The Enemies of Christ Need the Gospel (Easter 3)

Saul

The Enemies of Christ Need the Gospel

Nobody chooses ugly. A few months ago, an old high school friend of mine posted pictures of herself on Facebook. They were before and after pictures. In one picture she had good lighting and make up on. And in the other picture she did not have make up on. And she went on to confess that she had always had problems with her skin. And she became very good with make up for one simple reason: nobody chooses the ugly girl. It’s true, isn’t it? We are drawn to that which is beautiful and that which is best. But it’s not that way with our Lord. Martin Luther put it this way: “God’s love does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. Human love comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.””1 This morning we have an amazing example of this. It would be hard to find a more ugly example of a human being than Saul. In Acts 9, we read: 1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” (Acts 9:1–9 NIV11-GKE)

It doesn’t get any uglier than what we read here in these words. In the book of Acts, three times we hear of what Paul’s life was like before he was a Christian. And every time there are more details which make us see how ugly Saul was. Here in these words, he hates Jesus so much that he is willing to get official letters from the high priest in Jerusalem and travel outside of Israel to Damascus so that he can arrest both men and women and put them to death in Jerusalem. There is no other word you can use for this than, “ugly.” And yet, Jesus chooses Saul. And he even appears to him on the road to Damascus. And he does this for one simple and important reason: The enemies of Christ need the gospel. Jesus wants all people to be saved. So Jesus reaches out to this man who is filled with such ugliness and preaches a very powerful message, “Saul, Saul, why are you hunting me down?”2 Out of love for him, he shows Saul his sin. But what happens next is just as interesting: 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”” (Acts 9:10–16 NIV11-GKE)

The enemies of Christ need the gospel. But notice what we see here. Jesus wants us to share the gospel with them. And here in these words we see what that looks like. Jesus tells this believer, Ananias to share the gospel with Saul. And Ananias asks Jesus if that is really a good idea. Ananias is scared of Saul. The enemies of Christ need to hear the gospel. And he has given that task to his church. But each of us can easily put ourselves in the shoes of Ananias. It is so easy to not share the gospel with unbelievers. It might be like Ananias that we are afraid of them and the harm they can do. It might be that we are angry at them. I remember when I was in high school and I had a Biology teacher who was zealous evolutionist. Day after day I had to hear him say, “Millions of years ago…” So I grew to hate him. Instead of praying that Jesus would change his heart to the truth, I prayed that God would put an end to him. It is easy to not share the gospel because it is so easy to hate those who hate Jesus. Or, we might not want to share the gospel with the enemies of Christ because they might actually be converted. And when they are converted, they might actually join our church. And we might actually have a person with a pierced nose and snake tattoos down the length of his body in our church. We might be embarrassed that a person who did not grow up in church might not instantly act as if he grew up in the church. We might hesitate. But Ananias went to Saul. And here’s what happened: 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” (Acts 9:17–19 NIV11-GKE)

Ananias goes to Saul. And the first action Ananias takes is to call this ugly man who hunted down Christians, “brother.”3 He gives him a name and a title that Saul did not deserve. He tells Saul that he was about to give him an amazing gift. He was about to give him the gift of the Holy Spirit. And then after giving him this promise, he fulfills that promise by baptizing him. And in those waters of baptism he brings forgiveness to him and washes away all of his sin.

And so, my brothers and sisters, this leads us to the question, why. Why did Ananias do this? First of all, no doubt, he recognized that there was once a time when he was an enemy of Christ. And each of us recognizes the same. Everyone of us has been and lived as an enemy of Christ. But God has washed away our sins in those waters of baptism. Second, As each of us sees that we are forgiven and how much we are forgiven, there is this amazing and natural joy at wanting others to have that same forgiveness. And that’s the joy that Ananias had. By God’s Holy Spirit, it wasn’t just Jesus who could say that the enemies of Christ needed to hear the gospel. It was Ananias too. And with joy in our hearts we too say the same today.

And with that joy, let there also be a prayer in our hearts today. One of the great difficulties of sharing the gospel with enemies of Christ is that they act like enemies of Christ. They do not have the joy we have. They do not understand. And what they do understand about Jesus, they despise. And our prayer is that our Savior, Jesus would give to us the same resolve, the same zeal, and the same joy to be able to reach out to the enemies of Christ around us in our lives and share the gospel with them. For the enemies of Christ need the gospel. Amen.


