I Told You Ahead of Time (Third to Last Sunday)


I Told You Ahead of Time

It is good to know ahead of time. You could avoid many problems if you knew about them ahead of time, couldn’t you? This fact is so true and so important that there are dozens of proverbs we use in our every day life that echo this fact: First:An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Second:  Forewarned is forearmed. Third: And now you know; and knowing if half the battle. This morning that is what our Savior does for us. He tells us important details ahead of time. In Matthew 24, we read: 15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.” (Matthew 24:15–21 NIV11-GKE)

In these words Jesus is telling the people of his own time about the persecution that would happen to the people of Jerusalem in the decades after his death. But then, as quickly as he brings these details up about his own time, he then looks ahead. He lets us know that in the last days—the days we are in, there will be persecutions too. And here, today, we see that these words are true. Across the world there is immense pressure put on the Christian church to give up the truth and conform to what the world wants. In China, Africa, and in Indonesia, there are real consequences for holding to your Christian faith. And here in our own land there is persecution too. It is not as ‘in your face’ as it is overseas. But it’s here. If you hold to what the bible says about gender or marriage you will stand out in our society. And our society will let you know that you are out of step with what they preach. So Jesus tells us ahead of time. There will be big persecutions. But what also will there be? 22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.” (Matthew 24:22–23 NIV11-GKE)

Notice how bold Jesus is. In his own way, he is telling us to not be naïve. We teach our children that not everyone who wants to give us candy at Halloween is a friend. Jesus is telling us that not everyone who claims to be a Christian prophet or pastor should be trusted. And then he even adds some more details to this: 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.” (Matthew 24:24–25 NIV11-GKE)

Notice what Jesus says here. For these words are easy to overlook. In these last days there will even be false preachers who will even be able to perform miracles. Now here is where it’s important to think about these details. I used to think that if God were in favor of a prophet and his teaching he would allow that man to perform miracles to confirm what he is preaching. But notice the pattern that Jesus lays down for us here in these last days. In these last days the ones who are held up as being false teachers are the ones who perform signs and wonders. Years ago I asked myself the question, ‘why would the Lord allow this?’ And in our first reading God gives us the answer: to test us.1 We know who the true teachers of God’s word are not because of signs, wonders, and miracles in these last days. Instead, we look to their teaching. If what they teach and preach is in line with the bible, then we listen to them.

So notice what Jesus tells us: First, there will be big persecutions in these last days. Second, there will be big signs from false prophets. And Jesus says, “I told you ahead of time.” But, sadly, our temptation is that when Jesus says “I told you ahead of time,” we can get bored and uncaring. Persecutions—that’s what happens to other people in other countries. I can tell you that there are many Christian Parents who brought their children to church Sunday after Sunday, but then when those children went to high school and universities, they were, month after month pressured to give up their faith. And they did. And those parents would tell you that the persecutions are subtle, but they are real and sustained.

And the same is true when it comes to false prophets. Jesus speaks very often about false prophets. But when a faithful Christian pastor goes into detail, showing areas where there are churches that preach the truth and, on the other hand, there are areas where there are churches are not in line with God’s word—when a Christian pastor does this, it is ever-so-easy to become uncomfortable that he’s correcting the false teaching or false teacher. Or just as bad, we can conclude that false teaching in Christian churches isn’t really that bad at all.

Those are our temptations to sin: to not care when it comes to pressure from the outside the Christian Church or from false preaching from within the church. We repent of those sins. And look what Jesus does. He gives us good news. And here the good news is to tell us ahead of time.

First, he gives us details of what it will look like in these last days ahead of time. It’s as if he’s giving us this big check-list for our comfort. Wars and rumors of wars: check. Persecutions: Check. False prophets: Check. How comforting this is that when it seems as if the world around us is falling apart and our churches are crumbling from within, Jesus tells us ahead of time. He lets us know this is how it’s going to be. But he preserve his church for us—for the sake of the elect.

Second, Jesus promised a payment for our sin. It’s not just the persecutions and false prophets he told us about ahead of time. It’s also what will happen on Judgment Day. When the last day comes or when we die, we will stand before Jesus and all the times that Jesus was sober, alert, zealous, and diligent will cover over all the times we were careless. Jesus promises us this ahead of time.

