Alien Righteousness

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity based on Matthew 5:20-26

Dear forgiven saints covered by Christ’s righteousness: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Law kills. That’s its job. God did not give us the Law to save us or make us live. God gave us the Law to show us our sin, so that we would recognize our sinfulness, repent of our sin, and cling to the Gospel, which is the free forgiveness of sins on account of Christ’s death for us.

The Pharisees did not understand this. The Pharisees sought to fulfil the Law in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. They added additional laws to God’s Law, which they thought would help them in keeping God’s Law.

The Pharisees separated themselves from open sinners and pagans and they took God’s Law very seriously. They studied it. Their scribes meticulously laboured to make more copies of the scrolls of the books of the Bible by hand to make it available to more people. They had to be accurate so that they would not alter the meaning of what God had given the prophets to write. They thus were very familiar with Scripture; they knew it well.

Really, Pharisees are what we want in our communities and churches. Pharisees weren’t crooks, adulterers, or murderers. They paid their taxes. They gave to the poor. They went to church every week and gave 10% of all their income to support the church. They contributed to society and to law and order, and were upstanding citizens, living quiet and decent lives.

What more can you ask of man? You would not be able to find any fault in the way the Pharisees lived their lives. From every judgment of man, we would have to say that they were good, honourable, upright, virtuous, and righteous.

However, Jesus says to you, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” That puts you into a bind. Your righteousness cannot possibly exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. You cannot do more good than they did. You cannot avoid evil more than they did.

And Jesus goes on to show that you are not even as righteous as you think you are. You say you have kept the Fifth Commandment because you have not physically murdered anyone, but Jesus says you have broken the Fifth Commandment and deserve hell because you got angry with your brother, insulted him, and called him a fool. Yes, calling him an idiot for breaking something that belongs to you means you are liable to judgment.

This is why the Law kills us, for it condemns us because we are guilty of breaking it. Our sin starts in the heart, and from the heart it spreads to our lips, and to our actions.

The Law says we are guilty. We have no hope to be made righteous by the Law. Even if we managed to behave and do as much good as the scribes and Pharisees, it would not be enough. Our righteousness must exceed theirs in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Clearly, our righteousness cannot come from us. Our own righteousness will never be enough. We need righteousness from outside of us in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (alien righteousness).

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking of the promised Saviour, writes, “This is the name by which He will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jer. 23:6)

The Lord is our righteousness. That’s the answer to our sin. That’s the answer to the accusations of the Law. That’s the answer to our failure to be righteous. Jesus Christ is our righteousness.

Jesus is the only one whose righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. He is the only one who obeyed every single Law of God in thought, word, and deed. He never even had a sinful thought against anyone; not even against those who shamefully mocked Him, spit on Him, hit Him on the head with a reed, pushed a crown of thorns over His head, whipped Him, and crucified Him. Jesus prayed for them saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus fulfilled the Law of God for us. Everything we have failed to do, Jesus fulfilled. And He paid the price of our sins by suffering and dying for us. His perfection and righteousness cover our sin. Our Baptism was into His death and resurrection, so in our Baptism He covered us with His righteousness. Thus, He is our righteousness. His righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, thus we will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Being thus reconciled with God, Jesus gives us instructions to reconcile with our brother: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Your offerings and prayers are not pleasing to God if you are harbouring a grudge or refusing to be reconciled with someone.

Thus, if someone has sinned against you, go and tell him between you and him alone and be reconciled with him. If you have sinned against someone, go and express your sorrow over your sin and be reconciled with him.

It is far easier to simply never see that person again or to ignore the sin and pretend it doesn’t exist between you, but that is not reconciliation. Jesus warns us to reconcile before it is too late, that is, before we die. If we refuse to be reconciled with our brother, Jesus says we will be handed over to the judge and then put in prison. He’s not talking about civil authorities here, but about Judgment Day and hell.

Why do we wish to harbour anger and not forgive our neighbour, while God has forgiven us so much? There is no comparison between how much we provoke God and how much our neighbour may offend us (J. Gerhard).

Therefore we must also be reconciled with God before it is too late. Being reconciled with God and receiving His forgiveness is what then enables us to be reconciled with our neighbour and forgive him, or to humble ourselves and ask for his forgiveness. God’s forgiveness flows through us to others, reconciling us with them.

Here too, we rely not on the Law to bring about reconciliation, but on the Gospel. The Law tells us how we should treat our neighbour, speak of him, and think of him, but when we fail, as we do so regularly, the Gospel of forgiveness is the only solution.

God freely forgives us, so we can freely forgive each other. Christ is our righteousness, so He is the one who reconciles us with the Father and also with each other. God has forgiven us our mountain of sins, so we can in turn forgive our brother his sin against us.