1 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 85.

2 “ⲧⲓⲙⲉⲇⲓⲱⲕⲉⲓⲥ” (Acts 9:4 GNT-ALEX)

3 “ⲁⲇⲉⲗⲫⲉ·” (Acts 9:17 GNT-ALEX)

Jesus’ Resurrection Is My Resurrection (Easter)

Easter

Jesus’ Resurrection Is My Resurrection

What is a mystery? A mystery is two things that don’t seem to go together, but yet do. Right before high school we moved to a new town. And in this new town there were kids who drove in from their ranches. And they wore cowboy clothing. And I always thought that was the greatest mystery. They wore cowboy boots, for example. Cowboy boots were initially made for riding on horses and walking on the plains and grasslands. And there my classmates were, getting out of their Ford F-350 ranch-rigs for class. That was a mystery. A few weeks ago I discovered another mystery. Years ago there were these clothing companies that got their name and their start by making high quality clothing for the outdoors. But now these clothing companies have become fashionable. So, on their discussion boards they talk more about whether this new shirt will match their sand-colored pants instead of talking about whether the shirt will last when it has days of backpack straps rubbing against it. A mystery is where you have two details that don’t seem to go together, but they do. This morning God’s word draws us into a massive mystery. At the end of 1 Corinthians 15, we read these words: 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:51–53 NIV11-GKE)

In these words Paul tells us that there will be an amazing exchange. The decaying will be exchanged for the imperishable. The dying will be exchanged for the immortal. What is Paul speaking about? He’s speaking about our bodies. And there’s your mystery. God gave us our bodies. We get used to them. We learn to care for them and take care of them. We get attached to them. And yet, as Christians, what do we at the very same time learn to do? We learn to be willing to say “goodbye” to them. And Paul here gives us the reason why: The decaying gives way to the imperishable. The dying gives way to the immortal.

What good news this is. For when you begin to get a little older you realize that your body begins to decay. You go out for a jog and you can’t catch your breath like those in their 20’s. You get done running and it takes your body days, not hours to recover. You decay. But even more, you are able to die. On more than one occasion I’ve been at the bedside of someone who is dying as they said, “how did the years go by so fast and I got this old?” But the great mystery is that we can say, “goodbye” to the bodies we are so used to because Jesus will exchange our old decaying and dying bodies for new ones. And all of this is true because Jesus’ resurrection is now my resurrection. But God’s word has more to tell us: 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54–57 NIV11-GKE)

In these words Paul gives us encouragements. Since Jesus’ resurrection is my resurrection, what is my reaction to this? Paul invites us to sing. Sing. Rejoice. Jesus resurrection is now your resurrection. But Paul goes into more detail, answering the question, why should I sing? The sting of death is sin. One of the challenges of preaching on Easter Sunday is that Easter preaching is built on top of Lenten Preaching. For this last entire season of Lent we have been preparing for this day by speaking about the real problem in our lives. The real problem in our lives is not too much snow. It’s not the high cost of housing or even renting a house. The real problem is my own sin. The real problem is that when I come into this world I don’t know who God is and I don’t want to know who God is. And I show God what I think of him all throughout my life. I lie. I cheat. I steal, or at least really want to. I hate. I think that I’m better than others. All of these sins I have and I commit, if not with my hands, then with my heart. And those sins demand payment and judgment. Who will right the wrongs I have committed? Our consciences tells us that what we have done is wrong and that we deserve the punishment of death and hell. But then Paul comes along in these words and tells us that death no longer has any sting. Why? Jesus’ resurrection is now my resurrection.

So my dear friends in Christ, on this day of victory, sing! Your voice may be rusty. And your voice may be out of tune. That’s ok. That’s why we have a beautiful organ and trumpet. They help. But sing. And sing with joy. For Christ’s resurrection is now your resurrection. Paul then ends with these words: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV11-GKE)

