Reformation Sermon from 25th Oct 2020

Romans 3:19-28 (ESV) 

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may not try to seek your approval by what we do, but to trust that through Jesus Christ, we have your approval and have been made right with you. Amen.

When I was preparing to become a pastor, I, and my supervising pastor, visited an elderly man who was dying in hospital.

I remember seeing him lying there looking frail and old. He had been in hospital for a couple of months already. He looked lonely and depressed.

We tried to strike up a conversation with him, firstly talking about simple subjects such as the weather, about his family, and how he’s going.

I can’t remember exactly how we got onto the subject, but my supervising pastor started speaking about the confidence we have when approaching death because we have faith in Christ. At this the man’s eyes welled up with tears and said, ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough!’ And then he cried.

I don’t know if I’m good enough.

Many years later I was training people how to deal with conflict in their life. Some of this training involved doing some ‘role-plays’ so they could practice what they learnt using a made-up scenario.

I remember seeing a young man really struggling to get into the role plays. In fact, he stopped doing it and went off to sit alone. I asked him what was going on for him, and he replied saying he can normally talk to real people easily, but just couldn’t get into his role in a ‘make-believe’ situation.

As I continued to talk to him, he opened up to me a little about himself. From what he was saying I had a sense he was afraid of something, so I took a risk and asked him, ‘Are you afraid you’re not good enough?’ His eyes filled up with tears. He looked down, and nodded.

I don’t know if I’m good enough.

Do you ever feel you’re not good enough?

Do you avoid trying new things or new experiences because you don’t think you’ll be any good at them?

Do you beat yourself up for doing the wrong thing or letting people down, and punish yourself because you’ve just shown others that you’re no good?

Then, if you think you’re not good enough, how does this affect your relationship with God who demands your perfection?

Will this mean, when you lay on your death bed, will you worry whether you’ve worshipped him enough, prayed to him enough, praised him enough, kept his commands enough, or made enough disciples for him?

Will you wonder if you’ve been good enough?

But this isn’t the only thing we worry about.

We don’t just ask ourselves this question, but we also make judgments on each other based on this question.

We already know everyone around us isn’t good enough. This means we don’t trust people will do things well enough, so we resolve to do it all ourselves (and get grumpy as a result). We criticise, put down, and punish those around us because we reckon they’re not good enough. We’re tempted to not forgive them because they’re not good enough for us, and we’re going to hold them accountable for not being good enough!

This means it could be that you not only think you’re not good enough, but everyone around you isn’t good enough either!

But what would you say to those in tears because they’re afraid they’re not good enough?

What comfort would you give a dying man who’s scared he won’t get to heaven because he doesn’t think he’s good enough?

What comfort would you give a young man who’s struggling with his self-confidence and is terrified of letting people down because he doesn’t think he’s good enough?

What comfort would you give your sister or mother or brother or father who’s hurt you or betrayed you, and who didn’t treat you well enough?

Unfortunately, the normal human responses to this human problem often fall short. We’re either tempted to encourage people to try harder (which only burdens them and their conscience further) or we’re tempted to minimise any of God’s laws or our own expectations by arguing them away (which still doesn’t free the conscience).

God’s answer to this problem is different.

I can’t remember what we said to comfort the dying man, but I do remember what I said to this troubled young man. The reality is, I didn’t say much at all and chose to let God speak to him instead.

I asked him to look at today’s text written by St Paul to the Romans, particularly verse 23. He read it out loud: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

I asked him to read it again by personalising it where the text said ‘all’. He read it again using his own pronoun. “I have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

I told him it’s not just whether he didn’t know if he was good enough or not, but God tells him without a doubt he’s not good enough!

Similarly, you’re not good enough. I’m not good enough. This is a Scriptural truth we all want to avoid, but we can’t. All people aren’t good enough, and we never can be!

This isn’t a truth we like, because we either have self-inflated opinions of ourselves or we’re burdened by our inadequacies, and God’s Law only serves to prick our conscience further, but this is the truth according to God.

I then asked this young man to read the next verse in the same personalised way, and he said: “I am justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus!”

