The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
One of the most common statements repeated concerning the Reformation is that "the Gospel was discovered and set free." Five hundred years later, and all the Protestants are pulling out all the stops to celebrate this freedom of the Gospel. And yet…how well do we know our Scripture? Five hundred years later, and is there a chance that we may have back-slid into the ignorant, Biblically-illiterate realities that our Reformation forefathers were fighting against and willing to die for?
Consider the words of our Gospel lesson appointed for today. Now, I know that some of you are already tuning out. Why? Because you already know this. It's all so simple and easy, right? Jesus makes clear that John the Baptist was the new Elijah, who was sent to proclaim and prepare the coming of Christ, and people didn't want to believe it. The children in the marketplace who were calling out to their playmates? Duh! Those are the faithful ones, calling out to the people to repent and mourn their sin, and to turn and hold fast to Christ and rejoice in their justification; their freedom. But…all those rotten playmates refused to listen. They refused to dance with joy. They refused to mourn and grieve their sin. But in the end faithful Wisdom [God's holy Wisdom in the flesh, Jesus Christ, and also all of us who have been made faithfully wise in Christ] will be justified in our actions. In the end, the faithful will win out and come out on top. Sound about right? The Gospel lesson in a nutshell (as you see it)?
What if I told you that this isn't at all what this text says? What if I told you that you, in your all "wisdom," couldn't be more wrong? How can I say such a thing? Easy. Let the text do the talking. Like Luther did so many centuries ago, let's go back and see what the original text has to say. We'll begin with the discussion of the children in the marketplace, who were calling out to their playmates. Who are these children who call out to their stubborn little playmates? If you simply let the text speak to you (and don't read into it what you want it to say) you quickly "discover" that Jesus is comparing these children in the marketplace who call out to "this generation." "To what shall I compare this generation? It [this generation] is like children in the marketplace who call out to their playmates." Based upon the context, structure, and grammar of the text, it's clear that Jesus isn't referring to faithful prophets like John or the apostles or even Himself when He speaks of these children who call out in the marketplace. "This generation" is referring to those who refuse to hear John the Baptist's call to "repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Bear fruit that is in keeping with repentance!" "This generation" is referring to those who refuse to listen to Jesus as He proclaims and makes known the gracious and merciful reign and rule of almighty God in their midst.
"This generation" is actually referring to the wicked people who refuse to listen or go along with anything that doesn't match up with their wants, their wills, or their expectations. "This generation" are the wicked people Jesus compares to the children whining in the marketplace. Yes, I said "whining." Again, the original Greek text paints this very vivid picture of kids sitting down in the middle of the marketplace (like Walmart) and throwing a temper-tantrum, whining at their friends because their friends aren't doing exactly what they want them to do.
These flute-playing children are the ones whining and complaining and throwing a temper-tantrum that John the Baptist doesn't match their preconceived notions and desires regarding who/what the "new Elijah" was to look like and sound like. They expected the "new Elijah" to come with festal, parade-like shouts of joy (flute-playing and dancing). "Hear ye, hear ye! Here comes the Messiah! Let's get this party started!" But John didn't do that…so clearly he's not the new Elijah. This is why they say, "We played the flute for you [John], but you didn't dance!" John didn't dance and party and pour sweet honey into the ears of people, telling them what they wanted to hear. He was all business. He was on a mission. The same goes for the faithful ones who heard and listen to John. They didn't dance either. The faithful ones listened to the Word, and they repented and mourned their sin. They believed God's Truth of the Law, even if it was coming from a crazy looking guy who wore camel hair clothing and ate locusts and wild honey. The faithful ones didn't trust their eyes, but trusted their ears. They listened and turned from their wicked ways. They repented and were baptized.
On the flip-side, these dirge-singing children Jesus speaks of are the ones whining and complaining and throwing a bratty tantrum because Jesus didn't match their presuppositions on what their version of the Messiah was supposed to look like and sound like. "When the Messiah comes, He's supposed to strike down all wickedness and evil. And yet…here's this Jesus eating and drinking and feasting and hanging out with the very people the Messiah is supposed to destroy—tax collectors and prostitutes and 'sinners'! This Jesus CLEARLY isn't the promised Messiah. Just look at Him!"
