Apart from the Law

Text: Romans 3:19-28

This year marks the 497th anniversary of the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses by Martin Luther on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Though it was early in his career, he wouldn’t die for another 29 years, Luther had already stumbled onto the fact that, contrary to the Church’s teaching of his day, we are saved by grace alone. Our sins are forgiven purely through the precious, innocent suffering and death of Jesus Christ, and not through any work or worthiness of our own. This played out in the 16th century as the controversy over indulgences. Indulgences were pardons that you could buy for yourself or a relative to get them out of purgatory, and thus into heaven, quicker. This situation would become the catalyst for what is now known as the Protestant Reformation.

The central idea, the spark that ignited the flame, is here in Romans 3. The text says that the righteousness of God is manifested apart from the law. One is justified by faith, apart from any works of the law. To be true, this idea is the central idea of all Scripture. It is all about the promise of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. This is what our Lutheran forefathers called, “The Article upon which the Church Stands or Falls,” meaning that if this teaching is lost, so then is the Church. Thus, this is our good confession this Reformation: The righteousness of God is manifested apart from the law; we are saved by grace.

I.

The Apostle Paul writes in our text, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”[1] We read that verse and, at least at first glance, it appears to be such a no-brainer. Earlier in chapter 3 we read, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”[2] We all have that and Ephesians 2, where it says we are saved by grace, in mind; but our flesh often tells us something different.

Paul’s writing here is a clean cut against our natural human inclination. It’s very, very, subtle – but our natural tendency is to search inside ourselves. We’re taught from childhood to look inside ourselves and others to find the good that is inside us all. We’re taught to look inside and do our best to be a good person, because good things happen to good people. That sentiment is what you’ll find in many of the best-sellers at the bookstore, but it’s not Gospel – it’s law. Law says: put good in, get good out. Some call it karma, but it’s still law, and it gets us nowhere.

Verse 19 says, “We know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”[3] The purpose of God’s law is to stop every mouth. It’s to stop us from claiming to be a good person or to deserve heaven. The law shuts every mouth. Galatians 3 says that “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin.”[4] Eternal life was not intended to come through following the law, because then there would be no promise. The purpose of the law, the 10 Commandments, is to show us that we fail to earn God’s favor. The idea of putting good in to get good out doesn’t work with God.

God shows us this in the law because we naturally try to do things. We want to do better than everything and everyone. We want things to do, we want to work and to contribute. There must always be something that we can add to the situation. But that is all false. There is nothing that we can do to earn our own salvation or contribute to it. God’s law shows us that we fail at everything, even at our attempts to be decent human beings. Try going even one day without being driven by your hunger for food or desire to not be bored. God’s Law says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”[5] Often we wrestle with the temptation to skip church, or even in church we find ourselves thinking about whether the Vikings will win against Tampa Bay or how the Bison did yesterday. The purpose of the law is to catch us in our sin, to imprison us beneath it so that salvation might be totally through faith in Jesus. Over 400 years before the law was given on Mt. Sinai God promised to Abraham that in Christ all nations would be blessed.

II.

            Contrary to the Beatles, love is not all you need. Even if it were, we still wouldn’t have enough to even gaze upon the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”[6]

Luther’s breakthrough was his rediscovery of the Biblical truth. Instead of through works of the law, the righteousness of God is manifested in Christ. Righteousness is not something that we earn or deserve or merit or even have in ourselves, but it is the free gift of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

This is not a new teaching, as Paul’s opponents were charging against him. They insisted that, in order to remain a Christian and in God’s grace, one had to follow the law. But instead, righteous is apart from the law, as the Law [capital “L”] and the prophets, the Old Testament, bear witness. Scripture says that God spoke of His Son through the prophets long ago. As St. Peter spoke to the centurion Cornelius, “To him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”[7] Jesus also said that Moses wrote of Him and Isaiah spoke of Him. As He was speaking to disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”[8]

When Paul writes that the Law and the Prophets bear witness to the fact that righteousness comes through faith, he means that the entire Old Testament is about Jesus – The Offspring that would crush the head of the serpent, the promised Offspring of Abraham, the Bronze Serpent on the pole to which the people looked and were healed of the poison within them, the New Prophet who would speak with the words of God; all of the Scriptures are about Jesus. It’s all about faith in Him. Because we are sinners, Jesus was put forward as the payment for our sin. He made propitiation by His own blood, though He Himself was without sin.

