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.

Foolish and Wise Virgins

Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 25:1-13 (Amos 5:18-24)

Dear bride of Christ awaiting His return: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Judgment Day will come, and we know neither the day nor the hour. Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, will return as He has promised, and He will take His bride with Him into the great eternal wedding feast.

Since we do not know when Christ will return, we must watch and be ready at all times. When Christ returns, it will be too late to open our ears to God’s Word. It will be too late to repent. It will be too late to receive forgiveness.

Good intentions to hear God’s Word later, to repent later, to receive forgiveness later will end like the foolish virgins’ trip to the marketplace to buy oil. It will be too late. Jesus will answer those foolish virgins, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

The church on earth is like the ten virgins in Jesus’ parable. They all identify as the bride of Christ, the Church. They gather together with others who confess to be Christians. They are part of the group. They have their lamps and they live externally holy lives, which is why they are called virgins. It is not necessarily possible for us to tell the foolish virgins from the wise.

However, the foolish virgins were not ready for the bridegroom’s coming. They had no oil. An oil lamp is useless without oil. The flame will not burn without oil. If you don’t have oil, you may as well not have a lamp.

These are people who identify as Christians. They gather together on Sundays with other Christians. They are part of the group. They live externally good lives. But their hearts are far from God. They harden their hearts when they hear God’s Law. They don’t believe when they hear the Gospel. The Word of God bores them because they think they already know it all. Later, they say. I will open my ears to God’s Word later. I will repent and turn away from my sin later. I will receive forgiveness later. But later it is too late.

Since we do not know when Judgment Day will be, we must be ready now. We must open our ears to hear God’s Word now. We must repent now. We must receive forgiveness now.

The Word of God gives faith. The Word of God sustains faith. Being immersed in the holy Scriptures makes you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (II Tim. 3:15) so that you will be like the wise virgins and have oil in your lamps. The Sacrament of the Altar gives you Jesus’ body and blood so that you will be ready when He returns so you will go with Him into the wedding feast.

This does not happen by the mere outward act of sitting in church or kneeling at the altar rail or eating and drinking. It is through faith that Jesus’ death was for you. It is through trust in Jesus’ words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It doesn’t happen by the mere outward act of being baptized, but it is through faith which trusts in God’s promise that Baptism rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation.

Mere outward worship is useless. God said to the Israelites concerning their insincere worship, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” (Amos 5:21-23)

The Israelites were celebrating the feasts God had commanded them to celebrate. They assembled for solemn prayers and sacrifices offered on a daily and weekly basis. They gave offerings to the Lord and sang songs to Him. Yet, they did not submit to God’s Word. They lived in whatever sins their hearts desired and had higher priorities than worshiping God and hearing His Word. They thought everything would be alright as long as they went through the motions of worship, singing, and giving offerings.

They were like the foolish virgins, identifying as God’s people, gathering together for worship, going through the motions. They were like the foolish virgins and were not ready when God came to visit them. The Northern Kingdom of Israel perished and was sent into exile in Assyria, with their land was repopulated by foreigners by the command of the Assyrian king (II Kings 17).

What is it that God expects of His people? That we live perfect lives and never sin? That our minds never wander, not even for a second, during worship? That somehow we prepare ourselves for Jesus’ Second Coming?

No, none of these is possible.

God expects a broken and contrite heart and trust in His promises. We do not create these ourselves. We cannot break our own hearts or create contrition in our hearts. Rather, the Law of God breaks our hearts and creates contrition in our hearts. The Law of God shows us our sin so that we would hate it and turn away from it. The Law of God crushes our hearts with guilt and holds us accountable for what we have done and what we have failed to do so that we have sorrow over our sins and repent.

We also cannot create faith in our own hearts. God creates faith in our hearts through the Gospel. The Gospel binds the wounds that the Law has made and soothes consciences and hearts. The Gospel gives us the free forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned for us by His holy life, death, and resurrection. The Gospel is that God forgives our transgressions and covers our sins (Ps. 32:1). He washes us thoroughly from our iniquities and cleanses us from sin (Ps. 51:2). God hides His face from our sins and blots out all our iniquities (Ps. 51:9). He creates a clean heart within us and renews us with a right spirit (Ps. 51:10).

God opens our ears to His Word now. God’s Word brings us to repentance now. God’s Word promises and gives us forgiveness now. We don’t have to wait.

Absolution is God’s Word which forgives your sins now. The Lord’s Supper also gives you forgiveness and strengthens your faith now. God’s Word reminds you now, that He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16).

God gives and does these things for you now, so that you will be ready for when Jesus returns, no matter when He comes. God prepares you now so that whether you die now or are still alive when Christ returns, you are and remain ready. God gives you forgiveness in these different ways to give you oil for your lamp so that when the call goes out to invite you to the wedding feast you will be a wise virgin, ready for the feast, ready for the bridegroom, ready for eternal life.

