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A Powerful Word of Judgment

Matthew 21:28-32

Pastor Robin Fish

19th Sunday after Pentecost – LWML Sunday
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

Sun, Oct 3, 1999 

Matthew 21:28-32

But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go work today in the vineyard.' "And he answered and said, 'I will, sir'; and he did not go.  "And he came to the second and said the same thing. But he answered and said, 'I will not'; yet he afterward regretted it and went.  "Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The latter." Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you that the tax-gatherers and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you.  "For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax-gatherers and harlots did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I have a controversy with many preachers and teachers.  They often assume and boldly say that the Word of God is spoken only to save.  When they talk about the Word, it is effective when men are brought to salvation, and it is ineffective or it fails when men do not come to faith.  My controversy, which rarely boils over into open dispute, is that the Word of God never fails.  God says so.  The Word has more than one possible purpose.  It is spoken to the joy and salvation of those who believe - or who come to believe through it.  It is spoken deliberately by God to the condemnation and the greater shame and guilt of those who refuse to believe, who reject the Word, and who despise the Word - and often the messenger of the Word - because of stubborn unbelief.  God's Word is preached, in those cases, for the judgment of the unbeliever.

This is an ancient truth and well-known, but often disregarded theological truth.  The saving purpose of the Word is called its proper work, and the damning and judging purpose of the Word is called its alien work.  But both are among the purposes of God in speaking His Word and causing it to be preached.  It is that alien work of the Word which we see illustrated in our text today.  Jesus points out that the Jewish leaders were stubbornly unbelieving and unrepentant, while the sinners - the tax-collectors and the prostitutes - were repentant and believing - both from the same Word.  And Jesus speaks to their unbelief and powerful Word of Judgment.  So, I invite you to consider the Words of our Lord and be warned.  Our theme is A Powerful Word of Judgment.

Jesus preaches another simple and short parable.  It is the parable of the two sons.  One son says "Yes sir!" to his father when instructed to go to work in the vineyard, but does not go.  The other son says, "No!  I won't!" when his father instructs him, but later he regrets disobeying his father and goes to work.  Then Jesus asked the question, "Which of the two sons did what his father wanted of him?" The answer, of course, is the one that went to work, no matter what either of them said.

Then Jesus tells them what it meant.  God is the Father, and they - the Jewish leaders - are the first son who said everything pleasingly, but was unfaithful.  The tax-gatherers and the prostitutes who rejected the Word of God, but came to repent when John preached were the ones who were disobedient at first, but then turned back and did the will of their Father.  Then Jesus said that the tax-gatherers and the prostitutes were going to go to heaven before any of them.

What a powerful word of judgment!  The shameless hypocrisy and unfaithfulness of the leaders of the Jews was clearly condemned.  They could imagine no person more foul than those sinners, and yet those sinners were judged more righteous by far than they.  The faithfulness of the sinner who repents is far greater than the half-hearted, uncommitted, so-called believer who says all the right things and yet does not live up to what they say.

So, what does this have to do with any of us?

Each one of you here this morning are in the place of the brother who said, "Yes, Father, I will go to work in the vineyard."  Our presence here, and our confession of faith is just such an answer to God.  The question is, do make it to the vineyard?  Or, do we say one thing and do another, just as the one son did in the parable?

What did the Jewish leaders do that earned such a powerful word of judgment from Jesus?  They confessed the faith without believing in God.  They tried to do the outwardly religious thing without having any real desire to do it.  They didn't really believe God's Word, nor did they trust in Him, so when their Messiah came, they did not believe in Him either.  They did not want what He offered and did not care whether they were right or wrong.  They simply had to have it their way.

And, when confronted by the truth, they did not repent.  They got angry, and looked for ways to either punish or silence the ones who preached the Law to them - Like John the Baptist and Jesus - but they would not admit what they knew, that they were guilty, and that they needed to repent.

Does that sound like you?  Don't look around the room, mentally or physically.  Don't try to guess whether this applies to the person next to you, or across the aisle and a few pews back.  God's Law is never preached so that you can judge another, but so that you can see your own sin and repent.  The Law is a mirror designed to show you your spiritual condition.  It is not meant for you to check others out, but to check yourself out.

You see, some of us come there and put on a show.  We don't believe what is preached.  We don't really want to change, and we refuse to believe we really need to.  This little piece of our life, the part we call "church", works just the way we want it to.  It does not make us do things, and it does not stop us from saying or doing anything.  It just makes us feel good and holy and all warm and squishy. 

How do I know it is true?  Just guessing.  I've heard too much anger and hatred toward others from too many.  Too often, the problem here at Peace is some other guy.  I haven't heard anyone say, "You know, the real problem here is that I haven't been doing my part" - or ". . .  that I really did some unfortunate things," or ". . .  I said something I shouldn't have."  The real problems are always someone else, the other guy.

The point is, that we have all been more or less like the son who said yes and then did not go to work.  I am no less guilty of that in my life than most of you.  I sin.  I am not proud of it.  But I accept it as the truth, because every time I write a good sermon, it turns out to be about me, the sinner.  And I need to repent.

When we repent, our sins are forgiven.  Jesus already paid the price on the cross.  God didn't wait for you, or me.  He took care of our guilt and punished our sins in Jesus Christ on the cross.  Now, when we know those truths and trust God to love us and to forgive us because of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven, and we possess eternal life.  And, everything we need done for eternal life and salvation, and in order to be well-pleasing to our heavenly Father is ours, in Jesus Christ.

And when we repent, we become that son who said NO!  In sin, and later regretted it and went to work in the vineyard.  Our work in the vineyard is first to believe.  When we believe God's Word, we will repent, because it will humble us with a knowledge of our sinfulness and need.  When we believe God's Word, we will trust God and rejoice in His goodness.  When we take God at His Word, we will do what comes to hand, whether that is evangelism, or the dishes, knowing that what God has given us to do right now is precisely how we worship Him and give God the glory!

People choose our church and take our confession and our religion seriously because we live it consistently, and it is compelling to see God at work in us.  If we talk love and look daggers at each other, they see it.  If we speak about grace and then try to earn our place among God's people - they know that we don't even believe what we preach.  If we talk about the greatest joys of this life as God's gift, and then we act as though being here or being one of His people or enduring the company of the saints is a chore, they see that we are saying the right thing, but not going to the vineyard, so to speak.  People come to want what we have, when we clearly enjoy having it, and when it is a strength to us in life, and not another burden.

There is a saying that close doesn't count, except in horseshoes and grenades.  Half-way and half-hearted doesn't mean anything in the faith either.  You either work in the vineyard, or you don't.  You believe, and you repent, and you hope in God - or the powerful word of judgment is for you, too.

That is what makes the LWML worth a special day of recognition and thanks to God.  The LWML is a group of women dedicated to going out into that vineyard - to help missionaries, to aid students with scholarships, to open new mission fields by whatever means they have.  They talk missions, and they pray for missions, and they give their mites for missions.  And they personally get nothing out of it, except perhaps a few hours of Christian fellowship in a month.  They are not perfect women, not one of them, but when their Father said, "work in the vineyard" they went to work, and they have helped countless others find their way into the vineyard to work as well.  Today we recognize their efforts, and we thank God for all that He has been able to accomplish through their work and their faithfulness.

And this morning we pray that God's Word works among us its proper work, of strengthening us in faith toward salvation, and of calling into faith those who do not believe.  We pray that we may never stumble so that we will experience its alien work.  We hope never to be closer than this - to read and understand the powerful word of Judgment in our Gospel lesson this morning.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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