The Scripture says, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”[9] Justification, being declared righteous in God’s sight and forgiven our sins, is not something that we can do ourselves. In Luther’s time, they had the idea that you could buy your way into heaven. You can’t. Today we often find ourselves clinging to morality or some sense that we are good people, and that good things happen to good people. But God’s law shows that we are not good people. We put ourselves before others, before God. We take the Lord’s name in vain. We refuse to hear and obey God’s Word. We do not honor our parents or those in authority. We harbor malice in our hearts. We lust. We could keep going down the list. Every single sin is punishable by death. On our own, we cannot get out of it.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”[10] Though our human inclination is to look for things to do, in the case of salvation, there is nothing left to do. Even though we try to be good and follow God’s law, we fail. But Jesus’ Word stands true, “It is finished.”[11] All the work is done. Jesus has won for you the forgiveness of sins by the shedding of His own blood and He gives you His righteousness freely. In His Word, He comes to you. He does all of the work. In His Holy Sacrament, which we are about to receive, He comes with His very body and blood to be received for the forgiveness of sins. In Him all things are ready and prepared; through faith in Him we have salvation. There is nothing left to do but receive the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus, apart from the law.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Rom. 3:20.

[2] Rom. 3:10–12.

[3] Rom. 3:19.

[4] Gal. 3:22

[5] Ex. 20:8

[6] Rom. 3:21–25.

[7] Acts 10:43.

[8] Lk. 24:27.

[9] Rom. 3:28.

[10] Eph. 2:8.

[11] Jn. 19:30

The Struggle Within

The continuation of our Bible study on Romans:

“4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:4-6, ESV)

Searching the Scriptures

  1. How does Romans 7:6 follow logically on the points Paul made in Romans 6:2-7?
  1. In vv. 7-13, how does Paul contrast the nature of the law itself with what it does in practice?
  1. What does it mean to be “sold under sin,” (v. 14) or to be “captive to the law of sin” (v. 23)?
  1. Paul vividly describes his present situation in vv. 21b-23, especially v. 23. How does the apostle describe “another law”?
  1. Note the Law/Gospel juxtaposition in vv. 24-25. What point is Paul trying to make through this sharp contrast?

The Word for Us

  1. Christians have long debated whether Paul is talking about his life before or after conversion. What do you think? What is some of the evidence you might give from this chapter?
  1. When the temptations of sin entice us, what promise can we claim?
  1. The inner conflict described in this chapter is obviously intense. Is it more or less so for a Christian? Why?

Closing

Gracious God, we are assailed by the accusation of the Law, which incessantly exposes the sin in which we are mired. Assure us of the Gospel of Your Son’s death and resurrection for us. Keep us mindful of the forgiveness that You continually give to us. Remind us that in Baptism we have become Your adopted children, and that You will not let us go. Amen.

With Full Conviction

Text: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

I love to sing. I’m not particularly good at it, but I love to sing nonetheless. I love to sing from the hymnal, and I often find myself humming a tune at various points in the day. But, I am hard pressed to pick a favorite. It’s a dangerous question, asking what someone’s favorite hymn is, because you never know exactly what you’ll get. The answers range from, “What’s a hymn?” to “The Hokey Pokey,” to even “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I am blessed to spend a good amount of time at the nursing home. Some of you can probably guess one of the most requested hymns at the Wednesday afternoon service: “Blessed Assurance.” I am a recent graduate from the seminary and I don’t usually deviate from our Lutheran Service Book, but I do like the first and last stanzas of this hymn. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood…Perfect submission, all is at rest. I in my Savior am happy and blest, watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love.”[1]

The hymn talks about the assurance, the conviction, we have in Jesus Christ. Through His perfect submission to God’s will and His death for our sins, all is at rest for those who have faith in Him. Believers are born of the Holy Spirit and washed in Jesus’ blood through Holy Baptism. And they now await His return from heaven. As we wait on earth for the return of our Savior, things sometimes get a little hairy. We deal with death, with divorce, with persecution of all sorts, and a myriad of other little pockets of suffering. This was the case with the church in Thessalonica as well. Paul was  worried that in his absence they would be carried away by the wind. But he knew that they, and we too, have been chosen by God through the redemption in Jesus Christ and given the full assurance of faith by the Holy Spirit.

