Sermons, Uncategorized

What Will the Owner of the Vineyard Do?

wicked vinedressers1 (1)Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:13-15).

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

Do you remember last week when I told you the key to understanding any of the parables is to look for the point where it departs from everyday life? Well, good luck with this one! No one behaves in the way that we would normally expect them to behave. I mean, what landowner would keep sending his servants to collect the rent when they’re being so mistreated. Couldn’t he send a couple of big guys with swords? Maybe the sheriff? Or the militia? And then he’s even so naïve as to send his beloved son! What kind of father would do that?

And the tenants. “Oh, we’re not paying any rent. Get lost! And here’s a little beating just to show that we mean business.” Then they get so crazy that somehow in their mind, they think that if they just kill the son, if they just get rid of the heir, they will somehow get the owner’s inheritance. Who could be that foolish? That rebellious? That bloodthirsty? It could never, ever happen. Or could it?

The parable itself is allegorical. It describes the history of Israel in the same way as the song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7. God is the Lord of the vineyard. The vineyard is Israel, especially the city of Jerusalem. The tenants are the Jewish religious establishment, namely, the Sadducees and chief priests in charge of the public temple ministry in Jerusalem and the Pharisees and scribes who govern the people’s piety outside Jerusalem.

wicked vinedressers2 (1)As Jesus relates this parable, Luke has just noted that the chief priests, scribes, and the Sanhedrin are seeking to destroy Jesus but are reluctant to do so because the people are carefully listening to Jesus’ teaching (19:47). Jesus had just entered Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd. He had wept over the city as He reflected on the destruction of Jerusalem that would be coming because of its rejection of Him as Messiah. He had driven out of the temple those who had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers. In the verses immediately preceding, these religious leaders challenged Jesus as to what authority He had to these things.

The first four stanzas of the parable retell the history of God’s work through the prophets for the salvation of Israel. Every time God sent a prophet to Israel, it created a “critical time,” a “right season,” because prophets speak for God. They declare His intentions to save and His judgment upon those who reject Him, setting up a time that is right for bearing fruit of the faith.

The three servants who are sent into the vineyard represent all of God’s prophetic activity during the Old Testament era, when the prophets called people to repentance and to show fruits of repentance, but when that call fell so often on deaf ears. The servants are mistreated and sent away empty-handed. In the words of Isaiah 5:7, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant planting; and He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!”

Now it’s time for God’s own beloved Son to visit the vineyard.

In the phrase, “beloved Son,” there are echoes from both the Old Testament and the ministry of Jesus. The near sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham’s beloved son, foreshadowed Christ’s bloody sacrifice (Genesis 22:2ff). But the most significant echo is from the Gospel itself, where the Father said at Jesus’ baptism, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Jesus, the beloved Son, will not be treated any better than the prophets who went before Him.

At this point, Jesus breaks off the parable and asks: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” Here we find a link to Isaiah 5:4, where God asks, “What more was there to do for My vineyard, that I have not done in it?” The answer in Isaiah is clear: the fruitless vineyard must be destroyed. Equally clear is Jesus’ answer to His own question: “He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:16).

After Pentecost, the vineyard will not be leased to new farmers but will be given to them (Luke 12:32). Those new farmers do not include the previous abusive tenants. They begin with the twelve apostles who, through their commission go out into the world to make more disciples through baptizing and teaching, thus reconstituting the Church as the new Israel.

The people’s response is fear. “Surely not!” probably refers to all three events: the killing of the Son, the killing of the farmers, and the transfer of the vineyard to others. But it must happen, for the unstoppable plan of God calls for His Son to die just outside Jerusalem.

Jesus looks at the people to communicate nonverbally that these words are for them. Jesus looks with enlightened eyes at the crowds because He know the end of the story and meaning of Scriptures. But do they?  Jesus asks them in a form of a question, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builder has rejected has become the cornerstone’?” (Luke 20:17).

Jesus gives no answer, because the events of His life in the next few days will provide the answer. The people and the religious leaders already have had the answer for a long time in the Scriptures. After the resurrection, Jesus will chide the Emmaus disciples as “foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). They should have known that according to Moses and all the prophets, it was “necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory” (Luke 24:26).