We don’t need to know either the day or the hour when Jesus returns because we are ready now, and we will be ready at all times. With our sins forgiven, nothing stands in the way of eternal life for us. Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, has prepared us for His return, and will return as He has promised to take us with Him into the great eternal wedding feast. We are ready. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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

All Saints’ Day

Sermon for All Saints’ Day based on Revelation 7:9-17

Dear saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the New Testament Church, God has not appointed certain days or periods of time for His people to observe. There are no particular days or festivals which we are commanded to celebrate.

Nevertheless, in Christian freedom, the Church does celebrate various festivals through the church year. These celebrations are important reminders to us of central articles of the Christian faith. We follow the Old Testament precedent of structuring the year around the great acts of salvation that God has done for us in Christ.

Thus, the Church celebrates Christmas. It is not mandated that the Church celebrate Christmas on December twenty-fifth, nor that we have Christmas trees, or manger scenes, but it is necessary that we recognize and celebrate the virgin birth of Jesus, when God took on our flesh and became man.

The Church celebrates Palm Sunday as Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Holy Thursday when He instituted His Supper for us, in which He gives us His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. The Church celebrates Good Friday, the day that our Good Shepherd gave up His very life for us sheep who love to wander. The Church celebrates the resurrection of our Lord on Easter, and indeed on every Sunday. Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday is after all the reason the Church gathers together on Sunday. We have no command for worship on this specific day either, but out of Christian freedom we have chosen to worship on the day our Lord rose from the dead.

While we don’t have specific commands from God to celebrate these festivals, it certainly is necessary that Christians celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and His death and resurrection. How could we not? They are a reason to celebrate with joy the great acts of salvation God has accomplished for us.

This is the same reason the Christian Church celebrates All Saints’ Day. It doesn’t have to be on November first. In fact, we observe it today, the closest Sunday after November first. We could celebrate it in July if we really wanted to do so.

As with the other holy days, we do not have a command that we celebrate this festival, but every Christian certainly must celebrate what this festival is.

All Saints’ Day does not just commemorate a particular saint, but all believers of all times and places; the great multitude that no one can number. On Easter we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, on All Saints’ Day we celebrate our resurrection. We celebrate the fulfilment of God’s promises to us in our inheritance of eternal life. We celebrate the eternal joys of everlasting life which are ours because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.

We celebrate Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs of old who are enrolled in heaven. We celebrate the apostles, the witnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry who are now enrolled in heaven. Yet, we also celebrate our beloved friends and family who died in Christ and now rest from their labours.

All the saints, from the beginning of time who died believing in the Saviour who was yet to come, to the saints who have died today believing in the Saviour who did come are remembered and celebrated today.

We remember the saints who have gone before us that we might imitate their faith and good works. However, we do not pray to them or worship them. Scripture sets Christ alone before us as mediator, atoning sacrifice, high priest, and intercessor. He is to be called upon, since we have both the command to pray to Him and His promise that He will hear us (cf. AC XXI). We have no such command to pray to saints, nor do we have any promise that they hear our prayers. Thus, we pray to God alone, even though we commemorate and remember the saints.

All Saints’ Day is special in that we celebrate not just the saints whose lives are recorded in holy Scripture, but also the lesser known saints who kept the faith through daily griefs and joys that no one has recorded. We commemorate the loved ones we miss dearly who died with Christ and thus now live with Him, and we are comforted by God’s promises to them and to us.

All Saints’ Day is consolation to those who find themselves in the loneliness of a Siberian prison camp or suffering the inner alienation within church bodies that have abandoned the truth of the Gospel. It is consolation to those who feel alone, for those who suffer for the sake of the Church, for those disheartened about the evils they see taking place in the church. It is consolation for all whose loved ones died with faith in Christ.

We are not alone, but are part of the Church. We are part of the great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. We will be reunited with our loved ones who died in the faith. We will be in the presence of God forevermore.

Then there will be no more church militant that is attacked from within and without by false teachers and heresies, by abuses and persecutions. There will be no more church militant that is despised and hated by the world. There will be no more church militant that the evil one seeks madly to overthrow.

There will only be the church triumphant, where we will be in the presence of God for eternity, protected and sheltered from every evil. There we shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore. The sun shall not strike us, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd, and He will guide us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

How could the Church not celebrate this great festival? It celebrates the promises of God that have been fulfilled for every believer who has died in Christ. It celebrates the promises of God that will be fulfilled for us when the times comes for us to depart this life. It is a celebration that because Jesus died for our sins, we will never die, and because He rose from the dead, we will live forever.

The Christian Church celebrates even in midst of suffering and loss, abuse and persecution because we have our eyes set on the promises of God which will be fulfilled. We too will be in the church triumphant, whether it is today or tomorrow, next year or decades from now. That is reason to celebrate. Amen.

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

The Truth Will Set You Free

Sermon for the Festival of the Reformation based on John 8:31-36

Dear heirs of the Reformation: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus says, “The truth will set you free.” The truth may, however, cause you troubles in this life.