Christ’s resurrection is your resurrection. So sing. But here Paul adds this detail: Don’t just sing, also stand. The fact that Jesus’ resurrection is now my own shapes and structures every day of my life. When Paul says, “where O Death is your victory” that shapes and structures every day of our lives. It addresses all the “what ifs” that crush our hearts and keep us up at night. What if I don’t have any friends? Jesus is your friend and he proves it by rising from the dead. What if I don’t find a spouse? Jesus has risen from the dead, and even if you fly solo throughout this life, know both that Jesus is here with you now, and this life here now is just a blink of an eye to having our brand new bodies in heaven. What if I don’t get the right job? Jesus’ resurrection is now your own. If he has taken care of the greatest problem of your life: death and hell, won’t he also give you work for your hands and shelter for your head? It may not always be fun and fulfilling work. But just think of the work waiting for you in heaven. Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection is now your resurrection. What if—what if I grow sick, or frail, or get old, or die? Then Jesus will take you to be with him and when the time is right he will exchange your decaying and dying body with an upgraded version of your own body.

My dear friends in faith, Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection. Sing this truth. But don’t just sing this truth here on this day. Also, take your stand on that truth every day. Then, what Pauls says here will be true for you and already is. Then your labor out there in every day life is not in vain. But notice the context in which it is not in vain. Our english versions say, “your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV11-GKE). A better translation would be, that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.1 Your Lord Jesus has risen from the dead. So sing on this day. And take your stand on the fact that Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection every day. Amen.


158 ⲟ ⲕⲟⲡⲟⲥ ⲩ̈ⲙⲱⲛ ⲟⲩⲕ ⲉⲥⲧⲓⲛ ⲕⲁⲛⲟⲥ ⲉⲛ ⲕ̅ⲱ̅·” (1 Corinthians 15:58 GNT-ALEX)

Jesus Prepares A Feast For You (Maundy Thursday)

Lord's-Supper

Jesus Prepares A Feast For You

If you care, you prepare. When we used to live in Pennsylvania, Karin and the girls would travel over to visit her parents a number of times throughout the year—especially during the summer. I was left then to hold down the fort at home. But when I would be able to come over and visit, Karin’s mom would make Rouladen for me. Let me describe what Rouladen is. Rouladen is a meal made in southern Germany. It is braised beef wrapped around choice cuts of bacon, surrounding a dill pickle spear. And at the end, there is generous portions of gravy to go along with the Rouladen and dumplings. And, with so much goodness packed together at the same time, as you can well imagine, it tastes amazing. But to me, that’s not the most amazing part. The most amazing part is that I know that my Mother-in-law cares for me because of the extravagant amount of time it takes to prepare such a feast. If you care, you prepare. For a number of verses here in Luke 22, that is what we see in Jesus. We see how much he cares for his disciples and for us today in the extravagant planning and preparation he goes through for his disciples to prepare a feast for them. In Luke 22, we read: 7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” 9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. 10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” 13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.” (Luke 22:7–13 NIV11-GKE)

Look at the extravagant planning and preparation Jesus goes through to provide this feast for them. And, as we read these words we see why he went through this extravant planning. Jesus says that he thoroughly desired and really wanted this feast.1 But then we have the next question, don’t we: Why does he want this feast with them? And in the words that follow, we find answers to that question: 14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”” (Luke 22:14–18 NIV11-GKE)

Twice in these words what does Jesus emphasize? This Holy Supper that Jesus has with them will be finally fulfilled in heaven. This very earthly feast he was having with them connected them with a perfect feast he promised to have with them in heaven. Jesus wanted them to know that what made this feast special and meaningful was not the quality of wine they drank or the stories they told around the table. It wasn’t the texture of the bread or even the emotions in their hearts. What made it meaningful is the fact that this supper connected them to a perfect feast in heaven when the time was right.

And if we think about it even a little, that’s the problem with feasts. We can plan and prepare. But the taste of the food lasts a little while and we have to move onto with our lives or onto the couch to take a nap. The great problem we face and temptation to sin we have when it comes to this feast of the Lord’s Supper is that we try to make it meaningful instead of letting Jesus make it meaningful. And we face temptations to do this in so many ways: Did we buy the right bread or wine to use in the Lord’s Supper? When the wafer drops to the floor or the chalice drips down the side of the cup and we panic; when the pastor says, “take, drink” when you’re standing there with the wafer in your hand; When the feast is done and the pastor can’t get the fancy white cloth to cover all the silverware; When you leave and go to your seat and you think to yourself, “was I sad enough” or “was I happy enough?” All of these are examples of ways we can be tempted to sin for one simple reason: In all of these ways we are the ones who are trying to bring meaning and forge fulfillment in this feast. But, my friends in Christ, Jesus is the one who brings fulfillment to you in this feast. And when we do this we turn the amazing gospel of this sacrament into law. For it is no longer Jesus’ work that he does here. Instead, we face this huge temptation to make it our work.