You see, yours and my salvation and our relationship with God is not about being ‘good enough’. Our salvation and righteousness (or the only way we can ever be ‘good enough’) is only through faith in Jesus Christ.

Through faith in Jesus Christ alone, you and I have been put into a right relationship with God and given Christ’s righteousness! It’s not what we do, but what God does through his Son, which he gives us as a free and undeserving gift when we believe this promise!

Do you realise how much freedom and peace this offers?

When we ask ourselves ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough’ or when we declare that those around us aren’t ‘good enough’, we’re all judging ourselves and those around us on keeping the law – either God’s Law or our own little self-imposed laws. We’re judging ourselves, and each other, on the fact we’re not doing enough good works.

This means we’re judging ourselves and each other based on works and not on faith. Yet we know, as good little Lutherans (because we believe God’s Word will always have the last say), we’re not saved by works but we’re saved by faith!

To be justified by faith alone breaks all those inadequate human comforts as well as all those impossible human demands. Your morality, intellect, abilities, intentions, goodness, or compassion mean nothing in regards to your forgiveness, righteousness, or salvation!

This means it’s not about you being good enough! It never has been and never will be! You’re only justified and made good enough through faith in Jesus Christ!

To be justified by faith alone then leads to divine comfort where you and I are able to say:

“I know I’m not good enough. I haven’t been a good husband, a good wife, a good father, a good mother, a good sibling, a good child, or even a good pastor. The expectations placed on me by myself, by others, or even by God will always reveal to me my shortcomings. I know I’m not good enough. But so what! You see, I also know and trust God’s Son Jesus Christ. He alone is perfect. He alone fulfilled the whole law. He alone paid the full price for my sinful failings so that I don’t have to. He alone is my forgiveness, my salvation, and my life. He alone is good enough. So, where I fail, he succeeds. He did all this for you and me which has nothing to do with you or me being ‘good enough’!”

You see, the good news is, he swapped places with you. Any painful punishment you deserve because you’re not good enough, he received. Any guilt you should carry, he carried to the cross. The death you deserve, he willingly took on. Because he took your sin into himself on the cross, he became the guilty One. In other words, even though he is good enough, he willingly became the One not good enough – for me and for you!

It’s through baptism where Jesus gives you his perfection, his innocence, and his life. He’s grafted you into his own body, which now sits in glory at the right-hand side of God.

It’s also as you receive his holy body and blood at the Lord’s Supper where Jesus gives you himself as an assurance of God’s forgiveness and for the strengthening of your fragile faith.

So, whether you’re aware of it or not, you and I have well and truly fallen short of God’s glory, and there’s nothing you and I can do about it! But God’s forgiveness, righteousness, glory and life is given to us as a free and undeserving gift through faith in Jesus Christ.

Through faith in Christ, we realise God now looks upon us with his favour; not because of anything we’ve ever done or ever will do, but because of what Christ has done for us, and because Christ covers us with his perfection.

Then, any good things we do have absolutely no bearing on us ‘being good enough’. Any good things we do are as a direct result of the nature of Christ, who now lives in us through faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there’s no doubt – you and I aren’t good enough, and there’s nothing we can do about it, but we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Only he is good enough, and he chose to be obedient to death on the cross for you and me so that we may be forgiven and be free of the condemnation of the Law. He did this so that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus – the One who is good enough. Amen.

Sermon from 18th Oct 2020

Matthew 22:15-22 (EHV)

15 Then the Pharisees went out and plotted together how to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in accord with the truth. You are not concerned about gaining anyone’s approval because you are not swayed by appearances. 17 So tell us, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus knew their evil purpose and said, “Why are you testing me, hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.”

They brought him a denarius.

20 He asked them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied to him.

Then he said to them, “Therefore give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. Then they left him and went away.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may give to God what is God’s, through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s mine! All mine! It’s my precious, so give it back!

Have you ever considered how much we humans fight for ownership rights and control of our things?

I mean, we compete with each other over inheritances, over access to children or parents, over who knows best, over how we should spend our money, over who controls the remote for the TV, and over who gets the last slice of cake. Even in the church we’re tempted to argue over the colour of carpets, what styles of music is played, where we get to sit, what the pastor does with his time, and how people are supposed to behave.