Martin Luther’s proclamation of the truth got him excommunicated by the pope and declared an outlaw by the Emperor. As we heard in Bible class last week, the reformer John Hus’s teaching of the truth got him burned at the stake by the pope. The pope murdered him simply because he believed and confessed the truth.

Today, five hundred years after the Reformation, opposition to the truth and consequences for standing up for the truth still exist. Christian business owners are being put out of business by the government just because they stand up for the truth. Just this month, the Lutheran pastor in Churchbridge was viciously attacked and bullied out of town by the very people God called him to serve, simply because he taught the truth and the people didn’t want to hear it.

The truth setting you free does not mean that there are no consequences in this life for believing and confessing the truth. The wicked world does not want to hear the truth. The devil is the father of lies and hates the truth. Thus, the world and the devil continually attack the truth and those who believe it. They will do everything they can to quiet the truth, to pervert the truth, to throw out those who would speak the truth. Yet, the truth will set you free.

We need to hear God’s Law first, before we understand what it means to be set free. Without the Law, we would respond like the Jews did to Jesus, “We have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” We see no need for freedom if we think we are already free. We see no need for freedom if we do not realize that we are slaves. Thus, to show us that we are slaves who need to be freed, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

Do you commit sin? Then you are a slave to sin. Do you think, say, and do things that God has commanded you not to think, say, or do? Then you are a slave to sin. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. God’s Law stops every mouth and holds us all accountable to God.

We do need to be set free. We cannot free ourselves. We cannot rescue ourselves from our sins because they are more powerful than we are. Because of our sinful nature, we are unable to choose the good and avoid the evil. We need to be saved. We need to be freed from slavery to sin. We need someone else to be held accountable for what we have done so that we do not die eternally.

The truth will set you free. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the truth that sets you free.

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” because Jesus is the one who is more powerful than sin and death. He is the one who is more powerful than the old evil foe. Jesus is the one who has defeated sin, death, and the devil, and He holds the field victorious.

Jesus is the one who chose the good and avoided the evil. He is the one who was held accountable for the sins that we have committed and was punished for them in our place. Jesus frees us from the punishment our sins deserve. He frees us from slavery to sin. He saves us from the devil and from hell. This is the truth that sets us free.

Martin Luther understood this freedom, so he held to this truth and was willing to face whatever the pope would do to him. Thus, he wrote, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” (TLH 262 st. 4)

Luther knew the truth and the truth had set him free, so he was willing to suffer the loss of everything in this life rather than lose that freedom. He clung to the truth and shared it with others even at the risk of losing his life. He knew that he was freed from eternal damnation, justified by God’s grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

We don’t believe this because Luther taught it. We don’t believe it simply because we grew up in the Lutheran church. We believe it because God Himself teaches it in holy Scripture. We believe it because God tells it to us in His Word, the only source of truth.

Jesus says, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He starts out by telling us to abide in His Word, because His Word is truth. The second we follow anything other than God’s Word, we are straying into error.

That is the error into which the Roman church has fallen. They stopped following the Bible and started following man. They still follow what the pope says even when he disagrees with Scripture. They claim that the pope is infallible and cannot err when he makes statements of doctrine. When his statements disagree with the Bible, the pope is still held as being correct by the Roman church.

Abide in God’s Word, not the word of man. Abide in God’s Word, not your own words. It is so tempting to follow our own thoughts, feelings, and desires. It is so tempting to follow what we think is fair, just, and reasonable. It is so easy to follow the world. They do whatever they want. They think that they have freedom, but they are really slaves of sin. Abide in God’s Word so you will know the truth that sets you free.

Abide in God’s Word. Read it. Study it. Attend a church where it is taught in its truth and purity. Attend Bible class where it is explained and expounded for your benefit. In the Bible is where we learn about God and His will for us. We can learn it from no place else.

Only in the Bible do we hear the Son has set us free, so we are free indeed. Only in the Bible do we learn the truth that sets us free. Only in the Bible do we have God’s truth given to us, so that we don’t speculate, we don’t wonder, we don’t guess, but we know the truth that sets us free.

Christ Jesus our Lord has set us free to be sons of God who remain in the house forever. A slave does not remain in the house forever. The son remains forever. The Son of God has freed us from slavery to sin and has given us faith so that we know the truth. He saved us, and He keeps us saved so that regardless of the opposition of the world, the devil, and our sinful flesh, we will remain in Him to eternal life. Thus, we can sing with Luther, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” Amen.

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

Render to God

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 22:15-21

Dear possession of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Caesar was not the democratically chosen leader of the Jewish people. He didn’t win their popular vote or the support of Jewish representatives. Caesar was the leader of the Jews because the Romans had invaded and conquered Israel. The Romans had overthrown Jewish leadership and incorporated Judea into the Roman Republic.

The Romans thus occupied Jewish lands and forced the Jews to pay Roman taxes. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should taxes be paid to the invaders and occupiers of your land? Is it right to pay taxes to the military invaders and conquerors of your people?

