By Faith Alone – By Grace Alone – By Scripture Alone
Sola Fide — By Faith Alone — Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
500 years ago, Martin Luther was born into a world that was desperately looking for hope. However, hope was in short supply. Those in charge certainly didn’t give any hope. If you worked the land faithfully you simply received enough to get by. Although we read stories about paupers becoming princes the reality was “once a peasant always a peasant.” There was no hope of promotion.
In a similar way, the church of the day offered little hope for Christians — both in this life and in the next. The people were constantly reminded that their God was a Righteous Judge who demanded payment for sins. And so, as the church taught in that day, people had to live according to rules and give a certain amount of money if they were to have any hope in the next life.
But the next life was no better. According to the church you would suffer for your sins in a place called purgatory, and this could last thousands of years.
This is the world Martin Luther was born into. And he felt its heavy weight. In Luther’s eyes, he was a slave of sin – and the way he saw it, he would always be a slave to sin. To try and make himself right with God, Martin Luther gave up law school and became a monk. It didn’t help.
It didn’t help because what Martin Luther was hearing was the “old order of things.” All he heard was the law of the Lord. If this old order of things, this old covenant was all there was, Luther – and everyone else – had no hope.
Then came the Lord’s words through the prophet Jeremiah. “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.” So what was wrong with the old covenant? Well, the Lord explains: “It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant.”
Try as they may, Israel never could follow God’s law perfectly. Something had to change. The old covenant had to be replaced with a new one. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
There is no harsh judgment in those words. The Lord isn’t waiting to smite everyone for their sins. Instead, he sent his Son, Jesus. He suffered and died to take away all of our sins. That is the new covenant. The Lord himself declares: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Once Martin Luther was brought to that Scriptural truth, once he saw the gospel for the first time, he said, “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” The gospel message changed everything. Luther soon realized that it isn’t what we do, it is what Christ has done for us. We live for Jesus out of pure thankfulness and joy, not to earn heaven. The righteous will not live by works. The righteous shall live by faith in Christ.
Sola Gratia — By Grace Alone — Ephesians 2:4-10
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
“I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Martin Luther had been brought to that gospel truth. He understood that it is faith in Jesus that saves. But there was a problem. He watched as men peddled pieces of paper, called indulgences, to people throughout Europe. If a person purchased this piece of paper, their deceased loved one would be granted a few less years, or weeks, or days off of their suffering in purgatory. They would get to heaven faster. And all they had to do was pay money for it.
Understandably, this deeply distressed Luther. He had just discovered the beautiful gospel truth and now he watched as men sent out by the pope were marketing against it! Church had become big business. Salvation could be purchased, so long as a person could pay. However, Luther saw that the ultimate cost of all this was the people’s souls.
So he decided to do something about it. He wrote out 95 statements, called theses, that summed up the errors he saw taking place. He took that large paper and, on October 31, 1517, almost exactly 500 years ago, he nailed those 95 theses to the door of his castle church in Wittenberg. Everyone who walked in to the church the following day would have seen it, along with any other notices that had been nailed to the door.
Soon, however, the piece of paper was ripped off of the door. It wasn’t done in anger. Someone took the 95 theses off of the door in order to bring them to the publisher. Using Gutenberg’s printing press, they made copies of the 95 theses and sent them to all ends of Europe, including Rome. Once the pope read them he became irate. He thought Luther was out of his mind.
Eventually, the pope responded to Luther’s writing with some writing of his own. He issued a papal bull, an edict, which stated that if Luther did not cease and desist his remarks against the church within 60 days (and recant what he had written), then he would be removed from the church.
How did Luther get to this point? Everything hinged on Ephesians chapter 2. Luther took those life-saving words seriously. How we, as spiritually dead people, be saved? “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
What must the spiritually dead do to become spiritually alive? Well, nothing. Something that is dead can’t make itself alive. Here is how you are saved. Here is the driving force behind your forgiveness. “It is by grace you have been saved.” And just in case we mix that up, Paul writes it again with even more explanation: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
You can’t earn your way to heaven. You can’t buy your way to heaven. Christ had to do that for you. This truth is at the center of God’s entire Word. That is why Luther wasn’t willing to give it up. That is why he fought so hard to preserve that gospel truth. We are saved by grace alone.
