The Second Sunday after Michaelmas (Trinity 20) – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Matthew 22:1-14
In Christ Jesus, who by His life and death prepared for you the Feast of Salvation and by the power of His Word invites you to partake of it freely, both now and forever, dear fellow redeemed:
In our text today we see Jesus teaching those around Him during Holy Week. Just a few days later He would go to the cross and lay down His life for the entire world. He is teaching believers and unbelievers alike the chief doctrine of salvation, which points directly to Himself. He is showing the people how they can be saved. He describes for them a king who is preparing a wedding feast for His Son, a very exciting celebration and many people would be invited.
The king in this parable is a picture of God the Father and his son is a picture of Jesus the eternal Son of God. This is the Son’s wedding feast and He is eagerly awaiting the invited guests, His bride the church. The king has prepared a great meal for this celebration and His Son sits in the place of honor because He has accomplished everything. All things are ready because the Son offered what was necessary.
The Son of God was given as a sacrifice for all sin and the Father in heaven accepted the sacrifice and granted forgiveness to the whole world. It is an open invitation; salvation is accomplished and offered to all people. The call to the Feast of Salvation is for everyone, but not everyone will be a guest.
Throughout history many have ignored the invitation to this feast, the invitation of the gospel. God sent prophets throughout the Old Testament and many people were too preoccupied with their businesses and their daily tasks turning away not wanting to listen.
So God sent His one and only Son and still many persecuted, ignored and eventually nailed Him to a cross. Then God sent apostles and other messengers throughout the New Testament and again many people ignored, persecuted and even killed them. The same things happen to faithful preachers and missionaries throughout the world today.
Despite all this sin and blatant disregard for the truth, God never forgot His promises to us. He could have said, “enough is enough these people are unworthy of my Word,” but on account of His undeserved love God continues to send His Word to us. No matter what kind of person you have been in your life forgiveness is yours by faith through the working of the Holy Spirit.
God’s Word invites you, it calls out to you exposing your sin and convinces you of the truth that you cannot do anything apart from Jesus and must trust in Him and in Him alone for salvation. He calls all people into the feast, offered to us by the Father in heaven prepared by the Work of His Son Jesus. He sends out His servants to go to the busy streets and roads, where there would be lots of traffic to find as many people as they can. He wants them to fill this feast with as many guests as possible both good and bad.
Now “bad and good” does not mean sinners and non-sinners, it means that some of these people may have appeared good on the outside and some appeared bad on the outside. This is how people perceive others and judge them by what they see on the outside, but no matter how we see them all people are sinners. We know then that this feast of salvation is prepared for, and filled with, sinners.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans it tells us that, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This is how he demonstrates His love for us, by coming to save sinners like you and me. He did not come for the self-righteous people who think they are just fine on their own. Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
These sinners are like people struck with hunger so badly they can no longer stand and are wasting away, like someone nearing death due to starvation. Where can they receive the food and nourishment to give them strength to stand firm again, what food can satisfy the hunger of a sinner? God’s Word is life-giving food to those hear it, and His Sacraments bring this food directly to them. “For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9). God’s Word truly satisfies those who are hungry.
This Feast of Salvation was prepared for you by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and it is served to you right here and right now. Jesus is served to you directly, on a plate and in a cup. His righteousness and forgiveness are poured out upon you. His body and blood are given here for you and me; we receive the blessings of salvation now upon our lips and in our stomachs. We consume his very body and blood and the righteousness received from it, fuels our soul.
On account of this reality it is necessary to take the presence of Christ’s body and blood seriously. We do this each time we hear the exhortation in the Service of Holy Communion. Those who do not examine themselves properly, who do not believe they truly feast on the body and blood of Jesus eat to their judgment. Christ’s body and blood is no longer a benefit to them but instead causes spiritual harm. This is the reason our churches practice closed communion.
St. Paul taught the Corinthian church and all hearers of his letter that the Lord’s Supper must be approached seriously and soberly. He wrote: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor. 11:29–30). Out of concern for our neighbors and ourselves we want to make sure that people correctly believe what the Lord’s Supper is.
It should also concern us how we do not always approach the gifts of God’s Word and Sacraments in the right way. Sometimes we neglect coming to hear His Word and fail to truly recognize the importance of what He is giving us, taking them for granted. We think we are doing just fine on our own, that the clothes of our own self-righteousness look pretty good. We think our seat at the Feast of Salvation will be there for us whether God’s Word is a priority right now or not.