The Caesar at the time also happened to be Tiberius Caesar. Tiberius was a drunken pervert who shirked his responsibilities and lived his life indulging his sinful desires rather than ruling. The coin for the tax even claimed Tiberius to be son of god. Is it lawful to pay taxes to this wicked Caesar, or not?

The Pharisees and Herodians wanted to trap Jesus and entangle Him in His words. If Jesus responded with saying that this Roman tax should be paid by the Jews to their occupiers, the Pharisees supposed the Jewish people would stop being followers of Jesus. The Jews despised the tax. It marked them as subjects of Rome. The tax money collected from the Jews paid for the Roman soldiers who occupied their territory and invaded other territories. Paying the tax gave money to the enemy to help them maintain control over you. There’s a moral and ethical question of whether the people of God should pay such tax to the Romans.

On the other hand, if Jesus answered that the tax should not be paid to Caesar, then the Pharisees and Herodians would go to the Roman authorities and charge Jesus with rebellion and treason against the Roman government. Jesus’ enemies would then have a real charge to bring to Pilate against Jesus so that they could be rid of Him once and for all.

Jesus does not fall into their trap. He asked them to show Him the coin for the tax which bore Caesar’s image and inscription, and Jesus responded, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

The coin was minted by Caesar. It had his image and inscription. He was their Caesar, whether they liked it or not. The fact that they had the coin in their possession indicates that they did acknowledge Caesar’s rule over them. They were using his currency. It belonged to Caesar. So, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

Christians are to pay the taxes demanded of us by our government. We can say that there is a moral and ethical question of whether the people of God should pay tax to our government when it is wasted and squandered; when it is used in lavish holidays of self-indulgence; when it is used to pay terrorists. Christians may say that they should not pay tax to our government because it is used to pay for abortions.

It is true that it is wrong that our tax dollars get used in these ways, but it is our duty to pay our taxes. It is the government’s duty to use that money appropriately and wisely. Paying taxes is thus the right and godly thing to do, even if the government is ungodly in what is done with the tax dollars. Those who govern will be held accountable by God for their use of the money, whether it is Tiberius or Trudeau.

Jesus continues in His answer to the Pharisees and Herodians. He doesn’t just say, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” He adds, “and to God the things that are God’s.” Render to God what belongs to God.

Jesus does not put this side-by-side with paying taxes as if to say that the government gets its percentage and God gets His percentage. In fact, paying taxes is giving to God what belongs to God, because He is the one who has commanded you to pay taxes. This also means when you use the money you’ve earned to buy food for your family, you are giving to God what belongs to God. Your wise use of what God has entrusted to you is rendering to God what belongs to Him.

Rendering to God what belongs to Him certainly does include giving offerings to Him, but we need to realize that God does not need our money. He doesn’t use the money given to the Church to buy food for Himself. God says in Psalm 50, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.” (v. 12)

Regarding the offerings of animals as sacrifices, God says, “Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.” (vv. 10-11) Everything we have belongs to God. Everything in the world belongs to God.

God does not need our offerings as if He cannot get by without them. Rather, we are the ones who benefit from giving offerings to God. We are the ones who are blessed in giving offerings as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. We are the ones who are blessed by those offerings so that we can have the Word of God preached among us and His Sacraments administered among us. We are the ones who are blessed by having our sins taken away from us freely with no cost to us.

If we render to God what is God’s, that also means we give Him our sin. John the Baptist preached, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Jesus took our sins on Himself all the way to the cross and died for them there. Jesus took our sins in His body on the tree and down into the grave, where He left them for eternity.

Your sins do not belong to you. Yes, you committed them, but Jesus has taken them away from you.

Rendering to God what belongs to Him means rendering your sins to God. Rendering your sins to God means to stop clinging to them like they are still yours. God has already taken them away from you. Don’t walk away from Absolution thinking that you’re still stuck with your sins. Don’t walk away from the altar rail after receiving the body and blood of Christ thinking that you are still carrying the burden of your sins on your back. Your sins have been paid for by the precious blood of Christ, so they do not belong to you any longer. Your sins have been purchased away from you, so they are not yours.

If Satan or someone else dangles your sin in front of your face, tell them the sin is no longer yours. Should a guilty conscience seize you, be reminded that Christ has taken your sin away from you and it doesn’t belong to you anymore. If death lurks with threats and fears, know that even in death you have nothing to fear – you die without sin because Jesus died with your sin.

Yes, render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Also render to God what belongs to God. You belong to God. Christ has purchased you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. God has claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism so you are His. Because you belong to God, He will raise you from the dead to eternal life as surely as He raised Jesus from the dead to eternal life.

Render to God what belongs to God. Don’t cling to your sin. Jesus, the Lamb of God, has taken away your sin. Your sin does not belong to you. Forgiveness and everlasting life do belong to you. Amen.

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

The Wedding Feast

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 22:1-14

Dear beautiful bride of Christ: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Apart from Christ, the Church is one ugly bride. Ezekiel sixteen describes her as a baby wallowing in her own blood on the day of birth, cast out into the open field with no eye to pity or show compassion, abhorred by all. No one loved her to wash her or clothe her. No one even bothered to cut her umbilical cord.

