Sermons, Uncategorized

A Bold, Uncalculated Faith

“The Two Sons” by Eugene Burnand

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23When [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” 24Jesus 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. 25The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe Him?’ 26But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things”  (Matthew 21:23-27).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

As the national election approaches, we see candidates calculate how they should answer questions. For example: “What is your position on BLM?” The question is simple and yet the process of answering it is complex. Opinion polls have given a demographic picture of how certain answers will affect voting. So, the candidates are careful, calculated, in how they respond. Those who oppose the movement don’t want to be seen as racist. Those who support BLM don’t want it to be thought they support riots and violence.

The phenomenon does not just play out in politics. Businesses make important decisions, based not upon established principles or code of ethics, but what is best for the bottom line. Some add lip service to the latest social justice cause because they’re afraid of current cancel culture. For most of us, this calculation happens in our daily lives as well. In a toxic on-line environment, Facebook profiles and timelines are carefully curated. We learn to keep our most controversial comments and provocative posts to ourselves to avoid conflict. In a tense social situation, conversation is carefully monitored. We self-censor: “If I say this, then they will think this or do that, so I better say this instead.”

We live in a land of calculated responses. Which might seem necessary in the everyday work-a-day world but can be dangerous to our faith. We become so concerned we might offend someone when we confess what we believe that having a true conversation about faith is rare.

Now, such calculated measures of communicating are to be expected in politics. As a matter of fact, candidates who don’t have this kind of filter disturb a lot of people—even their own campaign staff and supporters. And, if we are wise, we will also be discerning in our everyday conversations and social media interaction. But, in matters of our faith, we must not be calculating, but bold.

Which is why I love this Gospel for today. Jesus invites us to practice a faith that is bold. He invites us to trust in Him, without calculations. You see, there is a difference between believing something because it brings about a particular result in your life and believing something regardless of the results it will bring.

Let me give you an example that Jonathan Fisk uses in his book Without Flesh. Imagine you are shown a folder that presents study after study done by reputable, world-class companies. These studies demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that preaching the texts of the Bible in today’s market conditions guarantees the emptying of the pews of your congregation. One hundred percent. There is no debate. The evidence is irrefutable. Jesus’ actual words not only will not grow your church—they will shrink it.

This is hypothetical, of course. There isn’t this kind of proof. But I want you to consider it a possibility for the sake of this question: If it were shown to be true, what would you do? Would you want the Scriptures preached anyway? It means your church will soon close. Do you still want to stand firm?

Now, let’s up the ante.

What if there was another folder? In this folder, there is further clear proof that this same tactic will not only empty your pews but will also put you on your government’s watch lists. It shows that clinging to the Bible’s words will not only put your local congregation in danger, but it will also threaten your mortgage. Your spouse’s ability to receive health care.

What if I showed you proof that continuing to attend your church’s services could reasonably get you killed? Would you still go? Would you still insist that the Scriptures be preached? Clearly? Irrevocably? Isn’t it amazing that this is a question that can even give us pause as we consider it?

Jesus invites us to believe in Him, regardless of the results that will follow.

We go back to Tuesday of Holy Week. “The last full working-day of our Lord’s public ministry to Israel ha[s] arrived… It [is] the busiest day of His life. It [is] His last day in the Temple, the last day of His teaching, the last warning He [gives] the Pharisees and Sadducees, and His last call to national repentance” (Fahling, quoted by Buls). Representatives of the Sanhedrin come to Jesus with a double question. What right does He have to preach as He does, do the miracles He did, enter Jerusalem as He did, cleanse the temple as He did? Furthermore, who gave Him this authority?

It is a blasphemous question because they already know the answer. Several months earlier, Jesus had told them, but they refused to believe (John 10:22-26). Now, the Sanhedrin—these chief priests and elders—have a perfect right to check on the religious life of the people and to question a religious teacher. But, on this occasion, the question is plainly malicious, which becomes clear as they proceed. They want to trap Jesus and thus bring a charge against Him. They reject His divine commission. And they expect Him to restate it as He did often before.