The more we want to get or keep or control someone or something, then the harder we fight for it. The more important it is, the more we’re willing to hurt those around us just to get what we want. Because we’re blinded by the idols of jealousy or greed or selfishness, we sometimes don’t care who we hurt, including those closest to us!

Today’s gospel reading is also about control.

You see, the religious people of the day didn’t like what Jesus was saying about them, so they tried to set Jesus up.

This time they thought they were being clever by taking some politicians along with them. In this way, when asked a question about taxes, Jesus was either going to get into trouble with the religious leaders (for saying taxes should be paid to a government which shouldn’t be recognised by the holy people of God), or he was going to get in trouble with the politicians (for saying no taxes should be paid).

But Jesus sees past their pleasant platitudes and fake compliments. He sees past their smiling faces to see their evil intentions. So, Jesus asks a question in return. He asks whose image and inscription is on the common currency.

Just like today in our own culture, the currency of his day bore the image and inscription of the country’s highest authority. Their coin had the image and inscription of their Caesar. Our currency likewise often shows the image and inscription of our Queen as our head of government.

Jesus then says, since it bears their image and inscription, it’s theirs, so give it back to them. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Don’t hold back your taxes, but give to your government what’s theirs.

Now, this might challenge some of us because we may not like, or agree with, our government. If we don’t like them, agree with them, or trust them, then why should we let them get any of our hard-earned money? Since we’ve worked so hard to get what we’ve got, surely we get to decide what we do with our own things, including our money, don’t we?!

Now Jesus doesn’t play politics, but he does know by whose authority the government’s been established. God is behind both religious and secular authorities.

This means God works his grace, forgiveness and salvation through the authority of the Christian church, but he also works to establish good order in our society through all rightly established secular governments.

In this way, no matter what you think of our Prime Minister or Premier, they’re acting under God’s authority, whether they like it or not! They’re acting under God’s authority to maintain peace and good order in our land on his behalf.

As Christians who recognise the hand of God working through Christians and non-Christians alike, we give our leaders the honour due to them as God’s servants in this country, which includes paying them taxes. Not only this, but God commands we should pray for them, and God knows our government needs our prayers and support!

But Jesus didn’t stop there. He says we’re to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. This is right and good. But we’re also to give to God what is God’s.

Now, this means it’s good to ask ourselves: Who, or what, bears the image and inscription of God?

Well, in Genesis we hear ‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (Gen 1:27). Therefore, the ones who bear the image of God are human beings like you and me. All human beings, including the unborn, the disabled, the frail and the strong, bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect.

Not only this, but when we were baptised, the holy name of God was inscribed on us. In this way, we not only bear the image of God, but as Christians we also bear the inscription of God! And since we bear the image and inscription of God, Jesus says ‘give to God what is God’s’.

It’s almost like God’s saying to you, ‘You’re not yours, but you’re mine. Give yourself back to me! After all, I made you in my image and I gave you everything you need – not for you to possess, but to use and look after. I gave you your body, your soul, your eyes, your ears, your limbs and all your senses. I give you everything you need from day to day. Everything you have I gave you. You’re mine! Give yourself back to me!’

But that’s not all. He also says, ‘I made you to be in relationship with me, but you ran away and rebelled by trying to have things your own way. When you want things your own way, it’s like you want to be your own little god who wants to control everything and everyone around you. This upset your relationship with me, so I sought to restore our relationship by sending my own Son, Jesus, to obey me perfectly and pay the full punishment for your sin because you can’t. He paid the price of punishment for all the times you don’t bear my gracious and loving image, and for all those times you’ve hurt those around you who are made in my image. In this way, you’re doubly mine because I not only made you, but I paid the full price to buy you back. But your purchase price wasn’t cheap. Silver and gold wasn’t enough. The price was the precious blood and innocent suffering of my beloved Son, Jesus. So, you’re not yours, but you’re mine! Don’t deny my Lordship, but live as one of my own.’

But what does this mean for you and me?