Then her bridegroom came and gave her life. He bathed her and washed her and anointed her with oil. He made her to flourish like a plant in the field and grow up. He clothed her with embroidered cloth and shod her with fine leather. He wrapped her in fine linen and covered her with silk. He adorned her with bracelets on her wrists, a chain on her neck, with jewellery, and a crown on her head. She thus had gold and silver and fine clothing, eating the highest quality of foods.

In Christ, the Church is a beautiful bride. Christ washes away the ugliness of her sins and clothes her with His own righteousness. He offers up His life for her on the cross, obtaining for her the white robe of beauty and innocence with which He clothes her in Holy Baptism. A wedding feast is prepared to celebrate this union.

Come to the wedding feast. Everything is prepared. Come eat the feast which is better than any earthly banquet; food and drink which give you eternal life. Come receive what God the Son has earned for you. Come and feed your soul which hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Come, for all is ready.

How do those invited respond? Some pay no attention to the invitation from the King. They go off, one to his farm, another to his business. These are the polite ones. They don’t hate the King, but they really don’t care. They don’t hate the Church, but they are indifferent to the King’s invitation. They don’t hate Christ, the bridegroom, but they have better things to do. They just don’t care.

Then there are those who are invited to the wedding feast who hate Christ, the bridegroom, and His bride, the Church. The King’s servants who went out to invite them are treated shamefully and disrespectfully. The King’s servants are even murdered for bringing the invitation just because these people hate the King. Such people get angry if a Christian dare speak the truth of God’s Word, because they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to hear about how God expects us to behave and they don’t want to hear about how God gives us free forgiveness in His Son. They’d rather kill the messenger than hear the message. They are so vicious and hostile because they are poor, miserable sinners, who don’t want to admit that they are poor, miserable sinners.

There are those who politely ignore God’s gracious invitation, and there are those who respond in anger and hostility. There are also those who respond with hypocrisy. They join the church. They are baptized. They go through confirmation. They attend Divine Service. They outwardly confess that they believe what God’s Word says. But they believe none of it. This is the man without the wedding garment. He does not believe that he needs Jesus’ righteousness to cover his sins. He thinks Baptism is a nice ceremony but that it does nothing. He receives the body and blood of Christ but believes it to be nothing more than bread and wine.

All three of these groups of people invited have the same end. The King sends His angels to destroy them and their cities. They are bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness, that place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Whether they reject God’s gracious invitation through polite ignorance, open hostility, or faithless hypocrisy, their place is in the eternal fires of hell.

This is a warning to us. The goal of this is not to say, “Hey I know someone who hates God. I know someone who doesn’t really care. I know someone who is a hypocrite.” No. This is us. We must confess our own sin.

We have politely ignored God’s gracious invitation. We are the ones who do not always care. We have failed to prioritize the hearing and reading of God’s Word. We have failed to treat God’s gracious invitation as the most important thing. We have failed to raise our children in the faith. We have had better things to do. Repent.

We have shown hostility toward God’s gracious invitation. We, according to our sinful nature hate God. We hate when His Law commands us to do something that we don’t want to do. We hate when His Law forbids us from doing something we want to do. We hate the fact that God’s Word says we are poor, miserable sinners. Our greed and lust, our desire for fame, money, and recognition, our anger and pride are all hostile to God. Repent.

We have acted like hypocrites. We go through the motions. We say things we don’t mean. We confess to believe what the Bible says but we’re not actually even that interested in what it says. We say we value God’s Word, but it sits somewhere in the house collecting dust. We speak the words of the Lord’s Prayer without so much as a thought as to what the words mean. Repent.

In your repentance, realize the gracious invitation of God to you. The wedding feast of the Lamb is for you. Not because of what you’ve done or left undone. Not because of who you are. Rather, because God’s gracious invitation is for everyone. The King sends his servants out to invite to the banquet everyone they can find. Thus, Jesus says that the servants brought in the evil and the good into the wedding hall – those who were thought of as evil because their sins were known to everyone, as well as those who were thought of as good because their sins were not known to everyone.

The evil and good alike will be at the wedding feast because we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. We lament our indifference, hostility, and hypocrisy and we cherish the wedding garment that covers all our sin. We love our bridegroom who came and gave us life; who bathed us and washed us in Baptism; who made us to flourish like a plant in the field and grow up. We love Him who clothed us with His white and pure robe of righteousness and feeds us with the highest quality of foods – His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

We love Christ, who has made us, His Church, a beautiful bride. Christ has washed away the ugliness of our sins and clothed us with His own righteousness. He has offered up His life for us on the cross, obtaining for us the white robe of beauty and innocence with which He has clothed us in Holy Baptism.