The Law kills. That is its job. But the Gospel gives life. That’s its job. The Gospel saves us from the Law and gives us eternal life.

The Law reveals the guilt of sin

And makes us conscience-stricken;

But then the Gospel enters in

The sinful soul to quicken.

Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;

The Law no peace can ever give,

No comfort and no blessing.

 

Faith clings to Jesus Christ alone

And rests in Him unceasing;

And by its fruits true faith is known,

With faith and hope increasing.

For faith alone can justify;

Works serve our neighbour and supply

The proof that faith is living. (LSB 555 st. 8-9) Amen.

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

To Judge or Not to Judge

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 6:36-42 (Gen. 50:15-21)

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

We heard the world’s favourite Bible passage in our Gospel lesson. It is quoted all the time, especially by the most hardened pagans. “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” They have no idea what Jesus said before or after, and quite frankly, they don’t care, but they think they know what Jesus is saying.

They think that it means that if you say that their lifestyle is sinful, it is you who will be judged. They think that with this one sentence, Jesus is allowing them to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, and Christians better keep their mouths shut. They think that Jesus is saying that public sin and false teachings must be tolerated so as not to be “judgmental.”

How can they possibly think this considering everything Jesus says that is contrary to such thinking? Because they do not care what He says. They just take this one sentence and misapply it without understanding, because they like what they think it means.

What does the Bible say elsewhere about judging? Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (Jn. 7:24). We are not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits to judge whether they are from God (1 Jn. 4:1). Jesus says, “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Lk. 12:57). Paul tells the Corinthian church that he has already judged the sexually immoral man in the congregation, and that man is to be purged from the church and delivered to Satan, being expelled from the communion of the church (1 Cor. 5:3, 5, 13). That sounds awfully judgmental. That’s because it is. Finally, Paul writes, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:9) This too, is judging.

Clearly God tells us to judge, but there is judging that is wrong, and there’s judging that is right. Certainly all judgments must be made according to the Word of God. All Christians are called to judge what is right and what is wrong. All Christians are called to judge doctrine.

If you hear a gospel other than that of Scripture, you are to judge it as false doctrine. Paul goes so far as to not only judge the false doctrine, but to judge such a false teacher as accursed. This is really no different than Jesus saying that it would be better for false teachers to have a millstone tied around their necks and to be cast into the sea rather than causing others into sin (Luke 17:2). We are not told to tolerate and compromise on what is right and wrong, but to judge what is right and wrong. What God has revealed in His Word cannot be altered. The Gospel of God is the power of God unto salvation, so if this Gospel is replaced with a different gospel, it surely leads to be accursed in hell for eternity. We must continually judge right from wrong, truth from error, God’s Word from lies.

So, what judging does Jesus forbid us? We have to look at what else Jesus says in the context. He says, “Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; Condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Then he asks why you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye.

Jesus is talking about showing mercy and forgiving, rather than being a fault-finder and finger pointer. Wrongful judgment is unmerciful and unforgiving.

Consider Joseph. His brothers tore his special coat from him, threw him into a pit, and then sold him as a slave to Ishamelites that were passing by, who in turn sold him in Egypt. They brought his coat covered in goat’s blood to their father, to suggest that he had been killed by some wild animal. God blessed Joseph, and over time, through prison and hardship, he became the ruler of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.

Joseph had the opportunity to get revenge. Not just revenge, but justice. He was the ruler of the land. He ruled over his brothers and had power over them. His brothers knew that it was in Joseph’s hand to punish them and that they would deserve it. They said to each other, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”

According to every dictate of human reason and justice, Joseph had every right to punish his brothers, who asked him for forgiveness. Joseph responded by saying, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” Joseph forgave them their heinous crimes against him, even though he was in a position to punish them for their wickedness.

This is mercy. Joseph did not give his brothers what they deserved. That would have been unmerciful. Joseph showed them mercy. Mercy is not just ignoring sin or turning a blind eye to it. Mercy is not pretending that everything is ok. Mercy is confronting sin head on, exposing it, and forgiving it. Mercy is not judging our neighbour, but forgiving him, as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven us.

God rules over us, and He has power over us. According to every dictate of human reason and justice, God has every right to punish us for our sins. But instead, He has mercy on us. God the Father turned His anger and wrath away from us, and poured it all on His Son, His only Son. He showed no mercy to Jesus, who suffered and died in our place, so that He would show us mercy.

Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful. This mercy which God has shown to us, we are to show to each other. We are not to be fault-finders and finger pointers. We are not to be unmerciful and unforgiving. Rather, we are to forgive as God has forgiven us. We are not to seek revenge or remain angry when others sin against us. We are to recognize our own sins, those logs in our eyes, and ask for forgiveness from those against whom we’ve sinned. We are to forgive our brother’s sins against us, which are nothing more than a speck in their eyes compared to the logs of sins in our eyes which we have committed against God.

God is merciful, so for the sake of Christ, He will forgive us. We don’t have to wonder if He might forgive us. He will forgive us.

God is merciful. This is not an empty hope to which we cling. God Himself has told us that He is merciful. It is His very nature to show mercy and compassion on us, His dear children.

You cannot see His mercy or compassion better anywhere than the cross of Jesus. The Father gave up His only Son into death for you, to pay for your sins, and show you mercy. God the Father was unmerciful to His Son, judged His Son, condemned His Son, so that He would show you mercy, not judge you or condemn you, but forgive you.

God does not just ignore your sin or turn a blind eye to it. God does not pretend that everything is ok. God, through His Word, confronts your sin head on, exposes it, and forgives it.

This forgiveness He once again today gives to you in the body and blood of Jesus. God shows you mercy and compassion. He gives you the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

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

 

Jesus Sinners Doth Receive

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 15:1-10

Dear lost sheep who have been found: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What a scandal, the Pharisees and scribes thought. Jesus received sinners and ate with them. These people’s sins were known to everyone. They were known thieves, traitors, and prostitutes. They were those who had made bad decision after bad decision, and found themselves living a life against the Word of God and as pariahs and outcasts of their community.

Jesus received them and ate with them. Onlookers thought this meant that Jesus approved of their sin. This was not the case. Jesus received them and ate with them to call them to repentance. This is why Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. As the shepherd searched for His lost sheep and the woman searched for her lost coin, so Jesus searches for lost sinners.

A lost sheep cannot find its way back to the shepherd any more than a lost coin can find its way back to its owner. The shepherd and the owner need to seek out that which was lost. So Jesus seeks out sinners who are lost in error’s way, who cannot find their way to Him.

A sinner cannot find his way to Jesus. A sinner who is lost is blind and cannot see the truth. He is dead in his trespasses and sins and cannot choose life over death. Sinners need Jesus to give them sight so that they can see and life so that they can live. Jesus does this through the forgiveness of sins.

Without Jesus giving forgiveness, a sinner is ignorant of God, despises Him, lacks fear and confidence in God, hates the judgment of God, flees this judging God, is angry with Him, despairs of His grace, and places confidence in the things of this life (cf. Ap II.8).

Only through the forgiveness of sins do we learn that God loves us, and we then in return love Him. Only through the forgiveness of sins do we trust in God, love His righteous will, cling to His grace, and place our confidence in Him alone.

Our trouble with understanding forgiveness often stems from thinking that forgiveness must be earned. We therefore struggle to forgive those who have sinned against us, because we feel they don’t deserve our forgiveness. The thing is, we are right. No one deserves our forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot be deserved. Forgiveness is always undeserved.

So also we do not deserve forgiveness – not from our neighbour that we have sinned against, and not from God. Sinners don’t deserve forgiveness. Sinners deserve punishment.

Consider a cold-blooded murderer in court, found guilty by the judge. The murderer deserves to be executed. In this day and age, especially in Canada, we’ve bought into feminist notions about rehabilitating criminals and releasing them back into society only to reoffend, but that’s another story. The murderer deserves execution. That would be justice. If the judge were to say, “I forgive you. You are free to go.” That would be injustice. Even the laws of our nation, as weak and criminal-favouring as they are, do not allow such forgiveness. Neither does God’s Law allow forgiveness.

God’s Law accuses us. It finds us guilty. It says we deserve punishment. There is no forgiveness from the Law.

Forgiveness comes from the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus stepping into the courtroom where we stand tried, convicted, and found guilty, and taking our punishment for us. It is not merely a statement from the Judge saying, “I forgive you. You are free to go.” For there to be justice, the punishment still had to be carried out.

Jesus willingly took the punishment for me and for you. The punishment that we deserve for our sins was put on Jesus. His brutal suffering and death was for our sin, so that we stand before the Judgment Seat as not guilty, acquitted of all charges against us; as forgiven saints of God.

This is why Jesus received sinners and ate with them. He received them not to approve of their sin, but to give them forgiveness – free, unmerited, undeserved forgiveness.

Another error we sometimes think is that God loves us less when we sin. While it is true that our sins sever us from God, God seeks to breech that gap by forgiving us. He loves us so much when we sin, that if He needs to discipline us like a loving father to turn us away from sin, He will do it. He loves us even in our weaknesses and sins, continually turning us in repentance to Him for the forgiveness of sin.