At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, Simeon predicts: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (2:34). Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we see this come true time after time as those one would most expect to receive Jesus reject Him instead, while those who seem least likely to believe that Jesus was bringing the kingdom receive Him in faith.

From the moment Jesus entered Jerusalem, the scribes and Pharisees were seeking an opportunity to seize Him. His teaching in the temple—particularly this parable—confirmed how dangerous Jesus was for them. But they were equally aware that many believed His teaching, and they were afraid to arrest Jesus because of how the people might react.

More importantly, these religious leaders were fully aware that Jesus told this parable against them. They even may have been aware that Jesus’ reading was in accordance with the Scriptures. Jesus spoke the parable as a warning call to repentance and faith in Him who would become the cornerstone. In their unbelief and rejection, the parable’s application to them was only Law.

wicked vinedressers3 (1)And so, how do these “tenants” in the crowd respond? They want to kill the Son that very day; and in a few days, they will.

And what does the “owner of the vineyard” do? He takes the vineyard from them and lets it out to other tenants. True to His Word, He uses the death of His beloved Son for the good of sinners. Rather than stomping the world out of existence like an annoying bug, God uses His Son’s death as the Sacrifice for the sins of the world. The Son dies on the cross for the sins of the terminally foolish and faithless tenants who kill Him. Then He rises again three days later. Why? To judge and condemn? No, judgment will eventually come; but for now, He rises to declare peace, to declare that His death was for the sins of the world, and that whoever believes in Him will be saved. The Lord uses the murder of His Son to gain redemption for the sinners who rebel against Him. Now that’s crazy!

But upon further review, maybe the parable isn’t quite so outlandish after all. That’s because it’s not about how people are supposed to treat each other. If it were, the parable is just crazy. But the parable is about how sinners treat God and how God treats sinners.

Sinners treat God terribly with disrespect and irreverence. God gives them daily bread and they fail to be thankful. God gives them things to use in service, and they hoard it for themselves and use it to boast of their accomplishments. God gives them bodies and minds to be used for honorable purposes, and they misuse and pollute them both for temporary pleasure in self-destructive ways. God gives spouses, and sinners covet those that they’re not married to. God gives family and friends and neighbors to serve, and sinners neglect them or take advantage of them for selfish gain. The Lord warns of sin so that sinners repent and don’t die, and sinners get ticked off that the Lord would try to save them from death. The Lord says, “Here I am” in His Word and Sacraments, and sinners say, “There’s really other stuff that I consider more important.”

That’s how sinners treat God.

If you examine yourself, you’ll confess that that is how you treat God, too. And if your first response is, “No, I don’t!”, it is only an echo of the scribes in the text saying, “Surely not.” Apart from the Holy Spirit, there is no one who seeks after God. This is not a pleasant truth to confess, but it is true all the same and important to confess. As long as you hold onto sins, discount them as something that God doesn’t care about, or resent God for telling you they’re wrong, then you are not forgiven. You may well be saying, “Jesus died to take away all of my sins,” but you’re also saying, “I don’t want Him to take away quite all of my sins.” If you hold onto your sins, then you are not forgiven; and on Judgment Day, you will be crushed. You will not be crushed because God wants to, but because you’ve refused the gift of grace that He has given to you time and again.

For this is how Jesus treats sinners: with patience, mercy, and grace. 2 Peter 3:9 declares: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” He patiently waits. He continues to send His Word and preachers to proclaim it. He patiently showers you with forgiveness in His Word and Sacraments to keep you in the true faith, even as He patiently gives this dying world more time so that more might hear and be saved.

You will be tempted to believe that God doesn’t care; that God doesn’t care about sin because He doesn’t punish your sin immediately; and that God doesn’t care about you, because He doesn’t punish those who sin against you immediately. But it is certainly not about neglect. It is the patience of God, who suffers long to give grace to the sinner, you and others—even when it means suffering the death of His only, beloved Son to win that grace in the first place. He does not want you to be crushed in judgment. He desires that you be built upon the Rock, Jesus Christ, for eternity. Forgiven for your sins, you are in His vineyard forever.