God wants you at the wedding feast, both here at the altar where we receive a foretaste of the feast to come, and eternally when we will see its fulfilment. He graciously gives you forgiveness. He forgives you your indifference, hostility, and hypocrisy, because Christ has paid the price of your sins. He gives you forgiveness so that you will care, so that you won’t be hostile, and so that you will believe that His death was for you and that He gives His forgiveness to you freely, graciously, lovingly, and abundantly.

Come to the wedding feast. Everything is prepared. Come eat the feast which is better than any earthly banquet; food and drink which give you eternal life. Come receive what God the Son has earned for you. Come and feed your soul which hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Come, for all is ready. Amen.

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

Wine from the Vineyard

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 21:33-46

Dear tenants in God’s vineyard: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The tenants of the vineyard apparently did not believe their master would ever return. If they believed that their master would return, they wouldn’t have beaten, stoned, and murdered his servants. If they believed that their master would return, they wouldn’t have thrown his son out of the vineyard and murdered him. If they believed that their master would return, they wouldn’t have thought that murdering his son would mean that they get his inheritance.

The only way for those tenants to keep the vineyard would be if the master never came back to claim what was his. It certainly would not be theirs legally. No legal system transfers ownership of inheritance from the heir to you if you murder the heir. Their only hope for keeping possession of the vineyard was if the master never returned from his journey.

The vineyard did not belong to the tenants. The master was the one who planted it. He was the one who put a fence around it. He was the one who dug a winepress in it to make wine from the grapes at harvest. The master was the one who built the watchtower so that an eye could be kept over the vineyard.

The vineyard belonged to the master, so he had a right to the fruit of the vineyard. The tenants would get wine too, more than enough, but they decided to take over the vineyard and murder the master’s servants and son.

Jesus asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” The chief priests and Pharisees responded, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus confirms that they have answered correctly. He tells them, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” Only then did they realize Jesus was speaking about them.

Jesus was speaking about the Jewish people who had been planted in God’s vineyard to be his people. God did everything for them. He planted them in the promised land that flowed with milk and honey. He put the fence of His Law around them to guide them and protect them. Wine, which they did not have during their wandering in the wilderness as a punishment for their rebellion against God, was given them in the promised land. The watchtower was manned as God repeatedly sent them His servants, the prophets, to act as watchmen and proclaim to them repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

However, the prophets God sent were mistreated, beaten, and murdered. God was seeking His own fruit from His own vineyard. Jesus says the master sent his servants to get his fruit. It was not the fruit of the tenants. God wasn’t looking for anything but faithfulness from His people, but they murdered His servants, the prophets. God is patient and long-suffering. So He sent more prophets, but these too were treated the same as the others. So God sent His Son to His people, but they threw Him out of the city of Jerusalem and crucified Him.

The kingdom of God was taken away from the people of Israel and given to nations producing its fruits. Jerusalem was destroyed. The Temple was destroyed, and there was not one stone left upon another that was not thrown down, as Jesus prophesied (Matt. 24:2). To this day there is no Temple; there is no return to the old covenant with the people of Israel.

There is however, a new covenant with the new Israel. As Romans teaches us, “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” (Rom. 9:7) The promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remain for those who are true children of Abraham, namely those who believe God’s promises and share the faith of Abraham.

The people of Israel rejected the faith of Abraham. Abraham believed God’s promise that from His offspring would come the Saviour of the world. When prophets came to preach the Saviour’s coming, they were beaten, killed, and stoned by the Israelites. When the Saviour Himself came and took on our flesh, the people of Israel rejected Him and crucified Him. They pursued eternal life through their own works, thus they saw no need for a Saviour.

Now, the Gospel has spread to the far reaches of the earth, to many nations, languages, and peoples. The Church is God’s vineyard, spread throughout the world, and the Church will remain until Christ returns.

Our Master will return. He has promised that He will return. He will return to judge the living and the dead.

Thus, we need to realize that we do not own God’s vineyard, the Church. We are merely tenants, who are required to be faithful. We cannot do whatever we want with the Church, we must be faithful to God’s Word lest our Master return and take the kingdom of God away from us and give it to a people producing its fruits.

God has planted us in His vineyard, the church, to be His people. God has done everything for us. He planted us in His Kingdom through the waters of Holy Baptism. He has put the fence of His Law around us to guide us and protect us. Wine of His vineyard He gives to us, the very blood of Jesus which gives us the forgiveness of sins. He has set a watchtower over us and sends His ministers to act as watchmen and proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins. God is not looking for anything but faithfulness from His people. He’s not looking for us to earn our salvation through what we do – we cannot do it! He simply wants His fruit from His vineyard.

God’s fruit will grow in His vineyard, because He is the one who planted it and waters it. He is the one who has baptized us into the Church. He is the one who strengthens our faith through His Word. He is the one who nourishes us with the body and blood of Jesus which takes away all our sins.

God does this, because the Son who was thrown out of the city and killed is Jesus Christ, our Lord. He came to earth for the very purpose of dying for rebellious sinners. He knew that He would be rejected by the Israelites. He knows that He will be rejected by many also today – those who pursue eternal life through their own works and thus see no need for a Saviour.

