SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST – 10/1/17
GOD USES HIS AUTHORITY TO LIFT UP THE HUMBLE
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting
To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Tuesday of Holy Week – Jesus’ last day of teaching in the temple. The chief priests and elders knew of His earlier claims to forgive sins! They knew of His earlier statements such as “before Abraham was, I Am.” The irritant most fresh in their minds and emotions was His cleansing of the temple. The day before He had thrown out the money changers! This very next day – He is in the temple – their domain they thought! He is teaching again! The chief priests demanded answers. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
It was not a sincere question actually seeking to understand who Jesus is. In the past - when He had cleansed the temple (John 2) – they had asked - What sign do you show us for doing these things? Through the months He showed them sign after sign after sign. He showed them signs in miracles of healing and miracles of feeding and in the authority of His teaching. Most recently He had shown them the sign of Lazarus – raised to life again after four days in death! All Jerusalem knew it! They knew it! Their question was not a genuine request for help to understand. Rather they were giving a direct challenge to Jesus whose words and work unsettled their standing and sense of authority in the temple and in Israel.
Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” We sinners like to play god by the questions we ask. We tend to idolize our own understanding and our own experiences and purport to stump God or counsel God. Whether our questions center on struggles in society or security or suffering or science or scientism or salvation or other serious matters – we are tempted to challenge God’s authority in Christ. “What Scripture says doesn’t seem right. Who says this is true?” Lord keep us steadfast in Your Word is always a needful prayer.
For, like the house of Israel in Ezekiel’s day – our sinful reasoning can think or say – “The way of the Lord is not just.” Everything God said about them came true – their transgressions and iniquity – their chasing after idols - and the ruin it would bring. Yet they protested that their captivity was someone else’s fault – sour grapes of their fathers perhaps - setting their teeth on edge.
Everything God says to us also comes true – wars and rumors of war – the groaning of nature in storms and quakes of the earth – living in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation - division over Christ – the death-dealing wages of sin for every human being. Yet, in concert with an arrogant world, we are tempted to invent different realities than the fallen creation that God reveals is due to our deadly sin. We are tempted to say “The way of the Lord is not just.” However, challenging God’s authority with the presumed authority of our questions is a foolish undertaking. As He said in Ezekiel’s day He says to us - Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine; the soul who sins shall die. The statistics are 100 percent.
Back in the temple, Jesus’ question reveals the scheming challenge of the chief priests’ question - The baptism of John, from where did it come? They discussed among themselves - “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ Indeed – John was so clear in saying I am not the Christ … not the Bridegroom! Identifying Jesus as the world-forgiving Lamb of God – he described himself as the friend who rejoices greatly at the Bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase but I must decrease. If these power players answered that John’s Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is “from heaven” – they know - he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’
But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all held that John was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” From the lips of these elite religious leaders – these teachers of Israel - comes an answer from the father of lies. They thought full well that John’s testimony to Jesus as the light come into the world was illegitimate and wrong. Yet – they answered “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Preaching on this text Dr. Luther said that they rammed against Christ with full force but in Jesus’ response they were defeated either way (LW – 68: 108ff.). To save face they were constrained to say “We do not know.” Jesus then continues His final day of temple teaching with the first of three judgment parables.
The two sons He describes are no strangers to us. The first son pictured tax collectors and harlots whose words and lives initially said “no” to God. The prostitutes had sold out to the sin of sexual immorality. The tax collectors had sold out to the sin of greed and dishonest gain. When God’s Word said “go” and lead a chaste and decent life, “go” and honor the marriage bed in thought and word and deed, the prostitutes said, “I will not.” When God’s Word said “do not covet,” “do not steal,” “honor me with your first fruits,” the tax collectors said, “I will not.” However, they believed John’s proclamation of Christ, and were led to repentance. The second son pictured the religious leaders of Israel who outwardly said “yes,” but refused to believe John’s proclamation of repentance and forgiveness in Christ.
There is in your heart the same powerful inclination as in the first son - to say “no” to God’s Word when it runs contrary to your agenda. Lord keep us steadfast in Your Word is always a needful prayer. For the answer “I will not” is not limited to the sixth and seventh commandments – to lust or greed. Your sinful nature is an equal opportunity rejecter of God’s holy will. Children obey your parents in everything – never despise or anger them or other authorities. I will not! Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Defend your neighbor, speak well of him and explain everything in the kindest way. Enemies? Everything? I will not! In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Not this person who bugs me and disagrees with me! I will not! Do all things without grumbling or questioning. All things – who can do that? I will not! All that is within me, bless his holy name! I think it is best to be moderate in everything - not to be too zealous in worship and in overflowing gratitude. With all that is within me? I will not!
But we are also like the second son. “I will, sir” he said in polite agreement to the Father’s request – even as Israel said at Mt. Sinai All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Ex. 19:8). Jesus identified this son with the Pharisees and chief priests. They gave every indication of following the commands of God. Outwardly they were good neighbors and moral citizens. But they sincerely thought it was their effort and good works that earned them high standing in the kingdom of God. They thought they were miles ahead of the tax collectors and prostitutes because of what they did. With self-esteem and confidence in his ability this son promised “I will but he did not keep his promise.
