Birth of the Forerunner

Text: Luke 1:57-80

Did you know that in the Church Year we celebrate only two birthdays? Out of all the events in the life of Christ and the lives of those connected to Him that we remember throughout the year, only two are birthdays. The first birthday we celebrate, of course, is the birth of our Lord. The second we celebrate today: the birth of John the Baptist. If you look on page xi in the front of your hymnal, you’ll see that today is the day we celebrate the birth of the forerunner. John the Baptist’s role was to go before the Lord and prepare His way. So, that means if John is born, Jesus must be coming soon behind. That’s what Zechariah sings about in the Benedictus.

Today we celebrate John’s birth both because it is miraculous and because it serves a purpose. The Lord promised through the prophet Malachi that He would send His servant Elijah before the great and awesome day of the Lord. Jesus Himself said John is that Elijah. All the Law and the Prophets spoke until John. He is the end of the Old Testament and Jesus is the start of the New. We celebrate the birth of John the Baptist because it shows us that God keeps His promises, especially His promise to send us salvation through His Son.

I.

The story of John’s birth stretches back into the first part of Luke, chapter 1. After St. Luke’s introduction we hear that, “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.”[1] Zechariah and Elizabeth were faithful children of God who were waiting for the Messiah. They were righteous by faith and walked in the ways of the Lord, yet they had no children; Elizabeth was barren, and they were both, “advanced in years,” St. Luke says.

The time came for Zechariah to serve before the Lord in the temple, and he was chosen by lot to go into the Holy Place and offer incense. While he was there, the angel Gabriel appeared and stood by the altar. He said to Zechariah,

Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John…He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.[2]

Gabriel came to tell Zechariah that the Lord would open Elizabeth’s womb to bear a son, and that son would be the forerunner of the Messiah. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he is set apart by the Lord to preach repentance and faith to prepare the way of the Christ, who would follow soon after. Sadly, Zechariah doubted the Lord’s Word through Gabriel, and was made unable to speak for nine months. Still, nine months later, John was born. This is where our text picks up.

II.

The Lord commanded Abraham back in Genesis that all male children were to be circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. And so, the time came also for John. In many parts of history, it was a custom to delay naming a child for a little bit after birth. For Christians, that’s meant that a lot of children have received their names at Baptism – a wonderful reminder that in Baptism we also receive Christ’s name upon our hearts. For Jewish males, it meant receiving their names at circumcision. So, when John’s time came, we heard that Elizabeth’s relatives wanted John to be named Zechariah, like his father. But, Elizabeth said, “No; he shall be called John.”[3] When they made signs at Zechariah – who yet was still mute – he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”[4] Immediately Zechariah’s mouth was opened, and his tongue was loosed again, and he began blessing God.

We might wonder what difference a name makes. What difference would it have made if John were named for his father? Surely that wouldn’t have been a big deal. Perhaps, perhaps not. It is true, though, that, in the Bible, names mean something. “Abraham,” for example, means, “father of many nations.” The Lord Himself gave Abraham that name, signifying that by faith as well as flesh, Abraham would be the father of many nations. “Elijah” means, “My God is the Lord.” “Daniel,” means “God is my judge.” “Zechariah,” means, “The Lord has remembered.” John is given his name because it means (in the Hebrew), “The Lord is gracious.” John’s birth and name are meant to reflect the mercy and grace of God. The name “John,” is also connected to a word for pointing. As in, John’s role would be to point to the mercy and grace of God that would be revealed in Jesus, the Messiah.

III.

When Zechariah wrote that his son’s name would indeed be John, his mouth was opened, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit caused to him to prophesy what we now know as the Benedictus. In the Benedictus, the Lord, even, explains through Zechariah what John’s birth means. It means that the Lord is visiting and redeeming His people. It means that He has raised up a horn of salvation for us out of the house of His servant David – just like He promised back in 2 Samuel 7. It means that, by the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Messiah, we will be saved from our enemies and out the hands of all who hate us. The Lord is showing the mercy He promised to our fathers and remembering His holy covenant.

This is why we celebrate John’s birthday. If John is here, the Elijah that the Lord promised to send, it means that the Messiah is near. John is the one who would go before the Lord to prepare His way, and that’s what he did. John preached Christ crucified for us and was the first one to sing, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”[5] We celebrate only two birthdays in the Church Year, our Lord’s and John’s. Today we celebrate John’s, because it means that the Lord keeps His promises, especially the promise to send us salvation through His Son. Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Lk 1:5.

[2] Lk. 1:13, 16-17.

[3] Lk. 1:60.

[4] Lk. 1:63.

[5] Jn. 1:29.

The Parable of the Great Banquet

Text: Luke 14:15-24

What do you do when you’ve prepared a large party and no one comes? Hopefully, this is a hypothetical question and you’ve never had this happen. Still, it’s sometimes a fear people have. You put together a meal; you put up decorations. For weeks, you procrastinate cleaning the house – and then you finally do it. But, what if nobody comes? Do you just quietly take everything down and pretend it never happened? This is the question the master of the house had to face in today’s parable. He put together a feast, sent out the invitations, and no one came. But, instead of calling off the party, the master called those who were night previously uninvited so that his house would be full.

