Monday, October 31, 2011

Sermon on John 8:31-36, for Reformation Day, "Slavery, License, and Freedom"

Sermon outline
-freedom turned toward sin and evil purposes ceases to be freedom

1. Truth is under fire today. Can truth be known? Obstacles and bias, mind of flesh doesn’t understand the things of the spirit. Always asking from our direction...but what about from God’s direction? Can God make His truth known to us? Some would say no. When someone tells you that it’s impossible to know the truth, ask is that because they have trouble knowing or finding truth, or whether God is somehow incapable of making truth known. God’s hands seem to be tied. But this falsely limits God’s power just because we recognize our own limitations of knowledge and truth. Such a God is “too small.” The true God can and does communicate His truth in a knowable and meaningful way. Didn’t just leave it up to our “best guess.” Abide in Jesus’ word, be a disciple >> know the truth >> truth will set you free.

2. Blindness to slavery (of sin), and the true nature of freedom. Slavery in Egypt, in Babylon; foreign rule under Persia, Greece, now Rome. Did not enjoy political freedom that they craved. Pride. Jesus shows deeper blindness to slavery of sin.

3. How we want to define freedom--recent newsletter article. Freedom “from something.” Do whatever I want. Freedom from rule, authority (but this would be freedom from order; freedom is not anarchy) or freedom from responsibility, duty. (But that would be freedom from love! Remember last week? Love is a duty to God and neighbor--but not a reluctant, forced duty--rather a joyful and willing one. That’s why it can’t be produced by force--only love and freedom create this response of loving duty/good works). Freedom that God gives is freedom toward love and community. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Gal. 5:13) Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” (1 Pet. 2:16)

4. Freedom of God is not freedom to sin. Even if we want to define freedom as “I do what I like/want.” To disregard God’s law is not freedom, its a path back to slavery. Not really freedom--actually is “license.” Our nature wants to turn freedom into license--license to sin. Jesus did not die on the cross to give us permission to sin, or so that we could think that God ignores our sin. This is “freedom” misused for selfish purposes. Rather, He died so we are freed from sin.

5. The Christian writer Os Guiness warns that we dare not idolize freedom, because then freedom will undermine itself. Don’t idolize freedom; recognize its as a good gift from God. Freedom undermined >> permissiveness or license to sin. Freedom undermined >> obsession with security. Freedom undermined >> doing things that are contrary to freedom—i.e. the torturing of prisoners. Guiness warns that if we raise up freedom as an idol in place of God, He will destroy that idol. That is to say that freedom can only be properly enjoyed when we put God first, and enjoy it as His gift.

6. For example, a parent wanting “freedom from responsibility” to raise and care for their child, who leaves them without care, is not truly experiencing freedom—but have given themselves over to “license.” What they want without regard for others or God. Painful consequences. Children suffer lack of love they were intended for, while the adult selfishly pursues their own interests, making their freedom an idol, they become enslaved to their own sin.

7. Consequences sometimes become unbearable or burdens heavier than we can manage. We see why people sin by neglecting duty--but doesn’t make it right. Jesus came to bear our burdens, to pay for our sin. We can help bear other peoples’ burdens, make them bearable by assistance, compassion, love. Love draws us into service, not away from duty. Help people not to escape consequences, but to deal with them responsibly (ex. drug or alcohol rehab, adoption agencies and crisis pregnancy counseling, educational opportunities, etc)

8. Example of a businessman thinking they are free from accountability or authority. Cheats customers, or behaves dishonestly to get a better profit. Maybe can even do it in a way that appears legal. Harmful consequences--people robbed of fair products, prices or service. Trust in business broken. Dishonesty undermines good business. Integrity, on the other hand, does what is right and fair, even when no one watches. Freedom doesn’t mean “I’ll do it because I can get away with it”--freedom says “I’ll do what’s true and right and good for my neighbor. My honesty is evaluated before God, even if no one sees what I do.”

9. Both examples to illustrate that when we use our freedom to sin, we become slaves to sin again. Choosing sin is not choosing freedom, as if freedom were expressed either in doing good or doing evil. But rather, choosing sin is choosing slavery. Sin always locks us up and binds us with spiritual chains of guilt, shame, despair, broken relationships and obligations, pain, suffering, physical spiritual, and emotional consequences of our actions.

10. True freedom in Christ--freedom from those chains. Forgiveness--God’s love has taken off our chains. Choosing to be chained again is not freedom. It is rejecting forgiveness. But what deliverance and joy to be celebrated, when our chains are broken, and we’re set free!! Martin Luther experienced this freedom when he rediscovered what the Bible really taught about the forgiveness of sins, and how God saves us by grace—a gift. That we are not saved by our (failed) duty to the law. He saw what the book of Romans taught, that you heard in our reading today—3:32-34. As a gift.

