Don’t Let Your Sins Be Your Downfall! Repent and Live!
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Don’t Let Your Sins Be Your Downfall! Repent and Live!
Text: Matthew 21:28-32
When I read the gospel for today a part of me just can’t help but be sad… It makes me sick. I am tired of the seeing the Devil win! This gospel story takes place during Holy Week. Jesus resolutely entered Jerusalem knowing all too well what would happen to him before the week was done. Now the Pharisee’s and teachers of the law come to Jesus searching for a way to get rid of him.
If anybody should have seen the face of God when they looked at Jesus’ works and words it was these guys. These guys devoted themselves entirely to the study of God’s word. They made it their public goal to live according to God’s law. They saw God’s laws as so important that they made another set of laws to keep themselves from coming close to breaking just one of God’s laws.
These were holy men by human standards. You could have asked anyone in all of Israel and they would have told you that these men lived for God. God said “jump.” They said, “How high?” And if that wasn’t enough, when God told them how high they should jump they tried to jump higher.
Yet somewhere in the annals of history their life’s work changed from keeping God’s law to patting themselves on the back and impressing other men. Their focus shifted from keeping a pure heart to placing a sparkling venire over their outward lives to impress others. Their humble submission to God’s law changed to a haughty, “holier than thou” attitude. Just like all temptation, we can trace their sin back to the first temptation when the Devil asked Eve, “Did God really say…”
Did God really say, “I am as interested in the motivation for an action as I am in the action itself.”
Did God really say, “An act of service done to impress others is just as bad as never having done the act.”
You see these men were all about the actions and couldn’t have cared less about the attitudes of their hearts. They were the second son in Jesus parable from Matthew 21. God said, “Go, work for me.” They enthusiastically replied in front of everyone, “Absolutely God! We will do whatever you ask.” But when God asked them to look to Jesus and live, their words became empty.
And so Satan appears to win again… The people who should have seen Jesus for who he was, the long promised Messiah, had the ignorance to ask the Author of Life from where his authority came. These “experts of the law” who should have known that the Messiah would change the lives of the sinners he came to save had the nerve to look down on the Anointed One because he walked and ate and talked with thieving tax collectors and filthy prostitutes.
What hypocrites! They claimed to follow God and yet when God stood in front of them asking for their love they despised his teaching. When the very same Creator that they worshiped called them to repent they hated him. When they saw the Messiah they longed for associating with the wrong kind of people they planned to kill him. How could they?…
Never underestimate the power of the Devil and the corruption of the sinful nature; that is the condition of our hearts that makes it impossible to not sin… Temptation attacks the proud by giving them something to be proud of. It infiltrates the life of the greedy by offering the tantalizing fruit of materialism. It seduces the adulterer with easy to find images and immoral men and women. Satan plucks the strings of our sinful natures with amazing dexterity and skill. He is the great minimizer. He constantly whispers in our ears when we are faced with temptation, “Did God really say? It’s really no big deal; no one will miss it; no one will ever find out; take it! Do it! Say it!” And our sinful nature is more than happy to be convinced that these lies are truth.
It doesn’t take long before I begin to see some of the second son’s hypocrisy in you, and in me. It doesn’t take a theologian to see flashes of Pharisee in each of us. A little over a year ago I vowed to love my wife as Christ loved the Church, have I loved her perfectly? In the Lord’s Prayer I ask that God’s will be done, but am I always happy with how God carries out his will in my life?
God looks at me and asks, “Will you make every aspect of your life your act of worship to me? Will you joyfully do your menial tasks at work and home for me? Will you change a diaper for the 1000th time with a smile for me? Will you wash the dishes again for me singing praise to me for another meal?” We say, “Yeah, God of course we will!” Then what happens? We get tired and frustrated. We get bogged down in the hardships of this life and forget all about our promise to God.
