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The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This is the sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The sermon text is: Matthew 21:28-32. The sermon theme is: Christians Care.

"“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’" (Matt 21:28 NIV11-GK)
““What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’” (Matt 21:28 NIV11-GK)

Christians Care

Change can be good. When you grow tired of all the weeks of summer heat, the change into fall can be good. If you eat one food day after day, it can be good to move onto a different food. Change can be good. But there are also times that change is necessary. It is necessary that children change. It is necessary that they grow up, move out on their own and start their own lives. This morning in this story that Jesus tells we see a change that happens. It is a good change. But it is also a necessary change. In Matthew 21 Jesus tells us: 28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.” (Matt 21:28-29 NIV)

Jesus tells us about a father who had two sons. He tells the first son to go out and to continue to work out in the vineyard.1 But the son, in the most belligerent and rebellious way, says, “I don’t want to.”2 The son doesn’t want to go out and work. And he boldly and bluntly tells his father, “No.” But then there’s a change that happens. It is a good change. And it’s a necessary change. The change that occurs is that he cares.3 First, of all, he cares about his dad. You see, in parables there is usually a twist. Usually there is something that is out of place-something that we would not expect to be there. But it is there. Here in these words what is unexpected is the Father. The father says, “go out into the vineyard today and work.” And when the son says “I don’t want to,” he gets away with it. The father lets him get away with it.

I was speaking to one of the members of our church earlier on in the week. And when he heard these words he said, “When I was young, if I said that to my dad, there would be consequences.” And it’s true, isn’t it? This first son did not care. And his Father let him get away with it. But that shocking and surprising behavior that the dad shows is the very thing that leads the son back. For he recognized that his Father wasn’t treating him like a slave. Instead he was treating him as a son. He wasn’t treating him like and enemy. Instead he was treating him like his beloved child.

And when he saw how much the father loved him there was a change inside of himself. And that change showed itself in action. What he earlier refused to do, he went out and did. And with that he showed that he cared about his father.

Jesus speaks these words not just to the Pharisees gathered around him. He also speaks these words to us. It isn’t just this son in this story that needed a real change, we too need a real change inside of us. We need to care too. For if the Father in the story did what was shocking in letting the son get away with his laziness, how much more shocking is how our Father treats us? He invites us every day to go out and do work in his vineyard. And there needs to be this change in us so that we see the value in the work our Father gives us and so that we see the great love our Father has in giving it to us. Because if we don’t, we can end up like this second son that Jesus tells us about: “”Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.” (Matt 21:30 NIV)

There needed to be a change in this second son. but there wasn’t. There needed to be a change so that he cared about his Father and his own soul. But as we see, there wasn’t. Look at how evil this second son was. He said such polite words. He called his Father, “sir.” He promised with all his heart. You can almost see that look of painted sincerity on his face. But it was a lie. Because he didn’t care. He didn’t care about his Father. And just as bad, he didn’t care about himself. What happens to children who don’t care about their fathers after they grow up? If they carry that same lying apathy with them when they grow up, they get punished. They lose one job after another until finally they die and are punished forever in hell.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important for us to preach these words to ourselves. It is important for us to compare these two sons to see that we, just like these sons need change inside of ourselves. It was hard for me to read these words because I remember what I was like growing up. I remember how in the hot summer time it was my job to drag this huge hose down the hill and water all the trees on the border of our property. It was a job I hated because I thought it was stupid. And so, instead of watering each tree so that it had enough water I only watered it a little bit. And later on, when I was back home at an absurdly early time, dad asked, “did you water the trees?” And to his face I lied and told him that I did.

All of us in our lives have been this second son-all of us. We should care, but we don’t. We should care about the work our Heavenly Father sets before us, but we don’t. We should care about our Father, but we don’t. We should care about ourselves and where this apathy leads. But so often we don’t. And that leads us to the question: how can I care again? And my dear brothers and sisters in Christ is, “you can’t.” You can’t instantly and magically create this change inside of yourself so that you care. What needs to happen is that God needs to give you repentance.

Well, what is repentance? There are wrong answers to that question, aren’t there? In Luther’s day he was taught that God forgave some of his sins. But out of love for God he had to do the rest of the work. He was the one who had to go out and with his own work and effort earn the Father’s approval. And that lie almost destroyed him. For he knew the only thing he had to offer God was his own sin.