Jesus seeks His lost sheep. He seeks His lost treasure. He seeks us sinners when we have strayed.

Christ does not eat with sinners today, but He feeds sinners today. He receives sinners and gives to us His body and blood.

Some might call it a scandal – sinners gathered to eat and drink the holy body and blood of God in the flesh. We don’t deserve it. He gives it to us by grace. He gives us free, unmerited, undeserved forgiveness in His body and blood, and heaven rejoices. There is more joy before the angels of God in heaven over us sinners repenting, than over the whole world who thinks they don’t need repentance. There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

 

Jesus sinners doth receive;

Oh, may all this saying ponder

Who in sins delusions live

And from God and heaven wander!

Here is hope for all who grieve:

Jesus sinners doth receive! (LSB 609 st. 1) Amen.

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

 

Walking as Christians

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost based on Ephesians 4:17-5:2

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

Through Baptism, you are clothed in Christ. Christ Jesus has claimed you from darkness and ignorance. He has taken you from walking in the futility of your mind to walking as His baptized child. As a consequence of this, you have been changed and are not to follow the old man which is corrupt through deceitful desires; you are not to follow the desires of the flesh.

The Holy Spirit tells us through the apostle Paul in our Epistle lesson that we Christians are not to walk as the pagans and unbelievers of the world. We are given several examples of how we are to be different from unbelievers: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (4:25-32)

With the Fifth Commandment, God protects the body, with the Sixth the spouse, and with the Seventh temporal possessions. Just as God does not want our neighbour’s money or possessions taken away from him, God does not want his reputation, good name, and upright character taken away from him, so God gave us the Eighth Commandment (cf. LC 255-256). God knows how many families have been destroyed by gossip and slander and how many congregations have been split because of people breaking the Eighth Commandment.

God’s command to not bear false witness against our neighbour includes the particularly detestable, shameful vice of speaking behind a person’s back and slandering, to which the devil spurs us on. It is a common evil plague that everyone prefers hearing evil about their neighbour rather than good, although we ourselves are so bad that we cannot suffer that anyone should say anything bad about us (LC 264).

This is what unbelievers do. They destroy the reputations of others so that jobs are lost, careers and marriages ended, and mobs rise up to judge what is not their place to judge. You are commanded not to do the same.

You are then warned by the Holy Spirit to not sin in anger. “It is better not to be angry at all. But if one does fall into anger he should at least not be carried away by it toward something worse.” (Chrysostom) On no account are you to be carried into swelling rapids by the impulse of rage (Jerome). You are commanded to not give rein nor yield to the impulse and promptings of wrath, but to beware of doing what your wrath would have you do (Luther).

Instead of sinning in anger, you are to not let the sun go down on your anger. You are to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. You are to be reconciled with God and with those who have made you angry, rather than giving the devil the opportunity to lead you into other sin because of your anger.

You are told put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and slander and clamour, along with all malice. Bitterness is a resentful attitude of the heart that arises from the belief that you have been treated wrongly. Clamour is angry shouting and malice is an attitude of ill-will towards others and the desire to do them harm. The connection between these can be seen in anger leading to bitterness and angry shouting, to lying and speaking ill of someone, and anger can even lead to the desire to do them harm.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. How is it that you can forgive someone who has sinned against you? Because God in Christ has forgiven you.

God forgave you all your sins through Baptism, but because you have sinned since Baptism and have been angry and gossiped and slandered and been bitter and shouted angrily and desired harm to others, thus God forgives you again and again. The entire Christian life is a continual return to your Baptism, a continual drowning of the Old Adam by daily contrition and repentance.

The danger of not daily being sorry for your sins and repenting of them is also mentioned in our text. Impenitence is the same as having a hard heart and being calloused. When sins are constant and repeated without repentance, you begin to be calloused to the sins, and your hard heart does not feel the accusations of your conscience. You start to argue that it is no big deal that you talk about someone behind his back; that you are justified in your anger; that your bitterness is right because you have been mistreated. That is not the way you learned Christ! Repent. Repent and believe the Gospel.

For you, Jesus suffered bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander and malice. Jesus was treated unfairly but He did not become bitter. In anger and wrath Jesus was stricken, smitten, and afflicted. Even crucified He still bore clamour and slander and malice.

Jesus died on the cross for your sins, but He is not bitter with you. Jesus suffered the righteous and just wrath and anger of God over your sins, but He is not wrathful or angry with you. Jesus suffered for your sins of anger and slander and gossip and lying but He bears you no ill-will.

Jesus is tender-hearted, forgiving you all your sins because He loved you and gave Himself up for you, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. His fragrant offering covers the foulness of your sins.