And that’s why Jesus prepares this feast for you. He wants you to know that this feast is a premise and a promise of fulfillment to come in heaven. There we will be joined with him and all his apostles and disciples. There the wine will taste perfect. And there might even be Rouladen there too. Jesus prepares this feast for you. And it’s a feast finally fulfilled in heaven. But there’s more. We read: 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19–20 NIV11-GKE)

There, waiting for us in heaven is the fulfilled feast. But what is there right here and now in this feast? Jesus says it so clearly. Here in the Lord’s Supper there really, truly is Jesus’ body and blood along with that bread and wine. And that makes us as a very important question. Martin Luther, in our small catechism, asks the question:

What blessing do we receive through this eating and drinking?

That is shown us by these words, “Given” and “poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Through these words we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in this sacrament. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

If you get Jesus’ body and blood, what then do you also get? You also get forgiveness, life, and salvation. What amazing thought! What an amazing promise. For all the times we tried to force meaning where there wasn’t and forge fulfillment where Jesus alone only could, there Jesus is to give us his own body and blood to deliver forgiveness to us. Every time we were overly picky about the kind of bread or wine; every time we gasped with grief when a wafer dropped or the wine dripped; every time the pastor spoke the words for the wine when he was giving the bread; every time the pastor couldn’t cover all the silverware at all or soon enough—all those times we tried to forge fulfillment in the Lord’s Supper instead of letting Jesus do that word, here in our hands and here in our mouths Jesus gives to us his own body and blood. And since he promises to us that there is not just bread and wine here, and that there is also his body and blood, we also have forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

And so, my friends, from here on out, Jesus invites you to be just as eager to receive this supper as he is to prepare and provide it for you. For in this supper is a feast. It is a feast that is finally fulfilled in heaven. It is a feast full of forgiveness now. Amen.


1 “ⲉⲡⲓⲑⲩⲙⲓⲁⲉⲡⲉⲑⲩⲙⲏⲥⲁ” (Luke 22:15 GNT-ALEX)

Cry Out (Lent 6—Palm Sunday)

Palm Sunday Cross

Cry Out

Processions need preparation. Many months ago I thought it would be a good idea—it would be fun to expand our processions in our congregation to not just include the children, but also us adults. But then the joy was quickly replaced by the work of preparing. There was first of all the planning to answer the question, “why?” And so, with sermons, bible studies, emails, and other avenues, we talked about how processions are nothing new to our society and nothing new to the Christian Church. Christians have joined together in processions on special Sundays for thousands of years. And on Palm Sunday we have the privilege to not just picture Jesus riding into Jerusalem in our minds. But we also can picture that by walking with our own two feet. So there’s the preparation of teaching. But there’s also the preparation of the logistics—All the what and what if sorts of questions. And I thank you all for your willingness to spend the time learning a way of worship that is both very old and common throughout Christian Churches, but very new to our own church. Processions need preparation. But, as we look back to the first Palm Sunday, our procession here this morning was far less involved than Jesus’ own procession. Luke gives us the details in the 19th chapter of his gospel: 28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.” (Luke 19:28–36 NIV11-GKE)

Look at all the details. What we need to see here are promises and prophecies. The Lord had made many promises about what would happen on this day. And he also made many promises on how these events would happen. And here we see the amazing care Jesus has in arranging and preparing this procession. And Luke carefully records this to let us know that, even if we do not have control of every situation, Jesus does. But, as these words travel on we see that there are more reasons why Jesus carefully plans and prepares this procession: 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”” (Luke 19:37–38 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus prepares this procession so that God’s people would cry out in praise. The first way that they cry out in praise is to the Christ, the anointed one. Notice the two amazing titles they use for Jesus. They call him “the King.” Jesus was the son, the descendent of David. Jesus was the true King of Jerusalem. This was his city. This was his home. The second title they call him is the “Coming One”. This is a title we are not as used to. But it was one they knew very well. And all of these were powerful titles that these disciples cried out.

So they cried out to the Christ. But they also cried out to the heights and heavens. Why is it that they are crying out to the heights and heavens? There is where God was. Praise has a direction. Hands are lifted up to heaven. Here voices are lifted up as the people cry out in praise.