Today there’s another wrong answer to that question. There are churches out there who teach that repentance is some sort of romantic feeling that somehow you have to produce. There’s a church in our area. And on its church sign it said, “Be an organ donor; give your heart to Jesus.” That, my friends, is not how the bible speaks about repentance. Repentance is not me trying to win over Jesus like a boy asking a girl to the prom. “Falling in love with Jesus” is not something the bible ever said.

Well, if then these are the wrong views, then what is the right view? What then is repentance. Repentance boils down to two words: First, repentance is terror. There was terror in that first son’s heart as he saw how horribly he was treating his father who only cared and loved him. There should have been terror in the second son’s heart when he saw that his apathy was paving the path to hell for him. And this terror is what God brings to us. It’s not an emotion that we produce from ourselves. God comes to us in our word and he shakes us up and shows us how evil it is to say, “yes” and then show with our actions that we really mean, “no.”

So repentance is terror. But there is another part to repentance. And that’s trust. Through his word, Our Father gives us trust in him. We trust that Jesus came and lived a perfect life in our place. If his father wanted it, the Son delivered it. And he did so willingly and joyfully. Through God’s word we trust that Jesus obeyed his Father perfectly in our place. And we trust that Jesus earned heaven for us by enduring the hell we deserved in our place. And then the heaven that he won for us he delivered to us in those saving waters of baptism. It is trust in final words that Jesus speaks to us in this section: 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Matt 21:31-32 NIV)

Notice what Jesus says to the Pharisees. He doesn’t say that the prostitutes and tax collectors are getting into heaven instead of them. He says that they are getting in ahead of them. There still is room for a sinner like me. There still is a place for a son like me who says “yes” but really means “no.” Through God’s word he gives us faith to trust what Jesus invites here.

We need a change, don’t we? We need a change so that we care once again about our Father in heaven and about ourselves. And through God’s word that is exactly what Our Father has given us. He has given us repentance. And now we care-both about our Father and about ourselves. Amen.

1 ἐργάζου

2 οὐ θέλω

3 μεταμεληθεὶς

Image courtesy of Stock Xchnge.

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The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This is the sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The sermon text is: Jonah 4:5-11. The sermon theme is: How Do People Get To Heaven?

"<1> For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. <2> He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard." (Matt 20:1–2 NIV11-GK)
“<1> For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. <2> He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.” (Matt 20:1–2 NIV11-GK)

How Do People Get To Heaven?

Everybody believes in heaven. Whether you look at surveys that people have taken or just ask people on the street, it’s very hard to find a person who flat out doesn’t believe in some sort of heaven. People either naturally think that there’s a better place that people go to when they die, or they would like to go to that place, but don’t know how. This morning, that it the topic that the Prophet Jonah brings to our eyes. This morning we don’t ask the question, “is there a heaven?” No, instead we ask the question, “How Do People Get To Heaven?”

You see, Jonah was a prophet. And he was sent by the Lord to go way up north to the land of Assyria, to the capitol city of Nineveh. And instead, he got on a boat heading to the opposite end of the earth. The Lord loved Jonah enough to show him his sin. And he did so in a very abrupt way. He had a big fish-like creature swallow Jonah up. And there in the darkness of that fish’s belly for three days and three nights Jonah had time to think about heaven and hell by coming face to face with death. Jonah repented of his rebellious sin and then went up to Nineveh. And in three days he went through the massive city. And this was his sermon theme: “”Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”” (Jonah 3:4 NIV) And what happens next is what we hear about in the first verse of our section this morning: “Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.” (Jonah 4:5 NIV)

Jonah goes off to a hillside in the middle of the Summer heat and waits. He waits to see if the Lord is going to overturn Nineveh with fire from heaven like he did to Sodom and Gomorrah. And two things happens while he is waiting. First, the people repent of their sins. From the greatest to the least, they repent. And second, The Lord provides for Jonah. In verse 6 we read: “Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine” (Jonah 4:6 NIV)

The Lord provides for Jonah by providing a plant to grow and give him shade. This was a miraculous plant. It grew up large and tall in one day. And Jonah thought this plant was amazing. Jonah did nothing for this plant. He did not plant the seed. He did not water it. He did not make it grow. It was all God’s work. And so, not only did God provide a plant, he also provided a worm: “But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered.” (Jonah 4:7 NIV)

Out of love for Jonah the Lord provided a worm to kill the plant. He did this to show Jonah his sin. Jonah is content to have people die. But if God has this plant die, then Jonah is angry. In verses 8 and 9 we read: 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”” (Jonah 4:8-9 NIV)

In these words we need to see and beware of Jonah’s sins. Jonah was angry at God because it seemed to him that God was being hard on him. God should be nice to him. He should not only have a plant grow up over him and provide shade for him, but he should also keep that plant alive.

