Then Who Can Be Saved?

Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:23-31

Dear believers who will enter the kingdom of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wealth is a blessing from God. It is God who gives riches to those whom He will, and He commands that the rich do good, be rich in good works, and be generous and ready to share (I Tim. 6:18).

Wealth is a blessing from God, but He doesn’t give it to all of us, because “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

The truth is that if God gave great riches to most of us, we would not be rich in good works; we would not be generous; we would not be willing to share. We would live in luxury and self-indulgence. We would seek enjoyment and fulfilment in our wealth and in time possibly even turn away from God.

Of course, we will all say, “No, not me! I would be very generous and very willing to share if I was rich!”

Jesus says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” (Lk. 16:10) Jesus is saying that if you have not been rich in good works, generous, and willing to share if you have very little, you will not be rich in good works, generous, or willing to share if you have much. Instead you will have the temptations that the wealthy face in this world, and it will be harder for you to get into heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

Hebrews 13 tells us, “Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (v. 5) First Timothy 6 says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (vv. 6-10)

Wealth is a blessing from God, but God wants to protect us from the temptations that money brings. Wealth is a blessing from God, but most of us would not be able to handle the wealth responsibly or with generous hearts. Wealth is a blessing from God, but many of us would wander from the faith and pierce ourselves with many pangs if God would give us greater wealth than He has given us.

“Then who can be saved?” asked the disciples. If Jesus says this of those to whom God gives great earthly blessings, what about those with less blessings? How can anyone be saved? Jesus replied, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

With man, it is impossible to be saved whether rich or poor. With God, salvation is possible for both. For all mankind, salvation is as impossible as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. For God, salvation is not just possible, but it is accomplished, it has been fulfilled.

God didn’t just snap His fingers and save us, because the price of our sins had to be paid. The price of our sins was put on Jesus, who paid for our sins in our place; the righteous dying for the unrighteous.

Jesus had to face all the temptations we face, but He never sinned. The devil even tempted Jesus by offering Him all the kingdoms of the world and their riches and glory (Matt. 4:8-9). This really was a temptation for Jesus to skip over suffering and dying, and jump immediately into glory. Why go through suffering and death for the people of these kingdoms of the world, why not just take the kingdoms and their riches now? Skip the anguish of the soul to the point of death. Skip the beads of sweat dropping to the ground like drops of blood. Skip the torture, mockery, and death. Just take the kingdom and their riches and glory now.

For your sake, Jesus did not fall into this, or any other temptation. Skipping suffering and death would have meant skipping your salvation. For your sake, Jesus chose the anguish of the soul to the point of death. For your sake, Jesus chose the beads of sweat dropping to the ground like drops of blood. For your sake, Jesus chose the torture, mockery, and death.

Jesus chose these so that you would be His own; so that you would live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Jesus chose suffering and death so that your end will not be eternal suffering and death.

Your end will be eternal life in the riches of Paradise. No riches of this life hold a candle to the true riches of the new heavens and the new earth. Second Peter tells us that the heavens and the earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (II Pt. 3:7,10-12). So, don’t cling to mammon that is destined for fire. Cling to the true riches of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Cling to Christ, who is your Saviour. The more you cling to Christ, the less you will care about the wealth of this world.

Use the wealth that God has given you, whether very great or very little, and be faithful with it. Put your unrighteous mammon to use for eternal good (cf. Lk. 16:9). Support the preaching of the Gospel both at home and abroad, so that this worldly wealth which is destined for fire might result in souls being saved eternally.

Wealth is a blessing from God, but He may protect you from the temptations of riches. If you have been blessed with wealth, pray that God strengthens you to be faithful with its use.

In death the rich and the poor have the same end, but those who cling to Christ and the forgiveness of sins He freely gives have the riches of Paradise awaiting them. In Paradise there are great riches. Even the streets are made of pure gold (Rev. 21:21). Amen.

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

[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will be using the One Year Lectionary.]

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.

Stewarding Unrighteous Wealth

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 16:1-13

Dear stewards of unrighteous wealth: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The sons of this world are shrewd in dealing with their own generation. You can see it everywhere. If the sons of this world want something, they know what they need to do to make it possible.

If they want a cottage and a big vacation every year, they will do everything they can to make sure that they happen. They will work overtime, get a second job, skip family events, neglect their wife and children, whatever it takes to make sure they get what they want.

