Sermon based on Mt. 18:1-20 for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear community of saints baptized into Christ: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Sin is no big deal,” says the world around us. If you pay attention to your favourite TV shows, you will see and hear that anything goes. Sin is laughed at like it’s a joke. Fornication is funny. Homosexuality is hilarious. Assault is amusing. Disrespect for authority is delightful. It’s on TV, in movies, books, music, video games, and on the internet.
Our children, who have just started school again, also hear as part of their education that sin is no big deal. They are taught that everything is relative. What’s right for me may not be right for you. Do whatever makes you happy. But whatever you do, you better not judge anyone or say that what someone else is doing is wrong; otherwise you will be called a bully and be liable to face charges for a hate crime.
We are so immersed in this mind-set that we start to believe it. We start to take sin lightly. When we see others around us get comfortable in sin, even in our own family, we say nothing. It’s no big deal. If our brother despises God’s Word and doesn’t come to church, we say nothing. It’s no big deal. If our brother decides to live together with his girlfriend outside of marriage, we say nothing. It’s no big deal.
Contrast this with what we heard in our readings this morning. Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” (v. 15) Jesus doesn’t tell you to ignore it. He doesn’t tell you that it’s no big deal. Jesus tells you to go confront your brother who has fallen into sin and expose his sin. Bring the sin to light so that your brother might be convicted by God’s Word and realize his sin.
Notice that Jesus tells you to go and tell your brother his fault between you and him alone. When you see your brother fall into sin, Jesus doesn’t tell you to go tell someone else. He’s not looking for you to start gossiping about your brother. He’s not even telling you to go tattle to your pastor about someone else’s sin. Go to your brother. Tell him. Because his sin is a big deal.
If your brother listens to you, you have gained your brother. This is the whole purpose of you going to him: to share God’s Word that would lead him to see his sin and turn from it; to bring to light the seriousness of his sin so that he might understand that his sin is no joke or light matter. You confront him that he might understand God’s wrath against sin so that he won’t accept or tolerate sin.
Sin is such a big deal, that if your brother doesn’t listen to you, you don’t just leave it at that. You go with one or two others to confront your sinning brother. And if that doesn’t work, you bring in the whole church; the whole assembly of baptized believers in Christ. Sin is such a big deal that the whole church needs to be involved. If your brother didn’t listen to you when you went alone or to those who went with you later, perhaps he will realize the gravity of his sin when the whole church shows their loving concern for him. Now it’s not just a family member or a friend, but the whole community of believers that are to explain to him just how big of a deal his sin is.
If he doesn’t listen to the church, then he is to be treated like one outside the church, no longer a brother. But this too is done with the hope that it leads him to repentance and restoration. All of this points to the fact that sin is a big deal.
This is clear from our Old Testament reading also (Ezek. 33:7-9). God tells Ezekiel that if he doesn’t speak God’s Word of warning to the wicked, the wicked will die in his sin, but God will demand his blood from Ezekiel’s hand. Ezekiel becomes responsible for the sinner who does not turn from his wickedness if Ezekiel did not warn him. That’s how big of a deal sin is. It is laid on the head of the sinner and on the head of him who is unfaithful in his duty to warn his brother.
What about sin in our own lives? Jesus said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (vv. 8-9) Sounds like Jesus thinks sin is a big deal. He says that sin is such a big deal that we should cut off from our lives whatever is causing us to sin.
The reality is that God thinks sin is a big deal. God does not take sin lightly. In fact, God takes sin so seriously, that He sent His only Son to die for us because of our sin. Sin is such a big deal that no one else could pay the price required; it had to be God Himself who gave His life to take away sin.
And sin is such a big deal that God still puts people in our lives who call us to repentance – brothers who come to confront us and tell us our fault so that we might turn away from sin and live. God has also placed us in a whole community of believers that are to confront us and explain from God’s Word just how big of a deal our sin is. And in this community of believers, He daily and richly forgives our sins and the sins of all believers (SC II.3).
God knows our weaknesses. That’s why He gives His Word to us, to bring us to repentance and to strengthen our faith. That’s why He gives us the heavenly food of forgiveness in His Son’s body and blood. He does this continually, because He does not want us to wander away from Him.
It is Christ who comforts fearful hearts, and brings us back to Himself when we have wandered from Him. We are such a big deal to Christ that He leaves the ninety-nine sheep on the mountains to seek us, the one who has gone astray (v. 12). Our big deal sins of thought, word, and deed, and our darkest secrets that haunt our conscience, are all removed from us by Christ.
Jesus made a big deal out of us by dying for us. He washed our sins away. He made us His own in our baptism. Our baptism is something we can always look on, not as a past event, but as a present reality. Baptism isn’t just something that was done to us in the past and has no bearing anymore. Through baptism, we were received into the Christian community, and it is in this Christian community where we still receive the gifts of life, forgiveness, and salvation.
In baptism, God put His name on us. Baptism is God’s work and comes with God’s promises of victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with His gifts (LC IV.41). These promises which were given to us in our baptism remain ours.
As big of a deal as our sins are, our baptism is greater still. Because sin is such a big deal to God, He gave us something even greater to give us victory over sin. Jesus conquered sin on the cross and gives us the free gift of forgiveness in our baptism, and that gift remains ours. And that’s a big deal. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.