I.

After the usual introduction to his letters, Paul writes, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.”[2] The apostle Paul and his companions, Silas and Timothy, gave thanks to God and remembered the Thessalonians in their prayers. They knew that despite appearances, Thessalonica being a Roman capital of state and debauchery, the brothers there are beloved by God and have been chosen in Christ Jesus. And that gave them peace. St. Peter writes that those called to faith in Jesus Christ have been purchased from their old sinful ways, “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.”[3] Paul also says that those who have been purchased by the blood of Jesus “have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasseswhich he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time.”[4] He is confident that the church in Thessalonica has been redeemed by the blood of Christ through faith in the Word of God.

This is because the Word of God that Paul delivered to the church was not just words, nor is it just idle speech. No, it is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. God Himself says His Word is like a consuming fire or a hammer that smashes the rock-hard sinful heart. That is what it is doing when through God’s Word we are convicted of our sin. God’s Law shows us how we daily fail to live up to our calling. We don’t live in love towards our neighbor. We duck opportunities to share the truth of God’s Word with those around us and we neglect our obligation to be in God’s Word daily and teach it to our children.

Paul writes about the Thessalonians that report has spread about how they turned from idols to serve the living and true God and await the return of His Son from heaven. This is astounding because Thessalonica was known as the “Mother of Macedonia.” It was the center pagan worship, and all that entails. It was also a port. Sailors get in from a month at sea, and what do they want to do? Sexual immorality was not recognized, but was disregarded or encouraged as we see both in life and on TV nowadays as well. But the Thessalonians were redeemed through the blood of Christ. They were rescued from the worship of dead idols and brought to the true God. They were delivered from God’s coming wrath against sin. We are also redeemed and cleansed by that same blood. Though we were dead in our trespasses, Christ has cleansed our hearts and minds through the washing of the water and His Word.

II.

Report of the Thessalonians spread all around. Paul writes to them, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”[5] Instead of remaining in their old and dead ways, those redeemed in Christ become imitators of Jesus. The Word of Jesus comes not only in word, but also in power, and gives us the full conviction of faith in God. God says that His Word is not empty or powerless, but as the rain and snow come down from heaven and water the earth, so does His Word produce and bring forth fruit.

There’s a theological term that I learned in seminary. If we look back at Genesis 1, and our confirmads will know this, How does God create? He creates simply by speaking. God speaks and it is done. The term is, “performative utterance.” That means that the words actually enact or do what they say. St. John references that in his gospel. It’s also the same idea that when I or another pastor speak the absolution in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you actually are forgiven your sins. This idea also means that God’s Word works in us what it says. It works faith and full conviction, blessed assurance, through hearing the Word daily and receiving Jesus’ body and blood as often as possible. By these things we are daily conformed to the shape of Christ.

Conformed to Christ through His Word and Sacrament, the Thessalonians were led not just to the full conviction of faith, but also to the labor of love. Through the Holy Spirit, the beloved of God are led to labor in love and hope. In that way, Paul said, the Word of the Lord spread in Macedonia and Achaia, even in places far beyond that. People heard not just that the Thessalonian Christians had turned from pagan worship, but that they were now speaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their actions. Through their behavior and work they showed forth the free forgiveness that we receive through Jesus Christ, who died in our place to redeem us from the powers of death and eternal suffering.

But do not be fooled. Being redeemed from sin and death and being conformed to the image of Christ does not mean that things will be easy. Instead, it is guaranteed to result in affliction and persecution. We live in an age where speaking Jesus’ Word can land you in jail. Conducting your business with the morality that you learn from God in Scripture can result in legal proceedings, costing your life savings and maybe even your business itself. Standing up for unborn children, will result in hatred from the world. It will only get worse. This was Paul’s fear for the Thessalonians, that in his absence, the persecutions of the world would lead them to forsake their faith in the Word of God. But, as Timothy later reported, they didn’t.

