God: Severe and Merciful

Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 25:14-30

Dear servants entrusted with God’s property: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“I knew you to be a hard man,” said the wicked and lazy servant to his master. “You reap where you did not sow, and gather where you scattered no seed.” In his experience, the servant turned out to be correct. His master took away the talent that he had given the servant, and cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The master does indeed sound like a hard man.

The good and faithful servants did not find their master to be a hard man. They joyously received their talents and put them to work. Upon the master’s return, he rewarded them greatly, setting them over much and receiving them into his joy. The master doesn’t sound like a hard man at all.

These are the same two experiences we can have with God. We can look at Him as hard and severe. After all, He has given us His Law with all its demands. He has given Commandments which tell us what to do and what not to do. All these rules. Everything we want to do is forbidden. All the things we don’t want to do are commanded. The threat of hell looms for all those who fail to think, say, and do what is right. Of course, someone who looks at God this way will find Him to be hard and severe.

On the other hand, we can see God as gracious and merciful. After all, He sent His Son to fulfil the Law for us with all its demands. He gave up His Son to suffer and die for us. Because of Jesus’ death for us, God gives us forgiveness of sins in Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar. All this forgiveness. Everything we’ve done wrong is forgiven. All the things we haven’t done but should have are forgiven. The promise of eternal joy waits all the forgiven saints of God. Of course, someone who looks at God this way will find Him to be gracious and merciful, not hard and severe.

Is God indeed both hard and gracious; severe and merciful? Psalm 18 says, “With the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.” (v.26) Proverbs 3 says, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the dwelling of the righteous. Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He gives favour.” (v.33-34) James and Peter write, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Jas 4:6; I Pt. 5:5)

God is indeed gracious and merciful, offering His favour and blessing to all. But those who are proud and say that they need no mercy or grace, God curses. Those who scorn the forgiveness of sins as worthless and despicable, God scorns. Those who despise Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, God despises. God is hard and severe to those who reject His grace and mercy.

It is not God’s will, however, to curse anyone to hell. He has no desire to be hard or severe towards anyone. He says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, so turn and live.” (Ezk. 18:32) God desires to forgive everyone their sins and to give them eternal life. There are no exceptions.

This is why God has given us His Law with all of its demands. He wants us to recognize that because of our sin we cannot fulfil what He demands of us. He gives us His Law to humble us by showing us our sin. We look in the mirror of the Law and recognize that we need Jesus to save us from our sins, and then He gives to us the free forgiveness of sins, without any merit or worthiness in us. He forgives our sins on account of Jesus’ payment for our sins when He suffered and died for us.

With our sins forgiven, we know that God is not hard or severe to us. Even His Law is not hard or severe to us because Jesus has fulfilled it for us. The Law cannot condemn us because we are in Christ. We hear the Law as being holy, righteous, and good, not as hard and severe. We endeavour to fulfil the Law, not because we fear punishment, but because our dear Father in heaven has told us that following His Law is His will for us and is good for us.

God’s Law protects us from each other because it tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves. It guides us away from things that God knows to be harmful to us and leads us to doing those things that are good for us and our neighbours.

With our sins forgiven, we know that God is not hard or severe to us. We will not take what God has entrusted to us and bury it into the ground out of fear. Rather, we will lovingly serve God by using His blessings entrusted to us in ways that help our neighbour. We will use God’s property in our care in ways that serve His Church on earth, both here and throughout the world.

We don’t do this because we think it will earn our way into heaven. Rather, we give generously because we already have the promise of heaven waiting for us, and we cannot take our money or possessions with us anyway. Better to faithfully use it here on earth and lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt. 6:19-20).

Our master will also tell us, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master.” He will tell this to us because He is faithful and will keep us in the faith until we die. He will tell this to us because He has saved us from the wrath to come and has earned for us eternal joy. God will tell you to enter into His eternal joy because He is not hard and severe to you, but gracious and merciful.

His grace and mercy to us can be seen in His blessing us with a church building in which we have gathered for fifty years. Through His grace and mercy, God allows His Gospel to be heard here – the Gospel which was first heard by Adam and Even when they fell into sin, and was heard by God’s people of old by the mouth of the prophets; the Gospel which many heard from Christ Himself during His earthly ministry and through His apostles sent into the world; the Gospel rediscovered at the time of the Reformation five hundred years ago – this same Gospel is the Gospel God graciously allows us to hear in this place, in this building dedicated for that very purpose fifty years ago.

If God were hard and severe toward us, He would have long ago destroyed this building and us because of our sins. But God is gracious and merciful, so He continues to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He still gives us a place to receive His forgiveness and to be strengthened in the faith. He continues to be present in this place with His grace and mercy.

God is so gracious and merciful to us, that even if we lost our church building, we would still have lost nothing because we have the promise of entering the eternal joy of our Master, and nothing can take that joy away from us. Amen.

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

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