11. Jesus came promising this gift of freedom to the Jews. Promising that if they remained in His word, became His disciples, they would know the truth that sets them free. Not mere political freedom. Real freedom from the slavery of sin and its power, which is death. Sin enslaves our lives in countless ways when we disobey God. Freedom from sin couldn’t be won for them by any human effort or striving or power. Freedom that could only come as God’s gift, through the His Son Jesus, who is the Truth. Only the Son can set us free—and if He does, we are truly free.

12. Like we said before, this freedom is easily lost. When Luther rediscovered this freedom in the early 1500s, when he began his Reformation of the church, there were those who opposed him, saying that if you teach that salvation is a totally free gift from God, and that our works have nothing to do with it, then people will turn that freedom into license. That if people realized that salvation was a totally free and undeserved gift from God, that they would despise the gift and never do good. So the leaders of the church obscured this free gift of salvation for the sake of making people more moral.

13. Luther recognized that love and good works can’t flow from forced obedience or slavery and guilt under the law, but only from the faith in Jesus: God’s free gift. Same objection raised to Paul when he preached the free gospel of forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. His detractors objected that if grace is a free gift—shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? Paul’s answer was “By no means!” What Jesus said is true—that to return to sin is not freedom, but a return to slavery. Our freedom is only given and only maintained by Jesus Christ. This is the heart of the Reformation and the recapturing of the Truth that sets us free. Jesus rescues us from the slavery of sin and the guilt we bore under the law—He sets us on the path of discipleship to follow Him, and rescues us from every evil deed—to keep us on that straight and narrow path of freedom. Not falling to the right or to the left, into slavery or license, but following the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Son has set you free! You are free indeed!

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1. What is the reason for skepticism toward truth today? Was this skepticism equally present in Jesus’ time? John 18:37-38; Acts 17:21 Is God able to make His truth known, and how did He choose to do so?

2. How were the Jews who talked to Jesus blind about their own slavery & the meaning of freedom? Exodus 1:13-14; 24:18; Ezra 9:9. How is blindness to sin also slavery? John 8:34; Rom. 6:17-18

3. How does freedom undermine itself when we idolize it? What does freedom easily turn into? Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 2:16; Jude 4

4. Describe how this false sense or use of freedom can enslave us and hurt others. Give examples. Where do you see this danger in your own life?

5. What “chains” are broken off of us when Jesus sets us free and forgives our sins? What truth did Martin Luther grasp from the book of Romans that set him free, and helped him realize the source of our freedom? Rom. 3:23-24.

6. What reaction came against Luther’s (Paul’s!) teaching of salvation as a free gift? What did people fear would happen? How they would misuse freedom? Rom. 6:1-3. Why can’t this fear change the message of the free Gospel? What would happen if fear and compulsion again drove our obedience to God? 1 John 4:18-19.

7. Who is the Truth that sets us free? John 14:6. How do we exercise our new-found freedom in Christ? How do we walk on the Way that He freed us for?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 22:34-46, for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, "Who Fulfills Love's Duty?"

Sermon Outline:

1. “Question everything”—worldly motto: t-shirts, bumper stickers, script of TV sitcom. Healthy philosophy to live by? Suspicion of authority, media, ivory towers, sources of knowledge. Not all questions are of the same stripe. Skepticism? Distract? Avoid an issue? Trip up, entangle, embarrass? To learn?

2. Questions for Jesus, finally dared ask Him no more. But here, a really profound question: which is the great commandment in the Law? Hoped to catch Him. Jesus gives a straightforward answer, nonetheless one which astonished the Jews for its wisdom. Always brought things back to the central point, not getting side-tracked by distractions or evasions.

3. Question was not asked as a question about salvation, per se, but really a question of duty. The commandments were a question of our duty to God.

4. Answer leaves out nothing and includes everything. Brilliant! “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

5. How do we react to Jesus’ summary of the law? Relief that Jesus reduced the 10 commandments to 2, so there’s less to keep? The Jewish Rabbis counted 613 commandments in all the Scriptures. So was Jesus making the law easier? Lowering the bar so we can all jump the hurdle?

6. Summary of the law is simple, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Jesus’ simplification of the law doesn’t mean we’re closer to being able to keep it. Elevates the law to its full height. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind. There is no corner of our heart, soul, or mind that should be kept from loving Him. No reserve or reluctance, no hesitation to love Him. God wants our full and undivided love. This summary of the first and great command embraces the first 3 of the 10 commandments: You shall have no other gods before me, you shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, and Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. His answer included everything to do with our duty to God.