Third, Jesus tells us ahead of time a massive detail that we need to know: 26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.” (Matthew 24:26–28 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus tells us ahead of time with such words of comfort that we are not going to miss his arrival at the end. He gives us two pictures. First, the lightning. When there’s a massive thunderstorm, it’s hard to miss. The ground shakes and the light flashes from one side of the sky to the other. You can’t miss it. That’s what Jesus return will be like. Second, You can’t miss where the carcasses are. In PA I used to visit a shut-in in Altoona. And, on many occasions I’d travel down a mountain valley. And there at the other end of the valley there would be all these birds circling around. And when I got close I found what they were circling over. There was a dead deer there. When I saw this, what could I be sure of? Whenever I saw the birds circling overhead, I knew there was a dead deer below. You can’t miss it. Jesus tells us ahead of time that we will not miss his return.

In three ways Jesus says to us good news. He does this so that we would know our sins are forgiven and look ahead to heaven. But he also does this so that we would repent, wake ourselves up and recognize that there will be big persecutions from the outside of the church. And there will be false prophets with big miracles from within the church. Jesus tells us all this ahead of time. And now you know…and knowing is half the battle. Amen.

1 Deuteronomy 13

What Could Anger Jesus? (All Saints)


What Could Anger Jesus?

Some people are very humble. Years ago, when I was studying to be a pastor, we had a classmate who was very humble. He grew up in South Dakota. And all his classmates—especially those from Wisconsin made fun of him for growing up in South Dakota. And it was interesting, as an outsider, to see the progression. They made fun of him. And the guy was so humble that often he made fun of himself. And that had this strange reaction that it was no longer fun to make fun of the guy that makes fun of himself. And so, would seem them saying how South Dakota “wasn’t that bad.’” And at the end of all of this, you ended up asking the question, “What could get that guy angry?” This morning we meet a man far more humble than anyone who grew up in South Dakota. Jesus was very humble. What then is it that could make him angry? In John 11 we find an answer: 32 As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and told him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” 33 When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked. “Lord,” they told him, “come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”” (John 11:32–36 CSB17)

In order for us to understand what is going on here, we need to ask the question, “who was Lazarus?” Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha. And evidently, as Jesus got to know Mary and Martha well, he also got to know Lazarus well. And they shared a strong friendship. And when Jesus sees Mary and Martha he breaks down and weeps. And even the people gathered there take note of how strong of a friendship he had with Lazarus.1

That’s who Lazarus was. But when Jesus sees Mary and Martha and confronts the fact that his friend is dead, what is Jesus’ reaction. He becomes angry.2 Very, very rarely will you find me criticizing or correcting our english versions. But here is one place where they should have worked harder. Jesus is deeply moved. But he is also angry. And the important question to ask is the one we started with: What could make Jesus angry? And the answer is here, staring at us. Death is what makes Jesus angry. One of the fact about living in a fallen world is that death is all around us. We see it when we see raccoons dead at the side of the road. And even more so, we see it when our loved ones die and are no longer part of our lives. And our great temptation to sin is to hear the sermon that the world around us preaches and conclude that it’s true. When the world tells us that, whether we’re talking about a raccoon on the side of the road or a human in a casket, it’s natural; it’s normal, we have this real temptation to conclude that they’re right. When we lay our loved one to rest in the ground, we have sorrow. But there should also be some anger there. Look how broken our world is: Take our relationship with our parents and grandparents as an example. We spend years growing up and so very often not appreciating them as best we should. Then we grow up and we appreciate them but then we’re busy—with kids and with work. And then they are taken from us. And death is what does that horrible and terrible work. Doesn’t that make you even a little bit angry? Here Jesus is angry. He is angry at death for the times we should have been but was not. What is it that could make this humble man and Savior so angry? Death. But there’s more: 37 But some of them said, “Couldn’t he who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 “Remove the stone,” Jesus said. Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”” (John 11:37–40 CSB17)

Again Jesus is angry. But look at what Jesus is angry at. Look at the clear doubt they show. They say, “He healed a blind guy. Couldn’t he have also healed Lazarus?’” Their doubt, as raw and resisting as it was, was what drove Jesus to anger. And here is where we have to understand where Jesus was in his earthly ministry. This was not just beginning his earthly ministry. He was at the end. In just a few days he would be hanging from the cross slowly dying for them. But instead of listening to his sermons, they listened to their own doubts. How many miracles had he already performed? How many months of sermons had they already heard?