Well, there may be times you may not think very highly of yourself. You might meditate on all your failures, faults, flaws, and ugliness. You may start to believe the names people call you such as: stupid, useless, ugly, and ‘good for nothing’.

Yet no matter what you think of yourself (or even what others think of you), you’re made in God’s image and you’re his. No matter what inscriptions you give yourself (or what inscriptions others give you), you’re to remember who you are and whose you are. You’re made in the image of God and bear his inscription.

Also remember the people around you are also made in the image of God, no matter what you think of them. This means when you hurt someone who bears the image of God, you also hurt God. The people around you are worthy of respect and love and honour, including those you might wish to argue with or reject, simply because they’re made in the image of God.

Unfortunately, we don’t always bear the image of God very well. Instead of being gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, we tend to be selfish and self-seeking, quick to anger and untrustworthy. Instead of bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control, we tend to bear the bitter fruit of jealousy, dissatisfaction, impatience, hostility, division and disunity.

In the end, the image of God is best reflected in the words and actions of Jesus Christ. He is the perfect image bearer of God.

Jesus bore the perfect image of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, righteousness, holiness, and trust to those around him. Instead of thinking highly about himself and hoarding what was his, he gave up his life through his suffering and death on the cross.

He could have kept all of God’s love to himself, but he shares it with you through his forgiveness. He could have kept the glory due to him for his faithfulness, but he graciously shares his victory spoils with you. So in this way, if you want to know what it means to bear the true image of God, then look to Jesus.

In the same sense, when you’re asked to give to God what is God’s, God is asking you to submit to his will so you may bear his image in your life to those around you. Rather than bearing your own image as if you’re the selfish god who should be obeyed, you’re to show the image of our Triune God in your own gracious and loving actions and words. These actions and words include forgiveness and mercy.

Of course, you can’t do this by yourself, but with the Holy Spirit’s help, you may live out the true image of God through your love, patience, kindness, mercy, grace, and your self-control. Through faith, you may enact the image of God through your forgiveness to those around you.

Through the power of the gospel, you may speak the image of God through your words of encouragement, peace and comfort. In faithful trust, you may live out the image of God in your prayer, praise and thanksgiving to God for all he gives and does for you in this life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I bear the image and inscription of God. He made us and paid the full blood price for us through Jesus’ suffering and death. We’re all doubly his and he’s not going to give us up easily!

So yes, while it’s right and good to give some of our money and possessions to our government, and even give some of it to God through our offerings, we’re also to give ourselves to God in service to our Lord and master Jesus Christ, after all, hasn’t Jesus told us, ‘Give to God what is God’s.’

And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 11th Oct 2020

Exodus 32:1-14 (EHV)

1 When the people saw that it took so long for Moses to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Get up, make a god for us, who will go before us, because this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt—we do not know what has become of him.”

Aaron said to them, “Pull off the gold earrings from your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me.”

All the people pulled off their gold earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and shaped it with an engraving tool and made it into a bull calf cast out of metal. Then they said, “This is your god, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it, and Aaron made a proclamation. He said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.”

They got up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought fellowship offerings. Then the people sat down to eat and to drink and got up to celebrate wildly.

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Hurry down, because your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves! They have quickly turned from the way which I commanded them. They have made a calf for themselves out of metal and have worshipped it. They have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’”

The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen these people, and they certainly are a stiff-necked people. 10 So now leave me alone, so that my anger can burn hot against them, so that I may consume them and make you into a great nation.”

11 Moses begged the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your anger burn against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out for an evil purpose, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn back from your fierce anger and change your mind about inflicting disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self. You said to them, ‘I will multiply your seed like the stars of the sky, and I will give all this land that I have spoken about to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever.’”

14 Then the Lord changed his mind about the disaster which he said he would inflict on his people.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we might learn to worship you rightly through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When we read the bible, it can be extremely helpful to ask some basic questions. These questions can help us learn how it also applies to us personally and powerfully. Some examples of good questions are:

  • What is God teaching us about our human problem which reveals our need for a Saviour?
  • What is God teaching us about himself and the way he answers our human problem through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ?