7. What would loving God with all your heart look like? Willingly do everything God commands out of sheer love and honor, with no reluctance or compulsion. Endure discipline for good, accept blessing and hardship and still love God regardless. Whatever my state in life, rich, poor, healthy, sick, to love God without reserve or condition. Do you?

8. What about to love God with all your soul? Such a person would give their inmost spirit and life wholly to God in joyful love and service. To count God as more precious than our own soul. Remember “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?” To even be willing to lay down our life for our friends, which Jesus taught was the greatest love. A person who loved God with all their soul could pray: “My life is in your hands,” or even “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

9. What does it mean to love God with all your mind? To know that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7). Not to let worldly human wisdom crowd out God’s truth from our mind, or put trust in man’s partial, minute, and limited knowledge, over God’s divine perspective and Word. Surrender ourselves to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind.” Knowing God’s ways are higher than our ways, and to love and praise them even when we don’t understand. To consciously and with full agreement love and believe in God.

10. What about to love our neighbor as ourselves? Jesus’ second commandment embraces all the rest of the 10 commandments. Duty to our neighbor, is also duty to God. Honor your father and mother, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness (lie) against your neighbor, you shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Jesus’ answer didn’t leave out all the details of the law, but showed instead that love and duty to God undergirds all of the commandments.

11. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:18-21)

12. Loving our neighbor as our self is harder than it might first seem on the surface. Can’t say we love God if we don’t love our brother. But love originates from God, not us: We love because He first loved us. Jesus is the only true path to find the love that we need to love our brother, our neighbor, and even our enemy, as Jesus commands. Not just the easy ones, but the hard to love ones. Closest to us can often hurt us the most. This love comes first from God, and is the only thing powerful enough to change our hearts to love others.

13. If we could just keep those two laws Jesus summarized, we would do no wrong. However, this is impossible for us. Sad reality. Problem is not with the law, but with our carrying it out. We simply can’t obey it to the perfection that He requires. Not with all our heart, soul, and mind. The question for Jesus, “which is the great commandment—what’s my duty to God?” leaves us failing on all counts. We can’t argue with the rightness, the goodness, the nobleness of the commandment. In our hearts we all recognized it is true, praiseworthy, admirable. Yet we can’t do it.

14. So who fulfills love’s duty? Jesus says all the Law and Prophets depend, or literally “hang” on these two commandments. That is, all the Bible, that is as much as was written till that point—the OT, depends on Love. Love is the linchpin, the framework, the undergirding, on which everything hangs. This essential quality of God.

15. The answer lies in Jesus’ final climactic question—the question He turned back on them that they could not answer a word to, and after which they dared ask Him no more questions—trick questions or otherwise. Not to humiliate or trip them up, but to put them on the spot, and open their eyes to who He was. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? How is it that David can call Him Lord, if He is his son?”

16. They now grasped the full goodness and greatness of God’s law, but it left them utterly guilty before God. It is good and right for us to recognize our guilt in the same way. But Jesus loved those Pharisees and Sadducees, and He loves us. Doesn’t want us left in the condemnation of our sins. Pointed them to Himself, the Christ. Know who He was—yes, the son of David—ancestor and rightful heir to King David’s throne—but far more—the Son of God. Greater than David, greater than an earthly king. A messiah or savior that was more than a mere man—also the Son of God. He was the one who could and did fulfill love’s duty. He alone loved God with all His heart, soul, and mind, and who truly loved His neighbor as Himself. He alone obeyed the full extent of God’s law and fulfilled every duty before Him. He alone was the truest and purest expression of God’s love in the world, one who loved God with all His heart—unconditionally through good or evil, blessing or suffering; Who loved God with all His soul—giving His life for His friends, and praying at His death “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Who loved God with all His mind, which is the beginning of all wisdom. Delighting in the truth of God’s Word and commandments rather than the wisdom of men. He is love, the fulfilling of all the commandments. He is the promised one, the fulfilling of all the prophets. The law and the prophets could all hang on Him. All our failed duty toward God was fulfilled in Him. We’re not saved through the keeping of the law—but through Jesus who kept it for us. Jesus is our Lord, our Savior, the author and perfecter of our faith, who fulfilled all love’s duty for us and for God. He is the one who is alive and working in us so that we might follow in His love and begin to also love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. And when we begin to do so, we are loving, because He first loved us and gave Himself up for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1. When is a question a good question? Is skepticism always harmful? What are types of questions that are bad? What should the goal of a good question be?