They were held firm through Jesus Christ. They had been given the full conviction in the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is our savior. He is our redeemer who has rescued us from our sin and from the coming wrath. He is our Good Shepherd who guides us through this valley of shadow to the green pastures. We pray and know, that we have been chosen through the redemption in Christ. We have been given the full conviction, the blessed assurance, that we are Jesus’ and He is ours. He will keep you and guard you all the days of your life, so that in the end you persevere in all things and receive the crown of life.

[1] http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/b/l/e/blesseda.htm

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Th 1:2–4.

[3] 1 Pe 1:18–19.

[4] Eph 1:7, 9b-10.

[5] 1 Th 1:6–8.

Tonight – The First Monthly Theology on Tap

Theology on Tap

Come join us for Theology on Tap. We will be meeting for fellowship (the tap) and discussion about whatever questions we have about the Bible or Christianity in general (the theology). We’ll be at the Hillsboro VFW. See you there!

The Parable of the Wedding Feast

Text: Matthew 22:1-14

We have another difficult text this week. Jesus gets right to the point of the parable in verse 14, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Elsewhere He says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13-14) It’s a perilous question, and one that every single one of us will deal with at one point or another; Why some, and not others? Why will some go to heaven and feast eternally at the marriage feast of the Lamb and some to the eternal darkness of hell, forever separated from God’s love? This is the question that one of Jesus’ followers already had in Luke 13, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Lk. 13:23)

Why is it that not everyone will go to heaven; why is it that not everyone we see is a Christian, or that some people we identify as Christians are yet proven not so by their words and actions? This question has driven many a Christian to and fro. Some, like John Calvin, who lived during the 16th century, placed the responsibility for this in God. He said that, from eternity, God chose who would eventually go to heaven and who would go to hell. Thus, he sort of placed the blame for hell on God. This is contrary to Scripture. Some, in more recent memory, have said that hell doesn’t exist. Or, if it does, it’s only temporary and one can get out of it once he’s in. This is also contrary to Scripture.

But rather than sit and debate the question within our own minds, let us look to the words of Jesus. He explains that the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast. It is a sumptuous festival, prepared by the king to be given freely to everyone who is invited. And yet, not everyone who is invited takes to the invitation kindly. In the parable, Jesus shows that God calls and desires all to come to the wedding feast, and yet few are chosen.

I.

The text for this week picks up as sort of a capstone to the previous chunk of Scripture we’ve been covering in the Gospel readings. We’ve heard Jesus says that the children of Israel were like a son who said he was going to work in the vineyard, but then later refused. They were like the tenants hired to work in the vineyard, but instead of bringing forth its fruits to the owner, they embarrassed and killed his servants, and ultimately killed the vineyard owner’s own son. Now today, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He “sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” (vv. 3-6)

The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet. It’s a banquet where all are invited to feast with the heavenly Bridegroom, the Word of God made flesh. They feast because Jesus has conquered death and brought the forgiveness of sins, life and immortality, to light. It’s God’s nature to be gracious and merciful, and He desires that all come to the feast. He begins by calling His chosen people, the children of Israel. The text says that the king first sends out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they wouldn’t come. Martin Luther and C.F.W. Walther say this is like the time when the Patriarchs lived. At the beginning there were over a thousand years where people could hear the promise of salvation that God gave to Adam either from the man himself or from one of his sons, and yet people refused.

Jesus said that He longed to gather the children of Israel as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but they would not. The Father prepared an incredible banquet for His Son and His chosen people, but they wouldn’t have it. Not wanting to be left alone, the king sends out servants again, this time appealing to His guests, “please come.” Everything was ready and prepared, all they had to do was come and receive God’s gifts. But instead, “they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized His servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” (vv. 5-6)

God again sent servants to call His people to the feast. He sent John the Baptist, the Apostles, even Jesus, but His own people would not have it. They would not come to the feast because of their own hardness and sinfulness. Rather than receive the free gift of God in Jesus Christ, they clung to their own righteousness. Rejecting the invitation to the feast, the people brought the wrath of the king upon themselves. Jesus says that whoever does not believe stands already condemned. The king will not force those who reject his invitation to come and sit at his table, only to have them reject him there, too.