We become so preoccupied with the things of this life that coming to receive the Lord’s Word and Sacraments becomes less important. When we do come it’s tempting and easy to appear at the feast but have no regard for the garment that God requires, the very thing the host of the feast has provided for us.
It can be tempting for us to come in and go through the motions of a church service. It’s easy to think that just by walking in the door, and half-heartedly participating we have done what God expects of us and that He is now pleased with us. It’s because of our own sinful nature that we fall into the habit of doing the bare minimum; naively thinking God expects just the bare minimum from us.
Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah saying, “these people honor God with their lips but their hearts are far from Him” (Matt. 15:8–9). These people do lip service to God but lack in their heart true repentance and faith. Repentance is needed before the king comes and finds them speechless, “binding them hand and foot and casting them out into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13).
You cannot stand before the Father in your ragged torn up clothes of self-righteousness and sin. But you can stand before Him in the wedding garment that Jesus provides, the garment of His righteousness.
Christ purchased and won salvation for each and every one of you by living sinless under the law and laying down His perfect life in death. Jesus has prepared the Feast of Salvation for you and by His powerful Word and Sacraments has called you into it and clothed you with His righteousness forever.
You have been offered this beautiful wedding garment and are now dressed in it by faith receiving it by the power of the Holy Spirit. This ornate attire could not have been provided by you but has been graciously provided by your Savior.
The prophet Isaiah knew this well, he wrote, “My soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Is. 61:10).
This righteousness is not only on the outside; this garment of salvation covers all your sins on the inside as well. It covers all the sins of your heart and mind, your secret sins, sins of laziness and discontentment, the sin of putting other things before God and taking His grace for granted.
The Son of God’s righteous blood has blotted out each one of them. The perfect life and the sacrificial death of your Lord won righteousness and salvation for you; they are yours by faith, covering you completely and erasing your sin forever.
God the Father sees you entirely righteous and pure in His sight. Everything is prepared, the celebration has begun and you are an honored guest of the Son. You are joined with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and you will recline at the Feast of Salvation forever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “Parable of the Great Banquet” by the Brunswick Monogrammist, 16th century)
The Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 27) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 25:1-13
In Christ Jesus, who calls us to listen to His voice and follow Him, even though we cannot see Him yet, dear fellow redeemed:
In a few days, joyful processions of people will enter houses all over the country to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. Similar processions will happen about a month later at Christmastime. Those who are traveling somewhere will be making preparations for the trip. Those who are hosting will be cleaning and cooking in preparation for their guests.
When the day arrives, the hosts get up early to make sure there is enough time to get everything done. So many details! The company will arrive at noon, so everything should be in place by 11:30. It never is. The flurry of activity rolls right up to the expected time. The kitchen is tidied up. Miscellaneous items are thrown in closets and hidden in drawers. Eyes glance out the window looking for the car to pull in the driveway. Then it’s 12:05, then 12:15, then 1:00! There are no messages about plans changing. Where could they be?
The main dishes were ready an hour ago, and the smell of food fills the house. Stomachs are rumbling. Thieves—some little and some big—sneak food when mom isn’t looking. As the minute hand makes its revolutions, the adrenaline that kept everyone going all morning is wearing off. Arms and legs are weary. The couch in front of the TV feels comfortable, and no one really cares about the football game. Eyes start to feel heavy.
This scenario is something like what Jesus describes before the bridegroom arrives for the wedding feast. Eager to meet the bridegroom and enjoy the feast, the virgins bring their lamps. They talk excitedly with one another. It will be a great celebration, unlike any they had attended before. What would the banquet hall look like? Who would be there? How would everyone be dressed? They couldn’t wait to join the wedding party and skip through those doors.
The ten virgins were ready. Their lamps burned brightly. Their ears listened for the announcement of the bridegroom’s arrival. Their eyes kept a sharp look-out. But as time passed, the excitement wore off. It was getting late. Why wasn’t he here yet? How much longer would it be? As they waited, “they all became drowsy and slept.”
This is a parable about looking for Jesus’ return on the last day. Because we know “neither the day nor the hour” of His coming, Jesus tells us to “watch,” to be alert, to be ready. What does it mean to stay watchful? It does not mean staring up at the sky every day, waiting for Jesus to come on the clouds. It does not mean lighting a candle or turning a lamp on for Jesus. Being watchful means to have a sober mind alert for any danger. It means to have a clear faith in the Lord’s promises and to be ready for Him to come at any moment.
