but it isn’t the case. If you take the risk of discussing these things with your friends and loved ones who go to such churches, even if you do it in the most loving and sensitive way, as you should, you too will experience how faithfulness to Christ’s word does not win you the praise and love of the world. Following Christ in this way may cause you to lose friends. It may disturb the peace in your home and family.
When we do good works as Christians, particularly when we endure suffering because of faithfulness to Christ, we are tempted to think our labor and suffering for Christ is so great and we look resentfully at weaker Christians who are less active in good works or who suffer less. That’s why Jesus tells the parable in the Gospel reading. His twelve disciples had followed Jesus from the beginning. They had left everything else behind. They were with Him during hard times when there was no food, when He was reviled and hated by His enemies, when the crowds pressed in on them with so many needs that there was no time to rest. The disciples had suffered a lot and done many good works because of their faith in Christ. And this parable was a warning to them. “The last will be first and the first last. Don’t think that your good works have earned you something from God beyond the weaker Christians, beyond the little ones who believe in Me.”
But this parable is also a comfort to those who think that they have done few good works and many sins. Jesus shows that God doesn’t give the way human reason thinks He is supposed to do. He gives by grace, that is, without taking into account our worthiness or unworthiness, our good works or our sins.
The workers hired at the beginning of the day complained to the vineyard owner that he had made the men who worked only an hour “equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” They were right. He paid the workers who only worked an hour the same as those who had put in a twelve-hour shift.
In the same way, God gives the same grace and favor to a person who repents and believes in Christ on his deathbed, like the thief on the cross, as He gives to someone who’s spent his life serving Christ. He gives the same grace and favor to you and me who believe in Jesus as He gives to a Christian martyr in Pakistan who loses his house, business, family, or even his life for Christ.
It may not seem fair to us, but consider that if God dealt with us fair and square according to our works, it would mean that everyone who transgressed the law, whether a lot or a little, would receive eternal condemnation and punishment. That would be fair. The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods,” and this means that “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” If you love God above all things you will serve God gladly, not for hope of a reward but for His own sake, not asking what you can get out of it. That is what we are obligated to do. That is what we owe God. But you can see that none of us pays that debt, not even those who die for their confession of Christ. If we loved God above all things, all the other commandments would come by themselves. We would gladly pray without ceasing. We would gladly hear and learn God’s Word and regard it as sacred. We would obey and honor authorities, not grumbling. We would not hate or be angry with our neighbor, much less say or do things to hurt him.
There is only one person who loved God above all things and spent his life in perfect obedience to Him. That person is Jesus. He not only kept all of God’s law all of the time and earned nothing but God’s favor and honor by His good works. He labored longer than any human being, from conception to death in perfect obedience to God. And He suffered more than any Christian does. He suffered hatred and antagonism from the world and never took a short-cut to avoid pain. He never toned down His preaching and witness to please men. He suffered temptation and attacks from Satan to turn from obedience to God and make His road easier, but He never gave in. He suffered the anger of God against the sins of His brothers—us—and He bore the blazing heat of God’s anger against all our pride and unfaithfulness.
And God, instead of giving us what we have earned by our works, makes us equal to Christ. He counts Jesus’ obedience and suffering to us. He counted our sin to Jesus.
As a result He does not give you the wages of your sin, which is eternal death. He gives you the wages of Jesus, who bore your sin, atoned for it with His blood, and rose from the dead with sin put out of the way forever. He makes you equal with Jesus, as if you had always done what pleased God. He gives you as your wages eternal life, eternal honor, His good pleasure and favor.
So this comes as both a warning and a comfort.
If you are a Christian who has done many good works and knows it, be careful that you don’t fall into grumbling against God when you compare yourself to other Christians who don’t seem to do as much and don’t seem to suffer as much as you. Give thanks to God that He has worked in you to do what pleases Him, but quickly turn your eyes back to Jesus Christ. God has made you equal to Him who knew no sin. He has made Jesus equal to you who were conceived in sin. God made Jesus equal to you, and so He sweat blood in Gethsemane and thirsted on the cross, and all this He did not deserve, but bore it gladly so that you might be equal to Him in righteousness, life, and glory. Let your heart meditate on Christ’s suffering for you and your suffering will seem light. Let your heart meditate on the good works Christ has done for you and your own good works will fade from your eyes when you marvel at the incredible goodness of Jesus toward you.
This parable is also a comfort to anyone who is concerned about his lack of good works, or the greatness of his sins, or his lateness in coming to serve Christ. See the incredible goodness of God! He wants it known that He will reward those who labor only for an hour the same as those who have worked all day! He will receive the sinner who repents late in his life with the same grace He shows to Christians who labored faithfully in service to Christ their whole lives long.