And so, Jesus is angry at their doubt. But he is also angry at ours. Death and doubt go hand in hand. Does an afterlife and eternal life really exist? Are these words that we read so often really true? Will I die in agony or peacefully in my sleep? What will happen to my children and grandchildren after I die? All these great and many doubts we have because we are driven to them by death. And just as he was angry at their doubts amidst so many promises from him, he in angry at ours too. And here is where these words take a beautiful turn: 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42 I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me.”” (John 11:41–42 CSB17)

Their doubt and death itself drives Jesus to anger. But here is where these words are so precious to us. For Jesus uses his anger in a way that we would not expect. Jesus uses his anger to pray. And notices who it is he is praying for. Jesus is not subtle or sneaky. He bluntly says “I am saying this for you”. He wants them to know that he is praying for them. What is it that dispels their doubts? Jesus’ prayers. And the same is true for you. When you doubt that eternity in heaven exists, or that these words are true, or that your sins are really forgiven, Jesus still today prays for you and for me. He prays for our faith and against our doubt. And still today our Father in heaven still answers his prayers. That’s how he uses his anger: to pray for us. But he uses his anger in yet one more way: 43 After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”” (John 11:43–44 CSB17)

Jesus uses his anger to give life. These are words you have to use your imagination and picture. In his anger Jesus shouts at Lazarus and commands him to come out. And Lazarus obeys. With the strips of linen still on his hands and face, he comes out. Jesus does this for the benefit of all those gathered there thinking that death is normal and natural and that there’s nothing we could do but slowly accept it. No, in his anger, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead to let us know that life, not death, is normal and natural. Death destroys our earthly life. That is true. But in his loving anger for us, Jesus destroys death’s power over us both by paying for it on Good Friday and by rising on Easter Sunday, promising that we too will rise.

And because of that this Sunday is a special Sunday. This is All Saints Day. This is the Sunday where we get to lift our eyes to heaven. For there in heaven are all those who have died in Christ, believing in him. And there in heaven we will be too. And there is this great comfort and promise from Jesus in knowing that if time, or age, or distance kept us from getting to know our loved ones as we would have liked, there in heaven it will be normal and natural to spend all eternity getting to spend time with them. There in heaven it will be normal and natural to never have death affect us again. That, my dear friends in Christ, is why Jesus got angry. That is why he got angry for you—so that he could pray for you and so that he would give you what is normal and natural: eternal life. Amen.

1 “ⲓ̈ⲇⲉⲡⲱⲥⲉⲫⲓⲗⲉⲓⲁⲩⲧⲟⲛ” (John 11:36 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲉⲃⲣⲓⲙⲏⲥⲁⲧⲟ” (John 11:33 GNT-ALEX)

Let Us Be Theologians of the Cross (Reformation)


Let Us Be Theologians of the Cross

What is a theologian of the cross? 501 years ago Martin Luther nailed up 95 topics for discussion and debate in the town of Wittenberg. And that was the beginning of the Reformation. But it wasn’t exactly the clearest and best beginning. People knew that Luther was against selling indulgences. But they didn’t know what he was for. Word of this monk, Luther was spreading. So the Pope ordered his order, the Augustinian order to deal with the Luther problem. So, a man by the name of Johann Von Staupitz, Luther’s superior, held a meeting of the Augustinian order. But instead of holding the meeting to crush Luther. He held the meeting to give Luther a chance to clearly explain these “new ideas” that he was thinking of. It was the perfect environment for Luther. For Augustinians loved Augustine. But they loved God’s word even more.

And so, one by one, Luther brought up one theological topic after another. And about half way through he gets to a theme. He writes: “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls a thing what it actually is.”1 Luther shows us the bad guy. The bad guy is the theologian of glory. The theologian of glory tries to answer theological questions by looking inside himself and out there at the created world. But the one place he does not look is the bible. The theologian of the cross looks to the bible. So this morning, we have as our theme and prayer, “Let us be theologians of the cross.”