And here is where we ask the important question, “why is this so important?” This event is so important because there is nothing better or more beautiful in the ears of our Father in heaven than to hear his people praising him. For the fact that that has happened shows that a miracle has taken place. People do not naturally praise God. By nature, as we all come into this world, we all do not know who the true God is. And the little we do know about God, we hate. And so, when the Holy Spirit creates faith in us through is word, a miracle happens. And when we cry out in praise, our Father sees this and rejoices in this. And so, on this day, sing your “hosannas.” On this day, call Jesus by the names and titles he likes to be called by. Cry out in praise. But, my friends, that’s not the end of these words. In our final few verses, we read: 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”” (Luke 19:39–40 NIV11-GKE)

These words take a strange turn in these last two verses. In the beginning words the people cry out in praise. But in these words, Jesus threatens to have the stones cry out. Now, my dear friends, here is where I invite you to listen closely so that you will know what these words mean and what they do not mean. When I was a child I thought that these words meant that God does not like to be alone. And so, if we didn’t exist, he would make stones alive so that they could praise him. That’s not what is going on here. Here in these words Jesus is reaching out to the Pharisees to call them to repentance. Here we are taken back to a very Old Testament way of speaking. You remember back to the very beginning when Cain killed Abel. Do your remember what the Lord said? He said these words: 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:9–10 NIV11-GKE)

Notice the point of these words. Cain had committed murder. The preaching in this passage is that there are some sins that are so grievous that they demand justice and punishment. And these sins are so violent and so grievous that if there is no one there to act as a witness, then the lifeless parts of creation will then be called on as witnesses to testify against the sin so that there can be vengeance. So, in Genesis, the Lord calls on blood as a witness against murder. Here on Palm Sunday Jesus calls on stones as witnesses against unbelief. The Pharisees who had more of God’s word at their fingertips and in their hearts and minds than so many others should have known that Jesus was the Christ. They should have been there with palm branches in their hands and praise on their lips. But instead, the only thing they had to offer was unbelief. And the heartless way they treated Jesus demands justice and vengeance.

What a strange place to end. Why couldn’t we have just said our “hosannas” and gone home in joy? Why do we need to hear of stones crying out for judgment? These words are a present and powerful reminder to us that all the days we are on this earth we will need to hear both law and gospel, both sin and grace. There will always be this need to crush our sinful nature with threats of vengeance and punishment. And my dear friends, there will always be the need to comfort our souls with the reminder of why Jesus came to Jerusalem at all. In one of our hymns, we sing:

Abel’s blood for vengeance Pleaded to the skies.
But the blood of Jesus For our pardon cries.1

And so, my dear friends in Christ, in humility be ever so willing to loudly and joyously cry out in praise to Jesus. But also, in humility, be ever so willing to let even the stones cry out in punishment against your sinful nature. For there will be a day when we are in heaven where there will be no stones to cry out against us. Instead, there will only be people to praise our King Jesus along with us. Amen.


1 CW 103:4

What If You Don’t Know? (Lent 5)

Lent

What If You Don’t Know?

They needed to know. During the Civil War it was well-known that one of the brightest and most brilliant generals was Robert E. Lee. He was a commander of the armies of the South. He was brilliant because he could gather data and then quickly go into action. But his strength was also his weakness. For, towards the end of the war he ended up sending his troops into battle without enough data. And, in one battle, the soldiers wrote their names on their backs. They wrote their names on their backs because they knew more than their general did. They knew that, as bravely as they fought, they wouldn’t be coming home. So, they put their names on their backs so that, the people the next day would know who they were, and their family members would eventually know what happened. All of this they did because they needed to know. These are the sort of actions people take to communicate when there are no GPS devices and no cell phones. Communication was slow and it wasn’t always reliable. But my friends, what if you don’t know? What if you don’t know all the details and all the context? What do you do then? This morning Jesus teaches us a parable and a lesson. And the parable is about one who does not know. In Luke 20, we read: 9 He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out. 13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” (Luke 20:9–15 NIV11-GKE)