Sola Scriptura — By Scripture Alone — John 20:29-31
Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
It had been four years after Martin Luther nailed those 95 theses to the door of the church and everything had changed. People were questioning indulgences. German princes were siding with Luther’s teaching that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. But no official discussion between Luther and his leaders had taken place yet.
Then, in 1521, Martin Luther was finally summoned by the most powerful people in Europe to the city of Worms. He stood as a man in the midst of great men. He carried no sword. He wore no armor. He was all alone. When the emperor looked directly at him as though he were an enemy of the entire world. In the eyes of many he was just that. But the representative of the leader of all Christianity was also there staring at him. His presence no doubt reminding him that not only his physical life hung in the balance, but his eternal life as well.
Then, breaking the silence, the challenge came: “Martin Luther, are you the author of these writings?” As he looked upon the books he had written the monk gave a simple but clear answer, “I am.” Then came the second question – the one he had been called in to answer: “Will you recant what you have written?” Martin Luther was surprised. He had come expecting a judicial debate, not a command to admit he was wrong.
So Luther responded, “This touches God and his Word. This affects the salvation of souls…I beg you, give me time.” The court allowed Luther one day to get his act together. And the question would have to be answered the next day.
What would he stand on? Would he give up his faith and save his life? Would he stand on God’s Word and then die? Is Scripture really worth dying for? The question has entered the minds of countless believers over the centuries. How about you? What are you willing to give up for God’s Word? Your status? Your stuff? Your life? Not always.
But listen to what Jesus says about that Word this morning: “These [Scriptures] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” God’s Word is what matters most.
All night Martin Luther thought about what he would do. He prayed to the Lord for the strength to stand on the Word of God without reservation. The sun came up that next morning, but Luther wasn’t brought in again until nightfall. The inevitable question came once more, “Will you defend these books all together, or do you wish to recant some of what you have said?”
Luther wanted to debate, to honestly discuss God’s Word. The examiner would have none of it. Instead he asked a final time, “You must give a simple, clear, and proper answer to the question, Will you recant or not?”
Luther final gave his answer for all to hear: “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds and reasoning – and my conscience is captive to the Word of God – then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience.”
Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Martin Luther boldly confessed the Scriptural truths – Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura. He made the good confession that we too, by the grace of God, declare to the world today: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”
I Will Not Die But Live
20th Sunday After Pentecost – October 22, 2017
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:12-21)
The ancient Egyptians had a morbid fascination with death. Their entire belief system centered around it. Their greatest structures, from the massive pyramids to the mysterious valley of the kings, are all really just giant tombs. Much of their writings talk about death. In fact, the most famous Egyptian writing is “The Book of the Dead.”
Pharaoh Ramses II may have had the greatest fascination with death of anyone. Decades after the Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt, Ramses wanted to restore Egypt’s former glory. Knowing that he, too, would one day die, Ramses built a temple that would outlast his own earthly life.
It may have been the most impressive temple ever built in Egypt. He had the temple cut into the side of a mountain. It was 10 stories tall. Four grand statues of Ramses II were carved at the entrance. The door between them opens into a long, detailed hallway with statues and hieroglyphics.
That isn’t even the most impressive part. You see, the interior of the temple is always dark, as you can imagine. Any time you go, any day you are there, you need a torch or a flashlight to see your way through the grand temple.
Except today. On October 22, today, the sun shines directly through the door and lights up the entire temple. That was by design. You see, today is Ramses birthday. And he wanted everyone who stepped into his temple to remember that, long after his death.
Isn’t that just like an Egyptian? Preoccupied with death, thinking about the longterm. Always considering the eternal.