To their surprise, Jesus asks them a counter-question instead. It is by no means an evasion nor is Jesus turning them off. His answer is contingent on their answer. The true answer to Jesus’ question is also the true answer to the question of the religious authorities: “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”

Three years prior, the chief priests and the elders had sent a delegation to John asking about his person and his baptism. He gave them clear answers. All the people knew precisely what the mission of John was—He pointed to the Savior Who was about to fulfill all of God’s Messianic promises. His message was identical to that of Jesus. Here, in holy week, these religious leaders already know the correct answer to Jesus’ question.

But they are not concerned about truth. Rather than answer immediately, they need to calculate before they respond. Notice they do not take the time to discuss what they believe, but what the polls indicate. That is, they do not discuss whether John was sent from God or not. Instead, they discuss the merits of what happens if they say they believe one thing or another. Faith, for them, is a calculated social posture. What they truly believe doesn’t matter. What matters is what happens when they appear to believe one thing or another.

So they discuss it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ 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 hold that John was a prophet.” In other words, “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ we’ll have to admit we’ve been wrong. We’ll lose face with the people. If we say, ‘from men,’ the crowd will have our skin.” What is decisive for them is not the truth, but the consequences involved in the two possible answers they could give. So, they answer Jesus, “We do not know.” And He says to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

They seek to entrap Jesus with calculated questions, He entraps them in their practice of a calculated faith. Though He “wins” the exchange, Jesus cannot be happy with the result. Jesus is not just engaging in a “power play” to ward off His enemies. If they had answered His question, they would have had their answer to Who He is and what He has come to do. Jesus’ question really is a call to repentance, an eleventh-hour invitation to believe in Him as Savior.

As social disapproval of Christianity grows in our nation, we are tempted to live a calculated faith as well. We feel the need to be careful when we share what we believe. Jesus, however, shows us where those who have a calculated faith end up: Trapped. They are unable to confess because of the complicated social situation and, therefore, unable to follow the Savior who comes to lead them into His kingdom of grace.

To such people, Jesus speaks a parable, a parable about words and deeds. The one son who calculates and says the right thing (“I will go and work”) is judged. Why? Because his relationship with his father is a matter of calculation. It is about saying the right words in the right moment. But his actions do not back up his words. He is a poser, a hypocrite.

For Jesus, faith is more than having the correct calculated response. Jesus does not want us to say we believe when we do not, to say we care for the poor when we do not, to say we honor marriage when we do not, to say we speak truthfully when we do not. Jesus has come to free us from the game of calculated responses. Instead, He invites us to follow Him. To live with Him in a freely given life of faithful response.

What does that look like? Jesus offers us a glimpse. He points to the tax collectors and prostitutes who are following Him. These are people that no one would expect to be children of God. Their lives are an open testimony against the will of their heavenly Father. But, by the power of the Spirit, something happens. They hear a call to repent and they do. They hear a call to follow and they do. Jesus brings a Word into this world that awakens people to life. It frees us from the games of calculated confessions and opens for us a life of uninhibited response.

In Jesus, God has entered our sin and by His death brought about forgiveness and by His resurrection given us a new life. This new life is transparent about who we are in the kingdom of God. We are not here by our own merit. We are here by grace and grace alone. Our lives then become an open witness to the grace of God and the work of Christ.

Tax collectors and prostitutes are suddenly role models in the kingdom. Those whom no one would associate with are suddenly leading the way into the kingdom of God. Why? They have experienced the working of God, the call to repentance, and they have responded in faith. It is not calculated faith, but simply faith. Faith that is not ashamed to be honest about one’s life and to believe the good news of God that one is forgiven for Christ’s sake, not for what one has said or done but for what has been done and said for you in Christ.

Christ has died and risen for you. He forgives you your sin and claims you as His own. This is the source of your life. Boldly make this confession, regardless of what follows.

We do not follow Jesus based on a calculation of the benefits. Rather, we follow because He is Jesus, our Savior. He forgives us our sin. He gives us a new life, a free life, a transparent life, a bold life, an uncalculated authentic life in Him.

So, go and speak and live as children of God. Not calculating what will happen to you in this world if you say you believe but believing regardless of what happens to you because by believing you have life in His name. Go in peace and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Based on an article by David Schmitt, published on Craft of Preaching, //

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Lord Needs Them

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[Jesus said:] If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once” (Matthew 21:3).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The two young Galilean men walk into the village. They look around a bit and then go up to a donkey that is tied outside the gate of the garden with her colt. They begin to untie it without asking permission. A couple of peasants ask them what they think they are doing. “The Lord needs them,” is their simple answer. The owner nods and the men go on their way.