Free will, after [the fall into] sin, exists in name only.2 When I took history class in college, we learned about the Holy Roman Empire. And the first fact our professor taught us was that the name didn’t help us at all in understanding what the Holy Roman Empire was. For, he said, it was neither Holy, nor Roman, and not even much of an empire. Freewill is like that. It has a name. But it’s a name without much meaning. Humans have freewill when it comes to earthly issues, having to do with reason—eating a burger or burrito for lunch. But freewill is a useless name when it comes to spiritual issues. And Luther illustrates it this way: When we do what what comes naturally to us, it leads to death. There was this idea in Luther’s day (and it’s still here in our’s too), that people, as they come into this world do not know who God is. But there were two solutions to this problem. First, you do what comes naturally to yourself: you seek God and do works that are pleasing to him.3 Second, God will see your good works and then do the rest of the work to let you into heaven. And Luther lets us know that the bible tells us that this is wrong. Our will is not free to do good. As we come into this world, before we are Christians, we are not able to do good at all. We have no freedom to do good. But we do have a freedom to yearn for and plan evil. In that context we are perfectly free. A theologian of the cross what it actually is. Each of us has this selfish, sinful voice inside of us that wants to play a role in our salvation, to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. But at theologian of the cross calls a thing what it actually is. Freewill exists in name only. For we are slaves to sin. But the good news is that Jesus came into this world. And he set us free from sin. He set us free from sin by dying and paying for our sin. He set us free by giving us a new person to wage war against the old. A theologian calls a thing what it actually is: freewill, after the fall, exists in name only.

The invisible God is not known through what is visible. The theologian of the cross calls something what it is. God is invisible. What he is is invisible. The Holy Spirit and the work he is is invisible. The gift of faith that God creates in us is invisible. Luther reminds us that a theologian of glory tries to find out who God is and what his glory is by looking at what is visible. Instead, we should look at what is invisible. This is a statement that we have to think through a little. For one of the traps we can fall into as Christians is that we can know who God is by looking at creation, or even worse, thinking that God talks to us through creation. For example, if you go away camping for a weekend and you see the leaves falling, you can conclude, “God must be good because of all these pretty colors.” But another person could well and truly conclude that God is evil. Why? He turns these leaves pretty so that he can cause them to die. If you want to see who God really truly is, you cannot look to what is seen—especially creation around us. But this theology of glory gets even worse. The theology of glory concludes that since Jesus visibly rose from the grave, victorious over sin and Satan, the church and Christians in the church will have a victorious life. So then, according to the theology of Glory, the true church is the one that is always growing. The true church is the one in which its members have the best life now instead of having the best life in heaven.

The theology of the cross, however, calls a thing what it is. Luther writes: “The person deserves to be called a theologian, however, who understands the visible and the “back side” of God [Exod. 33:23] seen through suffering and the cross.”” 4 If you want to see Jesus; if you want to see the Father’s glory, don’t look at the leaves. The leaves do not sweetly sing to you. Do not look at your life. For there you will find many failures. Instead, if you want to see the Father’s glory, look at Jesus. Jesus himself tells us this in John 14: 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8–9 NIV11-GKE) If you want to see the Father’s glory, look to Jesus. But even more than that, look at his suffering. Look at his shame. Look at your Savior bleeding and sighing there on the cross. Then and there you will begin to see your God’s glory. For there you will begin to see and take to heart your God’s love for you and forgiveness won for you. A theologian of the cross calls a thing what it actually is.