2. What does it mean to say that the question about the commandments were a question of duty? What directions does our “duty” take us in the two commandments Jesus gives? What was the brilliance of Jesus’ answer? Why is love unafraid of, or willingly accept duty? How does that contrast to obedience based on fear? 1 John 4:18

3. Did Jesus’ simplification or summary of the commandments make them easier or harder? Describe what it means to love God with all your heart. Soul. Mind. Exodus 20:1-11; Job 2:9-10; Luke 23:45; Matt. 16:24-27; Prov. 1:7; Rom. 12:1-2

4. What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Matt. 5:44-46; 10:37; 1 John 4:20-21. When is it especially difficult to love our neighbor as ourselves? Where do we find the capacity for such love? 1 John 4:10, 19

5. How do all the Law and Prophets (the Old Testament) hang or depend on these two commandments? What would happen if love was removed? How is Jesus’ death on the cross the fulfillment of all the Law and Prophets? These two great commands? Spend time reflecting on how Jesus specifically loved God with all His heart, soul, and mind, and loved His neighbor as Himself.

6. Why did Jesus’ last question for the Pharisees and Sadducees, turn them back to Him for the final deliverance from the guilt of our failed duty to God? What truth about Jesus were they unwilling to see or admit? What made Jesus greater than David or any other earthly king, and what made Him the solution for our dilemma before God?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 22:15-22, for Children's Sunday, "Minted In God's Image"

1. Intro: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Famous saying of Jesus, response to those who were trying to trap Him in His words about taxation. Paying taxes was never very popular. Often used to prove that Jesus supported the legal authority of governments to tax the citizens, and the citizens’ duty to pay their taxes (Minor point). Major point= render to God the things that are God’s.

2. Render means to pay, or to give back. What you owe, what is due. The reason Jesus gave for the government’s right to tax, was the inscription and likeness of Caesar, the emperor, on the coin. They had minted the coin. To ‘mint’ a coin is to stamp or press an image onto a piece of metal. The coin then has the “likeness” or picture of whatever person was used. Abraham Lincoln on a penny, George Washington on a quarter. On the back, it has the inscription of the United States of America. Image shows ownership.

3. On to the major point! Jesus “caught” His challengers not merely in their grumbling about taxes, but far more importantly, in the fact that they had failed to “render to God what is God’s.” His profound point was that we, as human beings, are MINTED IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. God has “stamped” His imprint, His image on us, so that we’re to be a reflection of God. And since we are MINTED IN THE IMAGE OF GOD, we should “render” or pay back ourselves to Him.

4. Far more important for Jesus’ hearers than their reluctance to pay taxes to Rome, was their reluctance to give themselves to God! And they had the image of God stamped on each one of them! Just like the realization that coins minted in the image of Caesar were ultimately due back to the Roman government, so also they should have realized that they—their very selves—their lives and their souls, were minted in the image of God, and were ultimately due back to Him.

5. Explore. How were we “minted” or created in the image of God? Gen. 1:26-27,
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

6. Man and woman’s highest glory and honor to be made in the image of God. Foundation of human dignity and equality—treat all human life as valuable, precious and equal in God’s sight. Was not a universally held value, but was spread throughout the world by Christian teaching. Our virtues of compassion and the dignity and worth of all human life are founded on this principle that we are made in God’s image. Basis for why it’s wrong to take innocent human life.

7. A rational, thinking soul, unlike the animals. God has given us the good gifts of reason, language, and wisdom to use and apply in ruling the world. Creative. Spiritual. All this was to be dedicated to God. Rendered to God by faithful use of His creation. Obedience, worship, prayer, attentiveness to God’s Word. A right relationship and fellowship with God. Love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. Original innocence. Didn’t last.

8. Losing the image of God in the Fall. No longer sinful, now guilty. Image corrupted and darkened. But still kept a “ruined glory.” Still capable of incredible learning, artistry, creativity, literature, compassion--but ruined in our sinfulness. When we forget that knowledge of the image of God in which we were made, we fail to realize that GOD MINTED US IN HIS IMAGE SO WE WOULD BECOME HIS AGENTS OF LOVE AND OBEDIENCE. We turn from serving God and acting as a reflection of His image in the world, to serving ourselves and our own self-interest. Sin against God and sin against each other. Misuse of mind and will in rebellion against God our Creator, the One who minted us with His image. When we don’t recognize the image of God in others, how do we treat them? (pause)

9. What can be the result when we forget that we were made in the image of God? (pause) The words of one dead rock star shows one sad result: “I belong to the Blank Generation. I have no beliefs. I belong to no community, tradition, or anything like that. I’m lost in this vast vast world. I belong nowhere. I have absolutely no identity.” (Mangalwadi, 74)....this is the voice of a despairing and empty soul—empty of any meaning, any identity, value, or dignity. When we try to erase the knowledge of God or forget His imprint on our soul, such despair and emptiness becomes possible, likely, and even inevitable. The opposite of the rich meaning and life with God that we are intended for, when He made us in His image.