If we applied these questions to our text, we may quickly learn that we humans, no matter how well-intentioned, will either worship the wrong things, or will worship the right God but in the wrong way.

Similarly, we may learn how God, for the sake of his chosen servant, and for the sake of his holy name, relents from treating us as we deserve.

But, how might we come to such conclusions?

Well, it helps to understand the context of our text.

God had originally called Moses at this holy mountain to lead the Israelites out from their slavery to Egypt so that they may worship him and enter the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex 3:12; 5:1). God then rescued his people through powerful signs and graciously provided them water, manna and meat as they travelled through the wilderness to this holy mountain. Now they could begin to worship him as he had promised.

But, so that they might worship him in the right way, he gave them clear instructions how not to worship him. They weren’t to make any carved images in any likeness of anything that is above, on, or under the earth. They also weren’t to worship any golden or silver statues to gain access to him, because his name is enough for them. In response, they agreed to worship him as instructed. (cf. Ex 20:2-5; 22-23; 24:3, 7)

Then Moses went back up the mountain to receive further instructions on how they were to build and furnish a tabernacle, where they could meet with God. It was while he on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights that the people, despite the clear instructions from God, bugged Aaron to make them a god who would go before them, perhaps like the statues and images of gods they had seen in Egypt. For them God’s holy name wasn’t enough. They wanted something they could see and touch. Aaron gave in to them and did what they wanted.

He got them to take off all their rings from their ears and he made an idol in the shape of a bull-calf, which would usually represent a victorious ruler who tramples down their enemies. In a sense, the animal chosen to represent God makes sense as he had trampled down their enemies so powerfully.

But this meant the Israelites were now worshipping God in the very way he told them not to worship him! Not only were they swapping their worship of the Creator for a created item, but they were worshipping the right God in the wrong way.

This brings us back to the lesson mentioned earlier that, we humans, no matter how well-intentioned, will either worship the wrong things, or will worship the right God but in the wrong way.

But, how does this apply to us today?

Well, I don’t think there’s any video evidence of any of us dancing and singing around a golden calf! And, while we may have many different objects in our homes which are important to us, I don’t think anyone here bows down to any statues made of gold or silver.

But as we learn how the Israelites spent their gold on their new god, and spent time and energy worshipping it, we too might consider what we spend much of our time, money or energy on.

Not only this, but we might also listen to Martin Luther who was particularly insightful about idols.

He says in the Large Catechism, that ‘the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.’ (LC, 1st Commandment, 2b-4)

In fact, Luther believed our idolatry to be the fundamental human problem and the root cause of all human sin.

But how do we know whether our hearts are worshipping an idol or the true God?

Well, Luther also gave us a wonderful tool which helps us self-diagnose our hearts. His explanation to the First Commandment (which tells us the Lord is our God and that we’re to have no other gods) says: ‘We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.’

So, you might ask whom, or what, are you fearing, loving and trusting in?

For example, are you afraid of what people think of you? Are you afraid of admitting your faults? Are you afraid of those who might hurt you? Are you afraid of dying? What are you wanting to preserve or avoid at almost any cost? When you’re afraid of such people and situations, has your fears of them become greater than your fear and trust of God?

Do you love the things God gives you more than the God who gives you these things? Because fears and desires are often related, one way to check this is to ask yourself: ‘What am I worrying or anxious about here? What would it mean to me if this were taken away from me? If I’m getting angry or upset about this, why has this person, or this thing, become so important to me?’

What, or whom, are you really trusting in? When we place our trust in the people around us, we’ll get angry with them when they let us down. When we place our trust in ourselves, we’ll get angry with ourselves when we fail. When we gossip about others, we’re making ourselves into self-appointed judges who reckon we have the right to condemn others and trust the court of public opinion will punish them.

Every time we fear, love or trust in someone, or something, apart from God, even for a second, this makes us into an idolater who worships the wrong god. Every time we think we can provide for our own needs apart from God, or love ourselves more than God, or who trust in our own strength or abilities or ingenuity or knowledge, we worship the wrong God.