What is a saint? You can tell a lot about people by the expressions they use. One of the expressions I’ve heard over the years goes like this: “Well, I’m no saint, but…’” Notice the point the person is making. There are really good people out there. There are people who are better than I am. They are better because they work harder with their hands than I do. They are better than I am because they work harder with their hearts than I do. They deserve to be called, “saints.” But, my friends in Christ, that attitude is wrong. To use Luther’s language, that is the theology of glory. How do? Luther puts it this way: “The law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “Believe in this One,” and everything has already been done.””5 The theology wants to look to things it can see. The theologian of glory wants to see progress and improvement in his or her life so that there is proof of being a Christian and also then proof of having a place in heaven. The problem though is that if you look to yourself for proof, you always need more proof. And you end up in despair. That’s the theology of glory. But the bible and the theologian of the cross has a different definition. Luther puts it this way: “And the law… commands what faith obtains.” 6 God’s word demands that we be perfect if we are to get into heaven. Faith gives us that perfection. But make no mistake. It is not our perfection that faith claims. It’s Christ’s perfection. And the result is that when our Father looks at us, through this gift of faith, he sees Christ’s perfection on our behalf.

1 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 99.

2 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 95.

3 Facere quod in se est

4 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 99.

5 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 103.

6 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 103.

What Is Better Than Wonders? (Pentecost 22)


What Is Better Than Wonders?

Wonders don’t work. When I was a child the time of the year when we got our toys was Christmas. And part of the excitement of Christmas wasn’t just seeing what presents we got, but also seeing what presents our friends got. And I remember visiting a neighbor up the road. He got the Millenium Falcon. That was the sort of gift that very few children got both because it costed lots of money and because they were usually sold out before you got to the store. But my friend had that sort of gift that would inspire the thought, “wow!” inside me. But weeks later I went over to visit him. And the Millenium Falcon was in pieces in his room. Here, he had this wondrous toy that so many only dreamed of having. But it was wasted on him. Why? Wonders don’t work. The problem is not with the wonders that wow us. The problem is us. That’s the thought that Jesus brings to our brains as we begin to read these words in John 4: 46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. 48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”” (John 4:46–48 NIV11-GKE)

There’s a man who comes to Jesus expecting and pleading for a wonder. And in response Jesus says, “unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never ever believe!”1 Jesus brings up here a fact of every day life in a fallen world. We look to wows and wonders in our lives. But what happens when we receive them? We become bored with the wonders and even worse: we are tempted to trust in the wonder rather than the one who gave them. Look at our lives. Our good and gracious Lord gives us peace from wars and disasters so that we are able to use our brains to develop technologies that would be truly wonders to every other generation before us. But the wonders we see around us become boring. And we are tempted to trust in them instead of the one who gave them to us. And yet, what does this man do? He is persistent and tells Jesus: “The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”” (John 4:49 NIV11-GKE)

It’s good for us to have a look at this man for a moment. He is a royal person.2 When you are rich or royal or both you have people to travel for you. But notice what happens here. The royal official leaves his boy on his death bed and walks out to find Jesus. And he begs Jesus to come with him. But what does Jesus do? We read: ““Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” (John 4:50 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus gives him a better gift than wonders. Jesus does not go with him. Instead, he sents him away with the bare-bones skeleton of a promise. In our english versions Jesus says, “Your son will live.”3 And that sort of gets at the point. But a little more precise is that Jesus is saying, “your son continues to live.” Jesus tells him that his son is still alive and hints that the situation will work out.

Jesus gives him a better gift than wonders. He gives him the ability to wait. Now, here is where both this royal man and we today might ask the question, “Why is waiting better than wonders?” The problem with wows and wonders is that they don’t work. We receive something that truly “wows” us and then aren’t content with it. We receive a wonder and then we are tempted to trust in the wonder rather than the one who gave it.

But look at this man. Look at what Jesus did with the waiting. This royal man walked more than a day to get to Jesus. He has a short conversation with Jesus and then he has to take a two day trip back home. If a man were unburdened, had food and water, and were in really good shape, he could make the trip in a day. But this man isn’t an olympic runner. And the road is steep and there’s a mountain pass. So he walks back home throughout the day and sleeps overnight—or at least tries to. And the entire time he is asking himself, “Is my boy still alive?” He, not doubt, is saying to himself, “If he dies before I get there I will not have had the chance to say ‘goodbye.’” He wonders whether this man who he had never met before would keep his word. This man has to wait. And the waiting yields results: As every hour goes on, the wonder he was looking for became more needed. And as every hour dragged on he realized that Jesus was the only one who could provide this wonder. And finally he arrives at home. And then what happens? 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.”” (John 4:51–53 NIV11-GKE)