In this parable, God is the master of the house. The great banquet is the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. Those originally invited are the children of Israel who were audience to preaching of the prophets. The poor, crippled, blind, and lame are the tax collectors and sinners who received the preaching of John the Baptist and our Lord. The ones out on the highways and hedges are the Gentiles; they are us. So that His house may be filled, our Lord calls those who were previously uninvited – even us – to His wedding feast.

I.

Our text today was preached by our Lord on a Sabbath evening. It was His custom to teach in a synagogue during the day – after all, He was a rabbi. Then, in the evening, He would often times be invited to a meal in someone’s house. For example, we know He ate in Matthew’s house, and also in Zacchaeus’. In our text, Jesus is eating in the home of a ruler of the Pharisees. This was an interesting evening, because by this point Jesus had already healed a man – which one was not supposed to do on the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out that if any of them had an ox or son that had fallen into a well, they would totally pull him out – how much more so, then, for the man who was suffering from dropsy?

Over the course of the evening, Jesus noticed how everyone there was trying to choose places of honor to sit in and told a parable about humility. Then, when someone tried to justify himself, our Lord told the parable we have today. The parable goes like this: there was “a man who once gave a great banquet and invited many.”[1] When everything was ready he sent out his servant to call those who were invited, but one-by-one they all made excuses. One bought a field, one bought oxen, another was married and just wanted to stay home. The servant went back and told these things to the master, who became very angry.

Instead of calling off the party, the master had another idea. He sent out his servant again. This time, the master said, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”[2] Now, the servant went out and did that. The servant came back later and said, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.”[3] One last time, the master sent out his servant – this time to the people outside of the city, the ones on the highways and hedges. The master told his servant to compel them to come in because in that culture an unexpected invitation must always be turned down. The master wants his house full, but, he said, “I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”[4] And with that, the parable ends.

II.

To understand this parable, it’s important for us to remember the context and the occasion Jesus gave it at. Remember, it was a Sabbath evening meal in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. In other words, Jesus spoke this to a group of religious leaders and elite. These were the same sorts of people that had a deep animosity toward Jesus, who would later demand His crucifixion. They and their fathers before them resisted and killed the prophets, and they would continue their evil work with some of the Apostles and early leaders of the Church. Jesus was telling this parable about who’s going to be in the kingdom of God, and it wouldn’t be them. The religious leaders and elites, the ones who claimed to be sons of Abraham but did not share Abraham’s faith – these are the ones represented in the parable by those who made excuses.

In ancient culture, when you held a feast you would send out two invitations. The first, when it was decided you’re having a feast; a second, announcing that the time had come. The feast in the parable is the wedding feast of the Lamb and the first invitation went out repeatedly through the prophets – from Adam on up. When John the Baptist and our Lord came preaching, they were announcing that the feast had started, and everyone should come, but they wouldn’t have it. They made up excuses and reasons not to believe. Therefore, as the master said, they would not taste the feast.

Many of the Pharisees, scribes, chief priests, and elders wouldn’t heed Christ’s invitation, but you know who did? The tax collectors and sinners, the outcasts of Israel. They heard the Lord’s preaching of the Law and Gospel, they were moved by the Spirit to repentance and looked forward to our Lord’s work on the cross. These are the ones in the parable called, “the poor and crippled and blind and lame,” who were in the streets and lanes of the city.[5] Though they were invited, they had been taught that they weren’t welcome because they were sinners. But, that is precisely whom Jesus came to save and call. This is what St. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[6] Then, when the servant had brought in the outcasts to the meal, and there was still space, the master sent him to those outside the city.

III.

Up to this point, the parable has been about the Jewish people, the children of Israel. Those who rejected Jesus were like the ones in the parable who made excuses not to come to the feast, even though they had been continually invited through the prophets. In place of the religious elite, it would be the tax collectors and sinners eating with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They heard Jesus’ preaching and repented of their sins, looking to Him for forgiveness. So that his house might be totally filled, the master sent out the servant to call those outside the city, which are the Gentiles – people not descended from Abraham; us, even. Jesus showed here that He did not just come for one race or clan or people, but to be the savior of the whole world. Just like He said, when He is raised up He will draw all people to Himself.

We are included in those the master invited from outside the city. Only, our separation from the feast wasn’t just a geographical separation, but the separation of sin. St. Paul wrote in the epistle that we were once alienated and far off away from God. He said earlier in the same chapter that we were, “dead in trespasses and sins,” being by nature, “children of wrath.”[7] That means that, since the Fall into Sin, we are all by nature sinful. We sin in our thoughts and words and deeds. We sin by what we do and don’t do. If there’s any people who don’t deserve to be invited to the joyous feast of heaven, it is us.

Yet, since God is love, He wants the feast to be full. So, although many in Israel fell away, the Lord sent the invitation out into all the world. The invitation is His Word. By the Word of the Lord, He compels us to enter the feast. He shows us by the Commandments that we are sinful and unclean and that there is nothing we can do to gain our way into heaven. Then, by His Word of Gospel He shows us that way into the feast is not through our efforts but through the cross. By His death and resurrection, Jesus made full satisfaction for sin, even for all people, even for sinners like you and me. Like the outcasts and those outside the city in the parable, we are invited in to Christ’s feast; and all this, by God’s grace and mercy.