Give that a try some time. Walk over to a stranger’s house. Open up the garage door and start backing his car and pickup out of the garage and down the driveway. If anyone asks you what you think you’re doing, just tell them, “the Lord needs them,” and he’ll send you on your way. Right! It sounds like a good way to get arrested for grand theft; doesn’t it? Of course, it makes a huge difference if the Lord has actually told you to say this or not.

In this case, that’s exactly what the Lord has instructed. “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.

 Think about everything that is going on in His life. In just a few days, Jesus goes from Jericho to Bethphage and Bethany by Mount Olivet, then on to Jerusalem. Then in short order, He’ll go to Calvary, grave, hell and back again, a locked room, a few more stops, and then to the right hand of God. Today, it’s Palm Sunday. Betrayal is in the air, the cross is near, the sacrifice for sins is about to be made, the tension is thick. And, just as all of this is breaking, the Lord tells His disciples He needs a donkey—actually two of them, a donkey and her colt.

Why does He need two donkeys? He can only ride one at a time. Besides, up to this point, He’s been walking everywhere from town-to-town, village-to-village. Has He suddenly grown weary? Is He trying to keep up with the Joneses who have two donkeys? Some sort of gesture of humility? Why does He need a donkey now?

Because He says He does.

Actually, the Lord has said so for a long time, over 500 years, since the time of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9). So that Jerusalem might be sure that He is really the Messiah, says the prophet, look for the King on a donkey, giving righteousness and salvation.

In other words, the Lord needs them for you. Jesus needs the donkey for you. He ties Himself to that donkey and her colt in the Old and New Testaments as one more assurance, one more prophecy fulfilled, that your King has come.

The crowd gets it. They praise God, recalling all of the mighty works that they’ve seen. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shout, straight out of that magnificent messianic Psalm 118. “Hosanna in the highest,” they cry, an echo of the angel’s song when Jesus was born (Luke 2:14). This is the One the angel had promised Mary at the annunciation whom God will give the throne of His father David (Luke 1:32). All grown up now, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem with peace and glory, life and salvation. That’s why He needs a donkey!

The whole city is abuzz as Jesus enters Jerusalem. “Who is this?” they ask. And the crowds answer, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” In the past, God has spoken through the voice of one of His prophets. More recently one of His holy angels. Here, the Lord uses the voice of the nameless crowds to proclaim Jesus as the Savior and King. Why?

The Lord needs them. He says so Himself. Now and 1,000 years earlier.

Just a few verses later in Matthew 21, we read: “When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that [Jesus] did, and the children crying out, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant, and they said to Him, “Do you hear what these are saying?’” Jesus, quoting Psalm 8:2, says, “Yes, have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise.” The Lord needs them. Their cries are the fulfillment of Scripture.

In his account, St. Luke tells us that the Pharisees, whose legalistic lives of earning righteousness have no place for a king who just goes around handing out life gratis to any old repentant sinner, are not amused. “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples,” they demand. Rather than rejoice to hear shouts that God is faithful, that He’s kept His Word and the Christ has come, they want the praise to be silenced.

To these critics, Jesus says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones will cry out.” Huh. The Lord needs these people to sing His praises: not, of course, because He’s ego driven, or because He’s losing His voice. He needs them like He needs a donkey, because this is how He has declared that salvation will be spread. He puts His Word into His people: He opens their lips, and their mouths declare His praise. Others hear and believe, and so the kingdom of God grows. No praise, no Word. No Word, no Jesus; and then all that’s left is for the stones to cry out.

And so it will be in Jerusalem, for those who reject the Lord. The stones will not be left upon another because the people do not recognize the time of their visitation. The dismantled stones of the temple will cry out of a terrible desolation, that the Lord visited with life, and sinners were so anxious to have Him gone that they put Him to death on a cross to make it so.

You’re stuck between legalistic Pharisees and those of a libertine mind and heart. On the one hand, there are those who submit to a greater teaching than themselves and insist that the way to God is by way of keeping all the rules. You’ll find one variety, who can be so insistent when they ring your doorbell. Elsewhere in the world, you find others so violent that they execute Christians who fail to comply. On the other hand, you’re daily immersed in a culture of individuals who aren’t going to submit to anything, who are going to live their lives according to their personal choices and expect that God is pleased with whatever sin they determine He should delight in.