Similarly, everyone who thinks they can justify themselves or their actions apart from Christ, or who devise their own paths to God apart from the incarnate Christ, or who by-pass the Spirit-filled Word of God and trust in their own reasoning, or who think they can produce the good fruit of faith without relying on the Holy Spirit, are attempting to worship God in the wrong way. And all these thoughts, words and actions demand much of our time, money and energy.

This means, we humans, no matter how well-intentioned, will either worship the wrong things, or will worship the right God but in the wrong way.

But what about God’s response to our idolatry?

Well, we also learn today how God, for the sake of his chosen servant, and for the sake of his holy name, relents from treating us as we deserve.

God had so far been extremely patient with the people whom he saved from the Egyptians. They had consistently grumbled and complained to him, but it’s their misplaced worship which really upset him. In response he’s decided to disown these stiff-necked people by telling Moses they’re now Moses’ people and Moses’ problem. He says: “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves!” (Ex 32:7)

Now Moses also knew these people very well. He doesn’t make up any excuses for what they’ve done or try to minimise their sin. He knows they have no redeeming qualities about them and don’t deserve any mercy, but he also knows God and his true nature. For this reason, he appeals to God’s honour and reputation.

Firstly, he re-establishes the relationship between God and his people. He says to God “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” It’s like he’s reminding God of the 1st Commandment where God says: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Secondly, he appeals to the honour of God’s name. What would the Egyptians think of him if they find out he saved them only to kill them in the wilderness? You could argue he appeals to the 2nd Commandment which talks about honouring God’s name and reputation.

Moses knows the people won’t keep their promises, but also knows God will always keep his. This is why he thirdly appeals to God’s own promises which he made to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. God had promised them rest in a Promised Land, a Sabbath land where they could worship him in peace and prosperity – which is an appeal to the 3rd Commandment.

So in a sense, Moses uses the Israelite Small Catechism in order to appeal to God’s merciful and forgiving nature, saying, “You are the Lord their God; honour your own name; and bring them to the Promised Land of rest according to your own promise.”

Remarkably, but perhaps not surprisingly, God relented and didn’t destroy his people. But his change of mind doesn’t mean God’s fickle. He has every right to be angry, but by nature he’s also ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love’ (Ex 34:6).

Now we, as New Testament Christians, know that if God listened to the intercessions of Moses, how much more will he listen to the intercessions of his own Son!

In this case, Jesus knows you and your heart more intimately than Moses ever could. He doesn’t make up any excuses for what you’ve done or try to minimise your sin. He knows you don’t deserve any mercy, and this time God didn’t change his mind. God would destroy his people, but his Son Jesus is the One who paid the price of death in our place.

There on the cross Jesus feared, loved and trusted God above all things. There on the cross, God’s name and reputation was honoured as he declared the forgiveness of all your sins. There on the cross, God’s judgment and mercy was displayed in all its ugliness and holiness. As a result of this, Jesus forgives you for all those times you spent too much time, money and energy on the wrong things, and for all those times you feared, desired, or trusted in someone or something else.

What’s more is that Jesus rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and now sits at the right hand of the Father so he may forever intercede for his people, including you and me. His resurrection reassures us of the promise of eternal life in his Promise Land of rest for all who trust in him.

But God is so gracious and compassionate that he will also listen to you and me as we pray for those who don’t deserve his mercy. Like Moses, we too can intercede for all those around us who can’t, or won’t, pray for themselves.

So, today we learn that we humans, no matter how well-intentioned, will either worship the wrong things, or will worship the right God but in the wrong way.

But we also learn how God, for the sake of his chosen suffering servant, Jesus Christ, and for the sake of his holy name, relents from treating us as we deserve.

This is so that the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 4th Oct 2020

Matthew 21:33-46 (EHV)

33 Jesus said: “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it out to some tenant farmers and went away on a journey. 34 When the time approached to harvest the fruit, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 The tenant farmers seized his servants. They beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then the landowner sent even more servants than the first time. The tenant farmers treated them the same way. 37 Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 38 But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance!’ 39 They took him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 So when the landowner comes, what will he do to those tenant farmers?”