It is hard to stay watchful like this. The longer we have to wait, the more it seems like Jesus will not return in our lifetime. This leads many to set aside spiritual concerns. “There is plenty of time for church later,” they think. “And I know where my Bible is when I need it.” Nothing could be more foolish! Jesus says, “[S]tay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…. [B]e ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mat. 24:42,44).
But our eyes sometimes get heavy. We believers are represented by the wise virgins in the parable. The wise virgins had plenty of oil at hand; they had the fuel of the Word to keep their faith going. But they became drowsy just like the foolish ones. They slept too. As prepared as you and I may be for our Lord’s return, we are still sinners. We are not perfectly watchful. We grow tired of the wait. We wonder if the marriage feast will really be worth it.
And then there is the pressure from the world. The world mocks the pure in faith, just as it mocks the 20-year-old who leads “a chaste and decent life,” a sexually pure life (6th Commandment). The world wants us to abandon the holy Bridegroom and search for other lovers. “Look at how much fun we are having! Why sit there in the darkness with your little lamp? Who knows if your Lord is even coming? Just come over here for a while! You’ll be back before you know it!” Every one of us knows these temptations. Every one of us has fallen for them. Those are the times when we set the lamp of faith aside. Those are the times when we slept.
But the midnight cry wakes us from this slumber. The Word pierces through our spiritual darkness: “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” The same powerful Word of Christ that will wake the dead on the last day wakes us up even now. Our five senses cannot perceive how fiercely the devil and demons are attacking our faith. Our reason cannot keep us on the right path. Only the Word can help us. Only the Word can save us.
The Word gives us Jesus: “Here is the bridegroom!” it says. “Here He is lying in a manger. Here He is teaching, healing, and praying for His people. Here He is suffering for sinners. Here He is dying on the cross. Here He is overwhelming the powers of darkness. Here He is overcoming death. Here He is giving life to the world. Here He is shining grace into darkened hearts. Here He is offering His body and blood for sinners to eat and drink.”
The Bridegroom’s presence with you now is preparing you for His presence eternally. The Divine Service each week is something like a wedding rehearsal. It is where you practice for the marriage feast in heaven. But a rehearsal is only a dim reflection of the real thing. No one here is dressed like they will be in eternity. No one is perfectly focused. No one grasps the full import of the main event. We members of the wedding party are distracted by many things.
But Jesus is still in our midst. He is still calling us to meet Him at the altar. There, He promises His undying love for us. There, He fills us with the sweetest food and drink that we could ever consume. The holy Supper of His body and blood is a gift for the members of the wedding party. It is not for just anyone who comes in off the street. It is for those whose connection to the Bridegroom has been recognized.
Maybe the stranger sitting over by himself is a friend of the Bridegroom. The only way to find out is to talk with that person. “Who are you? Where are you from? How do you know the Bridegroom?” These are the questions we ask of all who wish to partake of the Lord’s Supper. We are diligent about this because we want all who partake at the altar to partake of the feast in heaven. We want all who eat and drink here to eat and drink there.
Many do not get this connection. They do not recognize that our Communion practice has eternal implications. Some view the Supper as nothing more than a meal to remember Jesus by. Others use this meal to show how inclusive they are, and they welcome anyone and everyone to join them at the Communion rail. They are not worried about where the people around them are heading. They probably assume everyone is going to heaven.
Jesus does not agree. He said that the virgins who were not prepared, whose lamps had run out of oil, were not welcome to enter the marriage hall. They pleaded for entrance, but the Bridegroom said, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” The wise and foolish virgins looked no different in appearance. No one could tell them apart until the lamps of the foolish ones began to go out.
But the wise virgins prepared for the marriage feast by giving attention to important things beforehand. They did not “throw caution to the wind.” They were not reckless with their lamps and the oil that fed them. They took God’s Word and Sacraments seriously. They recognized that only this fuel could keep their faith alive and strong, so they were ready for the Bridegroom’s arrival.
It is through these means of grace that Jesus comes to us now. He comes to us to keep us alert and ready for His visible return. He meets us here to prepare us to enter eternity with Him. Paul paints a beautiful picture of what Christ’s presence means for us now. He writes, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2Co. 2:14). Jesus leads the way, and all His people follow along. They are a band of misfits, unimpressive to the world, hardly noticeable in their own right. But because they are joined to Christ, they spread the sweet fragrance of salvation wherever they go.