And what if you are a Christian who has been hearing God’s word for some time but feel like you have never been a faithful laborer in God’s vineyard? Your good works seem to be few or non-existent, while meanwhile your sins and hypocrisies seem to be many? Take heart! Even if it were true that you have not been serving the Lord—and this is not certain, because the devil often tempts us to think that we have not truly been Christians at all—even if it were true, the Lord promises to reward those who come late in the day the same as those who have worked the full day. That is, He promises to give the same grace to the one who repents today as he will give to those who have served Him their whole lives.
He promises that He makes you equal not only to the greatest saints in the church, but He makes you equal to His Son.
He counts Jesus’ perfect obedience to you. He washes you clean in His blood shed for sinners. He clothes you with Jesus’ righteousness. He makes you a full-fledged saint, sharing in the grace and glory that belongs to the apostles, prophets, and martyrs. He makes you a participant in the glory of the Son of God.
It’s not our works and sufferings that give us this equal standing with the great saints in the church. It is Jesus’ works and sufferings that earn us this exalted place of being sons of God. And those works and sufferings of Jesus are for you. God pledges them to you in His word, in your baptism, and in the Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria
Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the music above for this coming Sunday in the Church Year–in the one year lectionary. This is one of the benefits of using the old lectionary; there are hundreds of years of treasures to draw from when you are meditating on the meaning of the readings.
Below is an English translation of the first two parts of the cantata. In the second part, part of the music will be familiar, because it is a hymn many of us have sung many times during Lent: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”
If you listen and can follow the German words and read the translation, you can see how Bach is drawing us to meditate on the reading. One voice, representing Jesus, repeats Christ’s words from the Gospel (Luke 18:31 and following): See, we go up to Jerusalem. The other voice, representing the believer’s soul, responds to Jesus’ words.
In the second part, the voice representing the Christian talking to Jesus expresses her intent to follow Jesus to the cross. Interwoven through the soul’s meditation is the words of the hymn that would be extremely familiar to the churchgoers in Bach’s day. As the soul meditates on going with Jesus to Jerusalem, the old words of the hymn resound, the words that the people listening have sung many times. It is the Church’s voice, and they are reminded that they have sung this before, and in singing it they are joining with the bride of Christ of ages past in her resolution to follow Jesus and remain with Him at the cross of shame.
That is, of course, just what we don’t want to do when Jesus puts the cross in front of us today. It was the same in Bach’s time. As the church listens to the cantata (Bach wrote this for use in the church in Leipzig, Germany, in the 1720s) as Lent begins, the church in Leipzig sees themselves confronted with the journey to the cross just as the disciples were. The only difference is that we, together with Bach, know how the story ends–in the Resurrection.
And yet it’s one thing to know how the story went for Jesus in the Gospel, and it’s another thing to believe that the story is going to turn out the same way for you when you are journeying to Jerusalem with Jesus!
Cantata for Estomihi
|1. Arioso und Recitativ B A
Komm, schaue doch, mein Sinn,
Wo geht dein Jesus hin?
Wir gehn hinauf
O harter Gang! Hinauf?
O ungeheurer Berg, den meine Sünden zeigen!
Wie sauer wirst du müssen steigen!
Ach, gehe nicht!
Dein Kreuz ist dir schon zugericht’,
Wo du dich sollst zu Tode bluten;
Hier sucht man Geißeln vor, dort bindt man Ruten,
Die Bande warten dein;
Ach, gehe selber nicht hinein!
Doch bliebest du zurücke stehen,
So müßt ich selbst nicht nach Jerusalem,
Ach,, leider in die Hölle gehen.
|1. Arioso and Recitative B A
Come, look yet, o my mind,
Where does your Jesus go?
Let us go up
O hard way! Go up?
O monstrous mountain, indicated by my sins!
How bitter that You must climb it!
Ah, don’t go!
Your Cross is already prepared for You,
where You will bleed to death;
here scourges are sought, there reeds are bound,
Your bonds await You;
Ah, don’t go there Yourself!
Yet, were You to remain behind,
then I myself could not go to Jerusalem,
alas, rather to Hell must go.
|2. Arie und Choral A S
Ich folge dir nach
Ich will hier bei dir stehen,
Durch Speichel und Schmach,
Verachte mich doch nicht!
Am Kreuz will ich dich noch umfangen,
Von dir will ich nicht gehen,
Bis dir dein Herze bricht.
Dich laß ich nicht aus meiner Brust,
Wenn dein Haupt wird erblassen
Im letzten Todesstoß,
Und wenn du endlich scheiden mußt,
Alsdenn will ich dich fassen,
Sollst du dein Grab in mir erlangen.
In meinen Arm und Schoß.
(“O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,” verse 6)
|2. Aria and Chorale A S
I follow after You
I will stay here with You,
through spitting and shame,
do not scorn me!
I will still embrace You on the Cross,
I will not leave You,
even as Your heart breaks.
I will not release You from my breast,
When Your head grows pale
at the last stroke of death,
And if You must depart at last,
Then I will hold You fast
You shall find Your grave in me.
In my arm and bosom.