Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 21:23-32
Dear children of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
As Jesus was teaching in the Temple, the chief priests and elders of the people questioned Him saying, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
The question of authority is an important one. Not just anyone can show up in the Temple to teach. Not just anyone rides into Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna” as Jesus had done earlier in the week. Not just anyone throws out money changers and salesmen from the Temple as Jesus had also done that week.
The chief priests and elders of the people were questioning Jesus’ authority to do what He did and say what He said.
In answer, Jesus asked them a question in return, “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” Jesus asked them this question, because it has the same answer as the question they asked Him.
If Jesus’ authority is from man, then His forerunner’s authority is also from man. If Jesus’ authority comes from God the Father, then His forerunner’s authority is also from God the Father. If the chief priests and elders would have answered Jesus’ question correctly, they would have also answered their own question correctly. But they refused to answer.
When John came preaching a baptism of repentance, the tax collectors and the prostitutes repented and received the forgiveness of sins. They stopped living in their sin. They turned from sin and produced the fruit of repentance (Mt. 3:1-6). The chief priests and elders, on the other hand, did not repent of their sin. They presumed to say that Abraham is their father as if that is a substitute for repentance. They were saying, “We are God’s children, so we don’t need to repent. We don’t need to do the will of the Father.” Thus, Jesus told the chief priests and the elders of the people, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”
The chief priests and the elders of the people had rejected John’s baptism of repentance. Sure, the tax collectors and prostitutes need to repent, they thought. They thought that they themselves were so good and so righteous that they didn’t need to repent of sin. They thus rejected the Saviour. They rejected the Saviour as preached by John the Baptist, so they rejected the Saviour standing before them, teaching in the Temple.
Of course, it makes sense that if you reject Christ’s messenger, you reject Christ who sent the messenger. Christ says to His ministers, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)
Thus, you are stuck with the same question about your minister. Is my ministry to you from God or from man? If it is from man, then come to church when you feel like it, and don’t come when you don’t feel like it. If my ministry to you is from man, then take what you like from the things that I say, and discard those things that you don’t like. If my ministry to you is from man, then I am speaking my own opinions and ideas, and you really lose nothing if you don’t hear what I say.
However, if my ministry to you is from God; if I have been called by God to serve you here in this place, then you better be here, hearing what God has called me to say. If my ministry to you is from God, then take what I speak to you from God’s Word to heart, whether you like it or not, because it is not my opinion, but the Word of God. If my ministry to you is from God, then it is He Himself who is speaking to you through His Word, it is He Himself who absolves you, it is He Himself who gives you the body and blood of His Son to eat and to drink.
By what authority am I doing these things, and who gave me this authority? When Christ sends His ministers, He tells them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)
Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth. So when He sends His ministers to preach His Word and administer His sacraments, He has the authority to do it, and His ministers do what they do and say what they say by Christ’s authority, not their own.
That is why you can trust in the forgiveness of sins received in Baptism. It is Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and it is Christ who sends His ministers to baptize. That is why you can trust in the forgiveness of sins received in Absolution. It is Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and it is Christ who sends His ministers to absolve you. That is why you can trust in the forgiveness of sins received in the Sacrament of the Altar. It is Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and it is Christ who sends His ministers to distribute to you His true body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ, and He sends His ministers to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name. Repentance, because we are all sinful and must turn away from our sins. Forgiveness, because salvation does not come from our own work or efforts to save ourselves.
If forgiveness of sins comes from our own work or efforts to save ourselves, the chief priests and elders of the people would have been in good shape because of all the good that they did. However, good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer (LSB 555 st. 1).
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone. Nothing else. Jesus is the one who fulfilled the demands of God’s Law for us. Jesus is the one who suffered and died for us. Jesus is the one who rose from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone. Nothing else. Faith does not look to our works. Faith does not look to our sins. Faith does not look to how successfully we have managed to avoid the sins of our weak flesh.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone because we don’t need anything else. In Him we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In Him we have salvation full and free. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone because in Him we have the promise of health after illness, of joy after sadness, of life after death.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, so as He has promised you, He can and will bring you to where He is, so that where He is, you may be also. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.