Paul continues, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (v. 15). This wedding procession led by Jesus winds its way through this world. By the devil’s tempting, some step away from the procession into the darkness. But by God’s grace, many more are awakened through the sweet sound and fragrance of the Gospel, and they join the procession.
You are part of this procession by faith in Jesus. Each day of your life is a step closer to the doors of the banquet hall. They are standing wide open for you. Your name is on the guest list. The feast is ready. It may feel like a long wait, like when you wait for guests to arrive at Thanksgiving. But when your Savior comes on the last day, you won’t care how long His arrival seemed to take. You will rejoice that He has come, and you will go with Him to the feast, the place of perfect happiness and endless joy.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(11th century painting from the Rossano Gospel)
The Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 27) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 25:1-13
In Christ Jesus, who loves His bride the Church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25), so that He might be united with her for eternity, dear fellow redeemed:
You have made your way to the banquet hall where the wedding reception will be. But the doors have not opened yet. This means you and a few hundred other people must wait in narrow hallways until the wedding party arrives. The first twenty minutes are not so bad as you catch up with friends and family. But as more time passes, the situation worsens. The hallway is getting warm. The kids are whining. People start to look out the windows in the vain hope that by watching, they might make the wedding party arrive faster.
More time passes. Not a few of the guests wonder out loud just how many stops the “party bus” is making. The mother of the bride tries to keep a smile on her face, but her patience is wearing thin. The kids are running around now and screaming. All you can think of are all the restaurants you passed on the way to the reception, restaurants where you could already be eating. How long have you been waiting? When will the wedding party get there? Why can’t they just open these doors!?!
No matter how wonderful the wedding feast may be, it is hard to wait. Waiting gives extra time for doubt: Will they ever get here? Will the feast be worth my time? Is there someplace better I could be? These are some of the same questions that come to mind during our time of waiting in this life: Will Jesus ever come? Will heaven be worth the suffering we endure now? Would I be happier if I lived for here instead of for there?
Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of heaven addresses these doubts and concerns. He describes ten virgins, the attendants of the bride. They would meet the bridegroom and then all would go in for the wedding celebration. But “the bridegroom was delayed” for reasons that are not given. Five of the virgins had come prepared for this scenario; they brought extra oil along for their lamps. But the other five did not. They were not ready when the cry sounded, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”
In this parable, the Bridegroom for whom all are waiting is Jesus, and the Bride with her virgin attendants is the Christian Church. The way the members of the Church are promised to the Bridegroom and claimed by Him is through Holy Baptism. Ephesians 5 says that Christ has “cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (vv. 26-27). But Baptism alone does not ensure that a person will be prepared to meet the Savior on the last day. Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16)—not just Baptism, but Baptism along with faith in the Lord’s promises.
The five virgins whose lamps were going out are those Christians who were brought to faith by the Holy Spirit through the Word. But they failed to continue to feed the flame of faith. They did not make regular use of God’s Word and Sacraments, or if they did, they did not partake of these things with believing hearts. They may have gone through the motions of Christian faith and practice, but it was empty. They did not from the heart confess their sins and from the heart believe that those sins are forgiven through the blood of Jesus.
When the time of the Bridegroom’s arrival came, they could not rely on the faith of others. Their frantic, “What should we do now?!” when their lamps were burning out, showed that the faith they once had, had run dry. Instead of eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Bridegroom, now His coming frightened them. Their focus had been on other things. They had not made the Bridegroom’s arrival their priority.
The five wise virgins, on the other hand, had properly prepared for the Bridegroom. They had brought an extra supply of oil for their lamps in the event that the Bridegroom was delayed. They were ready for His coming and went to meet Him without fear. What a joy it was to see Him after the long wait!
Now if the Bridegroom’s arrival were today, in which group would you be found? Do you look forward to Jesus’ visible return in glory, or is your focus more on this world, on carrying out your plans and pursuing your dreams? Or are you worried how Jesus will judge you when He comes? You remember your many sins, some of them so shameful that they weigh on you long after you did them. You wonder if your repentance has been heartfelt enough and your faith pure enough.