10. We can deny it exists and live as though we were no different from the animals. We can dirty that image through sin. But even a coin deeply scratched and covered in dirt, still bears its image. But it needs to be cleaned off. God’s amazing “cleaning service:” free of charge—forgiveness. Jesus Christ was having this conversation just days before He was going to put that “cleaning plan” into effect. Days from cross, the awful penalty that He paid to wash away our sin, cleanse us from the “sin dirt” that covers us, and make us presentable to God. We can “render to God what is God’s” because we are simply giving back to God what He already made, and has cleansed and purified through Jesus’ forgiveness. We can render ourselves to God because He wants to take us back, even if we have been scratched and made dirty through sin. He lovingly cleanses and restores His image in us through Jesus Christ. He died on the cross so that His blood could wash away the most deeply ingrained sin. So that He could begin the work of restoring us to our original glory. That work will only be complete in heaven, but begins now with the transformation and new life that Jesus works in you.

11. This was the heart of Jesus’ conversation with those men that day. They were focused on taxation, but He used it as an opportunity to talk about something of far greater importance--that GOD HAD MINTED US IN HIS IMAGE SO WE WOULD BECOME HIS AGENTS OF LOVE AND OBEDIENCE. They had forgotten or ignored that fact. We forget or ignore or deny that fact. Yet Jesus wants to open our eyes to see that we are the bearers of God’s own image! What an incredible glory and honor! And He wants us to use our created gifts of reason, knowledge, work, and love in service of Him and of our neighbor.

12. God granted the greatest honor and dignity to us sinful human beings, when He descended to us, and became a human being! This one of the single most amazing facts of Christianity, that God became man. We worship Jesus as that God-man. That it is even possible for God to become man is because of the fact that God made us in His own image! He became “Emmanuel—God With Us.” So it was not beneath God’s dignity or honor to do this since He was entering the crowning work of His creation. Rather, God becoming man in Jesus elevates and raises our dignity as human beings. That God found us needy of saving, and entered into our lives and our humanity to do it. That He became one with us in our suffering and death, so that we might become one with Him in His innocence and in His life. Minted in His image, let us render or give ourselves completely to Him, in heart, soul, and mind. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1. What was Jesus’ advice about paying taxes? Matthew 22:20-21; 17:24-27; Romans 13:6-7.

2. What was the bigger point that Jesus was making for His hearers? What was the analogy to the coin, for why they also were “due back” to God?

3. What does it mean that we are made in the “image of God?” Genesis 1:26-27; What qualities of God are reflected in humanity in a lesser degree? Creativity, reason, spirituality; name more.

4. How does this belief that we are made in God’s image provide the foundation for the belief in universal human dignity and equality, and the value of human life? Genesis 9:6; Acts 17:26-27

5. In the original perfection of creation, how did God plan for humans to live out that reality of being made in His image? What qualities would He have expected them to show?

6. What happened to that image of God in us, when Adam and Eve first sinned? Genesis 3. Describe how today, in the state of our “ruined glory” we can see both hints of the image of God in humanity and also see obvious evidence of the corruption of sin in humanity.

7. Sin obscures the image of God in us, and leaves scars behind, but what “cleansing” and restoration does God offer, and how? Ephesians 4:17-24; Colossians 3:9-10. 1 John 1:7; John 3:16

8. How does the fact that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ again give the greatest reaffirmation of human dignity and worth, and show God’s great love for us? Philippians 2:4-10; Colossians 1:19-20; 2:9-10; Romans 5:10

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 22:1-14, for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, "Dressed for the Wedding"

Sermon outline

1. Parable built on OT picture, here of heaven. King= Father; Son= Jesus; invited guests = Jews/Jesus’ original audience; wedding feast = end times celebration of Jesus joined to His bride, the church (foreshadowed in Is. 25:6-9); Wedding hall = kingdom of God/church; Abuse/rejection/murder of servants = reaction of Jews to prophets/Jesus.

2. What kind of incredible honor it was to be invited to the King’s Son’s wedding? Royal feast, spared no expense, finest food and everything prepared. Only come, enjoy and celebrate my son’s wedding with me! What an insult to refuse the invitation? Imagine being given the exclusive invitation to the wedding of the President’s child, and you said you couldn’t come. Made some excuse about needing to clean your yard or do your chores. Had to work late. Seems unimaginable enough by itself, such an insult. How much unimaginably worse if one were to abuse and murder the messengers? Yet this is just what happened when it came to God’s invitation. Invited many times by the prophets. Abuse, insult, excuses, death.