41 They told him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end. Then he will lease out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his fruit when it is due.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Ps 118:22-23

43 “That is why I tell you the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces its fruit. 44 Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was talking about them. 46 Although they were looking for a way to arrest him, they were afraid of the crowds because the people regarded him as a prophet.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may bear the fruit of love, mercy and grace because we trust in your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

What on earth were they thinking?

I mean, let’s say you’re asked to look after someone else’s farm. Harvest time comes and the owner sends some of his workers to see how well the crop’s going. But instead of proudly showing off all your hard work, you decide to beat one of them up, kill another, and drive over a third. Now, how is this behaviour supposed to help further your career? Do you really think by doing this you and the owner are going to have a good relationship?

Not only this, but when the owner sends more workers to check on the crops, you do the same again! Is this really the way to get you into your boss’s good books?

Then, to top it off, the owner sends his own son. For some bizarre reason, you figure you’ll kill him, hoping by committing this murder you’ll end up inheriting the farm!

What on earth were they thinking?

So, this parable doesn’t seem logical, right or fair. Something’s not adding up. Something’s desperately wrong with the workers, only they don’t seem to realise it and yet have still convinced themselves they’re somehow justified and are doing the right thing.

On the other hand, what on earth was he thinking?

I mean, let’s say you’re the one who owns this farm. You set the farm up nicely with all the right equipment and you’ve carefully prepared the soil so it should produce well. You lease the farm out to some tenants while you go on holidays. Then, at the time when you’re expecting a good harvest, you send some workers to check on the crops. But only one comes back, and he’s all beaten up. The others have been killed!

Now, most people in their right mind would call the police, collect some armed guards, petition some politicians, or maybe even send in the army, but no, you decide to patiently send some more workers to your hijacked farm, and the same thing happens again.

But it seems you’re a slow learner. This time you decide to send your own child into this hostile environment, believing against all reasonable hope that they won’t harm your own offspring. But they murder your dearly loved child instead.

What on earth was he thinking?

So again, this parable doesn’t seem logical, right or fair. Something’s not adding up. Something’s desperately wrong because the owner keeps on acting graciously and patiently when anyone else in their right mind would have acted a lot harsher.

Therefore it’s no surprise when anyone hears this parable, and they’re asked what the owner should do to the evil and vindictive tenants, that they feel justice must be done and reckon the owner should kill his tenants and give the farm to someone who’ll actually look after it and produce good crops.

This seems the logical answer, and it’s the answer the religious people of Jesus’ day give. You see, they’re quite well aware of what injustice looks like and often see themselves as victims. In this case they can easily identify with the suffering owner. It was easy to point out the foolish and rebellious actions of the tenants as deserving of punishment and death. They understood the tenant’s actions were wrong and the fruit of the tenant’s lives was bitter and poisonous.

So, according to the rules of every religion on earth (except one), punishment for such wickedness is not only deserved, but demanded.

But what about you? Would you answer the same way? Do you also think they deserve punishment and death? I mean, they’ve been given so many chances to do the right thing and now have to cook in their own juices! These people aren’t bearing any good fruit in that vineyard and the owner needs to hand his precious vine over to someone else who might bear more gracious, merciful, and loving fruit.

But as the religious leaders of the day eventually recognised Jesus was in fact declaring them to be the wicked tenants who deserved their own judgment of death, could Jesus also be talking about you?

Are you also deserving of punishment and death because of your own selfish, rebellious, and pride-filled actions? For example, has God sent you any pastors or other messengers of God whom you rejected, argued with, complained about, or ignored? Have you badly treated people around you?

I mean, do you always bear fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control in your family life or among your church community, or do you instead bear the bitter fruit of sexual immorality, idolatry, jealousy, fits of anger, and drunkenness? (cf. Gal 5:19-23)

Do you ignore the needy and fill your own house with good things? Do you find it easier to criticise and hate than to be patient, gracious or loving? Do you seek revenge and payback instead of forgiving them? Do you talk about the grace, mercy and love of God, but struggle to put it into action? Do you sometimes act as if people in the church should listen to you more than they listen to God?

And then, if you’re ever convicted of your own sinful actions, how would you feel if your own judgment and sentence against these wicked tenants (or anyone else you’re already judging) was to be used against you instead?