It is worth noting that both the wise and the foolish virgins “became drowsy and slept.” Even the ones who were ready for the Bridegroom’s arrival were weak. They were not perfectly alert. So it is with all believers. We are all weak. We have all failed in one way or another. We “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Our readiness for Jesus’ return is not about how well we have lived or what kinds of sins we have avoided. Our readiness depends on our recognition of our many sins and our trust in the perfect life of Jesus and His atoning death for our sins.
To think that we have committed a sin that is too great to be forgiven, is to imagine a very small God and a small sacrifice on Calvary. But Jesus died for all sins, none excepted. That means He shed His blood for you, to blot out your sins. By faith in Him, you are holy and pure in His sight—a wise virgin with the flame of faith brightly burning.
But you are still on the outside looking in. The doors of heaven have been opened to you by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but you cannot see the glories yet that He promises you. Is the Wedding Feast Worth the Wait? Is the pain of an earthly life under the cross a fair exchange for the joys of heaven? Will you regret living a life fenced in by God’s law, a life of discipline, a life of devotion to the Triune God?
According to Jesus’ parable, when the Bridegroom arrives those who have been shut out from the wedding celebration are not indifferent about it. They desperately want to enter the marriage hall; they want to get into heaven. But they will hear the Bridegroom declare, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” What frightening words those are! Unbelievers will be forsaken by their Savior on the last day. On that day, they will fully realize the error of their ways. But by then it will be too late.
Jesus says that any who think they can attend the eternal wedding feast without wearing Jesus’ righteousness will be bound “hand and foot and cast… into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat. 22:13). This is how hell is described: “outer darkness… weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And there will be no relief, no end to the suffering.
In heaven, on the other hand, there will be no end to the joy. The Bible offers only glimpses of heaven because our sinful minds cannot comprehend the glories there. They are too far above us, too wonderful. The apostle Paul talks about being “caught up into paradise,” and how “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2Co. 12:3,4). He wrote in another place, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1Co. 13:12).
The apostle John also received a vision of heaven in “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1). He said he saw “a door standing open in heaven,” and a voice invited him to come and look. Then John describes what he saw. He saw One sitting on a throne, who had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, which are reddish gems. Around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal” (4:1-6).
As we are in our sinful flesh, this would be a frightening sight to behold, but it will not be when our lowly bodies are transformed to be like our Lord’s glorious body at His return (Phi. 3:20-21). On that day, we will see Him as He is (1Jn. 3:2), and we will go to dwell with Him in the unending light of His glorious presence.
But how long will we have to wait for these joys? If a wedding party did not show up at the reception for two hours or three or more, many of their guests would grow tired of waiting and leave. Jesus urges us to wait patiently for His return, no matter how long it seems to take. He assures us that the wedding feast will be worth it. He, our Bridegroom, will come again to meet His holy bride. On that day, we will be roused from our sleep, and with the light of faith, we will look upon the bright countenance of our Savior.
Then we will process with Him into heaven dressed in the beautiful robes of His righteousness (Rev. 7:13-17, 21:2-4). And all the saints will proclaim the words prophesied by Isaiah, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isa. 25:9). And then the celebration will begin.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(11th century painting from the Rossano Gospel)
The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 14:1-11
In Christ Jesus, in whom we have been raised up and with whom we have been seated in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), dear fellow redeemed:
It is ironic that the phrase “Taking the High Road” was most likely coined by a politician, since politics is where “taking the high road” almost never happens. Politicians watch for any slip-up by their opponents and then portray the mistake in the most negative light. The primary goal is not justice or the promotion of truth, but political victory. And if a career is ruined by the mud-slinging, so be it.
The Pharisees of today’s text were like our politicians. They hated Jesus. They wanted His efforts to fail. They wanted to discredit Him before the public, and if possible, to eliminate Him. One of these Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him on a particular Sabbath day. This sounds like a neighborly thing for the Pharisee to do, but he and his friends had ulterior motives. We are told that “they were watching him carefully.” Picture them watching Jesus like a hawk watches its unsuspecting prey. But Jesus was not unsuspecting. The trap they were setting for Him would not catch Him by surprise.
In the room was a man with dropsy, a condition causing fluid retention and swelling in the skin. Would Jesus heal him? On another occasion, a religious leader had criticized Jesus for healing a disabled woman on the Sabbath. “There are six days in which work ought to be done,” he said, “…and not on the Sabbath day” (Lk. 13:14). It may well be that the Pharisees now brought this man with dropsy before Jesus as a test. Would Jesus break Sabbath law with so many witnesses present?