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (vv. 8-10) God created man to be in fellowship with them. He created us to give us all good things. That’s what God wanted to do with His chosen people, but they rejected Him. So He sent out His servants a third time, this time to those who weren’t invited. Just as Jesus sent out the Apostles to spread His Gospel, so He continues to send pastors into the world to preach His Word and administer His Sacraments, calling all to the wedding feast.

II.

The king sends out His servants into the world. They are to gather everyone they see, both the good and the bad, proclaiming to all the wedding banquet is prepared and ready. The servants do so and the wedding hall is filled with guests. The text continues, “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.” (vv. 11-13)

The king in the parable, representing God, comes into the feast to check out his guests, but he finds one there who didn’t have a wedding garment on. The wedding garment is the robe of righteousness, the robe of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Though the man made it to the banquet, he was speechless when it was found that he did not have a wedding garment; he was not clothed in the righteousness of the Lamb of God. And so he was bound and thrown into the outer darkness.

This is a tough teaching, and I wish that I were more eloquent and could convey it better. Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (v. 14) God desires the death of no one. He loves all and wants all to come to the wedding feast, but admittance to the feast comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, the Father has continually sent out prophets, apostles, and pastors to proclaim His Word, which works faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. The reason Jesus gives for why few are chosen is that the sinful nature rejects God’s invitation. It turns up its nose and goes to its own business or even ridicules God’s Word.

 But thanks be to Jesus Christ, who through the washing of Holy Baptism destroys the power that sin and death and unbelief had over us. In the washing of Holy Baptism you have been made clean, you have been given the white wedding garment and welcomed into the feast, through faith in the Son of God. St. Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” (Eph. 1:3-4) In Christ you have been chosen to feast in heaven with all the saints who have gone before us.

Sweet-Smelling Children of Light

Text: Ephesians 5:1-9

This week we take a special time out of the year to celebrate and thank the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League for their many years of service as one of the two official auxiliaries of the Missouri Synod. The LWML has been active for over 65 years, sharing the love and Good News of Jesus Christ, the world’s redeemer. The theme for this year’s LWML Sunday, which this sermon is loosely based off of, is “Fragrant Sacrifices and Offerings,” Now, as I was researching some ideas this week I learned a couple new words. The first is Dysosmia. Dysosmia is a disorder that involves any alteration in quality or distortion in the sense of smell. This usually manifests in one of two ways: either something smells different than you remember, or you start smelling something that isn’t there.

Now, with the disorder of the sense of smell that leads you to smell something differently than how you remember, to be quite frank, it usually means that you are going to smell something rotten or decaying instead of the good smell. But, there are rare occasions where one might smell something good instead of bad. This is called Euosmia; instead of smelling correctly that something is dead or rotten, one would smell the dead thing as a pleasant smell. In the Epistle text we read how Christ offered Himself as something εὐωδίας, literally – a good odor, a fragrant offering. By offering Himself as the sacrifice and offering in our place, Jesus became a fragrant offering unto God. Through faith in Him we have become sweet-smelling children of the Light.

I.

The text begins, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (vv. 1-2) St. Paul is calling to mind the long history of sacrifices among the people of Israel. We have record of sacrifices pleasing to God as far back as Genesis 4, where Abel offered up the firstborn of his flock to God. After Noah and his family got off the ark, he built an altar to God and sacrificed. God smelled the pleasing aroma and vowed to never again curse the ground because of man or strike down every living creature. The sacrifices continue so on and so forth throughout Old Testament history, even up to the time of Christ.

These sacrifices were instituted by God because of the hardness of human hearts. The Apostle Paul says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words…for at one time you were darkness.” (vv. 6, 8) Earlier in Ephesians we hear that we were dead in our trespasses and sins in which we once walked, following the course of this world. (Eph. 2:1-2) As those dead to Christ, we were darkened in our understanding. In our natural selves, we do not understand the things of God. We were alienated from God because of our ignorance and hardness.