The Apostle Paul could have made a good Egyptian. In so many of his writings he sounds like he is preoccupied with death. It was Paul who wrote “We died to sin” and “The wages of sin is death.” He often preached about how he was here to “Proclaim the Lord’s death.” And in the end, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Paul once preached so long into the night that someone who was sitting in the window fell asleep and fell to his death!
But all of that pales in comparison to Paul’s words in our second lesson. Here he once again is talking about death. As the shadow of death looms in the future, as he slowly walks toward the end of his life, Paul says he “presses on.” Picture a slow death-march where everyone is crying. Heads are down. No one wants to look up and see the inevitability of death.
But not Paul. He’s the guy marching with a skip in his step. “I press on.” In fact, he doesn’t even look back! “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on.”
Today you continue your slow march toward death. I know that sounds morbid, and I know we don’t want to hear it, but we need the reminder. We need the reminder because we don’t like to think about the inevitability of death. Why would we? Death is so final. Death ends what we have on earth. Death is so…sad!
So we try not to think about it. On this slow march toward death we keep our heads down. We don’t look ahead. We try and find any sort of distraction we can to make ourselves forget the fact that death is coming.
Paul talks about some of the distractions the world has come up with on this march: “Their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.”
That sure is enticing, isn’t it? Why think about death when you can think about making this life more fun! An old saying brings it all together: “Let us eat and drink…for tomorrow we die!” For the person who loves the stuff of this world more than God, for the person who wants to distract himself from thinking about death, God has a powerful warning: “Their destiny is destruction.”
Halloween is coming soon. It seems to become a bigger deal every year. It offers people a chance to dress up and, I suppose, laugh at death. But they dare not think about death too long. That’s because the inevitability of death is a frightening thought. It is so frightening we don’t want to think about it at all. We would rather be distracted by what this world has to offer.
Jesus pressed on toward death even more purposefully than Paul. Knowing he would die, he made his way to Jerusalem. Knowing he would be betrayed, he still let Judas follow him. Knowing he would be captured, he still walked to the Garden of Gethsemane. When everyone else had run away, when Jesus knew his death on the cross was coming, he courageously met it.
All our sins of distraction, all the times we loved to look down at the things of this world rather than at our loving Lord, all of it was nailed to Jesus and taken away. Jesus was also placed in a tomb. It may have been as dark as Ramses’ temple, but it was far less extravagant. There were no carvings, no statues. The stone was rolled in front and thick darkness covered the Savior.
Then, on Easter Sunday, the stone was rolled away and more light streamed into Jesus’ empty tomb than the light that can be seen in Ramses’ temple today. Jesus, the Light of the world, now shined brighter. Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, had defeated death.
That is why Paul can “press on.” That is why Paul can hold his head up high. That is why death no longer scares Paul. That’s why Paul has a skip in his step.
Jesus’ death enables you to say with Paul, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” This march toward death will not last forever. And even when death does come, it is now just a doorway to your heavenly home. Paul is including you when he says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”
Picture the scene. You are a child born in a foreign country. You have no place to go. Your home is far away. You have no way of paying your way back to your Father and family. You can talk with your Father, but you have never seen him. Now here is the wonderful part: Your Father paid the price it will take to bring you to your Fatherland. And someday soon, when death comes or when Christ returns, he will bring you to the country where your citizenship is. Someday he will bring you home. Finally, you will be home. And there in heaven, for all eternity, you “will not die…but live.” Amen.
Don’t Just Speak…Act!
19th Sunday after Pentecost – October 15, 2017
”What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29”’I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30”Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31”Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Matthew 21:28-32)
How can two children born from the same parents be so different? The question has mystified scientists for centuries. You’ve probably seen it in your own family. One child can be thoughtful and introverted and keep to her while the other child is outgoing, extroverted and loves attention. How can they be so different?