Jesus perceived the trap; he knew what the Pharisees were thinking. The text says that “Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees.” He answered their thoughts even though they hadn’t verbalized them. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” He asked. They thought this would be forbidden according to the law. They believed that healing would be work, and God said no work should be done on the Sabbath. If Jesus healed on the Sabbath, He must not be from God. This is how their thinking went, but they did not say a word.
Then Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way. Now the Pharisees had Jesus where they wanted Him! But before they could level an accusation, Jesus asked how many of them would leave a son or an ox in a well on a Sabbath day. Would they call down that they would like to help, but it would just have to wait until tomorrow? Obviously not. They would do whatever it took to bring the son or the ox to safety.
What was Jesus’ point? His point was that the Pharisees should remember why the law was given. It was not given to promote an external righteousness, an outward keeping of the rules. God wanted His people to rely on Him and not on themselves. He required a day without work, so that people would set aside time to hear His Word and pray. This is how they would show love for Him according to the Third Commandment.
But this Sabbath requirement did not negate the other Commandments of God. If someone had fallen on the Sabbath, his neighbor should help him up. If someone were sick or hungry, his neighbor should carry medicine or food to his home. These things would show love for God by showing love to a neighbor.
Love for God and neighbor is the entire focus of God’s moral law (Lk. 10:27). When you wonder whether something is right or wrong, you should ask yourself if it is loving. Even if you know it is true, is it loving to spread gossip about a neighbor? Even if someone said a mean thing to you, is it loving to say something mean back? Even if someone invites you to share their bed outside of marriage—even if it is someone you love—is it loving toward God or the consenting partner to ignore the institution and commitment of marriage?
Today’s culture promotes a different definition of love. We are told that love means accepting and agreeing with whatever a person chooses to do. And if we question how others live their life, then we are called hateful. But Jesus questioned the Pharisees. Is it because He hated them? No, it is because they lacked the love that God requires, and He wanted them to recognize it. He wanted them to see that their concern was not for God or their neighbors; it was for themselves. That is the problem today. People are full of self-love. They think their choices are right even when God says they are wrong.
It is tempting for us to feel morally superior to these people. We do not do the things they do. We know what God’s moral law says, and we want to follow it. But self-love can work its way in there too. We imagine God must be pleased with us because we are not like the sinners around us.
But think about the parable Jesus told. Suppose you were invited to a wedding feast along with all sorts of criminals and sinners. Looking around, you hear some of the bad people boast about their evil deeds, while others hang their heads in shame. Then all are told to take seats at the table, but with this caveat: everyone is to sit down based on how good they are compared to others. The bad people not sorry for their sins immediately head for the best spots because they are only concerned about themselves. The bad people sorry for their sins shuffle toward the less honorable places.
But to which end of the table do you go? On the one hand, you could say that you have not fallen into the serious sins of either the boastful or the humbled criminals. You have not killed anyone. You have not stolen anything. You have tried to be a good neighbor. Certainly you should be seated higher than the bad people who are not sorry for their sins. But on the other hand, the standard of God’s law is perfection. Even if you have refrained from outward sins, what about the sins of your mind and heart? The scene could get ugly fast, with people fighting over the best places.
But Jesus says to you and me, “go and sit in the lowest place.” Take the High Road by taking the lowest place. The Letter to the Philippians says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (2:3). We should not concern ourselves with what we think we are (pretty good), or what we think others are (pretty bad). We should stick with what we know. We know that we are sinners who have not perfectly kept God’s law. If the table in Jesus’ parable were God’s table, then no one would belong at it either in the high or the low places.
But still, we are invited to the heavenly banquet. We are invited because Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). He gave up the highest place, which was His by right. No one even approaches His greatness. He left the highest place, and took the lowest. In fact, He gave up His seat at the table altogether, so that there would be plenty of room for everyone else.
He showed perfect love for all, but they did not all love Him in return. When the Pharisees could not find any sin in Jesus, they told lies about Him and twisted His words. Then they got Pilate to condemn Him to death. Jesus could have dragged all their hidden sins out in the open, and none of what He uncovered would be a lie. He could have shown the ugliness inside every religious leader. But He took the high road. He said nothing while false accusations were hurled His way. Then He took the high road, literally, when He carried His cross up the hill to Golgotha outside the walls of Jerusalem.