So, no, many people, both then and now, don’t like this parable and what it says to them. Maybe you don’t like it either and want to reject or ignore his message of warning (just like the tenants in the vineyard).

But if this is all you’re going to get out of this parable, then you don’t understand the half of it.

You see, the religious leaders of the day realised this parable spoke about them as much as it speaks about you, convicting you that the fruit you bear isn’t Spirit-filled.

In response they chose not to change their ways, but instead chose to get rid of the messenger. They wanted to get rid of the Son of God who had been sent to them, which meant this parable was fulfilled through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Likewise, many people today still don’t want to hear about their own sin and want to get rid of anyone who points out their wickedness, hoping by getting rid of the messenger they’re now somehow perfect.

But the parable isn’t just about the wicked tenants. It’s also about the patient, loving, and merciful owner. After all, while we established something’s wrong with the tenants earlier, haven’t we also established there’s something very unusual and unexpected about the owner’s actions? It’s this part of the parable which we find a lot harder for us to understand.

You see, we know about crime and punishment. Wicked people should get what they deserve. It’s what we expect from God. It’s what we expect of each other. It’s what we do to each other.

But despite the way you treat each other, God patiently keeps sending his faithful messengers in order to check your fruit. This parable reveals something of the mercy and love of God and just how patient and gracious he is with you.

The chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’ day thought they were good, righteous and deserving of God’s love. They had worked hard in God’s vineyard with all their religious rites and traditions, but never looked at the fruit they were producing. Yet, when their rotten and poisonous fruit was pointed out to them, they wanted to put their hands over their ears and say ‘lalala…not listening’ and then conspire to kill Jesus, just like their ancestors did with the prophets of the past.

Perhaps, if they had better understood the grace and mercy of God, they would have asked why the owner didn’t come and punish the wicked servants earlier. They would have seen this was unexpected and therefore worthy of more attention. They would have wanted to know more about his undeserving patience and perseverance.

In this sense, do you truly understand the grace, mercy and love of God?

For example, do you realise Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to him, and still did it anyway – for you and me? Do you know he doesn’t treat us as we deserve, but he continues to come to us, speaking his Words of warning when our fruit is rotten, and nourishing us with his Spirit-filled Word and Sacraments? Do you realise he doesn’t expose our sin to punish us, but so that our hearts would be open to his forgiveness? Do you realise he forgives us, not because of anything we’ve done or could ever do, but simply because he loves us?

God persistently gives us wicked tenants chance after chance, and we don’t understand it. We don’t truly understand grace, or mercy, or love such as this. If we did, then maybe we would answer differently than the religious people of the day. If we truly understand God’s loving nature, then we wouldn’t work against him and his messengers, but would instead listen carefully and openly, and, with the Holy Spirit’s help, would seek to bear fruit worthy of repentance.

The fruit we’re to bear are the fruit coming from the roots of the gospel, from the foundations of God’s love, mercy, and peace.

What this looks like is you won’t always treat others as you think they deserve, but even when they’re hurting you or taking advantage of you, you respond instead with patience, kindness, goodness, forgiveness, mercy, and love. You won’t always betray, slander, or lie about people, and you won’t pass on unchecked information which would harm their standing in front of others. Instead, you’ll defend them, speak well of them, and explain their actions in the kindest way.

You see, while God has every right to be angry, that’s not his true nature. His true nature shines through this parable. He’s a God who doesn’t give up easily on his people, no matter how rebellious and hurtful they can be. Despite this, he warns us there’s a limit. It’s not that there’s a limit to God’s goodness and mercy, but there’s a limit to our willingness to open ourselves to him. In the end many people often condemn themselves through their own pride and disobedience.

So yes, there’s something wrong with the people God plants in his vineyard. This shouldn’t surprise us. The whole Bible tells us there’s something wrong with the people whom God loves! But what continues to surprise us is how the Lord is always so merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex 34:6).

May we all grow to understand God’s true loving nature and bear the same fruitful actions of mercy, grace, and faithfulness to those around us – whether they deserve it or not.

And in this way, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.