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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 18:1–4,25–32; Matthew 21:28–32

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 16, Proper 21, series A
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Sep 28, 2014 

The readings we recently heard from the Old Testament and from Matthews account of the Gospel both have something to teach us about repentance.  God spoke through the mouth of His servant Ezekiel and invited the exiles in Babylon to repent.  Jesus, who is God in human flesh, told a parable about repentance.  In both cases we learn that repentance is a gift God gives to us for our salvation.

God spoke through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel to people who refused to take responsibility for their own sins.  That is the meaning of that proverb: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the childrens teeth are set on edge.  The image is that of fathers eating sour grapes, but it is the children who have to put up with the bad taste in their mouths.  The sour grapes represent the sins of the fathers.  The bad taste is the consequence of the fathers sins being visited on the children.  Israel was trying to blame its bad circumstances on the previous generation.  This proverb is just another way of saying, Its not our fault!

God is speaking to Israel in exile in Babylon.  The exiles were trying to blame others for the fact that Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, and that Babylon carried off the survivors as slaves.  They refused to take individual responsibility for their predicament.  They did not understand that their own rebellion led to this separation from God.  They were actually arrogant enough to charge God with injustice.  They were trying to pass the buck.

Mankind has been doing this ever since Eden.  When God called Adam to account for his sin; Adam blamed Eve.  By blaming Eve, Adam was also blaming God for creating Eve in the first place.

Not much has changed down through the millennia.  When something goes wrong, our first instinct is not to find a solution, but to blame somebody else for the problem.  Of course, the blame never falls on us.  It is not our fault.

The problem with saying, Its not our fault, is that this is one more way of denying our own sin.  If its not our fault, then it is someone elses fault and we are without sin.  If we say this often enough and loud enough, we start to believe it.  Maintaining the illusion that we are without sin makes us feel better.  Of course this feeling is based on a lie.

God spoke through the mouth of His prophet Ezekiel.  He called on Israel to repent to confess their sin, turn from their own ways, and return to the grace of God.  God did not give up on them.  He invited them to return to Him.

In the Gospel we recently heard, Jesus used a parable to illustrate the benefit of repentance.  A father asked his sons to work in the vineyard.  The first son refused, but then he repented and went to work.  The second son agreed, but then he changed his mind and didnt work.  It was obvious to the listeners that the first son did his fathers will.

Jesus then compared the tax collectors and the prostitutes to the first son.  They obviously refused Gods will, but, when they heard John the Baptizer, they listened to his message and repented.  On the other hand, the chief priests and the elders of the people appeared to agree with Gods will, but, when they heard John the Baptizer, they criticized his message and did not repent.  Jesus proclaimed the result and said to them, Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.

Note that the key here is repentance.  Some people point to a passage like this and argue that when Jesus forgave the sin of the tax collectors and prostitutes, He was saying that cheating on your taxes and renting your body out for intimate, physical pleasure is OK.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  These people would not need to repent or receive forgiveness if they were OK.  Jesus was saying that it is important to repent of such activities.  It is important to confess these sins before God and ask for forgiveness.

This is the difference between the true religion and all false religions.  The whole point of false religion is to make yourself look good.  It is your job to save yourself.  It is your job to earn salvation.  It is your job to make yourself fit for heaven.  A false religion may have a personal god or it just might be a collection of teachings.  In all cases, it is up to you to make yourself look good.

The true religion is about repentance.  Get your sins out in the open.  Admit your failure.  Understand that you are truly bad.  Come before God and admit that you deserve eternal punishment.  Then trust Him to keep His promise and forgive you.  Trust Him to keep His promise and bring the Kingdom of Heaven to you.  It is just as the Apostle John wrote in His letter: [1 John 1:9] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The simple truth is this: There will be a day for each and every one of us when we will stand before Almighty god and give an account for ourselves.  On that day, there will be no place to hide.  There will be no rationalization.  Your will your desires your feelings will not count.  You can rationalize all you want, but it will do you no good.  Only Gods law will count.  Gods law will examine every crevice every nook every cubby hole.  There will be no hiding place.  The law will seek out and find every sin.  Every blemish every fault every failure will come to light.

If you refused to repent, you will suffer the revelation of any and every sin.  You will stand before the Lord in utter guilt.  You will recognize your utter depravity.  Then you will repent, but it will be too late.  You will suffer under the eternal judgment of God.

For you who repent in this life every blemish every fault every failure has already been brought to the light you have already recognized your utter guilt you have already admitted your utter depravity you have already brought your sin before God you have already confessed that you deserve Gods eternal judgment.  But God beheld your wretched state before He even created the world.  He has promised a way of salvation and He is faithful to His promise.  The blood of Jesus Christ, Gods Son has washed away all your unrighteousness.  You are clean.

When you stand before God on that final day, the harsh light of the law will still shine on you, but it will find no sin.  You will be utterly clean.  The blood of Jesus Christ will have washed away all your sin.  Gods law will examine you and find you righteous because you will wear the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  You will enter the eternal joy of Gods mercy and grace.

When you repent, you rely on the work of a third son who is not in the parable.  Instead, He is the one who told the parable.  Unlike the two sons in the parable, Jesus never changed His mind.  When God the Father sent Him to save us, His answer was always, Yes sir! Even when God the Father told Him to take up the sin of the world and carry it to the cross, Jesus said, Yes sir! In the greatest and most unfair exchange of all time, Jesus, the Son of God, took up our sin and offered His righteousness to take its place.

By His suffering and death, Jesus defeated sin.  Because Jesus defeated sin, death could not hold Him.  He rose from the dead and proclaimed His victory to His disciples.

We are often like the sons in the parable.  Sometimes, we fight Gods will until His love brings the Kingdom of Heaven to us.  Other times we say yes quickly with no intention of keeping our promise.  Jesus is not like either son.  He agreed immediately and obeyed perfectly.  He has done all things well and in Him we have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

Our sin is gone.  Jesus Christ, Gods Son, in perfect obedience to His Father has taken it away.  It is left behind in the grave.  It will forever remain dead and buried.  We, on the other hand, will rise from the dead just as our older brother rose and live with our Heavenly Father, our Older Brother Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit forever.  We know this because God has given us His promise to do this and He never breaks a promise.  Amen

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