This is where the perfect Son of God was crucified, the humble Healer of dropsy, disability, and most importantly, the sinful heart. He poured out His blood to wash away each transgression, including yours. Every sinful stain of your past, every failure to do and say and think what God says, every prideful judgment of the imperfect lives of others, the Lord forgives it. You deserve the lowest place, but Jesus has taken you by the hand and said, “Friend, move up higher.”
You have not always taken the high road—with your siblings, your parents, your spouse, your classmates and co-workers, your fellow church members—, and these sins may still trouble you. But while others may hold your sins against you, God does not. He looks upon you in grace as though you had never done anything wrong.
That does not mean you and I can boast about our transgressions. Nor do we have the freedom to sin as much as we like, just because we know sin is paid for. Humble children of God do not embrace sin. They flee from sin, and when they fall into it, they repent of it.
God did not create us for sin, but for righteousness. He created us to love Him and our neighbor. When our neighbor attacks us despite our efforts to love, then we pick up the cross and take the high road after Jesus. Nothing good is gained by “digging up dirt” on others and “slinging mud.” But much good is gained by a humble disposition toward others and a humble trust in Jesus.
The Sabbath rest that no person could obtain by his own efforts, is freely given us by our loving Savior. He has lifted us out of the pit of sin we had fallen into and brought us with Him to be seated at His heavenly banquet. Because of His humble suffering and death, we will be exalted with Him for eternity.
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The Second Sunday after Michaelmas (Trinity 20) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 22:1-14
In Christ Jesus, who brought us solitary sinners into the great fellowship of the Holy Christian Church, and the Communion of Saints, dear fellow redeemed:
If you walked into an opposing team’s stadium wearing your hometown gear, if you were a Democrat living in a Republican area or a Republican living in a Democrat area, if you were a teacher assigned to a classroom of twenty rowdy preschoolers, you would agree that “there is strength in numbers.” As confident as we are when on the side of strength, we can feel quite overmatched when on the side of the few. We like to have a lot of allies. We don’t like to be singled out. Staying on the side of strength is also safer. Being part of a big crowd probably means you won’t have to take the lead. You can let others do that while lending your support. And if you are attacked in some way, you have a whole bunch of friends to back you up.
On the other side, the small group is much more vulnerable. Its members are more easily intimidated. Their voices can be ignored or drowned out. They worry about whether they are thinking and doing the right thing. After all, how could so many oppose something that is beneficial and good? They wonder if it is even worth it to take a stand, since no one will listen to them anyway.
But while it is easier and safer to be on the side of strength, it is not always best. The majority is not always right. There are examples of this throughout history. At the time of Noah, most people had fallen away from God. The LORD saw that “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The only exception was Noah and his family; they trusted God’s Word. Human sinfulness was just as evident after the Flood. Ten generations after Noah, the LORD called Abram away from idol worship to become the father of a new nation in the land of Canaan.
Then followed Isaac and Jacob, and the chosen people of God expanded. God helped them conquer the Promised Land. But growth in numbers did not lead to growth in faithfulness. The people turned to the false gods of the nations around them (Jud. 2:11), and “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6). God sent a series of judges and then kings to lead His people in the right way, but they continued to fall away from Him. When the Prophet Elijah came on the scene, he lamented that he was the only person left who followed the LORD. The LORD replied that there were 7,000 others besides Elijah who had not bowed down to Baal (1Ki. 19:18).
The pattern we see in reviewing Old Testament history is that God’s people rarely seem to have an advantage in numbers. When they do, they typically let their power go to their heads and fall in with the unbelievers. It appears that the Church of believers is strongest when it faces overwhelming odds. Think about the apostles preaching the truth about Jesus in the very city where He was killed. The message took root in people’s hearts, and they were baptized in God’s name. But as the church grew, it was weakened by the attacks of false teachers. Those attacks only intensified when Christianity was given legal status in the Roman Empire. The larger the church grew, the more it was torn apart.
The same is true today. Christianity has reached around the world. There are probably Christians in every country. But look how divided the church is! Why does this happen? It happens because of the devil’s wicked deeds. As he once incited Adam and Eve to rebel against God and His Word, so he incites sinners against Christ, and Christian against Christian. The Lutheran hymnwriter Philip Melanchthon expresses this sad reality, “The foul old dragon and dread foe / With envy, hate, and wrath doth glow; / It always is his aim and pride / Thy Christian people to divide” (ELH 545, v. 4).