This parable is one of rejection and grace. Unfortunately, many of those who were invited through the prophets refused to enter the great banquet. But, so that the hall might be full, the master sent out his servant to call the outcasts and the uninvited. Such were we. So, what do you when people don’t come to your party? Apparently, you invite more. Such has God done for us through Christ. Thanks be to God.


[1] Lk. 14:16, English Standard Version.

[2] Lk. 14:21.

[3] Lk. 14:22.

[4] Lk. 14:24.

[5] Lk. 14:21.

[6] 1 Tim. 1:15.

[7] Eph. 2:1, 3.

Love Is

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”[1] These beautiful words of the Holy Spirit are given to us this week through St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. These are words that we’ve heard and read and sung and aspired to. These words have been read at many weddings to encourage husbands and wives as they begin their new life together in the love of Christ. Yet, for over a thousand years this text has been the epistle reading for this Sunday, the last before Lent.

I don’t remember who it was who first taught me this text, but I was taught to understand this text by taking wherever “love” is written in this text and read, “Jesus.” Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus bears all things and endures all things. His love for us will never end. Jesus’ love for us wasn’t even diminished by the prospect of dying on the cross. Jesus bore the rejection, the suffering, the pain and dying, all for us – so that our sins might be forgiven. Out of His great love for us, He died for us. By our Baptism into His death and resurrection, that great love which He has for us is given to us. By the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts through Baptism, we are led to share that same love with those around us. The love of Christ within us causes us to be long-suffering, to be forgiving, and to rejoice with truth.

I.

As I said, the epistle reading this week has, for generations, been paired with the Gospel reading from Luke 18. This Sunday is called Quinquagesima, which means, “about fifty days before Easter.” As we stand on the verge of our Lord’s Lent, we hear of His nearing Jerusalem for the last time. The Transfiguration happened back in Luke 9, and ever since then, Jesus has been traveling upward and forward, toward Jerusalem. It’s not a long journey, but Jesus sort of meanders – He preaches and teaches and heals all over, so that many might hear and believe in Him. Many do believe, but some don’t yet understand why Jesus has come. So, Jesus, taking the twelve, said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”[2]

Jesus explains to the Disciples here – for a third time – why He’s come: to fulfill the promises of God by being mocked, humiliated, spit upon, and killed. Then, He will rise from the dead. All these things must be done to secure for the world the forgiveness of sins, to fulfill God’s Law and remove His righteous wrath from us poor sinners. Jesus here demonstrates the depth of His great love for us. There is nothing He would not endure, nothing He would not suffer, for us – for you and me. He did not despise us for our sin, but He has been patient with us. He did not keep a record of all the things that we have done wrong, but instead, died for them all.

When Jesus died on the cross, He accomplished what theologians call, “The Great Exchange.” That means, that when Jesus died on the cross, He died taking our sins upon Himself and we, in turn, receive His righteousness. He takes our place in death so that we share His place in life. This exchange happens in Baptism. That’s what St. Paul talks about in Romans 6, how we are buried with Christ in Baptism and raised with Him to new life. In Baptism, we receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts, bringing with Him the love of Christ. This is why St. Paul writes what he does to the Corinthians.

II.

You might remember that the Corinthian congregation was founded by St. Paul. They were a young congregation, a lively one. They were composed of both Jewish and Gentile converts to the faith. Yet, they had problems. For one, false doctrine had infected the congregation. St. Paul spent much of the letter teaching on topics related to the Sixth and Eighth Commandments. Second – what prompted the text today – the congregation was not living in the love of Christ. Many held themselves to be more important than others. Those with certain gifts pitted themselves against others who had different gifts. The different members of the one body of Christ all tried to be the most important member. St. Paul said to them, that if he were to speak in the tongues of men and angels, if he were to prophesy and understand all mysteries, if he were to give away everything he had – but had not love – it would all be for nothing.

Perhaps, we are not so different from the Corinthians. We have been called by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel of Christ. We have been united with our Lord through Baptism into His death and resurrection. We have received the body and the blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Yet, we often times think of ourselves as the most valuable member of the body. We have related to others, even in this very congregation, with less than Christian charity. We have not explained everything in the kindest way, we have not forgiven as we’ve been forgiven; and, when we’ve been sinned against, we have lashed out in one way or another.

For these behaviors, we should be ashamed. But, my friends, this is why these texts from Sts. Paul and Luke are heard together. While we are impatient with those around us, Christ has been patient with us. While we have kept record of our brother’s sins, our God has kept none. And, while we have failed to endure the life to which we have been called, Christ fulfilled His purpose by dying on the cross for us. For, He is love. And this love He has for us, has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.[3] By the working of the Holy Spirit within us, the love of Christ is carried out in our lives.

III.