So also we fall short in promises made to God or to others in God’s name? Will you love your wife like Christ loves His Bride the Church? I will. Will you order your life with respect to your husbands – being subordinate to Him as to the Lord? I will. Pastor – will you honor and adorn the Office of the Holy Ministry with a holy life? Will you be diligent in the study of Holy Scripture and the Confessions? And will you be constant in prayer for those under your pastoral care? Yes, I will with the help of God. Congregation – Will you honor and uphold your pastor as he serves Christ in all his God-pleasing responsibilities? Will you aid him as he cares for his family? Will you be diligent to put the best construction on everything,: recognizing that “love covers a multitude of sins”? We will with the help of God. How much pastors leave undone in care for those they serve! How many promises to God remain less than perfectly fulfilled by all?
If we do not truly recognize these sons deeply at work in us, then the third Son speaking this parable cannot help us. Both sons sinfully act to put us in the driver’s seat. The rebel does so by saying “I will not.” The self-righteous “I will” son – does so by polluting good works as if we are made right with God by what we do and not by what God graciously continues to do for us in Jesus.
Thank God for the third Son! He comes to give you Himself! In the past - when He had cleansed the temple (John 2) – they asked - What sign do you show us for doing these things? Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Now after all His other signs pointing to His fulfillment of God’s promises in His flesh – this destruction and this raising are at hand.
God’s ways are just to punish our sin to the full.
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” He is doing them by His own rule and authority in free agreement with the Father. In His High Priestly Prayer - just two days from this challenge - Jesus said, “Father, the hour has come glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” We often chafe against authority. Whole generations live by the moto – Question Authority. But in Scripture, authority is a crucial, beautiful word in understanding the person and work of Christ. No one takes it (my life) from me but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again (John 10:18).
Beloved of God, Great is our Lord and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. He understands your deepest need. He knows the leprosy of your sin and the death in carries. You do too and the Lord lifts up the humble. He uses His full authority - to heal the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds.
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” When the holy temple of His body was raised from the grave – He charged His apostles - All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirt, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Oh, how graciously He who took His life back from the grave uses His authority for you. You are right to begin each day and rejoice each day in the infinite authority by which you were you baptized! All the authority in heaven and earth keeps your washing of rebirth as fresh and forgiving and freeing today as on the day you received it. It is the same divine authority behind the absolution that the risen Christ commanded to be spoken to your repentant confession of sin.
With no less authority the risen Christ comes to heal you at His table. As gives you His body to eat and His forgiving blood to drink, the third Son is with you to the end of the age. He continues to free you to say “yes” to the Father’s will and to do God’s will. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit (John 15:5). Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone. His good pleasure is the new life His Son gives to you! The third Son says “I will” and does it! He is Lord of Lords alone! His Name is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name - the Name of Jesus! Amen.
Blessed Lord, You have rescued Your people from their sins and restored them to life through Your only Son. Deliver us from pride and presumption, teaching us to rejoice in Your mercy and to delight in Your love. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Govern Your Church, with all its pastors and ministers, that we may be preserved in the pure doctrine of Your saving Word, whereby faith toward You is strengthened, and Your kingdom extended. Send forth laborers into Your harvest, and sustain those You have sent, that the Gospel may be preached in all the world, Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious Lord, look with favor upon Your people in this congregation. Keep us steadfast in Your Word. Steady us in prayer for one another. Adorn our faith with holy living that we may reach out to a world sitting in darkness with the light of Christ. Give us charity for those in distress and love for one another. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Mighty Father, all the might of man is nothing before You, and yet You have appointed earthly rulers for the punishment of those who do wrong and to honor those who do right. Grant that our leaders serve honorably and well. Give safety to those who serve in dangerous vocations of rescue and law enforcement and the armed forces, and enable them to serve without reproach. Bless the efforts of relief and restoration for those whose homes and lives are torn by wind and flood and the shaking of the earth, Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Creator of all things, instill within us hearts of wonder before all Your majestic work. Give us the useful arts of science and industry, that we may use Your resources for the good of Your people and take responsible care of all You have made. Prevent us from the misuse both of Your gifts and our reason, lest we bring harm upon ourselves and others. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious Father deliver us from coveting the things of the world and from the love of money and lead us to trust in the righteousness of Christ and so find blessedness and peace in Him, Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Merciful Lord, You are the strength of the weak and the Great Physician of body and soul. Give to those who are ill healing according to Your will, patient trust when relief does not come, and peace at the last. Give calm endurance to those giving merciful care and help. Hear us in thanksgiving for Bill, and in petition for Russel and Clifford and Sherry and Teresa and those we name in our hearts. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
In the Holy Supper of Your Son’s body and blood You refresh us with Your forgiveness and strengthen us for our daily work. Grant that we may receive this heavenly food in faith and with thankful hearts. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Faithful Lord, Your Son is the resurrection and the life. Receive our thanks for the faithful who have preceded us in death - who have gone before us in Him. Give us each day the joyful expectation of His return, and grant us our portion at the end with Your saints in light. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
All these things and whatever else You know that we need, grant us Father, for the sake of Him who died and rose and again and now lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.