We need to beware of this sin, because it is a sin that we too can fall into. Out of love God comes to us and shows us our sin. Sometimes this happens by someone coming to us and telling us the times and ways we sin. Sometimes it happens like it does here with Jonah. The Lord shows Jonah his sin far more than telling him. When we hold grudges and are filled with bitterness we have no right to be angry with God that we have no friends. When we gossip about people behind their backs, when that gossip gets back to them, we have no right to be angry at God when that person is no longer our friend. And we could list many, many more examples couldn’t we? There are those times that the Lord has us live through the consequences of our sin out of love for us, so that we would repent. And instead of repenting, we are angry with God.

Jonah didn’t deserve that plant that provided shade. The Lord gave it to him by grace. And even more so, Jonah did not deserve to be in heaven. For he was a sinner. But the Lord gave him heaven by grace-God’s undeserved love. That was the only motivation God had for providing this plant and giving heaven to Jonah. And the same is true for us. We are saved by grace-and by grace alone.

People get into heaven by grace. But as these words continue we see that there is another answer to that question. For Jonah didn’t just commit one sin. No, he committed two sins. Jonah was angry at God for being too hard on him. But Jonah was also angry at God for being too easy on the Ninevites. The Ninevites were not nice people. They were a blood-thirsty, evil people. They attacked peaceful people. And when they conquered them they led them away as slaves. They put hooks in the noses of their slaves as they were marching to “encourage” them to march farther and faster. Make no mistake, the Ninevites were evil. And what Jonah was so angry about is that the people were so evil, but their salvation was so easy.

This too is our temptation, not just Jonah’s. There are people who live sinful, horrible lives. But just like these Ninevites, they repent of their sins. And when they die they go to heaven. And I’ve been at those funerals and preached those sermons where those who knew that person say, “there’s no way that person is in heaven. Pastor, you don’t know that that person did to me. If it’s that easy to get into heaven, then I don’t want to be there.”

And there’s the irony. There’s nothing easy about the path to heaven. There was nothing easy about Jesus being perfectly patient when day after day he dealt with one stupid, selfish sinner after another. And was perfectly patient in the place of everyone in the world. There was nothing easy about Jesus bleeding and dying on the cross to pay for the sins of the entire world in its place. There was nothing easy of the work Jesus did in coming to one person after another with his word and performing a miracle, giving that person faith in him instead of hatred. There is nothing easy about what Jesus still does, as we continue to sin day after day, and Sunday after Sunday Jesus gives us his true body and real blood to take away our sins.

There is nothing easy about the path that Jesus paves for us to get to heaven. People get to heaven by God’s grace alone. And people get to heaven by the costly price of Jesus blood. And the blood alone is the only price that pays for sin.

And that leads us to the last verses in our section today: 10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”” (Jonah 4:10-11 NIV)

When we see how much Jesus cares for all people, it moves us to repent. It moves us to repent of all the times we were angry at God for being too hard on us and too easy on others. It moves us to rejoice that we can sing the words of our Hymn of the Day and mean it:

Salvation unto us has come

By God’s free grace and favor.

Good works cannot avert our doom;

They help and save us never.

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,

Who did for all the world atone;

He is the one Redeemer.

And finally, these words lead us to respond. A couple of days ago I heard some people talking to each other. And the one guy said to the other, “I believe that God knows his own and that he will take all good people to heaven.” My brothers and sisters be ready to respond. Be ready to respond with the lesson that Jonah learned: No one is good. We, all of us, are filthy disgusting sinners who deserve hell. And when that person gets angry that it was so easy to get to heaven, you can say to them, “Whose blood is there on the cross? Only Jesus’ blood is there on the cross. That was the only payment that took away the world’s sin. And there was nothing about that payment that was easy. For people get to heaven by grace alone. And they get to heaven because of Jesus’ costly blood alone. Amen.

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