The word that the Lutheran confessors use to describe our natural sinful condition is concupiscence. This means that not only are we born with original sin, but it is evidenced in that fact that we have a natural inclination to sin and are by nature turned away from the things of God. And finally, in our sin we were callous towards God. I hate to pick on a specific group of people, but being in sin is kind of like being a teenager. What are 3 of the most common words out of their mouths, “I don’t care.” (Cf. paragraph w/Eph. 4:18-19)

In our sin we neither cared about our neighbor in need nor did we want to do anything about it. We didn’t care about God; instead we fashioned gods of our own making and desires. Therefore, Jesus Christ became the fulfillment of all sacrifices, the ultimate fragrant offering unto God. Hebrews 9 says, “He [Jesus] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (9:12) Because we by ourselves are dead in our trespasses, we smell rotten. We smell dead; in our sin, we walk around with a gagging smell of decay – we might not smell it, but God does. Therefore, “Christ [also] suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Pet. 3:18) Jesus Christ offered Himself up in our place, as payment for our sins – a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

II.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (vv. 1, 8a) I don’t mean to ascribe things to God our Heavenly Father, who is formless, beyond what Scripture does; but it’s like God the Father has Euosmia. Because of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, we are made a fragrant offering unto God. The “good odor” that is Jesus, has spread to us through the gift of faith. Paul writes, “We are the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:15) In Ezekiel 20 God says, “As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations.” (Ezek. 20:41) God says that He will accept us as a pleasing aroma when He brings us out and gathers us. This is what Jesus did on the cross. He suffered and died to separate us from our sin. Through His grace and the gift of faith we are brought out of the dying masses in the world and made holy and righteous. This is because God has dealt with us for His name’s sake, and not according to our evil deeds.

John Chrysostom, whose name means “golden mouth,” was archbishop of Constantinople in the very early 5th century. He wrote, “We are then, as it were, a Royal censer, breathing withersoever we go of the heavenly ointment and the spiritual sweet savor.” Because of Christ’s offering of Himself as a fragrant offering, that sweet smell extends to us. We are the sweet-smelling children of the Light. As Christians, like Chrysostom says, we walk around like bowls of Royal incense, breathing heavenly ointment to those around us. Paul urges us to, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” (v. 9) This means fleeing from all sin, from sexual immorality and impurity, from covetousness and filthy or crude joking. These are the sorts of things that our sinful nature wants us to do. Our sinful bodies want to covet and be crude.

But thanks be to God,” Paul writes, “who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” (2 Cor. 2:14) Thanks be to God, who despite the temptations of our flesh, continues to come to us through His Word. He continues to give us the free forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus on the cross. Through faith in Him we smell sweet to God. Therefore He leads us in the triumphal procession. We live in the world spreading the fragrance of Jesus Christ, the good news that through Him sins are forgiven and all things are made new. In His love we no longer live with the decaying stench of death and decay, but the sweet smell of grace and healing forgiveness. This is not of ourselves, but it is the free gift of God in Christ Jesus.

Euosmia is a condition where, instead of smelling something nasty, one smells something pleasant in its place. Through the fragrant offering of Himself, Jesus has, in effect, given our heavenly Father Euosmia. He no longer smells us as dead and rotten in our sin, but as His own sweet-smelling Son. Today we give thanks for the Lutheran Women Missionary League and for the work they do. They stand as an example for us to follow. Made fragrant through the death of Jesus, we walk as children of the light, as beloved children of God, covered in the sweet smell of the blood of the Lamb, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Unexpected Missionaries

Text: Matthew 21:23-32

Don’t you hate it when people say one thing and do another? We all know people, who for any other reason are probably great people, but for whatever reason sometimes say they’ll do something but then never wind up doing it. I myself am a shining example of this, but I can probably speak for most men – and wives, you can tell me if this is right or not. There’s a joke that goes like this: If a man says he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it; there’s no need to remind him every six months. So we hate this trait in other people, and it can really set you off. But what happens when it turns out that we are the ones saying we’re going to do something, but then don’t actually do it? In the text the Jewish leaders question Jesus by what authority He is working. He responds in part by telling them the Parable of the Two Sons. Today we pray that like in the first son, the living and active word of God would work in us to lead us to repentance and a faith that reaches out.

I.