The royal man arrives at home. His servants run out to meet him. And they tell him that the fever left his son and his son was well and healthy. But that isn’t enough for the man. He has to ask that next important question: what time? What time was he healed? And he learns that it was the precise time when Jesus was speaking to him. And in this we see why the waiting was worth it. His infant, fragile faith grew up. His faith drove home the fact that Jesus was the only one who could work this wonder. And Jesus worked this wonder not from ten feet away, but instead from miles away. And we see then the result of all that waiting: 53 So he and his whole household believed. 54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.” (John 4:53–54 NIV11-GKE)

What Jesus did for this royal man he does for us. Waiting is so much better than the wonder. Because in the waiting Jesus so graciously gives us one gift after another. First, Jesus gives us contentment in our waiting. How often is it that we receive a wonder in our lives and the joy and contentment is washed away by by the next problem and stress? But, as we see one promise fulfilled after another by Jesus, that teaches us to be content even while we wait. Second, Jesus gives us trust in our waiting. We learn not to confuse the gift with the giver and the wonder with the wonder-worker. The waiting, just like this man walking on the road, causes us to see and appreciate that our Triune God is the one who works all wonders and gives all gifts. And finally, in this waiting we remember the one who waited perfectly in our place. When I think of waiting I think of a different boy than this boy in Capernaum. I think of the boy Jesus in the temple. There he is, with more knowledge than all his teachers. They are wowed by him and surround him to talk about God’s word with him. But then his parents come back and what does he have to do? He has to go home with them, submit to them, and most of all wait. He waits for a decade and a half before he can officially and publicly be who he is. But my dear friends, he did all of this waiting willingly and perfectly in our place.

And so, my dear friends when those times of waiting come, remember this royal man. Remember that so very often what is even better than the wonder is the waiting. When you have to wait till you grow up; when you have to wait for your children to come home at night, when you have to wait for results of the doctor’s test; when you have to wait for Judgment Day itself—when you have to wait for all these and more, remember that it is precisely in the waiting that God gives us contentment, trust, and the powerful reminder of his great forgiveness won for you in your place. Amen.

1 “ⲉⲁⲛⲙⲏ … ⲓ̈ⲇⲏⲧⲉⲟⲩⲙⲏⲡⲓⲥⲧⲉⲩⲥⲏⲧⲉ” (John 4:48 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲃⲁⲥⲓⲗⲉⲓⲕⲟⲥ” (John 4:49 GNT-ALEX)

3 “ⲟⲩ̈ⲓ̈ⲟⲥⲥⲟⲩⲍⲏ·” (John 4:50 GNT-ALEX)

Come To A Royal Wedding (Pentecost 21)


Come To A Royal Wedding

Some invitations you cannot turn down. Months ago there was a royal wedding in England. And part of the challenge for us over here in the USA is to recognize how huge of an event this was for them. To us, getting a seat at that wedding would be like getting season tickets to every Superbowl for the next 50 years. But all of these examples and illustrations are pretty wimpy compared to the invitation we read about here in God’s word. For the people that Jesus speaks about here in this story are people who are invited to a wedding for a king with power. In Matthew 22, we read: 1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. 4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.” (Matthew 22:1–5 NIV11-GKE)

What does God working in this world and through his word look like? It looks like a wedding. But not just a normal wedding. No, it’s the wedding a king puts on for his son. When a king sends invitations to that sort of wedding, who in the world could say no? And yet, in these words, that’s exactly what we see. The first group of people are personally invited through these messengers. And what was their response? They didn’t care.1 Again, they had a once in a lifetime opportunity. And they didn’t care. But there was another reaction from another group: 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7” (Matthew 22:6 NIV11-GKE) The second group cared—they cared enough to kill the messengers.

What happens next is not too surprising then, I suppose. We read: “The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” (Matthew 22:7 NIV11-GKE) The king is angered and offended. So he brings justice to them and ends them.