One of the Lord’s many prophets, Joel, declared, “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13). His grace, His mercy, His patience and steadfast love are all yours for the sake of Jesus; because, for the sake of Jesus, you are forgiven for all your sins.

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

Sermons, Uncategorized

While Still a Long Way Off

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“The Return of the Prodigal Son” by James Tissot

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“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

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

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one demands his father give him his inheritance now. Amazingly, the father honors this brash request, and divides his property between his two sons. Not many days later, the younger son gathers up everything he now has and takes a journey to a far country. There he squanders it all in reckless living, whatever that might be.

A famine arises, and the life of a penniless foreigner is especially difficult when there is little food around. It gets so bad he hires himself out to a pig farmer. He’s so hungry that the pig slop starts to look appetizing.

Finally, he comes to his senses. He realizes that his father’s hired servants have it a lot better than he does. They have more than enough bread, while he is wasting away from hunger. So, he hatches a plan. He will return to his father and beg for mercy. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”

And so he heads back home.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The young man doesn’t even have the chance to beg to be his father’s hired servant, when the father begins reestablishing his sonship in the eyes of the community. “Bring the best robe, and put it on him,” he tells his servants. “Put a signet ring on his hand! Get him a new pair of shoes! Bring a fattened calf for a feast! For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found! It’s time to celebrate!”

One of the keys to understanding any of the parables is to look for the point where it departs from regular everyday life. In this parable, there are many departures from everyday life, almost to the point of absurdity.

What the younger son does in asking for the father to give him his share of the inheritance is a most outrageous request in first-century Israel, and for that matter, in any culture, even our own. Inheritance was only handed over at the father’s death or in some other extraordinary situation, but never at the request of the younger son. This request amounts to asking the father to “die” so that the younger son might freely take what would be bequeathed to him.

The possibility exists that the father might tell the older and younger sons how he would divide the inheritance, usually two-thirds for the eldest son and the remaining third for the other sons minus the dowries for any daughters. But the father would never grant the sons the ability to dispose of their inheritance, that is, to sell it. Yet that is exactly what this father does! He divides the property between both sons, between the younger and the older son. This is an unbelievable response, one that would be considered by his community as scandalous, even verging on insanity, but one that we, hopefully, would recognize as an expression of the father’s love and mercy, as an undeserved gift beyond compare.

This is the first of three extraordinary acts of love by the father that would have shocked the community and shown them that this was a most unusual circumstance. But the community would also note that the elder brother received his inheritance, and his consent to his father’s division of the property shows that he has failed in his role as reconciler between his younger brother and his father. Not only is the prodigal son lost to the father, but there is a suspicion that the elder son is also alienated from him, a suspicion that will be confirmed by the rest of the parable.

The process of disposing of the estate would have been difficult in a community that was completely opposed to the prodigal’s request and shocked at the father’s consent. The prodigal would have to cut a quick deal with someone unscrupulous enough to turn his property into cash. The prodigal needed his inheritance to be in liquid assets that he could take to a “far country” where no one would know him. The community would watch with disgust as he went from one prospective buyer to another, the intensity of their hatred and disgust mounting.

No one would be surprised that the prodigal wastes his money in reckless living, for this conforms with his behavior in asking for his inheritance. We are not told explicitly in the text that this reckless living included all kinds of immorality. It is only the older brother who makes that assertion, something that tells us more about his character than the specific actions of the younger brother. The older brother fails to put the best construction on his brother’s behavior but instead bears false witness against him. After all, how could he know for a fact what his younger brother was doing in the far country? He didn’t see it on Facebook.

The prodigal’s plan is similar to what many in Jesus’ day (and ours) considered repentance, that is, repentance as a human work, with an offer, from the person’s side, of conditions, terms, and reparations. Repentance was seen as something that humans could initiate outside of God’s initiative. The prodigal plans to offer this kind of repentance when he says, “make me as one of your hired servants.” But this is a face-saving plan in which he will save himself. He wants no grace but seeks to earn a place back in the community.