How? In the ways Paul talks about in our text. First, the love of Christ is patient. In Greek, this word means “longsuffering,” and is most often used for God – who bears with us in our iniquity. So, also, are we called to be with those around us. The fact is, we are all sinners. And, because we are sinners, we sin. But, instead of demanding absolute perfection from others, the love of Christ within us causes us to forgive and bear with those who sin against us. Second, Christ’s love within us leads us to not keep a record of wrongs. The English says, “[love is not] resentful,” but the Greek means that the love of Christ which has been poured into our hearts through Baptism causes us to forgive and not store up the number of someone else’s sins. Third, St. Paul says, “[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”[4] This means that the love of Christ which has been given to us produces in us a rejoicing at the common confession of the truth. The love which we have been given causes us to joy at being together: here in worship, in Bible study, and all the other times where we speak and share the living Word of God.

Often times, this text is preached as a Law text. However, it is also Gospel. Patience, forgiveness, and a love for each other are good things produced in us by the Holy Spirit. We do not make ourselves be this way. Rather, the Spirit produces these things in us through faith. However, the Old Adam still claws away at us. He is drowned in our Baptism, but the temptation to sin will never be fully removed until we put off this sinful flesh in the Resurrection. So, when we hear this text and find these things not happening in our lives, here’s what we can do: confess our sins and receive Christ’s absolution. For our sins, Christ suffered and died on the cross. By His Word, He forgives us our sins, strengthens in the faith, and produces these good things in us. We should pray that the Holy Spirit would ever increase these good fruits within us.

Dear friends, this is the last Sunday before our Lord’s Lent begins. On Wednesday, we will receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads in repentance of our sins, but also in faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. Out His great love for us, He suffered and endured all things so that we might live with Him in life. By His Holy Spirit, that love is also poured into our hearts so that might live in love toward each other. God grant this unto us all. Amen.


[1] 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, English Standard Version.

[2] Lk. 18:31-33.

[3] Rom. 5:5.

[4] 1 Cor. 13:6.

Fishers, of Men

Text: Luke 5:1-11

“If I just had this, then I could do that.” You’ve probably said this or something like it in your life. I know I have. I always know that if I just had one more guitar, then I would be happy. If I just had one more guitar, I could be happy and my mind could focus on other things. I don’t expect that’s what you all think about during the day. Maybe it’s the project you’re working on at home. If you just got that done, you could work on something else. Sometimes, we think along these lines: If I could just get this done, then I could focus on church. If I could just get this need taken care of, then I could focus my time on spreading the Good News.

That’s not to say that thinking like this is inherently bad. It’s just that we often let the cares of this world prevent us from hearing God’s Word, studying it, and sharing it with those around us. We know that the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring people to faith. It’s through Scripture that the Spirit puts to death the Old Adam and creates faith in hearts of stone, causing them to become hearts of flesh. Yet, we say, if we just had x taken care of, we could really get about the business of the Gospel. What did St. Paul say? “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”[1] And yet, it’s rarely strictly matters of food and clothing that hold us captive.

In today’s Gospel, our Lord sets us straight. After He taught the crowds, He told Simon to set out for a catch. At Jesus’ Word, they let down the nets, and He provided them with a miraculous catch – such that two boats were needed to hold all the fish. Through this, Jesus demonstrated His ability to care for our bodily needs. After demonstrating His care for the physical needs of His people, Jesus called the first disciples to care for souls by the preaching of the Word. So also, the Lord provides for our physical needs, and likewise calls His Church to be fishers of men.

I.

The text from St. Luke’s Gospel begins,

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.[2]

In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry begins in chapter 4, where He started going from synagogue to synagogue, city to city, in both Galilee and Judea, preaching about the kingdom of God. He preached that salvation had indeed come to the world in Him. As proof, He healed many who were sick and cast out many demons.

As Word about Him spread, the crowds grew. They desired not only healing of their bodies, but the salvation of their souls. They began flocking to Jesus and pressing in on Him. At this time, when people spoke to each other they stood very nearly nose-to-nose. So, you can imagine what it would be like having a crowd of people all trying to be nose-to-nose with you. It would be nearly impossible to teach the whole group. Our Lord got into Simon’s boat, set out from the shore a bit, and taught from there.

The Holy Spirit relates to us through St. Luke what happens next.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.”[3]

When Jesus finished speaking, He directed Peter to go out for a catch. Peter responded that they had fished all night and caught nothing. This must’ve been highly unusual. Yet, at Jesus’ Word, they would let down their nets. Then they came up with a miraculous catch, such that both the boats began sinking from the weight. Jesus demonstrated through this miracle that He, most certainly, can provide for the needs of our bodies. Do notice how He did it. Simon and Andrew, James and John, were fishermen. They fished for a living. Our Lord didn’t just magically manifest fish in the boats. He told them to go fishing, and then provided the miraculous catch.

He does the same for us. Through our positions in life, our vocations, the Lord provides for our needs, and the needs of those around us. Through farmers the Lord provides food and countless other things for families in our community and around the world. Through teachers, He trains up skilled workers for society. Through nurses He provides healing and care. Notice also, how things happened in the text. They had fished all night and caught nothing. It was only at the Lord’s Word and with His blessing that fish were caught. Same for us. Sometimes we think that it is our hard work that brings in the goods, but it is the Lord’s good will that causes our work to prosper. It does sometimes happen, as in our text, that the Lord doesn’t provide growth to teach us that man doesn’t live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.

II.