Jesus says that the devil is like an enemy who comes during the night and sows weeds among the wheat (Mt. 13:38-39). The weeds grow up right alongside the wheat and make it difficult for them to remain healthy plants. The weeds may even grow within the visible Christian church. This is obvious to us. There are many who call themselves Christian who clearly are not Christian at all. They might teach that Jesus was nothing more than a noble teacher, or that God is pleased with those who disobey His Commandments. Other cases are not so obvious. Some appear to be good Christians but are actually hypocrites. Jesus promises that these will be sorted out on the last day and thrown “into the fiery furnace” (13:50).
Statistically, Christianity is the largest religion in the world. But how many who call themselves Christian actually believe in Jesus alone as their Savior? Only God knows that answer, but without a doubt, the Holy Christian Church is not as large as it seems.
We know what role the devil plays in this, but the fault lies not just with Satan. The fault of unbelief rests in our own wicked hearts. It is not God’s fault that so many reject His will and His Word. What more should He do? He created the world perfectly and handed it over to mankind to manage. But they decided to listen to a deceitful snake, and chose to love themselves instead of God. The LORD did not cast them eternally from His presence, which He would have been justified in doing. He gave them hope in a Savior, who would be born of a woman and would crush the devil’s head (Gen. 3:15).
The LORD kept that promise. The Messiah was conceived in Mary’s womb, and God became Man. Jesus healed and blessed and taught, committing no sin against anyone. But His gracious presence was not welcome. Jew and Gentile rose up and condemned Him to die by crucifixion. They abused and mocked Him. In return, He forgave them. He willingly died to win life for the wicked. Then He rose again and appeared to hundreds, so they and all people would know that the victory over sin, death, and devil was won for them. After this, He sent out the Holy Spirit to change the hearts of sinners through the Gospel. And He continued to strengthen and bless them through the Sacraments He established. What more does God need to do that He has not done?
And yet the typical response to these gifts is indifference. The king’s wedding feast is ready, and the invitations are sent out, but no one seems to care. “[O]ne [goes off] to his farm, another to his business.” Some even react violently to the message of God’s Word. They treat God’s servants shamefully and want them to be dead. This was true of the Israelites before the time of Christ, who persecuted the LORD’s prophets, and it is still the case today. This spirit of indifference is also true of us who consider ourselves serious Christians. We do not often get out of bed eager to fill our hearts and minds with God’s Word and do His will. And when God invites us to feast on His Word and Sacraments, it is easy to come up with other things to do that seem more pressing and important.
Like a person stepping on crumbling rock to get a good look over a cliff, we do not recognize how easy it is to fall from the faith. Jesus warns us, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:13-14). So many deviate from the narrow path to heaven and join the great crowd marching to hell. How can you be sure that you aren’t one of them? How do you know if you are among the few that are both called and chosen?
Well, let me ask you a few questions:
- Are you saved because of the righteous things you have done, or because Jesus lived a holy life for you?
- Are you forgiven because you atoned for your sins, or because Jesus shed His blood and died for you?
- Will you rise again from the dead because you deserve it, or because Jesus won the victory over death for you?
If your answer to every question is Jesus, then you are among the chosen. You are the elect of God. Because “those whom he predestined—elected according to His grace—he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). God chose you from eternity to believe in Him, and He called you to that faith through the Gospel. He made you His own and cleansed your sinful heart in holy baptism, and He continues to strengthen your faith through the preaching of His Word and the Sacrament of His body and blood.
Why has He done this for you? It is not because you deserved it, or because you are better than others. This is what is so perplexing to our rational minds. We cannot explain why it is that we believe while others do not. By nature, we are just as troubled as anyone else, just as sinful, just as hostile to God. But God has been gracious to us. He chose us to “be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness” (Second Article of the Creed). He called us to His wedding feast, clothes us in rich garments, and has us sit down at the feast while He serves us!
There is strength in numbers, but strength and numbers are not everything. There are times When Being among the Few Is a Blessing. We thank God that He has redeemed us from the destruction we deserved and brought us into His little flock. And we pray that He keeps us steadfast in His Word and faithful to the end, as we enjoy His good gifts here and anticipate the great wedding feast in His eternal kingdom.
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