For the Pharisees and scribes who were hearing this parable, the prodigal’s actions would have had a ring of truth. They could not help but see that the prodigal was responding as a good Jew would respond, with a deep sense of sorrow over his sin and equally deep desire to make amends for that sin. If the story were to end here, this would be a good moralistic parable. It would conform fully to their expectation about the way in which outcasts like the tax collectors and sinners who were also listening to this parable should be restored to Israel. They must first show through their deeds that they deserve to be readmitted into the community of Israel.

The prodigal is true to form, predictable in his behavior. But the big surprise in this parable is the father and his actions. First, he grants the prodigal’s desire for his inheritance. Then, when he returns, the father accepts him fully back into his household with joy. His actions are a portrait of complete and total grace, of unconditional love. And notice how the grace of the father precedes the repentance of the prodigal. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

We get the impression that the father was anxiously waiting for his son’s return. Each day looking far down the road, hoping that this would be the day that his prodigal would return. Then when he does see him, the father runs to him, something no dignified adult male would ever do in their culture, especially for a son who has so dishonored his family and community. But the father doesn’t seem to care. He is shameless in his love and compassion. With his hug and kiss, the father expresses his complete reconciliation and acceptance of his son publicly—and he does this before the prodigal has uttered a word of confession.

The prodigal is clearly shocked at how the father receives him. He probably expects to be rejected, or at best, lectured at length about his behavior. No doubt he expects there will be an awkward time, where everyone coolly keeps their distance. But instead, he is instantly received as a son.

The prodigal makes confession as his father is embracing and kissing him. It’s the same confession that he had rehearsed, but with one significant omission. He does not ask the father to make him as one of his hired servants. The omission of this simple condition is a sign of true repentance. He leaves off this part of what he had planned to say because he is overwhelmed by his father’s grace. The prodigal sees that the point is not the lost money, but rather the broken relationship which he could not heal. Now he understands that any new relationship must be a pure gift from his father. “I am unworthy” is now the only appropriate response.

The father desires that his acceptance of his son be clearly communicated to the community and to his servants, and so he demonstrates his acceptance by visible means, dressing the prodigal as a son who has been restored. In the robe, ring, and shoes, the village would clearly see that the son has been restored to the father’s house, and so they too must receive him back the same way. The father offers them the opportunity to express their acceptance by sacrificing the fatted calf and having a feast for the entire community.

Sadly, the older brother will not join in the feast. In many ways, he has strayed as far as his younger brother even though he never left the farm. His actions show there is a break in his relationship with his father as severe as there was between his father and brother when the prodigal cashed in his inheritance and left for a faraway country. He had stayed on the farm, dutifully but not joyfully. His complaints show how he has seen himself in the father’s house: as a hired servant, not as a son; as obedient to the father’s rules, but reluctantly.

But the father is not deterred. Even in the face of mounting insults, he addresses his elder son affectionately as “son” and assures him that his place in the house as well as his inheritance are secure. This is another example of the outrageous love of the father in which there is no judgment, no criticism, no rejection, but only an outpouring of love and grace.

As the parable ends there is great joy at the restoration of the prodigal son, but unfortunately, the elder son is still a long way off. Will he repent and join the feast, or will he continue to reject the father’s grace and love and therefore reject his invitation to the feast?

More important: what about you?

I suspect that at one time or another, all of us have behaved as the prodigal and/or older sons. We have wandered far off in sin. Maybe not so dramatically; maybe even worse. Oftentimes not even leaving the city limits, sometimes simply in our own hearts and minds. We have squandered our spiritual inheritance. We have acted as if we could earn a place in God’s kingdom. We have acted as though God somehow owes us for our obedience. We have failed to see our own rebelliousness, our own pettiness, our own self-righteousness.

We must confess before God and one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. We must take refuge in the infinite mercy of God, our heavenly Father, seeking His grace for the sake of Christ, and say: God be merciful to me, a sinner.

God found you and me while we were still a long way off. “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:3–7).

Unlike the older brother in the parable, our older brother, Jesus, did not look down on us, but stepped in to reconcile us to the heavenly Father. As St. Paul reminds us: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6–11, ESV).

Christ, our brother shares with us His inheritance. “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:11–12).

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 18-21).