“If I just had this, I could do that.” We’ve all used that at some point in our lives. We’ve all used it to excuse ourselves also in matters of faith. If I could just get this taken care of, then I could be in church. If I just felt more secure, then I would share the Good News. My friends in Christ, our Lord has demonstrated in this miracle – and in our lives – that He can and does provide for all that we need. As I look around, we all have clothes on. We all are at least relatively well-fed. These things and more, our Lord provides out of His gracious and good will.

When Simon Peter saw what happened, he fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”[4] Amazement at these events had overcome him, so also his brother Andrew and their partners, James and John. But, Jesus answered him, “Do not be afraid; From now on you will be catching men.”[5] Peter realized what the catch meant. He had previously heard Jesus’ preaching, but now he saw clearly. Jesus is God. He knew what the catch meant, and was convicted by his own sinfulness. Peter wanted to run from Jesus. Jesus forgive Peter and called him to be a catcher of men. That is, He equipped Peter with the net of the Gospel, to catch men and bring them out alive from the sea of sin and death. Peter, and those who were with him, left everything and followed Jesus.

“If I just had this, I could do that.” That’s what we say. But, now we realize that our Lord can and does provide for what we need. There is nothing we need that we truly lack. When we put these things above the call that Christ has given His Church, we deserve for our Lord to depart from us. Instead, like Peter, He forgives us. Like Peter, He gives us what we need and then sends us out with what the world needs – the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ has made payment for our sins, and gives eternal life as a gift to all those who believe this.

There’s an important word toward the end of our text. It was translated in our reading as, “catching men.” A better translation would be, “catching men alive.” This word in Greek isn’t just for catching, but catching something alive. Such is what happens when the Word of God is preached, and the Holy Spirit creates faith in those who hear it. They are brought up out of the sea of sin and death and seated in the ark of the Church. This work the whole Church is called to, yet we let things of this world distract us. Let us learn from this text that our dear Lord can and does provide for all that we truly need. With that in place, He call us also to be fishers of men – that we also speak the Good News of salvation to those around us, that they also be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven.


[1] 1 Tim. 6:8, English Standard Version.

[2] Lk. 5:1-3.

[3] Lk. 5:4-7.

[4] Lk. 5:8.

[5] Lk. 5:10.

“Love Bears All Things,” Luke 18:31-43

Text: Luke 18:31-43

“If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind…[it] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 

Since ancient times this epistle reading has been paired with our Gospel reading from Luke 18. Already from St. Augustine, who died in 430, we have sermons combining these texts, demonstrating the depth of Christ’s love for us. In the Gospel, Christ demonstrates a love beyond comprehension, that defies understanding – a love that endures all things.

These past weeks leading up to our Lord’s Lent, we’ve been looking at grace and salvation from a few different angles. First, we had the parable of the Vineyard, where all the workers received the same wage. Second, last week we heard the parable of the Sower. In it Christ sows His Word like a seed. Where it takes root, it bears fruit a hundredfold – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This week, as Jesus nears the final week of His earthly life, He again teaches what will soon happen to Him. He will be betrayed, mocked, humiliated, spit upon, flogged, and killed – all to accomplish what was written in the prophets concerning our salvation. But, as we read, the Disciples didn’t understand. This is our focus this week.

The grace of our Lord is given freely to all who believe in Him. It comes through the preaching of the Word. And, this week, we confess that – apart from the Holy Spirit – our minds cannot understand or believe it. Despite our sinful flesh, Jesus willingly went to endure suffering, so that all that was written concerning our salvation might be accomplished.

I.   

Our text this week comes from Luke 18. Here we find Jesus nearing His final ascent to Jerusalem. It’s been a long journey. He began this journey in Luke 9, where it says, “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This whole time He’s been preaching and teaching and healing and raising the dead, but with this end in sight – He is going to Jerusalem to die and rise. This is what Scripture has always been about, and it’s where the forgiveness of sins comes from. And, this is exactly what Jesus preaches in the text.

St. Luke writes, “Taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.’” If you look at this text in the Bible, you’ll find that this is now the third time that Jesus has predicted His death. Each time He’s mentioned that He’s going to die, and before that be betrayed. This time, though, He opens it up and teaches just what is going to happen to Him before He dies. Again, He’ll be handed over. But, also, He’ll be mocked and treated shamefully. He’ll be spit upon. He’ll be flogged. And then, then they’ll kill Him.

I was reading in a book not too long ago about the concept of crucifixion. Crucifixion was a barbaric practice – quite painful – but also, humiliating. It was meant to be a humiliating death. That’s why people were crucified in public places with signs above their heads. It’s also why it was against the law to crucify Roman citizens. But, what I learned is this: In every picture I’ve ever seen of Jesus on the cross, He had has some sort of cloth on Him. You know, covering His private parts. However, considering that crucifixion was purposefully humiliating, and that Scripture tells us that they gambled for His clothing, it’s most likely that Jesus was crucified totally naked.

I bring this up because Jesus knew this full-well. He knew entirely what would happen to Him, indeed, what must happen to Him. He knew how shamefully He would be treated, and He did it anyway. All so that Scripture would be fulfilled and we be saved. Jesus died exposed so that our sins might be covered. Jesus didn’t just allow this to happen to Him, but He willingly did it for us. Luther wrote on this passage, “Whoever looks at His suffering without seeing His will and heart in them must be terrified at it rather than rejoice in it. But if we see His heart and will in [His suffering], this produces true comfort, confidence, and joy in Christ.” “Love is patient and kind…love bears all things…endures all things.”