This isn’t a new observation. The very first brothers the world has ever seen couldn’t have been more different. Cain worked the soil. Abel was a shepherd. Cain gave his offering with a bad attitude. Abel offered his best to the Lord because he wanted to. In the end, the one brother, Cain, killed the other brother, Abel.
It only got worse after that. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael made fun of Isaac so much that Abraham finally had to send him away. Isaac went on to have twin sons, Esau and Jacob. They also couldn’t have been more different. Esau was a hunter, a manly man who was very straightforward with what he said and did. You always knew what Esau wanted. Jacob worked among the tents and seemed to be able to trick everybody. You never knew what Jacob might be trying to get.
Jacob went on to marry two women. They were sisters who seemed to have nothing in common. Leah, the older sister, showed maturity. Rachel, the younger sister seemed rather self-centered.
On and on it goes throughout Bible history. Two children, born from the same parents, always seem to be so different. That’s what makes Jesus’ parable this morning feel so familiar. It isn’t about masters and servants or shepherds and sheep. It is about brothers. And it goes like this: “What do you think? [Jesus said] There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’” What happens when you tell your child to do work at home? Perhaps they have responded the way this son does: “I will not.” Isn’t it the worst when a child gives that natural answer? “No!”
But then something changed in this first son. Perhaps he realized his duty to serve. Maybe he saw the sad face of his father after he defiantly replied, “No!” Whatever the case, we hear that “later he changed his mind and went.”
Now it was time to talk to the other son. “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir.’” What a great response! Finally, a faithful answer from a faithful son! But there was a problem. “He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.”
So one son say “no” to working, but then decides to work. The other son respectfully answers “Yes, sir” but then doesn’t work at all. Here comes Jesus’ question: “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” Now it is pretty clear that neither son was perfect. But if you had to answer, which would it be? The one who spoke the right words or the one who did what he was asked?
The people who originally heard this parable of Jesus give the correct answer. They say, “The first.” And they are right. God doesn’t want you to just talk the talk of faith. He wants you to walk the walk of faith.
Whenever I see someone who hasn’t been in church for a while and I encourage them to come, I invariably always hear the same answer: “Sounds good, pastor! See you Sunday!” And I almost always see the same result. They aren’t there in church. Wouldn’t it be better for someone to answer “No, pastor, I won’t see you in church” but then show up anyway? Isn’t that the result God wants? All those great sounding words of “Yes, I’ll come” or “Yes, I’ll do that” don’t mean anything unless you actually carry them out.
Of course, we have all said the right words before. That’s the easy part. We know how to answer. We know we should be helping at church. We know we should be living our faith when we leave church. And it is easy to say “yes, I’ll do that.” But so often we have been like that second son. We’ve said the right words, but we didn’t actually carry them out.
Jesus had a strong message for all of us “second sons.” He said, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” All of these “sinners” started out with the wrong words. They were the first son who said “no.” But as Jesus pointed out, they were getting it later on. They were actively hearing God’s Word. They were turning their lives around to live for Jesus. They may not have initially said the right words, but now they were doing what God wanted.
Jesus is better than both sons. Can you imagine if Jesus promised to come to this world, to suffer and die…and then just…didn’t? We would be lost for all eternity in hell! All of those promises, all of those words of hope and comfort would be meaningless if Jesus hadn’t actually acted and fulfilled them.
And he did. As agonizing and ugly as it was, Jesus came to earth. Jesus lived a perfect life. Jesus died. And then Jesus rose again. When none of our words or actions could have saved us, Jesus acted on our behalf.
Now he calls you to work. And when your Father in heaven asks you to come hear his word in church, or when he uses others to encourage you to come to Bible Class, or when it is time to have your personal devotion or your family devotion you can not only say the right response – you can actually do it.
Working in the Lord’s vineyard isn’t always a pleasant experience. The thorns of persecution from this world can sting. The heat of the sun of hardship might make us want to quit. That’s where we need to encourage one another as brothers, as siblings in God’s family. We’re here to speak the right words to each other. And we’re also here to actually do the work together, too. So when your Father in heaven reminds you of the work he has for you to do:
Take the task he gives you gladly; Let his work your pleasure be.