We are in no position to begrudge God’s grace similarly given to others, no matter how unworthy they appear to us. God calls us to a joyful celebration, not only of our own salvation, but the salvation of our brothers and sisters.

Let us celebrate each Baptism where God comes to a lost one who is still far off and makes him or her His beloved child. Let us live in our own Baptism through daily contrition and repentance. Let us join together regularly with our brothers and sisters to hear of God’s gracious love and forgiveness in the Absolution and preached Word. Let us come together in the communion and fellowship of the banquet in which Christ feeds us His very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith.

Welcome home, you who were once far off. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

Sermons, Uncategorized

Cleansed by the Thrice Holy God and Sent to Serve

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“Isaiah under Divine Inspiration” by Marc Chagall

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:1-6).

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

It sounds like a scene that could only come from a feverish dream or the computer-generated imagery (CGI) of the latest Marvel superhero motion picture. The King sits on a throne, high and lifted up, the train of His robe filling the temple. Above Him are strange, supernatural creatures, each having six wings, two covering his face, two his feet, and with two flying. As they cry out, the foundations shake down to the bedrock, and the whole house is filled with smoke.

But it’s not a feverish dream, or CGI special effects, it is an historical event. It is the year 740 BC, the year that King Uzziah died. The prophet Isaiah has a vision of the Lord sitting on His throne in the inner sanctum of the temple. But it’s hard to tell if the prophet is seeing the throne room of heaven or the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem.

But there’s a good reason for this confusion: The Holy of Holies is the Lord’s home on earth. When the temple was first completed and dedicated, the Lord appeared in a cloud of glory and descended into the Holy of Holies to dwell with His people. In a very real way, in Isaiah’s time, the Holy of Holies is where heaven and earth come together, for the one true God is enthroned in both places.

The six-winged creatures flying above the throne are seraphim, attendants to the Lord Most High. Little is known about them. This is the only place where these spiritual beings are mentioned by name in Scripture. They seem to be nobles among the angels of God and superior in rank. But what is more important than speculation about their special position among the angels, is the action of these heavenly beings. With their wings, they hide their faces and cover their feet. They are not worthy to be in the presence of the Lord, and their actions reveal their great reverence for Him and their great humility in His presence.

Imagine that! These powerful and holy creatures consider themselves unworthy to stand with uncovered feet and faces in the presence of God—so great is His holiness! Isaiah sees them flying, hovering about the throne and calling out to one another in praise of the Lord. The chief occupation of these heavenly beings is praise. Here, they offer an antiphonal hymn as they call to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” The truest worship of God is pure and simple praise and confession. The sound of this angelic hymn shakes the doorposts and thresholds of the heavenly temple.

The One seated on the throne is the Thrice Holy: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He alone is worthy to be praised. He is set apart, perfect in every respect, and exalted above all things—including the angels of heaven. But God’s holiness also means that He is separate and opposite from all sin. He hates sin and must destroy sin like an antiseptic must attack bacteria. He would cease to be holy if He did not oppose sin and all its consequences.

Realizing he stands in the presence of the Thrice Holy, Isaiah is terror stricken. “Woe is me!” he cries out, “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” As he looks upon the Lord in His holiness and glory, Isaiah’s own sin become clearer. The brighter the light, the more apparent are blemishes, stains, and scars; the nearer to God’s glory, the more evident is man’s wretchedness and sinfulness. The contrast is unmistakable, and Isaiah knows there is nothing he can do to make it any different. He is a dead man, a damned man.

But the Thrice Holy Lord can do something. He sends a seraph, who takes a burning coal from the altar. The seraph touches the coal to Isaiah’s lips and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” The Lord makes Isaiah holy through the hand and voice of His ministering spirit. Now, Isaiah can be in the presence of God and live. Now, Isaiah can speak God’s holy Word: for the Lord has opened his lips, and Isaiah’s mouth will show forth His praise. All because the holiness of God exposed the sinfulness of Isaiah, leading him to repent, and to receive God’s grace and forgiveness.