II.   

Here we have our Lord pouring out His heart, telling how much He loves us and what He is willing to endure, so that we might be reconciled to God. But, how is it received by those nearest to Him? “But they,” the twelve, “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Jesus demonstrated the depth of His great love for us, the vastness of His mercy and grace, while the disciples showed the Holy Spirit to be right when He caused St. Paul to write, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law.”

It still had not set in for the disciples that Jesus’ suffering is absolutely necessary for our salvation. Without it we cannot be saved, and apart from faith in Christ’s suffering there is no salvation. Even though, in this same chapter, Jesus welcomed the little children, called the rich young ruler to follow Him, and healed the blind beggar, they still didn’t quite get it. Neither do we. 

By that, I mean that we are all by nature Pharisees. We all by nature try to center our salvation on something inside of us, something we do. Whether it’s feeling that we are saved because we go to church, or because we consider ourselves good people, or because we do some good things – our sinful nature doesn’t understand that relying on those things is like going up to the cross and pulling Jesus down. Our sinful nature rather not look at the cross.

But look to the cross, we must. We must look to our dear Jesus, naked and dying on the cross, because that is where salvation comes from. All of Scripture leads us there. It is there that we see how much, how deeply, how seriously God loves us. Though it is hard, no, impossible, for our sinful flesh to understand, Jesus’ suffering is the prime demonstration of His love for us. By His suffering He accomplished what was written in the prophets and secured our salvation.

III.  

St. Paul did write that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. Then he wrote, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” Thanks be to God for the great gifts that He bestowed on us in our Baptism. We were all by nature Pharisees and children of wrath. We were unable to see in our Lord’s sufferings the fulfillment of Scripture and our salvation. We were mired in sin. But now, all of that has been washed away. Instead of leaving Adam and Eve naked, God clothed them in flesh. Instead of exposing our secret and shameful sins, Jesus has covered them up by His suffering in our place. By our Baptism, the Holy Spirit has given us faith to believe and eyes to see in our Lord’s blessed wounds the fulfillment of the Scripture and the source of our salvation.

As our Lord continued His journey toward Jerusalem to suffer and die for us, He was met on the road by a blind beggar. He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus stopped, spoke, and the man’s sight was restored. Immediately, he began praising God. Thanks be to God for the great love with which He has loved us. Jesus Christ suffered humiliation on the cross so that Scripture might be fulfilled and we be saved. In Baptism He opened our eyes to see and believe the same. 

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Text: Luke 18:9-14

Listen to the sermon here

Two men enter, and two men leave. Two men go up to the temple to pray, and both go down again. Two men go in, but only one returns justified. One man was a Pharisee and the other, a tax collector. Yet, the one who went down justified was not the one people would’ve expected. Our text today from St. Luke’s Gospel often gets combined with another occasion where Jesus talks about Pharisees and prayer. In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Jesus uses the word “hypocrites” there, but it’s clear that He’s talking about the Pharisees, who habitually put on shows of piety for others to see.

Passages about the Pharisees often get combined, and most of the time when they come up, the sermon becomes an opportunity to encourage humility and tolerance. For, every knows how judgmental those evil Pharisees were; and, of course, we are better than they are. Or, if you like – take out Pharisee and put in whatever other people you want. Although we could preach a sermon on humility from this text, I’m not convinced that’s the main point. St. Luke gives us why Jesus preached this parable in verse 9, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.”

This parable is a little more sophisticated than it appears at first. It actually cuts right to the core of the Christian faith and the thing that separates the true faith from all the other falsehoods out there. The core of the Christian faith and what separates us from all other religions is how we are justified, how we are made righteous – how we are saved. Two men go into the temple to pray, one leaves justified. One man offers an eloquent prayer, which is to be commended, but his prayer revealed where his confidence ultimately lied: in himself. So, he left without his sins forgiven. The other, as we will see, returned to his home forgiven. Jesus demonstrates in our text that the ones who are truly justified – who are made righteous and whose sins are forgiven – are those who trust not in themselves, but only in God’s abundant mercy.

I.

Our text begins, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.’” In Luke 18, things are starting the ratchet up a little bit. If your remember last week, our text was Luke 19, which was just after Triumphal Entry. Jesus is teaching in this chapter in view of His upcoming passion. The things that He talks about have His suffering and death as their central point. Soon after our text comes Jesus’ third prediction of His death, which will accomplish all that was written in the prophets; He will win salvation for the world by His death and resurrection. His suffering is what makes peace between God and the world and is the reason for our justification.

In order to teach this, Jesus uses a parable. He sets up a contrast that would be startlingly real to the audience. In one corner, a Pharisee, and in the other, a tax collector. It’s important to remember that, contrary to how we perceive Pharisees now, they weren’t the bad guys. Well, they were for their evil doctrine; but think of the Pharisees as the people in church that everyone likes. They are the most religious, most giving, most well-liked people in the congregation. They were whom everyone looked up to. The tax collector, on the other hand, was the bad guy. Yeah, they were Jews. But they were greedy swindlers, who worked for the Roman occupiers. They paid a great sum of money be tax collectors, only so they could extort more money out of their fellow man. And yeah, they probably went to church, but they maybe weren’t the most well-liked.