3. But also portrays the response people presently give to God’s invitation—ridicule, excuses, indifference, better things to do. World today is distracted endlessly by amusements and things and work and a million other things that turn our attention away from God.

4. King’s response reflects specific historical judgments: first time in OT when Babylonians destroyed the Temple & Jerusalem. 2nd time was yet to come, 40 years after Jesus, as He prophesied the Romans destroyed the 2nd Temple and Jerusalem again. How should we expect to be repaid if we despise such an honor and invitation?

5. Weddings from casual to elaborately formal, always are an occasion for careful choice in clothing. Surprise in parable, that a guest is thrown out for not having a wedding garment. Where was he supposed to get it? All the guests came in from the highways and roads.

6. Ancient custom that the host provided wedding garments for all the guests. Isaiah 61:10 comes at the end of a chapter praising what God will do when the Messiah (Jesus) will arrive and bring the year of the Lord’s favor. In verse ten it proclaims, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” God provides the garments of salvation, the wedding clothes to wear at His banquet. All the invited guests would be offered the wedding garment. So the offense of this man who was thrown out, was that he wore his own clothes, instead of the celebratory wedding garment. Outer darkness = sufferings of hell. He was unworthy because He did not wear the appointed wedding garment.

7. How to get a “wedding garment”? God provides it, not us. Garment of salvation = robe of righteousness. The only pure garment, pure robe of innocence is that which Jesus won for us. What does that mean? Covering of perfect innocence—perfect life, sacrificial death for sin.

8. What’s the best we had to wear? What are our “own clothes”? Isaiah 64:5-6 says “Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, We continued in them a long time; And shall we be saved? For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” Notice, it’s not our sinful deeds that are like filthy rags, but it’s our righteous deeds(!) that are like a polluted garment. Stunning to us, but the hard realization that the best “clothes” we have to wear are still filthy rags. Dirty and full of holes. That’s because our sin and guilt covers us with stains and spots and blemishes. Our spotty obedience to God’s law is filled with gaps and holes. We can’t even begin to approach the perfection that God demands. James 2:10 reads: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it”. If you want to be measured by the standard of the law, dressed in your own righteousness, then no part of the law can be left undone, not even the least part of it.

9. The scandal or offense then, is to be given Christ’s righteousness to wear, a gift for all those who are invited to His wedding banquet, but to refuse and choose to wear your own dirty rags instead. That is to reject the covering of Jesus’ innocence for your sin, and expect to be presentable to God on account of your own righteousness instead. That is to stand before God in the rags of your sins, when He offers you the beautiful clean garments of salvation. If that is the case, we have no one but ourselves to blame for being thrown out of the banquet. It’s to stand on what you have done, instead of what Christ has done, when you face the judgment.

10. And we will have no excuse. We will be speechless. So why would anyone choose their own filthy rags instead of Christ’s clean robe? Why would you choose your far-from-perfect record instead of His spotless one? Just like the “comfortable” feeling of that old worn pair of jeans that you can’t seem to throw away, sin gets pretty comfortable on us. We like our sin, and the short term pleasure it gives. We don’t want the change, to leave our pet sins behind. We don’t like the idea of “owing” someone something, getting it totally free without our work or obligation. Whatever reasons, none of them will provide a legitimate excuse before God if we come to Him believing in our own goodness, our own satisfaction with our self-selected clothes. If we have rejected His freely given garment, if we are not dressed in that baptismal garment of Jesus’ perfect righteousness, we’ll be cast out of the celebration.

11. But if we are in our sins and rags, if we have stained and spotted our garments, we are to take them to Him, be washed in the forgiveness of His blood, and have the crimson garments turned white as snow. We are to wash our robes and make them white in the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Ephesians 5 describes how Jesus presents the church for Himself at this great wedding feast. “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” As Christ dresses His bride, the Church, He dresses you wedding guests, with garments not your own, with righteousness, purity and holiness that is not your own, but given to you by the costly sacrifice of His life on the cross, and delivered in the washing of the water with the word, in your baptism. He has washed away any stains, spots, or wrinkles and has made you clean. Joyfully dress in His righteousness each day, as we worship together and await the final arrival of His heavenly kingdom, where the feasting that we have begun now in the Lord’s Supper will be fulfilled in the arrival of Christ our Bridegroom, when the full and eternal wedding banquet is revealed!