Daily repentant of your sins. Be sorry for your sins and trust in Jesus for forgiveness because He will never withhold it from you. He gives you His body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins and through them strengthens you to eternal life, so you know you have His forgiveness.

In Baptism you have put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. All your sins are covered. You are righteous and holy. Thus, you do not walk as the pagans do. You walk as a child of God because your sins are covered by the blood of Jesus. Amen.

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

Absolution is from Christ

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

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

Many people find Absolution offensive. Only God can forgive sin, they say. How then can you have a pastor saying, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”?

It is true that only God can forgive sin, but in what way has He promised to forgive sin? He sends His ministers to forgive on His behalf, saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Christ has the authority to forgive sin. He earned it by paying for every sin ever committed through His suffering and death. And Christ gives that authority to His Church on earth. When a pastor speaks the forgiveness Christ has sent Him to speak, it is Christ Himself who forgives sin. Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, so it is He who decides how He wants to forgive sin. Christ has chosen to give forgiveness of sins through the mouths of sinful men sent to His people for that purpose.

Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it is somewhere out there for you to find. Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it’s sitting in heaven. Forgiveness of sins needs to come to sinners, where sinners are. That is why Christ instituted the church. The church is the place for sinners to gather and receive forgiveness. Forgiveness belongs to the church.

Since forgiveness belongs to the church, no man can assume the office of pastor without a call from the church. The church, to whom forgiveness belongs, must call a pastor to give this forgiveness to them. No one can appoint himself to be a pastor. This is what it means in Romans 10 where Saint Paul asks, “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” They cannot preach unless they are sent. They must be called by God through the church.

Christ instituted the office of the ministry, or the office of pastor, for the purpose of preaching His Word and giving His forgiveness. It is the office or the position that is special, not the man who occupies the office or position. There is nothing special about the man John Nieminen. He has nothing to say to you. He has no special wisdom, insight, or knowledge to impart to you. Yet when your pastor speaks Christ’s Word to you, it is Christ Himself who speaks to you. When your pastor forgives you your sins, it is Christ Himself who forgives you your sins through the Word He has given your pastor to speak.

This is why pastors wear albs or robes. They cover up the man and remind you and me that it is only according to his office as pastor that he has the right to say one word from God. This is also why pastors are called by their title. It’s not a matter of pride or conceit, but rather a reminder to you and to me that I’m not here of my own doing. I didn’t decide one day that I think I’ve done enough studies, look on a map and say, “I’m going to move to the prairies and serve these two congregations in Neudorf and Melville as their pastor.” No, God called me here to be your pastor. He called me through you, the church. You called me to come and speak God’s Word to you and forgive you your sins in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m not here as John to do what I want or speak what I want. I’m here as a pastor, doing what God has commanded me to do, and saying what He has commanded me to say.

There are some things I’m tempted to not preach or teach. I’m tempted to avoid saying things that get people upset. I’m tempted to not touch sensitive topics with a ten-foot pole. But I don’t have a choice in the matter, unless I am going to be faithless to the One who has called me to teach and preach to you.

I must preach God’s Law to you. I must tell you what God commands you to do in every aspect of your life. It is necessary, not because you can fulfil the Law of God, but so that you will recognize your failures to do what God commands and repent of your sins. It is necessary for me to preach the Law so that you realize that you need forgiveness and that you would desire to receive that forgiveness.

I must preach the Gospel to you. I must tell you that Jesus died on the cross for all your sins, so that every single sin is forgiven: big sins, little sins, public sins, secret sins. Jesus took the punishment of every single one of your sins so that you have the promise of eternal life instead of eternal punishment in hell.

I must forgive the sins of repentant sinners. I must also retain the sins of the unrepentant.

Those who are offended by a man forgiving sins are even more offended at a man retaining sins. “Who are you to judge?” they say. Once again, we have to go back to the Word of Christ Jesus Himself, who says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Withholding forgiveness is not done arbitrarily or based on the whims of the pastor. Here too, a pastor must follow the Word of Christ. It is only the impenitent sinners who have their sins retained and are not forgiven; those sinners who refuse to turn away from their sin; those who have no desire to do better.

Every sinner who is repentant is forgiven. The weak sinner who struggles with his sins is forgiven. The repentant sinner who has again fallen and thought, said, or done something which breaks God’s holy Law is forgiven.

This is where Absolution comes in. Absolution gives forgiveness to the weak and doubting heart. It strengthens faith. It is Christ’s Word spoken to you in His stead and by His command.

When you hear the words of Absolution, it may be the voice of your pastor you hear, but you are hearing the words of Jesus. Jesus instituted the office of the ministry for the benefit of His Church, so that through the ministers who faithfully proclaim His Word, Jesus Himself is speaking. When Jesus commands it to be spoken, so it is.