Yet, God is patient and long-suffering. He continues to send out His word of repentance. He continues to send out the message of forgiveness. He continues to send out His message which tells you that His Son has suffered in your place so that you will not be punished for your sins. You have the promised inheritance of eternal life.

Our Master will return, and He will get His fruit from His vineyard. But we, the tenants, will not be left without wine. We get wine too, more than enough. With every drop of wine, we receive also the blood of Jesus – that precious blood of Jesus which forgives our sins, strengthens our faith, and thus is fruit for our master. Amen.

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

By Whose Authority?

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.

Generous Wages

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 20:1-16

Dear recipients of generous wages: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Do not run your vineyard, or your farm, or your business like the master of the house in Jesus’ parable. If you pay the labourer who works for one hour in the day equal to the one who works twelve hours in the day, you will not find many labourers willing to work twelve hours, but you will find many willing to work one hour.

It simply is not fair to give equal pay for unequal work. If one labourer worked twelve hours, it is not fair to pay him the same as to the labourer who worked only one hour. We have a sense of what is fair and right, and that’s not it.

If you want to run your farm or business profitably, you have to reward the behaviour in your employees that helps you make more money. You have to pay the employees more that do more work and pay the employees less who do less work. That’s how you stay in business. That’s how you don’t lose the farm. It’s just good business. Equal pay for equal work, right? You get paid for the work you do, but not for the work you don’t do.

The Church, which is the kingdom of heaven on earth, is not a business. Sure, we have to do some business-like things, but the Church is not a business. We have to pay the bills. We have to maintain the building. We have to give enough to balance the budget or this congregation will close. However, the Church is not a business. Equality in the kingdom of heaven is not the same as equality in business.

In one sense, we are all equal. We are all sinners deserving temporal and eternal punishment. That is where the equality stops. Some members of the kingdom of heaven spent a lifetime living in sin before entering the kingdom of heaven, while others were baptized into the kingdom of heaven the day they were born. Some members of the kingdom of heaven have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat, working on the church council, as treasurers, as trustees, while other members simply show up and reap the benefits. Some members support the church through sacrificial offerings to the congregation, to seminaries, to missions, while other members contribute next to nothing at all. Despite these differences in labour, we all get equal wages – eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.

This doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem right. That’s even before we start comparing ourselves to those who have worked as missionaries in dangerous places, sacrificing the comforts of this life to bring the Gospel to others, sometimes even sacrificing their very lives. Yet, we all get the same wages that we were promised.

The kingdom of heaven is not a meritocracy. We don’t get what we deserve in God’s kingdom. If we got what we deserved as our wages, we would all get eternal death. As Scripture teaches, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

Rather, everyone in the kingdom of heaven receives the same undeserved wages – “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

God does not give out varying amounts of forgiveness. In Jesus, He always gives us full and complete forgiveness. Regardless of the amount of sin in your past, Christ covers them all with His righteousness. You cannot be more righteous than Jesus, so when Jesus gives you His righteousness, there is no one more righteous than you. Before God’s judgment throne, you are as perfect and righteous as Jesus, since He has given you His righteousness. The same is true of everyone who is God’s child, no matter what they’ve done or left undone.

Now, we can look at those who we deem to be more sinful, or those we deem to have worked less or given less than us, and say that it’s not fair that they get the same wages as us. God responds to us, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Are you not getting the wages that I promised you? I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”

We need to stop looking at others and look to ourselves. We are all guilty before God and deserving nothing but hell. Out of His great love and generosity, He forgives us all freely and gives us wages that we do not deserve. How dare you begrudge God’s generosity to others! Is God not allowed to give His forgiveness to everyone as He sees right? Is God not allowed to give all His children His overflowing, undeserved forgiveness like He gives it to you?

God is so generous and overflowing with His forgiveness so that we all know that it is for us. The kingdom of heaven is not a business. Forgiveness is not sold. Forgiveness is not earned. Forgiveness is given freely because Jesus has paid the price of the sins of the whole world.

Through His life and death, Jesus earned the wages of eternal life for us. He is the one who earned and accomplished what we cannot. He alone earned salvation for us and gives it to us freely, as a gift.

Christ gives salvation freely through Baptism to the infant just newly born. He gives it freely to the sinner who finally on his deathbed recognizes and confesses his sins and is absolved. Christ gives His salvation freely in the Sacrament of the Altar, where all we do is receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, and yet we receive the wages of eternal life that Christ earned for us.

None of us has accomplished the work necessary to save us, but Jesus has. None of us has laboured to the point of earning eternal life for ourselves, but Jesus earned eternal life for us. None of us deserves eternal life, but Jesus gives it to us freely. His Church is not a place of business, but a place where forgiveness is given freely, abundantly, and generously. Amen.