The picture then shifts back to the wedding banquet. As the army is marching away to kill the murderers the meal is getting cold. So what does the king do? 8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10” (Matthew 22:8–9 NIV11-GKE) Here we find an odd pattern. Would invite “anyone you could find” to your wedding? That would bring up so much room for someone to wreck your wedding. But that’s what the king does. But he does this with a context in mind. He says that the first group of guests were not worthy.2 In that context he sends his servants out inviting anyone they could find. And so we read: 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 22:10–13 NIV11-GKE)

The servants went out and found both good and bad people. And it showed. For the king went into his banquet hall to look at his quests. And he found one who was not wearing clothes appropriate for a wedding. Now whether the expectation was a fancy and expensive clothing or just that the man would take a shower and put on his best clothing, we don’t know. The context is clear though that what everyone expected, he didn’t wear. The king throws him outside where there is darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth. And what was the reason for this? Jesus concludes with these words: ““For many are invited, but few are chosen.”” (Matthew 22:14 NIV11-GKE) Many, many people were invited to the wedding. But few would end up at the wedding with the right attitude and right understanding.

So, my dear friends in Christ, how do we make sense of this parable and apply it to our every day lives? With these words Jesus exposes our sin. Each of us has a standing invitation to the wedding banquet in heaven and a foretaste of that every Sunday. And Jesus exposes sin in these words. But he does so from the outside in. When Jesus invites people to be at his wedding supper in heaven, he invites everyone. Some will receive that invitation and will not care. Others will receive that invitation and will care enough to try and kill Jesus and those who follow him. But Jesus quickly narrows down to the one who sins in a far more subtle way. He narrows in on the man who should have known about the wedding clothes, but was speechless. And we can see ourselves in his very own example. Like the man without the wedding clothes, our temptation is to conclude that God should be content with our stinky sins like the king should have been content with the unshaved, un-showered man who sat there eating his food. We face the temptation to conclude that our sins really aren’t that bad. And God above and those around us should have to be content with them. In short, our sin is not wrestling against sin and instead being quite at home with sin.

But the other temptation is just as bad. We face this real sin to not rejoice at the wedding we have an invitation to. Each of us has an invitation to the wedding supper there with Jesus and all the saints in Christ who have gone before us. That should fill us with enough joy that we willingly get up, get showered, get to church, stay awake with joyful eyes as we sing our hymns and hear those sermons. But so often the cares of our every day life crowd out our joy of being there at the wedding in heaven.

This parable is a challenging one because it is one that exposes our sin, again and again. This is not the sort of parable where you can read it, close your bible and then say to yourself, “Well isn’t that a nice part of God’s word.” No, these words stab us and shock us. For each of us wants to not wrestle against our sin and have everyone in the world be content with our sins. And each of us should find joy in this picture and promise of a wedding in heaven. But we don’t have that joy.

If you are looking for good news in this parable, it’s there. You just need to look a little farther. In this parable the murderers are the ones who are killed. In reality, Jesus is the one who is killed to pay for sinners. In the parable we see that we, just like the man without wedding clothes, expect those around us to be content and sometimes even approve of our sin. But Jesus wrestled against sin and temptation. And instead of finding room in his heart for that sin, he said “no” to it. And he did this for each and every one of us. In this parable we see so many people who fail to rejoice at the prospect of going to a wedding, and through them we see the same in ourselves too. But what does Jesus do? A little later on in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says: “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”” (Matthew 26:29 NIV) Jesus doesn’t just tell us that there will be a wedding banquet in heaven, what does he do? He gives us a foretaste of that wedding banquet right here and now in the Lord’s Supper. He does this both to forgive our sins and to whet our appetite for the perfect wedding supper in heaven. And finally, in the final verse, what does Jesus do? He chooses us, unworthy as we are, he chooses us and gives us a place there in heaven with him. And all of this is his work, not ours.

With all of this in mind then, Jesus gives to you an invitation: Come to the royal wedding. You are ready for the royal wedding on the last day. But until that day comes, continue to wrestle against your sins and repent of them. And cling to Jesus who hasn’t just invited you. He has also chosen you. Amen.

1 “ⲁⲙⲉⲗⲏⲥⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥ” (Matthew 22:5 GNT-WAS)

2 “ⲟⲩⲕⲏⲥⲁⲛⲁⲝⲓⲟⲓ” (Matthew 22:8 GNT-WAS)