II.

Both men go up to the temple to pray. “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’” The Pharisee goes up to the temple for the time of corporate worship with all the other people, but he situates himself so that he is set apart from the others. To some extent, this was the Pharisees’ M.O.; to them you were either pure or not. Salvation for them was measured by how pure you were. Included among those who were not pure, were some who were fellow churchgoers. So, he separated himself from the crowd, because if he got too close, then he would also be impure, and then also so he could be seen by the others.

He offered this prayer: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers…” Now, in some ways, the prayer itself is not so bad. It is good to thank God that He has preserved us from falling into great shame and vice. If it weren’t for the Holy Spirit, we would be much worse off. It’s okay to recognize that. But that’s not what the Pharisee did. Remember why Jesus is telling this parable. The Pharisee was saying that he was better than all other men. All the others are unrighteous robbers and adulterers, but not him. He concluded that, because he does not do any of those things, he must be righteous. Then he justified himself by saying, in addition, he also fasted not once but twice a week and tithed not just what he earned, but also what he bought.

Jesus spoke this parable against those who were confident that they were righteous in and of themselves. They were the ones who counted their works, and based their hope of salvation on them. The Pharisee wasn’t really thanking God, but he was advertising and celebrating himself. He didn’t need to ask God for forgiveness, because he knew how good he was. His posture and prayer revealed what was inside his heart: neither repentance over sin nor faith in Christ, only his own goodness. Therefore, Jesus said, the Pharisee was not the one who went down from the temple justified. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like the others, the unrighteous. But now he is the “other,” the one whose sins were not forgiven. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

III.  

The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” As the Pharisee stood in front of the congregation congratulating himself, the tax collector stood at a distance. All men are liars, cheaters, adulterers, and thieves – in other words, poor miserable sinners – a fact the tax collector freely acknowledged. Convicted by God’s Word and ashamed of his sin, the man would not even look up to heaven. Instead, he beat his chest. This act of contrition was common in times of great sorrow, but even then usually only among women. For a man to do it…

He offered up a simple prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Hidden in those words is a profound theological statement that we miss in English.The word for mercy in Greek is ἔλεος , which is where we get Kyrie Eleison from. That isn’t the word the tax collector uses. He uses the word ἱλάσθητί, which relates to another word, ἱλαστήριον. The ἱλαστήριον is the part on the ark of the covenant that would be covered by blood of a sacrifice. Once a year, one priest would go furthest into the temple, into the holy of holies. There he would present a sacrifice and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat of God. That blood would cover the sins of the people.

When the tax collector came to the temple and offered that simple prayer, what he was asking was that the blood that was shed for the forgiveness of sins would be for his sins also. His sins were great and many, there was no righteousness in him. But God is righteous and merciful and provides His own payment for sin. The author to the Hebrews writes, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…[therefore, Christ] by a single offering [he] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” When the tax collector begged that God would have mercy on him, he asked that God would make atonement for his sins and wash them away with blood. And, so has God done through the blood of Christ.

Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” Those who are truly justified, made righteous, are those who trust not in themselves, but wholly in God’s abundant mercy. The Pharisee prided himself in his goodness. Though it is good to tithe and do other good works, it is wrong to place your confidence in them and measure your salvation against them. Or, insert good intentions, good morals, church attendance, or whatever else you want into that sentence. The Pharisee is anyone who places his hope of salvation and confidence anywhere other than God’s mercy. The tax collector went away justified, forgiven his sins, because he trusted not in himself but in God’s great compassion. Does that mean the tax collector got a free pass to continue on sinning? No, for being forgiven our sins leads us to show that same compassion to others. But, that is the point. We are not saved by who we are, by our works, or by anything else we do. We are saved because God has had mercy on us. He has made atonement for our sins not by the blood of bulls and goats, but by the blood of the only-begotten Son of God.

 

The Dishonest Manager and the Merciful Master

Text: Luke 16:1-9 (10-13)

I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Jesus says one of the most vexing sentences in all the Gospels in our text today. It seems to follow the parable of the Dishonest Manager as Jesus’ interpretation of the story. Make friends, Jesus says, by means of unrighteous wealth (you may have heard that phrase by another title, mammon), so that when it fails, you may be received into eternal dwellings. What is Jesus telling us to do, and why does the master in the story commend the dishonest manager? To use the familiar Lutheran question: Was ist Das?

When I was a student at our seminary in Fort Wayne, students took three homiletics classes. In these classes they learned what a sermon is, how to write one, and got some practice in delivering them. The first class covered sermon theory, the third class covered wedding and funeral sermons. It’s the second class that covered parables. In my experience, we were offered the choice of any parable to preach on. If you chose the parable we have today, and preached it well, you would get an automatic A in the course. No one picked it.

There are two ways that we’re going to look at the text today. First, we are going to look at it doxologically. That means that we’re going to look at it in a way that gives all glory and praise to God. We’ll do that by focusing not on the manager in the parable, but the master. Second, we’ll receive the parable as a teaching on the proper use of mammon, wealth. For, Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money.” In the parable of the Dishonest Manager, Christ teaches us the proper use of wealth and about our merciful Master who forgives.