It may seem strange to put, for instance, the legalistic Pharisee, the radical Islamist and the same-sex marriage activist in the same camp, for they surely wouldn’t get along with each other. But the teachings of all three have something big in common. All three want the Church to be silent. All three want the people of God to shut up about the Gospel. All three want to rebuke Jesus’ disciples until they are quiet.

The intimidation is strong these days. The Church is afflicted with an undercurrent of fear, and the goal of fear is silence. The devil prefers silent Christians: it prevents the praises of God from getting into the ears of others; and it discourages faith because faith is always ready to declare the praises of God.

Now, if the devil is going to silence the Church, a good place to start is on the leadership. If you are a lay leader here, you can rest assured that the devil will do his best to make your tasks as burdensome as possible so that it feels like drudgery not worth doing; unless of course, he takes the back door and inflates you with pride until you feel the congregation can’t survive without you. (At that point, he doesn’t mind if you talk, because you won’t be talking about Jesus anymore!)

And, if you’re a pastor, the temptation of pride is there for you, too, to think everything good that happens is due to your brilliant leadership and every failure is someone else’s fault. Or else the evil one will work you over until you feel useless, until you’re weary and become convinced the Word you speak isn’t accomplishing anything, so you better double down on the preaching of the Law. Or you might just as well be quiet.

You must always remember: the devil is a liar.

The truth is that Jesus needs you—at least in the sense that He needs donkeys and the crowds on Palm Sunday. He needs preachers and people who hold up prophets’ hands because He’s said so, because He’s entrusted the proclamation of the Gospel to people. Flesh and blood people. People with names written in the Book of Life at the font and called into various offices as His instruments.

If you’re called into the Office of the Holy Ministry, it is not because the Lord was scraping the bottom of the barrel that day. You are there because He calls you to be His mouth and His hands in that place for His people. If you’re a lay person, He’s given you some opportunity to serve His people in your daily vocation. Pastor and lay person, shepherd and sheep, the Lord needs them both.

This is also true of the gifts God has given you to manage on His behalf—your time, your talents, your treasures, and your testimony. The Lord needs them. The Lord who is eternal, without beginning or end, the One to whom a day is as a thousand years—He needs your time. The Lord who knows all things and can do all things needs your talents. The Lord who owns the cattle on a thousand hills needs your treasure. The Lord who is the Word from the beginning needs your testimony. Why? Because He says so!

Don’t get the wrong idea. All of this assumes that you’re abiding in the Word that He has spoken. You’re not indispensable: wander away from the faith, and the Lord can find someone else to declare His praise. Or start to take over offices that don’t belong to you, and you’re acting against the Word and starting to silence it. It is not up to anyone to decide for their own that they are going be pastors. God has made His will clearly known in His Word and He doesn’t expect you to join the hordes of outside the Church to approve of whatever you want Him to. God places certain men as His undershepherds and calls them through the Church. The Lord needs them. Not because they are in and of themselves qualified, but because He qualifies them.

The Lord needs them! Pastors and people, sheep and undershepherds. Professional church workers and laity. Not because of who they are, but because that is how He has said His Gospel is to go out, that is how disciples are to be made in all nations—baptizing and teaching what He has commanded.

To each of us, God gives a sphere of influence, people among whom we interact regularly in our vocations, our daily callings in life. It is within our relationships with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers that we have the best opportunities to witness to the love of God shown to us in the person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is here that the Lord wishes us to invest the time, talents, treasures He’s placed into our stewardship for the advancement of His kingdom.

So, go home. Depart in peace and joy. The Lord watches over your going out and your coming in both now and forevermore. The One who’s been to hell and back goes with you. Sing like the crowds on Palm Sunday! Declare Christ Jesus who brings glory and peace, and who still comes in the name of the Lord to save in His means of grace. Proclaim Christ crucified and risen, knowing that it kicks death and devil in the teeth every time.

Rejoice! Go forth with praise in the name of the Lord, for the One who comes in the name of the Lord has come to you; and in His means of grace, He is with you always, even to the end of the age.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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