I these words Jesus introduces us to an owner of a vineyard. He rents out the vineyard to tenants. And when it’s time to get some proof that the tenants are actually doing their work, he sends a servant to get proof that they have been faithful in taking care of the vineyard. And here is where the parable gets interesting. The servants beat the first servant. The owner is many miles away. There are no cell phones. There’s no facebook updates. There’s nothing. He does not know why they beat his servant. So what does he do? He puts the best construction on the situtation. And he sends another servant. They reject him and send him away. The owner is frustrated. But he works hard to be optimistic. So he sends a third servant. The tenants beat the servant up and threw him out.1

Now, here at this point, you would think that the owner would begin to realize that he can be as optimistic as he wants, but it will not change reality. These tenants are bad people. But does he? No. He is still optimistic. And he makes the final, tragic mistake. He sends his own son because he’s convinced that they will respect him. And to no surprise to any of the people who were listening to Jesus, when the tenants see the son, they kill him so that they get his inheritance. And Jesus ends the parable with the question, “What will the owner do?” The fancy word for this sort of a question is a “deliberative subjunctive.” In other words, this is not a passing question, a rhetorical question that is said for emphasis. No, instead, this is a question that Jesus wants the people of Jerusalem and us to today to really think about and think through.

What do you do if you do not know? The owner of the vineyard did not know, so he went way beyond the call of duty. He concluded that wicked people were actually good. Isn’t our temptation that, when we do not know, we put the worst construction on it? Martin Luther in our catechisms puts it this way:

THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him or give him a bad name, but defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.

Our temptation to sin is that, when we do not know, we arrive at the worst conclusion. When we do not know because we do not talk to people, we fill in the gaps and our sinful nature gets the best of us. And sometimes even when we do talk to people this happens when we misunderstand the words that people use. Years and years ago there was a man who had been a member for years. The man was quite wealthy. But every Sunday he would come to church and put a very small amount of money in the offering plate. This happened week after week and year after year. And finally there was an elder who told the pastor that it was wrong that the man came year after year and gave so little when God had blessed him with so much. The pastor asked the elder if he had ever met the man’s wife. The elder confessed that he hadn’t. So he went and visited the man and his wife. And then he understood. The wife hated Jesus and the church that her husband went to. She said that all the church wanted was their money. So the man came to church, Sunday after Sunday, wanting to give more. But because of his wife’s hatred of the church, he was only able to give what he could get away with. The elder came back to the pastor and told him that now he understood.

What do you do when you don’t know? There is a huge irony in these words that Jesus speaks. In all the other parables Jesus speaks, the people don’t know where Jesus is going because they haven’t heard the parable before. This parable is different. And we see that from the words that follow: 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!” 17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” 19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.” (Luke 20:16–19 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus asks that question he wants them to think about and think through: What should the owner do? And when Jesus gives the answer, that he will come and kill the tenants in righteous judgment, their response makes no sense. The say, “May this never be!”2 Their response seems strange, at least, until we realize that they have already heard this parable. This parable was 800 years old by this point. We read this parable already in our first lesson. They said, “May this never be,” because they knew that they were the tenants. They were the ones deserving of judgment. Jerusalem was ripe to be punished. And Jesus was the stone that would crush them.

What do you do when you do not know? The people of Jerusalem did know. They knew the point of the parable. But as we close these words, what amazes us is that Jesus too knew. Jesus knew that every hour he spent in his own city of Jerusalem brought him closer to being put to death outside the walls just like the son in the parable. And what amazes us is that he knows all of this and yet does it anyway. He does this to prove their worthiness of being punished. But he also does this to pay for their sins and our today too. Jesus keeps coming back to Jerusalem so that he can die outside of Jerusalem. And that sacrifice pays for all the times we thought we knew the truth when we didn’t even speak to people. That sacrifice pays for all the times we went so far as to actually speak to someone and then completely misunderstood what they were saying. His sacrifice pays for that too. And his sacrifice paves the way for the Holy Spirit to teach us through his word the good and proper path.

So, my dear friends in Christ, what do you do when you don’t know? Cling to Christ who knew it all and was sacrificed for you. And, day by day, wrestle and struggle by the power of God’s Holy Spirit to take people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.


1 “ⲧⲣⲁⲩⲙⲁⲧⲓⲥⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥⲉⲝⲉⲃⲁⲗⲟⲛ·” (Luke 20:12 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲙⲏⲅⲉⲛⲟⲓⲧⲟ·” (Luke 20:16 GNT-ALEX)