Answer quickly when he calleth, “Here am I — send me, send me!” Amen.
Jesus Is More Than Fair
18th Sunday after Pentecost – October 8, 2017
”For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3”About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5So they went.
“He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7”’Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8”When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9”The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12’These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13”But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16”So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16)
“Do not forsake your friend…better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.” It was getting to the point in Jesus’ ministry where neighbors and relatives were all far away. Everybody seemed to be leaving Jesus. Only twelve remained.
And in our Gospel reading Peter wanted to remind Jesus of that. “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” The crowds had followed Jesus for a time, but really only wanted to see the miracles and have their stomachs full. But these disciples had followed Jesus faithfully from the beginning. That must count for something!
According to the world it should. “You don’t get something for nothing. You work for what you get.”
But that isn’t how it works in Jesus’ kingdom. And because that is so different from what we are used to, Jesus explains what he means in a parable.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.” Certainly the owner of a vineyard was familiar with going to the marketplace to find work. This owner was no different. “He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.”
But he needed more men. “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’”
Again the master came out at about the sixth hour and the eleventh hour and found workers standing around looking for something to do. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’”
By this time the owner of the vineyard had quite a few workers. Some had worked the entire day, others most of the day, and some only worked the final hour of the day. “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’”
It sounded simple enough. After all, these men who came last had still worked, even if it wasn’t for an entire day. “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius.” But then came the first workers who worked all day. “So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.”
And even though they had agreed upon this wage they expected more. What follows then, shouldn’t surprise us. “When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’”
It wasn’t fair! Some men worked all day, others worked an hour. They all were paid the same amount.
But doesn’t that seem to be the case in the kingdom of God? God’s kingdom doesn’t always seem fair. We who struggle our entire lives as Christians, who struggle against temptation, who are persecuted by the world, inherit the same salvation as that thief who was crucified next to Jesus. That thief lived his entire life against God, but then at the very end was brought to faith. Why should he receive the same heaven as every other believer? Don’t you just want to cry out at times, “Jesus, it isn’t fair!”
And you would be right. By the world’s standards it isn’t fair. In fact, none of us gets what we deserve. And that is a good thing. Earlier in our worship service we heard these words, “We have come into the presence of God, who created us to love and serve him as his dear children. But we have disobeyed him and deserve only his wrath and punishment.” That is all we deserve from our Lord.
Yet Psalm 103 tells us what the Lord has done for us in spite of our sinfulness: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” Instead of punishing us for our sins and giving us the wages we deserve, which is death, God the Father placed it all on his Son, Jesus. So that now we return to Psalm 103 and hear, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
President John F Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you— ask what you can do for your country.” As a country we need important reminders like that. The reminder is even more important for us as Christians. “Ask not what God can do for you — ask what you can do for God.”
We need reminders like that because we aren’t perfect workers. We want help someone only if we can get something in return. We want to know what we have coming. We focus on what everyone gets.
Faithful servants of the Lord serve. Faithful servants remember that Jesus gave his life to take away their sins. Faithful servants live their thanks without ever expecting to hear a “thanks.” Faithful servants humbly answer the way Jesus said we should. “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Amen.
Forgive As Christ Forgave You
17th Sunday after Pentecost – October 1, 2017
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:15-21)
What it would have been like to be one of Joseph’s older brothers? Life probably would not have seemed very fair. He was born from your father’s favorite wife, Rachel. This young boy gets all of your father’s attention. And then, one day, your father tips his hand and shows everybody who his favorite son is. Jacob gave Joseph a richly ornamented robe. Scripture says what everyone was already thinking: “[Jacob] loved Joseph more than any of his other sons.”
Then, to make matters worse, Joseph started having dreams. It can be annoying enough to have someone tell you their dreams every morning. But Joseph’s dreams didn’t just annoy his brothers. His dreams angered them.
