The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Finish the sentence for me, if you can: “Those who don’t learn from history are _______ (doomed to repeat it).” How’s about this: “There’s nothing new _____ (under the sun).” History is good. History is a great teacher…if you’re willing to learn from it. After all, there’s nothing new under the sun. We could learn a lot—for better or worse—from those who’ve gone before us. We’re not going through anything that our forefathers haven’t gone through before us. You mean to tell me that we’re the ONLY ones to ever have to experience war or terror or economic uncertainty? We’re the ONLY ones to ever have poor excuses for government leadership? We’re the ONLY ones to ever have to experience persecution of faith? Please!
History is a great teacher. We could stand to learn a lot from our forefathers. When Martin Luther preached on the very same Gospel text we heard today—the text that tells of a very angry King who utterly destroys and lays waste all those who arrogantly reject His gracious invitation to His wedding feast—he mentioned how this was already glimpsed in the history of God’s people. For example, Luther pointed to the Old Testament Jewish people—God’s chosen Israel—who had repeatedly thumbed their noses at Him and chose to do their own thing. It never turned out well for them, did it? Just a few examples from history show us this. We think of the Northern Kingdom of Israel—the ten tribes—who forsook God’s Word and His grace, instead clamoring after the riches and wealth and prosperity of their Baal-worshipping neighbors. That didn’t turn out well, did it? In 722 BC the wicked Assyrians sacked them, laid waste to them, and hauled them off into oblivion and bondage. You would think that this would scare straight the Israelite relatives to the South. It didn’t. They didn’t learn from their own family history, even though it was a very recent history, only a couple generations in the past. By 586 BC those impenitent and thick-necked fools are also hauled off into bondage, taken to Babylon. Not one stone was left standing upon another in Jerusalem. But…God didn’t let them remain in that death and bondage. God was faithful. He made a promise. His Messiah would come from the line of Israel. Yes, He would come from the burnt-out stump of the family tree of Jesse, but He would still come. God is faithful to His Word and promise.
In 536 BC God uses a Persian (an Iranian) by the name of Cyrus to free His people and get them back to the land He had promised them. They return, and upon their return—surprise, surprise—they go right back to their old ways. They hadn’t learned a thing! The temple goes unbuilt for a LONG time. Faithful and patient God doesn’t quit on them. He sends a faithful outsider—a faithful Jew who worked in the administration of Cyrus by the name of Nehemiah—back to lead the temple rebuild and the re-establishment of “Israel.” The temple finally does get re-built, but the joy doesn’t last. They go right back to doing what they had always done. They go right back to doing and believing all the “more important” things they wanted to do and believe. By the time Jesus is on the scene, Israel has gone right back to the vomit of their own self-righteousness and greed and arrogant pride. “We’re children of Abraham! We’ve never been enslaved to anyone! Who do you think you are, Jesus?!” Really? Apparently these children of Abraham weren’t history majors, were they? Your Lord Himself made very clear that such rebelliousness and unfaithful works-righteousness and unwillingness to repent and humble themselves would result in that same temple—the monumental pride of Jerusalem—being laid waste, not one stone left upon another. And in AD 70 your Lord’s Word and promise came to fruition. God used pagan Rome to sack and destroy that which had become an idol to the false god of works-righteousness. To this day He uses demonically-inspired worshippers of the false god, Allah, to show His righteous anger and call His wayward children of Abraham to repentance and life in Christ. Not one stone of the temple-proper stands upon another…and it never will again.
And all this is just looking at one little snapshot in the history of God’s people. Ever since the day man took it upon himself to be God’s equal, we children of Adam have been on a monotonous treadmill of sin and death, always thinking that things are somehow different with us, even though there’s nothing new under the sun. We’ve been running down the same deadly, sin-filled ruts that our forefathers have run, always thinking that it’s somehow different in our case. Just look at the world we’re living in right now. Just look at our own families. Just look at our individual circumstances. Are we really any different? How often do we reject or despise God’s gracious invitations? How often do we have better things to do than feast with our Bridegroom and Heavenly King? How often do we look around at all the tumult and chaos and destruction and persecution in our lives—in our own immediate lives—and wonder, “Why, God? Why is this happening to me?”
Now, I know that we don’t like to think of God as an angry God who destroys and lays waste impenitent and arrogant unbelief. Well…let me re-phrase that. We don’t like to think that we’re the ones who are the “bad guys” in the parable. We hear this parable, and we immediately like to cast ourselves as those lowly, undeserving ones who were out at the crossroads of life, and who’ve been brought in to the feast. We’re the good guys. If destruction is going on in our lives; if there is a little bit of weeping and gnashing of teeth, it’s only because we’re collateral damage. We’re innocent victims caught up in the swell as God reproves and rebukes “those sinners.” My friends: Examine yourself. Examine your own history. An honest look from God’s perspective will tell you that you are not a poor, innocent victim. You are guilty. You are the perpetrator. I am too, just like our forefathers before us.