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

…As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 18:21-35

Dear forgiven debtors: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The unmerciful servant was thrown into jail for eternity because he did not forgive his fellow servant. Jesus says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

That’s a scary statement. It is found elsewhere in Scripture also. After Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, He said, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt. 6:14-15) In other words, if you do not forgive those who have sinned against you, you are going to hell for eternity.

These are not easy words to hear. They’re not easy to hear because we know how much we struggle to forgive. We have been sinned against. Those close to us have betrayed us. Evil things have been said about us. We’ve been cheated. Precious things have been taken from us. Our families have suffered because of things done by others, and we are the ones who are in danger of hell if we don’t forgive?

We must understand correctly what this means. First, we must understand that it is not our forgiveness of others’ sins that earns us forgiveness for our sins. We are not forgiven because we forgive others. We are forgiven freely because of Jesus’ death in our place which paid the debt of our sins. There is no payment made by us for our sins.

Consider the servant that was forgiven his debt of ten thousand talents. He pleaded for time to pay it off, but this was a delusion. He could never pay it off. In today’s dollars, based on the price of gold, ten thousand talents would amount to over ten billion dollars. This servant didn’t have a hope to pay off his debt.

The king forgave the debt. The king took it upon himself to pay the debt because he knew only he could pay such a debt. The king took it upon himself to pay the great debt because he had mercy on his servant; he had compassion on his servant. Rather than throwing the servant into jail for eternity, he forgave the debt freely with no cost to the servant.

That is how God forgives us. God took it upon Himself to pay the debt of our sins, because our debt of sins is too large for us to ever pay off. Jesus paid our debt with His holy and precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. God had mercy and compassion on us and forgave us, because our debt has been paid by Jesus. Rather than throwing us into hell for eternity, He forgave our debt freely with no cost to us. Thus, we are not forgiven because we forgive others. It is not our forgiveness of others’ sins that earns us forgiveness for our sins. We are forgiven because Jesus has paid for our sins.

The next thing to understand is that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, so the debt of every single sin, including those committed against you has been paid. You have no right to refuse to forgive a sin that has been paid by Jesus’ death. If you do not forgive someone who has sinned against you, it means that you do not believe that Jesus’ death has paid for the sins of the world. Refusing to forgive someone is saying that the payment of Jesus’ most holy obedience, suffering, and death is not enough to pay for that sin. Thus, someone refusing to forgive shows that he is not a believer, that he does not believe in the forgiveness of sins.

Christians forgive. Christians forgive because we have been forgiven. Christians forgive because we know that Jesus died for all sin – our sin and the sin committed by others against us. Christians pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Christians confess in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, why is everyone not going to heaven? Why does anyone end up in hell? Why was the unmerciful servant thrown into jail for eternity even though the king had forgiven his debt?

Let’s go back to the text. The servant did not ask the king for mercy. He didn’t ask the king for compassion. The servant didn’t ask for the king to forgive the great debt that he could never pay. No, he asked for patience. He asked for a little bit of time to make the payment. He didn’t want the king’s forgiveness. He wanted time to earn the billions of dollars that he really had no chance of earning to pay the debt.

The unmerciful servant did not believe in forgiveness and mercy, thus, even though the king offered it to him, he rejected it. That’s why he went and choked his fellow servant and threw him in jail, refusing to forgive him. This man who did not want to be forgiven, did not want to forgive.

God offers His forgiveness freely to all. If you don’t want it, then He won’t give it to you. If you reject His forgiveness, then you don’t have it. God will take it away from you.

Refusing to forgive others is refusing to be forgiven by God. It is rejecting forgiveness. If you do not forgive your brother, then you do not want God’s forgiveness.

Do not ask God to just be patient with you. Asking for patience is not a confession of sin. As long as you ask for time instead of forgiveness, you remain under the burden of sin. As long as you think you have something to offer, you reject the forgiveness of sins God offers to you freely.

Thus, we go to God with nothing to offer. We don’t approach Him making promises to do better. We approach God confessing our sin. We don’t look at our mountain of sin and say if we had some time we could pay it off. We confess our sin, and God forgives our sin.

The mountain of debt that we had has been forgiven. Jesus paid for it. Jesus paid for the debt of all sin, including our brother who sinned against us. With our sin forgiven, we therefore also forgive our brother. Seven times? No. Rather seventy times seven. We keep forgiving.

We keep forgiving, because God keeps forgiving us. God does not count how many times He forgives us. He doesn’t have a quota for absolutions. He doesn’t ration the Lord’s Supper and say that you’ve had enough. God’s forgiveness in Christ is always offered to sinners.

God even forgives those times in our past when we held a grudge and did not forgive. He forgives us and strengthens us to forgive them now. God’s forgiveness even enables us to let go of angry feelings and pray for those who have sinned against us.

God’s forgiveness has wiped out all of our sins. Our mountain of debt that we could not pay off was paid by Jesus’ blood. God has had pity and compassion on us. He has shown His mercy to us and saved us from hell. We will not be cast into hell for eternity because God has forgiven us and continues to forgive us, so we can forgive our brother who sins against us. Amen.

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