If the sons of this world want fame and celebrity status, they will do everything to make sure that it happens. They will move to Hollywood, divorce the spouse who doesn’t want to go, attend every audition for every part being willing to do anything no matter how humiliating and indecent. Even for fifteen minutes of fame the sons of this world will eat beetles, lie in a pit of snakes, and perform dangerous stunts. You know what I’m talking about if you ever saw the television show “Fear Factor” before it was cancelled.

If the sons of this world want their son to play in the NHL, do they not do everything they can to make sure it will happen? They spend thousands of dollars on equipment and ice time. They wake up in the wee hours of the morning to take them to practice. They sacrifice vacation time to drive their aspiring NHLer across the province for tournaments. They sacrifice the cottage and the big vacation and their own fame and celebrity status to make sure this one thing that they really want will happen.

The sons of this world are shrewd. They know what they want and they go after it. They may not be successful, but it is not for lack of trying. They will do everything in their power to get what they want. They will even be dishonest and scam their employers if it is to their advantage.

That’s what the dishonest manager did in Jesus’ parable. Once he got caught squandering his master’s possessions and was given notice that he was going to be fired, he continued his scamming for his own benefit. He continued to steal from his master, in this case giving it to the master’s debtors, so that he would gain goodwill with the debtors. His only hope was that the debtors would help him when he gets kicked out of his master’s house and would have nowhere to go. He’s such a sly, manipulative shyster that even his master can’t help but appreciate his shrewdness.

So is Jesus telling us to be like the dishonest steward? Yes, and no. Jesus is not telling us to be dishonest or to seek personal benefits at the expense of others. Quite the opposite. He says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” We, the sons of light, are not supposed to be dishonest or using that which belongs to another in an unfaithful way. The sons of light are not supposed to act like the sons of this world.

We are, however, supposed to be shrewd in how we use our wealth. Really, not our wealth, since Jesus says it does not belong to us. It belongs to another – our master – but we are to be shrewd in its use. We are supposed to make friends for ourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive us into the eternal dwellings.

How do you make friends with money? Giving it away of course! Give away the master’s money which has been untrusted to your stewardship, so that those who receive it will receive you into the eternal dwellings. That is, give God’s money to the spreading of the Gospel, so that those who hear and believe the Word of God that you have supported will be in heaven to receive you when the unrighteous wealth fails, that is when you die. In this life you may never meet the people that your mission dollars support, but they will receive you into eternal life. Your giving away of the master’s unrighteous wealth makes eternal friends for you. That is faithful use of the master’s wealth which also benefits you.

The Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for saying this because they were lovers of money. They thought that you can serve God and money. They thought they could be unfaithful with unrighteous wealth and still receive the true riches of eternal life. They thought they could be unfaithful with God’s money which had been entrusted to them and still receive their own riches in eternity.

Jesus told them, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Dear sons of light, do not be like the sons of this world. Do not sacrifice everything in the pursuit of wealth. Do not cling to unrighteous mammon like it can save you. It will fail. You will die. Then whose will all the wealth be that you have stored up? (cf. Luke 12:20) You cannot take it with you.

Rather, be shrewd like the dishonest manager, but in a faithful way. Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” (Luke 12:33)

Giving to the needy and supporting mission work around the world will not save you, but it will save those who hear God’s Word and believe. Giving your unrighteous wealth to support the sharing of the Gospel results in eternal benefits – for you and for those who hear God’s Word through pastors and missionaries.

The unrighteous wealth of this world will fail. It has an expiry date. So be shrewd. Use it wisely. Give God what is His and provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.

There is a world out there dying, even in our own community. They need to hear the same thing that you hear. They need to hear of the forgiveness of sins. They need to hear that the Law that they are unable to keep has been kept for them by Jesus. They need to hear that the punishment they deserve for their sins was put on Jesus. They need to be baptized and brought into the Church.

The world, and we, need to hear of the shrewdness of Jesus. Jesus knew what it would take to save the world lost in sin. Jesus didn’t scam someone else to pay the price of our sins, He paid the price Himself. He paid it with His own holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. There is no one else who could pay the price.

The debts that we owe God were wiped clean. Jesus didn’t just give us a discount on what we owe. Even that we would be unable to pay. Jesus paid the whole entire price of our sins and the sins of the whole world. Your bill has been paid in full. No balance remains. Jesus knew what it would take to save you and He did everything for you to save you. Take you bill, and sit down quickly and write zero. Amen.

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