You can thus be confident in the Absolution you receive from your pastor. The forgiveness he speaks is not his own forgiveness, but the forgiveness of God. He is the messenger of Christ, speaking that which he has been commanded to speak; forgiving what he has been commanded to forgive.

Your faith is thus in Christ and His promises, nothing else. Christ cannot deceive or lie, so you can confidently trust His word of forgiveness which He speaks to you through the mouths of His ministers. Ministers come and go, but Christ’s promises to you are eternal. Amen.

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

Not to Condemn, but to Save

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on John 3:14-21

Dear people for whom the Son of Man was lifted up: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. He didn’t come as Judge, but as Saviour. He came to be lifted up on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and thus save us from our sin.

He came in love, but the world hates Him. We heard the familiar verse that starts, “For God so loved the world,” but the love is not reciprocated. God loves the world, but the world hates God. The world loves darkness instead of the light. The world loves sin instead of loving God.

Why does the world hate Jesus so much? Why do they reject Him? Why do they refuse His forgiveness? It is because they do wicked things and they don’t want to come to the light, lest their wicked deeds should be exposed. Jesus is the light of the world, but the world does not want to come to Jesus who exposes their sin.

We must confess that our sinful inclination is the same. None of us enjoys hearing God’s Law which convicts us of the sins that we have committed. None of us likes God’s Law exposing our sin. Our sinful flesh does not want to hear about God’s rules or commandments, or about how we have failed to keep them. Our sinful flesh says, “If God really loved us, He wouldn’t give us all these rules and commandments to follow. If God really loved us, He would let us do what we want.”

Our sinful flesh is wrong on this matter as it is wrong on every matter.

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. He exposes our sins not so that He can condemn us for them, but so that He can forgive our sin.

We can hide our sins from each other. We can lie about them to each other. We can lie about them to ourselves.

God, however, sees all our sins and knows all our sins. He doesn’t expose our sins for His sake, but for our sake. He shines light onto our sins so that we would see how dark and evil they are and hate them as much as God hates them. He shines light onto our sins so that we would flee the darkness and seek the light. He shines light onto our sins so that we would flee to Christ for refuge.

Christ is our only refuge. He is the light of the world. In Him there was no darkness, but He took our darkness from us onto Himself. He took every single one of our sins onto Himself and died for them.

How do you know that He took your sins? Because He took the sins of the whole world. Every sin of thought, word, and deed was put on Jesus. Every selfish thought, every lustful word, every greedy deed was put on Jesus. Your every sin of anger and doubt, your every sin of jealousy and discontentment was charged to Jesus. He was charged with all the sin of the whole world and was punished for it all. He took your punishment in order to give you eternal life, because He loves you.

It sounds so simple, and it is. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally.

The simplicity of it is what sometimes gets us tripped up. Consider the Israelites in the wilderness from our Old Testament lesson. They had again sinned against God in speaking against Him and complaining about the food God was giving them, so God sent fiery serpents among them. They bit the people and many of them died. This led to the Israelites repenting of their sin. The light of God revealed their darkness, and they repented and asked for the serpents to be taken away.

God provided a solution. He had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it onto a pole. If a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Sounds so simple, and it was. Look and live. It sounds too simple. It kind of even sounds silly. That is the foolishness of the cross.

It would sound better to our reason if God would have told the Israelites to offer Him extra sacrifices and to do all kinds of acts of contrition in order to get forgiveness. It would make more sense to us if God had given them steps for overcoming their difficulties and guidelines for living better lives to save themselves. It would be more reasonable to us if the Israelites would have had to do work to pay off their sin. But God says simply, “Look and live.”

Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Jesus was lifted up onto the cross to save us from the poison of our sin. It’s as simple as that.

Our reason tells us that we should have to offer extra sacrifices and do all kinds of acts of contrition in order to get forgiveness. Maybe if we had to suffer a little bit and work harder to overcome and live better, then we could work off our sins. But none of our sacrifices or acts of contrition or good works can pay for our sins.

The answer is far simpler. Jesus has done it all for you. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally. That’s why Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “It is finished.” Your salvation was accomplished then and there. Your sins were paid for then and there. Eternal life was purchased for you then and there. There’s nothing left to pay. There’s nothing left to do. It is finished.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. He didn’t come as Judge, but as Saviour. He came to be lifted up on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and thus save us from our sin.

When Jesus returns, He will return as Judge, but our judgment has already been pronounced. Jesus was judged in our place, so we are already declared innocent.