"Wisdom is justified by her deeds"? What does this mean? This doesn't mean that the good guys wind up winning in the end, justified by God because of what they did. That's what we want to hear, but that's not at all what Jesus is saying! In fact, it's just the opposite. You can almost hear the exasperation in Jesus' voice as He speaks these words to the people. He's dumbfounded. He can't believe how willfully ignorant and stubborn "this generation" is being. This same stubborn and wicked generation, who refused to listen to or acknowledge the words and works of almighty God being done through John the Baptist and Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—are the same ones who dare to look to God (the very epitome and personification of Wisdom) and arrogantly declare God innocent. I'll say it again. This wicked generation justifies God and declares Him innocent. Why? "Well clearly God wouldn't send crazy John the Baptist as the new Elijah. Clearly God wouldn't send Jesus, the son of the carpenter and guy who regularly hangs out with the riff-raff and dregs of society, to be the almighty Messiah who crushes such wicked sin. No…our wise and almighty God is innocent of having anything to do with these two frauds. My God would NEVER do anything like that, so He's off the hook. I won't blame God for these two losers making my life uncomfortable. It's not God's fault. It's the devil's fault!"
The way the original Greek reads here is, "Wisdom is declared innocent of her own works!" Jesus is expressing exasperation. Jesus is dumbfounded. He can't believe the foolishness He's witnessing. What Jesus is making clear with these words is that God CLEARLY is at work through the works and words of John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ, and yet these whining, petulant yahoos refuse to see it, listen to it, or even acknowledge the fact that they might be wrong. The thought never even crosses their minds. Instead, they put themselves in the place of God and declare Him innocent of such foolishness, in spite of the fact that God is doing EXACTLY what He said He was going to do all along.
Kind of puts a very different understanding on this text, doesn't it? And you thought you already had it figured out! But here's the question we need to wrestle with today: What does this have to do with us? What does this have to do with us and our generation as we celebrate the Reformation today? Folks: Has anything changed? In five hundred years, has anything changed? In the almost two thousand years since Jesus first spoke these words, has anything really changed? NO! We are living in "this generation"! "This generation" that Jesus speaks of is OUR generation too! What's truly sad is that many a Christian, the very SAME folks who will pull out all the stops and celebrate a 500th anniversary Octoberfest and the "revolutionary" splitting away from evil Rome, are the very marketplace whiners that Jesus is talking about.
Just think about all this in terms of Word and Sacrament ministry—the very means that God Himself appoints and uses in order to make disciples, to call to repentance, and to bestow His grace and mercy upon His children. How many people—self-proclaimed "Christians"—don't like all that stuffy, old-fashioned, lame "Churchy" stuff? "Word and Sacrament? 'Poor, miserable sinner'? Play the flute, not the dirge! No one likes that dirgy stuff. It's not cool. It's not fun. It's so out-of-date. It doesn't make me feel happy-clappy and warm and fuzzy. This isn't how God intended to make disciples in our day and age!" And Wisdom continues to be arrogantly and foolishly declared innocent, in spite of the mighty works He continues to do through His means of grace; His Word and His Sacraments.
My dear friends: This [Word and Sacrament] is how God chooses to work. There is nothing new under the sun. Faith alone in God's Word and Promise alone; the Word that bespeaks us dead in our sin and alive in His promise; the Gospel promise that was made flesh and hung on a cross to die. Faith alone in God's grace alone, which He bestows upon us because of Christ alone. This is it. This is how it's ALWAYS been done! This [the crucifix] is how God works salvation. "No one comes to the Father except through Me." St. Paul gets this. He's very clear. "We preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles." Christ crucified; that's it. Paul got it. Luther got it. The faithful today get it. What about you? It ain't broke. Don't fix it!
Why was Christ crucified? Answer: For you and your sin! Christ lived and died for you. He paid for all your sin because you can't pay for even a single one, no matter how good and awesome you think you are. God had to die for you! "Man, why such a buzz-kill?" Why was Christ crucified? Answer: Because God loves you. God loves you so much that He sent His own Son to take your place and be your substitute. Jesus—God in the flesh—loves you so much that He willingly offered Himself up as a propitiation—a sacrifice intended to restore peace and favor. Jesus willingly made Himself the propitiation for you because there is NOTHING you can do to make propitiation on your own.
That's Gospel! That's reason to rejoice and celebrate! Our God and Lord feasts with us today. "The Lord of hosts is with us!" That's reason to rejoice and celebrate. Fear not, for your sins are completely forgiven! God is at peace with you. No more enmity. Rejoice, my fellow sinners! You have been baptized into Christ—His all-redeeming death and resurrection. You belong to Christ! "Yeah, but tell me what I need to do." Nope! Enough with your works-righteous dirges! It is finished, in Christ alone and because of Christ alone.
This is the Reformation faith Jesus speaks this very day in your very midst to you, to me, and to all "this generation." Those who have ears to hear, may you hear…and glorify God for all that He has done and continues to do for you, in Christ and because of Christ.
To Him alone be all glory, all praise, and all honor.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
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