One of the problems that the Church encounters today is simply this: people have far too high opinion of themselves. As long as this is true, they will see little need for Jesus and His perfect atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Some of this is natural—at least according to the sinful nature. Blinded by sin, people cannot know how terribly unholy and apart from God they are. Furthermore, tempted by the devil to believe that they can be like God, people will find a way to justify the sins they commit.

You see it in society. Our culture has made a god out of self-esteem: it teaches that the key to success is feeling good about yourself. This is a problem in education, where a prevalent philosophy seems to be that it is better to pass a child who doesn’t know math, because we don’t want him to feel bad about himself.

It is a huge problem in matters of morality, where many seem to buy into the idea that, “I’m basically a good person; so whatever I do must be basically good, too. If you object to something I do, it’s not that I’m wrong or immoral. The problem is that you’re intolerant.”

This presents a great danger in therapy, too: for rather than help a troubled person overcome a sinful behavior, a therapist might instead help the person feel good about the sin.

But enough of the obvious examples in the world. If all we do is point out the troubles of other people, guess what will happen—we’ll end up feeling like we’re better than them and good about ourselves!

The harsh reality is that you have too high opinion of yourself. So do I. It’s that old sinful nature at work, tempting us to believe that we’re not that bad, that we’re actually decent people. Now, by the grace of God, you and I are willing to confess with Scripture that we’re poor miserable sinners; but are we willing to confess how truly sinful we are? Do we realize how sinful we are? We’re not just less than we should be; left to ourselves, we’re utterly sinful and unholy, completely undeserving of God’s grace and mercy. Unfit to come into God’s holy presence for even a moment.

Please don’t misunderstand: the point of this sermon is not that you should run away from God. Rather, it is that you and I are in constant need of repentance for failing to acknowledge how sinful we are, how undeserving of grace and mercy we are. See, if we think we’re reasonably good people, we’ll also believe that we’re only partially sinful. If we think we’re somewhat righteous on our own, we won’t look to the Lord to credit us with all His righteousness.

The truth from God’s Law, sounds brutal to protesting sinful ears. We don’t deserve God’s presence and mercy. We’re far too sinful, and there’s nothing you or I can do about it. But the Thrice Holy Lord can do something about it, and He has.

The Father sent His Holy One, Jesus, to live a perfect, sinless, and holy life for you. God’s sinless Son, became the sacrifice to pay the price for your sins and gain your salvation. Now when God sees you, He sees you clothed in the righteousness of Christ. You are now holy in His sight (Colossians 1:22).

Jesus became the sinner who was forsaken on the cross and cast from the Father’s presence so that you might dwell with Him forever. Before the Thrice Holy made the world, He chose you in Christ Jesus to be His child (Ephesians 1:4). Just as Isaiah was cleansed when the coal from the altar touched his lips, so the Father has cleansed you in the waters of your Baptism, uniting you to Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-14). In Christ, He made you new creations who love Him, trust in Him, and have His power to live holy lives. You are now His saints, His “holy ones.”

As you strive to live as the saints God created you to be, you are not alone. The Thrice Holy—God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is with you always. The Holy Spirit given to you in Baptism works to conform you to the image of Christ. Through daily contrition and repentance, you put to death the old Adam that your new man would arise to live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever. At the altar, the place where heaven and earth meet, Christ feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

The Lord no longer holds your sins against you. Instead, He forgives you. He makes you righteous. He welcomes you into His presence, now and forevermore. Then, He sends you out into the world to share this Good News with your family, friends, and neighbors.

There is no greater hope or comfort than this—but only for repentant sinners. Those who think too highly of themselves will find little comfort in the news of forgiveness now; and they will find no comfort in themselves on Judgment Day. But this is not for you: by the grace of God, you confess your sinfulness. You know it doesn’t damage you to tell the truth about your sin, but instead frees you from the slavery that would have you try to make yourself righteous. And as you grow in faith, you’re not surprised that you feel more sinful—for as you grow in faith, your recognition of sin will grow, too; but so will the joy and comfort of the forgiveness that the Lord gives you.

Dear friends, the Lord has better for you than you feeling good about yourself for a while. Confess your sins and your sinfulness beyond what you can comprehend; and rejoice to hear the words of the Thrice Holy Lord:

“Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

You are forgiven for all your sins.

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