Jesus says that those who reject His forgiveness are also already judged. He says, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Whoever thinks that they can earn their own salvation; whoever things they can save themselves and see no need for Jesus; whoever rejects the free forgiveness Christ offers is condemned already.

We, however, look to Christ lifted up on the cross. He is the light of the world and He has exposed the darkness of our sins so that we would trust in Him for forgiveness.

We look to the cross, but we cannot go to the cross for forgiveness. Rather, the forgiveness earned on the cross comes to us. Forgiveness comes to us in Baptism, [as it did for Emma this morning. Forgiveness comes to us in] Absolution, and Holy Communion. Once again, it’s so simple. God forgives our sins through water, through the Word, and through bread and wine. It doesn’t require anything from us. Jesus has done it all and He gives us forgiveness freely.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. It sounds so simple, and it is. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally. Amen.

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

God’s House is for Forgiveness

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent based on John 2:13-22

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

The youth are holding a fundraiser in the narthex following the service. After hearing our Gospel reading, should the tables be overturned, their money poured out, and should the youth be driven out with a whip?

To answer this question, we have to understand why Jesus drove the money changers and the livestock sellers out of the Temple.

Livestock sellers were selling animals so that God’s people could offer the sacrifices prescribed by the Law of God. This way the people who made their pilgrimage to the Temple from far away wouldn’t need to make the long trek with animals in tow. The animals were necessary for the prescribed sacrifices.

The money-changers were also necessary. Every Israelite twenty years old and upward was to pay the Temple tax and it had to be paid in Jewish coins (Ex. 30:11-16; cf. Mt. 17:24-27). Money-changers exchanged Roman coins with the Jewish currency. The Roman coins had the image of Caesar and an inscription declaring him to be a god. The money-changers exchanged these idolatrous and blasphemous coins for Jewish coins, the local currency that was acceptable for the Temple tax and could be used for giving tithes and offerings to God.

There was nothing wrong with selling animals for Temple sacrifices or trading Roman coins for Jewish currency. It is not a sin to sell to others what they need, nor is it a sin to make a profit.

The problem is where they were carrying on this trade. It was in the Temple, in the Gentile court where the Gentiles were supposed to be able to pray. They were thus denying the Gentiles a place to pray, even though the Temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for all people, not just the Jews (Is. 56:7).

The Temple was the place from where forgiveness came. The sacrifices for the sins of the people where the means of grace for the Old Testament believers. They were sacrifices which pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross when the body of His temple was destroyed.

Forgiveness cannot be bought or sold, and the buying and selling was preventing Gentiles from worshiping in the Temple. Their buying and selling got in the way of forgiveness. This Christ would not tolerate going on in His Father’s house, and thus He drove the livestock sellers and money changers out of the Temple.

We also should not tolerate anything that gets in the way of forgiveness of prevents anyone from worshiping in church. No event or fundraiser can be permitted that does these things.

The youth fundraiser does not get in the way of forgiveness, nor does it prevent anyone from coming to the Divine Service. Forgiveness of sins cannot be bought or sold, and you know that your donations towards their catechism retreat will not earn you the forgiveness of sins any more than your church offerings earn you the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is given freely.

The Jews wanted a sign from Jesus to prove that He had the authority to cast the money changers and livestock sellers out of the Temple. They wanted visible evidence that He is the Son of God with the authority to cleanse His Father’s house.

Jesus, speaking about the temple of His body, responded, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That is His sign of authority. He is the temple. He is the sacrifice. He indeed was killed, and He did rise again, just as He said.

Jesus’ death is what truly has cleansed the church. Throwing out sellers and money changers doesn’t cleanse the church. Jesus’ blood shed for us, covering our sins is what has cleansed the church.

Psalm 32 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” We are thus blessed, for that is exactly why we come to God’s house. We come here to have our transgressions forgiven. We come here to have our sins covered. Jesus does not want anything getting in the way of that.

Jesus is zealous for what happens in His Father’s house, because it is a place of forgiveness. This is where the font stands before our eyes, reminding us of how God has received us and cleansed us from sin. This is where we gather to receive absolution from one in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is where the altar stands which recalls Christ’s sacrifice; the altar from where we receive Christ’s true body and blood, cleansing us from all our sins.

Jesus is zealous that nothing gets in the way of our transgressions being forgiven. Jesus is zealous that nothing gets in the way of our sins being covered.

We also should be zealous to make sure nothing gets in the way of us receiving forgiveness from God. Cast out whatever gets in the way of you being here. Overturn it and pour it out. Make a whip of cords if necessary to drive out whatever is in your way of forgiveness.

The church is God’s house of forgiveness. For you. For everyone. Yes, for our youth too, so please don’t drive them out with whips.