In one dream Joseph saw them binding sheaves of grain, one for each brother in the family. All of a sudden, Joseph’s rose up and the others bowed down to it.
Scripture tells us how the brothers felt about that: “They hated him all the more.” Then came the next dream. Joseph saw the sun, moon and eleven stars bow down to his star. This time, even Joseph’s father, Jacob, rebuked him.
This family favoritism was more than the brothers could take. So one day they acted on their jealousy by hatching a scheme. When Joseph came out to where they were shepherding they captured him. They took of his ornamented robe that they hated so much and threw him in a pit.
As Joseph screamed in the bottom of the pit the brothers coldly ate their lunch. It probably felt good for them to finally get the upper hand on this most-loved son of Jacob. But they couldn’t leave him in the pit forever. While they decided what to do with Joseph a caravan traveled by. They were going to Egypt. That’s when Judah got a most terrible idea. “Come, let’s sell [Joseph] to the Ishmaelites.”
And that’s what they did. They sold their own brother, Joseph, into slavery. Then they took his precious robe, ripped it, put blood on it and went back and showed it to their father. Jacob reacted just how they thought he would. Thinking his son was dead, he “put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days.”
Years went by. Over the course of that time, I wonder how often the brothers thought back on that day. Did any of them regret what they had done? Did any of them wish they could do it all over again? Probably. Sure, they could be cold and vengeful. But seeing their father cry for years may have been enough to show them just how awful they had been.
In the course of time, a famine struck the land. It was the worst famine anyone could remember. As rich as Jacob’s family was, even they could not ride out the situation for long.
So Jacob sent his sons to get food from Egypt. Eventually, Jacob and the rest of his family ended up going down to Egypt, too.
That’s when something happened that nobody expected. Pharaoh’s second in command brought in the family and revealed an old secret to them. The Egyptian-looking man said, “I am Joseph!” The brothers must have been shocked! The young boy they sold into slavery had become the leader of Egypt! It was such a shock the brothers needed convincing. “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!”
Oh boy. What was he going to do now? Every one of those brothers probably thought he was a dead man. But Joseph didn’t act at all like his brothers had. He took care of them. He gave them places to live in Egypt. And he even gave God glory for the entire situation!
But the brothers always wondered if this was just a show for their father, Jacob. What would happen once Jacob was gone? And then, years later, it happened. “Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead.” They were worried. “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”
They decided to solve the problem in the same way that had years ago. They lied. “They sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father left these instructions before he died.’” And here’s the summary of those made-up instructions: “Please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”
You can understand why they would have said that to Joseph. They thought he would act against them out of vengeance. Humanly speaking he had every right. They had sold him into slavery. Faked his death. He had ended up a slave, then in prison.
But now he had the power of Egypt at his disposal. So what would Joseph use that power to do? How would you have used your power if your siblings had done all that to you?
As bad as Joseph’s life had been, Jesus’ was worse. For a time, Jesus was rejected by his own family. The leaders worked against him. The crowds grew to hate him. Even his own disciples abandoned him. He was captured and crucified. If anyone had reason to hold sins against mankind it was Jesus!
And yet he used his great, almighty power to do the opposite. In his love, he chose to forgive you. He chose not to hold your sins against you. He chose not to keep a record of your wrongs.
Knowing God’s love led Joseph to do the same for his brothers. They didn’t know what to expect from their powerful younger brother. They may have even been ready to die. That’s when Joseph says, “Don’t be afraid.” Then listen to what Joseph says next: “Am I in the place of God?” To withhold sins is to stand in the place of God. To refuse to forgive someone is to say that you are God!
You aren’t God. By the power of the Holy Spirit you are an “imitator of God.” You get to “be kind and compassionate to one another.” And most of all, when someone sins against you, you get to remember what Jesus did for you. No strings attached. No keeping a record of wrongs. You get to forgive, as Christ forgave you. Amen.