“The soul who sins is the one who will die,” said Ezekiel. I hate it when the Devil wins, and by all appearances he should be able to claim victory over each of us. We all have sinned, we all should be his. We deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment for all our sins of hypocrisy; just like the Pharisees; just like the second son…
Instead God gives us Jesus…
The Devil whispered the same lies in Jesus’ ear that he whispers in ours. The Devil attacked Jesus at every moment of every day during his time here. The Devil threw everything he had against Jesus, and for once the Devil lost. Satan struck hard on Good Friday, willing the people to kill God-made-flesh. But three days later on a brilliant morning Jesus crushed that wily serpent’s head. Instead of claiming us as his victory prize the Devil lies twitching in death.
And as if Jesus didn’t do enough by destroying the Devil he turns to us and says “Take me, wash in my name, be refreshed in my supper, this is forgiveness. This is love. I did this for you. This is yours.” Jesus didn’t have to take God’s wrath for us. He didn’t have to die on that cross, nothing not even the Devil could have kept him there if he did not want to be there. His love for us kept him there. His love for us made him willing to sacrifice himself.
On that that day in Holy Week when Jesus first spoke this parable he compared the first son to those thieving tax collectors and filthy prostitutes who by all outward appearances had abandoned God and his laws. Quite the opposite of the Pharisees, if you had asked anyone in Israel, they would have told you these were rotten sinners, not heaven inheriting saints.
If anyone should have had God’s wrath poured out on them it was these people. They abandoned God and his people for sex and money. When God looked at them and told them, “Go work for me.” Their initial reaction was, “No way!” They traded the eternally true message of God for temporary pleasure, and they did this so all the world could see.
But then John the Baptist showed up. He warned of the hell that would come if they stayed in their sins. He pointed to Jesus and told them to repent and live… and they did! Without making any claims on personal holiness like the Pharisees they crawled on their knees to their Creator. They had the Author of Life over for dinner, repented and vowed to give away the money they had loved so much. They washed the feet of God-made-flesh with tears of sorrow and their own hair as a humble towel.
There was no hypocrisy in them. They had no delusions about what they deserved for their sins. They had no arrogance or self-righteous façade. They looked to Jesus because he offered what they desperately needed… hope, peace, forgiveness. They refused to let their sins be their downfall, they repented, turned to Jesus and lived.
Knowing our own sins as well as we do, we know that we too share their desperate need. Suddenly, without us ever doing a thing, by God’s grace, we begin to see more and more of the first son in us. We the rotten, often hypocritical sinners that we are know all too well what we deserve. We said “No!” to God’s loving face. We traded God’s word for simple, temporary earthly pleasures.
Then Jesus comes. He breaks down the walls in our hearts. He points out our hypocrisy for what it is. He offers us himself. He offers us peace. He offers us joy. He offers us heaven. In joyful thanks for all Jesus did we turn from our sinful ways begging God to forgive us, asking him to guide us.
I will continue to be disappointed in myself and fail God. So will you. In the parable for today Jesus shows us that there are two ways of dealing with our sin. Either we try to hide like the Pharisees or we repent and crawl to God on our knees in repentance like the prostitutes and tax collectors of Jesus day. I praise God that we are like the first son. Not content to drown in our sins but striving to turn to God and live.
We will still feel the temptation of the devil. Our sinful natures are not yet gone. But we have the truth ever before us in God’s word that the devil has in fact been defeated by Jesus. Like a snake continues to squirm when you cut its head off the Devil continues to squirm in this world but his end is coming soon.
We have God’s word, the Lord’s Supper, and the constant reminder of our baptism. In God’s word we hear what Jesus did for us. In the Lord’s Supper we receive the forgiveness of sins. Baptism has the power to drown that sinful nature inside of us. When we hear the Bible taught in church, read it on our own we constantly give rise to a new voice that whisper in our ears when those all too familiar temptation come knocking. “Remember what Jesus did. He loves you more than you know. He lived for you. He died for you. He asks you to say no to this sin.” Jesus looks you in the eye and asks, “will you do this for me?” In faith we daily strive to do what God wants and all because of Jesus.