Let us receive that forgiveness in Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for us. Amen.

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

Repentance – Specific and General

Sermon the Third Sunday after the Epiphany based on Mark 1:14-20

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

“Repent and believe in the Gospel,” Jesus preached. The Holy Spirit does not give us any more content of Jesus’ sermon here, or a list of any specific sins of which the people were to repent. The Holy Spirit simply had Mark record that Jesus preached a general call to repentance.

There is a need to preach about specific sins so that we would recognize those sins to be sin and repent of them, but there is also a need to preach general repentance. This is because we tend to think that our problem is a specific sin. Maybe it’s a bad temper. Maybe it’s discontentment. Maybe it’s gossip. We think, if only I could keep my cool a little better; if only I could find a little more contentment in life; if only I could say less bad things about others, then I would have my sin under control, then I’d be a moral person, then I’d be a good person.

We tend to think of our sins very specifically, as if the solution to our sins is to do better in the areas we struggle. I’m going to show more love to my spouse. I’m going to drink less. I’m going to be more patient with the children. I’m going to go to church more.

However, doing better with specific sins is no solution. The problem with us is not our specific sins. The problem with us is that we are sinful in general. All of us, all our being is infected with sin. Our very nature is corrupt. Our flesh is sinful to the core and has not one good desire. We are sinful from conception and will remain that way until we die.

Specific sins are merely a symptom of what is wrong with us. We aren’t sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. Working on committing less of a particular sin is like dealing with a symptom of illness, without treating the illness itself. Working on committing less of a specific sin as the solution to sin is like having cancer but getting no treatment other than an Advil for your fever. Even if your fever goes down a little for a while, it doesn’t help your overall situation at all.

Now don’t get me wrong. Turning away from specific sins is part of repentance. Striving to do better in the areas we struggle is what God commands us to do. The point is that we need to repent in general. We need to repent not just of what we have done and left undone, but of who we are and what we are. We need to repent of our sinful hearts, which is where all our sins of thought, word, and deed originate. Jesus says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15:19) These specific sins come about as the result of general sin of the heart.

It’s not that a pretty good person commits murder and thus becomes a bad person, or a moral guy commits adultery and becomes an immoral sinner, or an essentially honest man steals and thus becomes a dishonest man. The problem is the heart. We sin because we are sinful. Because we are bad, immoral, and dishonest, we break God’s Commandments.

We can work on individual sins all we want, but it will not help us unless we address our general situation – that we are by nature sinful and unclean.

This is why the general preaching of repentance leads into the specific preaching of the Gospel. Repent and believe in the Gospel, but not just any gospel. There is only one specific Gospel that saves us from sin – the specific Gospel that Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that we have the promise of eternal life.

This specific Gospel is the cure for our illness of sin. It doesn’t just treat symptoms, but it makes us new from top to bottom. It gives us a new heart and new desires to do what is right. It makes us clean from sin in general, so it makes us clean from specific sins also. Every specific sin is wiped away from us. Every sin of thought, word, and deed that we have committed was put on Jesus and He paid the price for them. That is the specific Gospel for you, but it still gets more specific and more personal.

The Gospel is not just out there somewhere for you to find. Christ has instituted specific places where He gives you the forgiveness of sins. Those places are Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar. These are the specific ways God gives you forgiveness.

Baptism is a washing away of your sins. It washes away the guilt of specific sins you have committed, but it also washes you generally clean of sin. It forgives individual sins, but it also forgives your sinful heart. All of you is washed clean, and all of you is claimed by God as belonging to Him.

Baptism is very specific. Your name was spoken along with God’s name. You, personally and specifically, became a child of God in Baptism.

Absolution is God’s forgiveness spoken to you. It declares you righteous. It declares you forgiven. Absolution is God’s Word, spoken at His command, and with His promise.

Absolution can be spoken in general, as it is every Divine Service, or it can be specific, personal, and individual. Yet, the forgiveness is the same, and specifically for you.

The Sacrament of the Altar is Christ’s true body and blood given to you for the forgiveness of sin. It gives forgiveness for specific sins, general sin, all sin. You yourself receive it. You eat, you drink, so you know that you, specifically, receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sin. This specific meal strengthens and nourishes your faith until you are at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

Repent and believe in the Gospel. Yes, repent of specific sins that you commit because of your weakness, and strive to do better. But the only solution for sin is the Gospel – the good news that Jesus suffered and died for your sin and freely forgives you all your sin; the good news that your sinful heart and all the sins that flow out of it are covered with the blood of Christ; the good news that your general sinfulness as well as your specific sins were put on Christ, and you will not be punished for them because Jesus was punished for them.

Repent and believe in the Gospel. 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.