But…God is faithful and just. His history proves this, again and again and again. He keeps His Word and promise, in spite of us and our history. God desires the death of no man. He desires that all will hear His voice; His loving and gracious invitation, and turn to Him and be welcomed into His feast as sons and daughters of the King. It’s always been this way! This is why He continues to send His Holy Spirit to reach out to us and invite us to drop our selfish and self-serving ways and concerns, and come to Him and His never-ending and abundant feast of grace, mercy, and peace. He continues to send His Holy Spirit to clothe us with His blessed garment of Christ’s righteousness; with the garment of faith alone His grace alone because of the all-redeeming work and person of Christ alone. You hear the life-giving, life-saving Word in your ears this very day! You hear God Himself beckoning you to come, for the feast has already been prepared. The Lamb has been slain. The Bread of Life is set before us. The never-ending spring of pure water is welling up and being held out to all those who are parched and who thirst for true righteousness. The finest wine; the Body and Blood of the all-redeeming Passover sacrifice—the very Lamb of God Himself—has been slaughtered and prepared for you…for you to take and eat and drink; for you to feast upon and share in the victory of the Church’s Groom and Savior. Here it is!
My dear brothers and sisters of the King: I don’t want you to fret or despair over your salvation. I can’t stress this enough. By God’s grace and working, you have been clothed in Christ’s robe of righteousness. By God’s grace, you are clothed in saving faith, which is the only dress-code for heaven. Yes, we are sinners who do often reject and despise His gracious invitations. There are plenty of times that we think we have better things to do than be in God’s house or in His Word or walking in His light. There are plenty of times that we shed our God-given garments, preferring the nakedness and shame that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh offer to us. There are plenty of times that we would never be accused of being a faithful, humble child of God. But…as God tells us again and again and again, He disciplines those whom He loves. The loving Father chastises and disciplines His children, not because He hates them, but because He loves them.
Now, does that mean that He doesn’t get angry? Who here hasn’t been angry at someone you love? That doesn’t mean you stop loving them. It just means that their stupidity made you angry. “You should know better. I’ve taught you better than this!” Do not be deceived: Your sins do make God angry. God doesn’t just get a little sad or depressed when you sin. “I’m very disappointed in you.” No! He’s a loving Father who does get rightly and righteously angry. I know that may not fit the “kinder, gentler, Lifetime Channel” version of God you prefer to believe in, but this is the God of Scripture. This is the God of history. This is the same God who made a whip of cords and raised His righteous voice as He disciplined His rebellious and wayward children. This is the God and Father of all mankind, who doesn’t want to see us go down the paths so many have gone before. We, of all people, clothed in His righteousness and grace, should know better! We have a whole history of His Word to tell us and teach us and show us.
Yes, we are living in very tough and scary times right now. There is no denying this, nor should there be any sugar-coating of it. We are witnessing God’s loving, righteous, disciplinary anger against sin and rebellion and apathy and self-serving greed and pride…our sin and our rebellion and our apathy and self-serving greed and pride. Events and circumstances in our own individual lives may give the impression that God is very angry with us and is punishing us and is out to destroy us. Folks: There’s nothing new under the sun. Being a faithful child of God has never made anyone immune from bearing crosses and experiencing heartache and sorrow and pain and suffering. We often forget that. Besides that, God doesn’t punish anyone for their sin on this side of eternity. He disciplines and chastises and calls to repentance, but He does not punish sin on this side of eternity. All the punishment for all sin has already been poured out upon His only-begotten Son in that one moment in time; that one single moment when Christ could and did rightly call out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” All of God’s anger against sin has already been put on Christ and put to death on His cross, once and for all. Now, should one continually reject this grace and finally come to the end of life naked and stripped of saving faith in Christ’s righteousness, that’s when God’s holy, destroying anger will be poured out upon that person, but…that does not happen until one leaves this life naked and covered only in the shame of sin and death.
My dear children: Rejoice! Give thanks unto the Lord, for we are those who feast with the King this very day…and it’s only going to get better. This is the foretaste of the feast to come! Yes, we are rebellious children of Adam, but we’re also—simultaneously—redeemed children of God. We absolutely are the lowly and the despised who have been brought in to feast with the King. His feast goes on, and by His grace, we’re part of it, welcomed in, clothed in His perfect righteousness, and given the seat of honor at His feast table! But…do not forget: All this is by His grace. It’s His free and unmerited gift to us, and that includes the humble and repentant garment of faith that knows and acknowledges the Truth that we are unworthy sinners who deserve nothing but present and eternal punishment. It’s only clothed in this garment of faith; faith that the Holy Spirit gives to us through the hearing of this Divine Word, that we’re able to recognize and believe and answer this blessed invitation to life and joy and peace beyond all understanding. It’s only through God’s gift of faith that we’re able to hear and believe that our history is completely forgiven and forgotten in the all-redeeming blood of Jesus.
May you never forget this blessed history; this divine and gracious history that is your past, which is completely forgiven in Christ; your present, which is Christ’s all-availing and all-covering righteousness given to you in His Word and His Sacraments, and your blessed and joyous future, that never-ending heavenly feast with your Bridegroom and King. May you be clothed and covered over in this righteousness and this peace, now and into all eternity.
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