Sermon Talking Points
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1. Identify who and what the main characters and events of the parable represent. How does Isaiah 25:6-9 shape the view of God’s “wedding feast?” Where else is this wedding imagery significant in the Bible? Matt. 25:1-13; Eph. 5; Hosea

2. Reflect on the incredible honor to be invited to the wedding banquet of the King’s Son, and how foolish it is to despise that invitation for trivial or mundane reasons. How outrageous is it to scoff at His message? Acts 13:41; 2 Pet. 3:3-7

3. When was the nation of Israel punished by armies and its city destroyed, for disregarding God’s invitation and abusing and killing the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles? 2 Chron. 36:15-21; Matthew 24

4. What was the basis for the unworthiness of the guests who were first invited? Acts 13:46, and 13:26-52.

5. What was the basis for the unworthiness of the guest who was thrown out? Where could he have been expected to get a wedding garment? Isaiah 61:10; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 3:18. By contrast, what are we wearing if we keep our own “garments”? Isaiah 64:6; Jude 24; Rev. 3:4-5. Who cleanses us to give a clean garment? Isaiah 1:18; Rev. 7:13-14.

6. For those who remain in the wedding hall after the final judgment, and celebrate the wedding feast, what is their cry of thanksgiving? Isaiah 25:9. What is there to look forward to? Is. 26:6-8

Monday, October 03, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46, for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, "The Vineyard"

Sermon Outline

1. Jesus’ several vineyard/vine/fruit parables. Recent parable about a vineyard—hiring workers for the vineyard (kingdom of God/church) and rewarding all equally. Compassionate employer. Different angle today. Retelling and adaptation of Isaiah 5. Condenses OT history of Israel. Servants (prophets) killed and beaten and ignored. Obvious parallel to son sent and killed, with Jesus’ life.

2. Fruit that is desired: obedience to God’s law. Good works (described as fruit in many places). In Isaiah 5—fruit is bad (wild grapes), finding bloodshed, violence, and injustice. In Matt, no fruit is given back from the renters. The vineyard of God’s kingdom will bear fruit. Prepared, ready, planted, all the “prep-work” done—only tend and give back the fruit it bears. The kingdom will bear fruit, but God will give the stewardship to those who bear fruit, and take it away from those who do not. We’ve been given the source and the blessing of all fruitfulness, Jesus, the Vine.

3. Do we obey? Are we bearing fruit? Not an onerous task, but in a vineyard already prepared and fruitful. God has mercifully and generously given His vineyard out to us, but we’re not to despise His grace.

4. Strange features: most is normal up until the master decides to send His Son—after the treatment the other servants received. Irrational. Great risk to son. Expect instead an immediate show of force against the murderous tenants—not to be so vulnerable as to send His Son. Teaches about God sending Jesus—God made Himself vulnerable to injury, insult, and death. Incredible action of mercy and amnesty—extending one last offer of peace, to those who should have been destroyed long ago. Incredible that God overcame the anger of receiving that abuse and rejection to offer yet another undeserved chance for amnesty and forgiveness. There will be a time when the judgment will be final.

5. Amazing in the parable that the Son could be so violently rejected from His Father’s own vineyard. This is a tragic and terrible divorce between the right relationship that should have existed between the master and tenants. This is the divorce and alienation of sin—that people who have been privileged and gifted with God’s blessings, would reject Him and deny Him His fruit, abuse and kill His servants and even His Son. Sin so blinds our eyes that we see Jesus who comes for our help and our good as our enemy instead. Master thought they would “have shame” before His Son. They were utterly shameless, and had no shame even before the son, to kill Him and cast Him out. This is the result of sin. Fills with pride, defensiveness, abuse; unwilling to serve under God our master. Reject authority to correct and discipline.

6. Strange plan of tenants to kill the son to gain the inheritance. Laws about squatters’ rights: 3 years occupation. Assume the master is dead. Jews though they could kill Jesus and keep their homeland and the rulers could keep their authority in the Temple. Parable is largely about the Jewish leaders’ mismanagement of the “vineyard” and repeated rejection of God’s emissaries (prophets and finally Jesus). Discusses what the just fate is for the murderous tenants. The people pronounce their own judgment: a miserable death, and the transfer of the vineyard to others. In our hearts we know the just penalty for our sin and wrongdoing. Plan to get inheritance backfires terribly—strike against the stone and be shattered, falls on you and get crushed. Rejection of son was rejection of the chief cornerstone.

7. Rejection of Jesus, stumbling against Him: path of judgment. Should be the rock on which one builds an immovable foundation—instead struck against it. The rejected stone is nevertheless greatly honored. Workers rejected Jesus, but God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, and every knee will bow and tongue confess. Life built on that solid cornerstone which is Christ will be firm and steady. It is life rooted in and flowing from the Vine that is Christ. Life in Him is fruitful because God is bearing fruit through you.

