The text is the Holy Gospel, especially these words, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”
Here Christ describes the ministries of both Saint John the Baptist and Himself. Although they were very different in their lifestyles, many of the Jews were not pleased with either man. The Wisdom of God made its appeal in two unique and separate ways. Yet that generation of Jews rejected both John and Christ.
God often approaches people in different ways. Yet the unbelieving heart is cold and unresponsive. The fleshly mind will not heed His call to repentance, either when God sends tragedies or great blessings. Although God sincerely desires that people turn from their sins and trust in His Son, yet they will not listen. They will not change. So the troubles He sends can only have the effect of punishing them.
As Doctor Martin Luther said, “To be sure, public calamities hit saints and prophets, too, but not as happens in the case of the godless and ungrateful. [Calamities do not strike saints] out of [God’s] wrath, to punish them, but for their salvation, to test and to try their faith, love, and patience, that the godly may learn to bear patiently the hand of God. … But the godless are plagued to punish and to offend them, so that they are hardened and become worse. For they are not improved by the good and are only made worse by the evil.”
But let us be grateful that we have God’s Spirit. By His work, He makes us cling to our Lord and His death, whatever may happen in life. In happy times and bad, all things work out for our good.
Without the Spirit, we would be the same as any unbeliever. We would turn every trouble into an excuse to reject God. Our bitter souls would grow harder and colder, and neither the blessings of God nor the trials would change anything.
Sometimes, hypocrites sit in the pews who are really the same as unbelievers. Although they put on a good show of being Christian, inwardly their heart does not care about the Word or Wisdom of God.
Luther spoke about such people this way: “With the Lord Christ we may well complain about the blind world and say: ‘We have piped unto you, and you have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and you have not lamented.’ For if one preaches the Gospel, it does no good; if one preaches the Law, it does no good either. One cannot make people either really happy or really sad; that is, they do not want to be made sinners. Nor do they want to be comforted because of sin. They want to be neither blind nor seeing, as is evident from the example of our adversaries, the papists.”
Notice that Luther speaks about those who hear Law and Gospel, so they are those who are within earshot of the Word. Some sit in pews. Some pretend to give a friendly audience to the Gospel. Yet their hearts are not changed because they are dull and calloused, whatever appearance they give.
Guard yourselves that you do not find yourself one of these. Like the papists, you might resist the voice of both Law and Gospel. You might not want to be called a poor, miserable sinner, nor think you need the comfort of Christ’s suffering and death for you. Even a Christian can turn deaf to the threats and judgments of God, as well as to the sweet promise of the Cross.
So be on your guard. Take seriously this Word and preaching. Remember that it is for you. You are the sinner. So you also, who put your faith in Him, are saints in Christ.
We who remain faithful may find ourselves frustrated as we deal with people who resist the Word. Luther dealt with one such man who looked for any reason to find offense in his words.
So Luther said, “I beg you to advise and tell me: How shall I behave toward such minds? If I write pointedly and sharply, they use this as an occasion to condemn my doctrine under the color and pretext that I am proud, arrogant, biting, and impatient. On the other hand, if I humble myself, they again have an opportunity to say that I am fleeing, I am frightened … I have repented of my doctrine and am recanting. It is precisely as Christ says: If I pipe, you do not want to dance; if I mourn, you do not want to lament. Burs and thistles these folk are; they turn their barbs in every direction and will sting you no matter how you throw them. To hell-fire with such flowers and fruits! That is where they belong! You noble, tender world, what a lovable, pretty morsel you are! Unhappy is the man who hungers for you!”
This is the real issue. Are we in love with this temporary, sin-filled world and its lures and pleasures? If so, we will find any reason to reject anyone who speaks the Gospel to us. Then our end will be the lake of fire, where the old evil foe will be cast forever, along with all who believed his lies.
But if we scorn the world and trust instead in Christ, then all glory will be ours, with all the saints and angels, and with the Lord God of hosts.
This is not to say that we must abstain from all pleasures on earth. Christ Jesus, who had no sin, enjoyed food and wine. Yet He was no glutton nor drunkard, in spite of the accusations. It is not wrong to enjoy God’s blessings in moderation. But make sure that moderation does not turn to excess, and excess to dependence and idolatry that lead to death. If you place food or drink or anything in the place Christ should be, as your savior and god, then the Spirit will not long contend with such unbelief.
In honesty, we must admit that we have sometimes overindulged. We have sometimes been gluttons. Some of us have enjoyed the bottle too much, at times. Or if we have escaped those idols, there are a thousand more that can creep into our hearts. None of us are completely immune to the lures of this world. Or if you think you are, show me your life completely free of sin, and I will believe you. But no such man exists, except the one from Nazareth.
So we trust in Him, instead of our merits, since we have failed often. Our hearts have been dull and cold, indeed, they were completely dead before the Spirit entered there. Out of His free grace alone, we have life. Because of Christ’s blessed life and death, we are rescued from the death we deserve.
For Christ is our Wisdom. He always got things right for us, all the way up to the most mournful place of all, the hill full of darkness. There He went for you, so that eternal joy will be yours.
Although you do not always get things right, He does not see it. He sees only the holiness that is His free gift to you. He sees only His own obedience that He performed in your place.
In His Name who accomplished all things for us. Amen.
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