I.

Let us start with the text. Luke 16 begins, “[Jesus] also said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’” On a surface level, the first chunk of the parable needs no explanation. The story is about a wealthy landowner who has hired another man to be the manager of his property. The system was such that the landowner rented his land to tenant farmers. The farmers would pay their rent as a set portion of their crop, usually either in oil or wheat. The manager was in charge of collecting that rent. After a time, charges were brought to the master that his steward was squandering the landowner’s property.

One of the keys of interpreting a parable is to look for things that don’t match up to reality. Our text today is part of an ongoing section in Luke filled with parables, all of which we’ve actually looked at over the last couple months. The one that comes right before our text today is one you all probably know, the parable of the Prodigal Son. We’ll use that as an example. What is it in that parable that doesn’t match up to reality? Well, it’s not the younger son wasting his inheritance. We’ve all heard stories like that in our lives; and, who of us hasn’t wasted our possessions on immoral living? Or, how about the older son, the one who holds himself high and looks down on his brother who has fallen into sin, the one that we would describe as “self-righteous,”? No, both of those are quite common in reality. What doesn’t match is the father. The wealthy father sees his younger son from afar, he hikes up his robe and runs to greet his son. He embraces him, clothes him, and kills the fatted calf – for his son was dead and now is alive.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps better called the parable of the Merciful Father, because it’s not about the son but the father. From it we learn about our merciful God who forgives our sins by the blood of the Lamb. Same thing with the parable of the Dishonest Manager. It could probably be called the parable of the Merciful Master. That is the thing in this parable that doesn’t match up to reality. We would expect that, when the master hears his steward is cheating him, he would immediately throw him in jail. That would be his right. But instead, the master has mercy. And, not just on the manager. Remember what the manager did when he figured he was gonna get fired – he went and lowered the debts of all the master’s debtors. In response to that, the master honored the lowered debts. Again, that doesn’t line up with reality. If you fire your bookkeeper, and he in the meantime fudges the ledger, you wouldn’t be expected to honor those changes.

I said a few minutes ago that the first way we are going to look at this text is doxologically. That is, we’re going to look at it in a way that gives all glory and praise to God. We do that focusing not on the manager, but on the master. But first, the manager: what were his goals? Comfort and self-preservation at all costs. That involved squandering his master’s possessions, and lying to cover it up. I wish we could say that is what doesn’t match up with reality in the parable but, sadly, it does. Even among us Christians. The word for what the manager does is the same for what the prodigal son does in that parable: He takes what is his master’s and he wastes it on sinful living.

And so do we. We are each placed in various vocations by God, and given various resources to glorify Him and contribute to the work of His kingdom. We confess in the Small Catechism that God gives us everything that we need to support this body and life; everything we have and own belongs to God and is given for the support of our lives and for service to our neighbor. But instead, we put own spin on it. We dedicate our time, our money, and our talents, to our own comfort. And then we lie about it.

II.

The dishonest manager squanders his master’s possessions. He takes what isn’t his and uses it in service of his belly, then he lies to cover it up. When the master finds out that his manager, for perhaps a long time, has been cheating, he doesn’t immediately take to punishment. That would have been his legal right: to punish, to throw in jail, to take back everything, perhaps even to kill. Instead, he has mercy. And, so does our God. In His infinite wisdom, God knows every sin we have ever committed. Every single little indiscretion, and every lie we’ve told to cover it up and comfort ourselves, He knows. He knows every time we’ve used our money and possessions in service to iniquity, and when we’ve made idols out of them. He knows these things, and He forgives.

The central point of our parable today is not the manager, but the master. We are all dishonest managers of what God has given us, and yet our master has had mercy on us. He sent His only-begotten Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our savior. He has taken our iniquity into Himself, and has died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He gives this forgiveness to us freely, not because we are perfect managers, but because He is a merciful Lord.

Now, that leaves us with the last verse of the text, the verse that I read at the beginning of the sermon. I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” What’s that all about? The master commended the dishonest manager for being so clever, and then Jesus clobbers us with this verse of interpretation. The simplest way to understand it is this: Jesus uses the word, “mammon.” Mammon is a Hebrew word that means wealth and possessions that are above and beyond what you need to directly support your life. The world says that anything you can make over what you need to eat and have a home, that you can use for play. But, here Jesus says that proper use of everything that doesn’t go directly to the support of the body is for God’s glory and for service to our neighbor.

Everything. That’s why Jesus couches this in the parable of the Dishonest Manager, or rather, the Merciful Master. We are the dishonest manager. We misuse the things that God gives us and we lie to cover it up. But, God has had mercy on us and given His only Son to die for us. Through His Word and Sacrament, God daily conforms us to the image of His Son and leads us to use our time and possessions in ways that are pleasing to Him.

Our text today is hard passage. We can’t claim to have plumbed the depths of its meaning today; it’s good that it’ll come up again this time next year. However, when viewed in the context of the surrounding passages, particularly the Prodigal Son, we can see that it isn’t primarily about the manager who squanders and lies, but the Master who is merciful. Such is our God, who forgives us poor wretched managers.