8. It is only in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we can begin to comprehend the parable, and how Jesus made the incredible move to come to us in our sin, to give us help and aid, to preserve us in His inheritance, the vineyard of the Kingdom of God. That He risked certain death, stood in the line of the prophets who had been rejected and killed before Him, but now came as the Son of God with every right to first destroy His enemies, but first sought to win them, even through His death, to the forgiveness of sins. He even grants to us the source of the very fruitfulness that He expects. Built on this chief cornerstone, lay hold of His mercy and forgiveness, and joyfully work in His vineyard till He calls us to our rest.

Sermon Talking Points
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Listen to audio at:

1. What is the background of the vineyard imagery so common to Jesus’ parables? Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:2-6; Deut. 6:10-19; John 15. In what way was the vineyard prepared and ready for the people, without their effort? What was expected in return? How were God’s servants, the prophets, treated by the Israelites (tenants)? Jer. 26:20-21; 2 Chron 24:20-22; Mt. 23:34-37; Lk 13:34.

2. Do we obey God’s commands? Are we bearing fruit that shows we have repented of our sin? Should bearing fruit be difficult if we believe? John 15:5. Why is it dangerous to despise God’s grace?

3. What is so unbelievable about the master of the vineyard’s final plan to collect the fruits of his vineyard? How does this parallel the incredible love and vulnerability of God in sending His Son?

4. The tenants had the astonishing thought that they could take squatter’s rights of the vineyard if they killed the heir, the son. How does this parallel the thoughts of the Jewish leaders who recognized they were the subject of the parable? Matt. 21:45-46; John 11:45-53

5. Though Jesus was rejected and killed, how did God honor Him and crown Him with glory? Matt. 21:42; Psalm 118:22-23. What is the consequence of rejecting God’s offered mercy in Christ? Mt. 21:43-44. Isaiah 8:14-15; Dan. 2:34-35. Why is the cross a stumbling block to people? 1 Cor. 1:18-25

6. Those who receive instead God’s mercy in Christ, and bear the fruit of His kingdom, gratefully receive the gift of His inheritance, and share in the fruit and blessings of the vineyard. They are built on the sure foundation of Christ.

Freedom from or for what?

October newsletter

We are a country of people who ostensibly love freedom. We take pride in the Declaration of Independence and it’s proclamation that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We consider liberty or freedom to be the freedom from oppression, tyranny, unjust laws and taxation, etc. From this founding document others later argued against the injustice of slavery and inequality. Thus, when we talk about freedom, it is usually understood as freedom from something. Freedom from what constrains, holds back, imposes expectations or limitations on us.

Yet even in a free society, we recognize that this freedom is not completely unbounded. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. humorously put it: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins.” We also talk widely about freedom of expression, and as that is practiced in countless forms, we see an increasing degree of individualism. Is that always necessarily good? If our “freedom” is not only to be free of any restraints and expectations but also of any responsibility and participation in community—is that freedom well-used? Will that freedom be used selfishly, or for the good of others?

Matthew Harrison, President of The LCMS, writes that for Martin Luther, the freedom that we have in Christ was not merely freedom from something, but also significantly, freedom toward something. In other words, that freedom has an object or a goal. In the Small Catechism, Luther wrote that we are freed from sin, death, and the power of the devil so that “I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (explanation of the 2nd article of the Apostles’ Creed). There is a goal and a purpose for our new-found freedom in Christ—to be put into the service of others in God’s kingdom.

So when we are freed in Christ, it’s not so that we might be self-serving (which, ironically, is a return to the slavery of our sinful desires cf. Gal. 5:13). Rather, it’s a “freedom toward community. It is a freedom that pulls one outside of oneself. It is a freedom toward communal purpose, vocation, service, and mercy. It is a freedom toward eternity” (Harrison, Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action, 82-83). What a contrast between a worldly notion of freedom, and the freedom in Christ! The freedom in Christ is a freedom that pulls us outside of ourselves, and turns our love and our mercy toward the good and toward the need of others. Here freedom is not merely for one’s own purposes, but embraces responsibility, the care for others, duty to one’s calling (vocation), and heartfelt love. This freedom does not shirk responsibility as a constraint or limitation, but is thankful that God has freed us to serve Him without fear.

This is the freedom that Zechariah sang about. He sang that God had redeemed us, saved us from our enemies, shown us the mercy He promised to our fathers, so that “we might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days” (Luke 1:74-75). This is the freedom that Paul describes: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). Freedom for service to God; freedom toward the good of our neighbor. This responsible use of our Christian freedom is such that it does not demand our rights over against another, but thinks of others first (Phil. 2:3). This responsible use of Christian freedom builds community, extends forgiveness, and works for the good of all, not only for the individual. Jesus Christ did not set us free from one another, but for one another. Truly, this is freedom worth celebrating and giving thanks to God for! In the freedom that Jesus won for us by His death on the cross, may we be bound together with one another in His love! Amen.