            Jesus begins the parable, “’What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’” (vv. 28-31a) In the text today we’ve moved into Holy Week. Almost all of our Gospel readings for the rest of the church year will fall into this time period. The events in today’s text would be on Monday. The day before was the day of the Triumphal Entry. Crowds of people gathered to spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road before Him. Then Jesus headed to the temple where He drove out all who were buying and selling the temple. He said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (v. 13)

The next day as Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him with a question as He was teaching. These are the folks who were in charge of keeping the temple and worship in order. Jesus overturned their apple cart the day before, so they are probably hot under the collar. We begin to see here and in the next few chapters a more concentrated push between the Jewish leaders and Jesus. He didn’t quite fit into their paradigm of the Messiah, and yet they couldn’t deny that He was doing some miraculous things. They ask Him by what authority that He is doing all of these things. But when He asked them in return where John’s baptism was from, those who were so in the know were suddenly out of the loop.

Jesus illustrates their refusal to accept the preaching of John, the preaching of repentance and faith in Jesus as the Messiah, with this parable of two sons. There’s a man who has two sons. He goes to the first and tells him to go and work the vineyard. He at first refuses, but later is brought to repentance and goes to work. The second son was told the same. He assured his father he would go and work, but he did not go. Jesus identifies the second son with the Jewish authorities. These are the ones who were more concerned with image, outward praise without inward renewal. Jesus spoke rightly of them, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” (Isa. 29:13) How many times do God’s people in the Old Testament promise to follow God’s Word and then don’t?

Jesus shows in the parable, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps. 51:17) The leaders admit this by saying it was the first son that did the will of the father, not the second; though they did not realize until later that Jesus was speaking about them. (v. 45) It was not the one who paid lip service, who said he was going to work that was the true son, but it turned out that it was the one who had fully intended not to work but then repented that was the true son. He heard the word of his father, repented of his unwillingness to work, and took up the task his father gave him.

Today we are observing our annual mission festival. In just a little while we are having a communal meal and donating the money to benefit those around us in need. But still, there’s yet a lesson to be learned. We hate those who say one thing and do another; it’s so irritating. But what happens when we are the ones? We gather here to worship every Sunday, to abundantly receive God’s free gift of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. In the words of Holy Absolution you receive the forgiveness of sins from Jesus Himself. Here we are strengthened in the promise of eternal life. And yet so often we let our offerings on Sunday be the extent of our work. Don’t get me wrong, giving offering regularly is fantastic. Scripture even says that God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7) But a lot of the time we are tempted to take the back seat, to let others lead the way. We convince ourselves that others are better at everything than we are, and we don’t realize that each of us has gifts from God. They may be different gifts, but they should all be used to the glory of God.

II.

           Jesus continues, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (vv. 31b-32) Jesus said that the tax collectors and prostitutes, the worst of the worst sinners, go ahead of the Jewish authorities in the kingdom of God. This is because they heard the Word of God, they were convicted by His Law, and repented of their sins. Instead of focusing on outward appearance and maintaining the status quo, they realized that they are sinners. They knew that there is no way they could’ve lived up to God’s demands. And they knew that they were among those for whom Christ took upon human flesh, lived the perfect life and fulfilled God’s Law, suffered and died for.

In the same way we are sinners. We come to church and say we are going to do one thing, but then often don’t do it. We usually mean it honestly and with the best intentions, but our sinfulness gets hold of us and we don’t follow through. We break God’s Law and deserve to be punished like rest. St. Paul writes, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodlywhile we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:6, 8) While we are sinners, and would much rather sit back and not do anything, Jesus Christ died for us. He took our sin, our complacency, and nailed it to the cross, and He left it there. When Jesus rose He left the grave empty, and so has our slate been made completely clean. When we hear the Word of God and repent of our sins, we truly are made clean, washed white in the blood of the Lamb.

Romans 7 says that we are now, “released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit.” (7:6) This morning we gathered here as sinners. But soon we will leave as saints. You received in Holy Absolution the forgiveness of Jesus Christ Himself. And in just a few moments you will come to the altar to receive the very body and blood of Jesus to strengthen and preserve you in the true faith and the forgiveness of sins. By this precious meal, you are strengthened and led by the Holy Spirit to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. Be strong and courageous, for God is with you. We pray that He would continue to convict us of our reluctance to live according to His Word, that He would strengthen us with His forgiveness, and lead us to serve those around us with His love.