SERMONS - FEBRUARY 2016
14 February 2016 - Lent 1 - Luke 4:1-13
An ambitious businessman will often look for opportunities to establish partnerships between his business and other businesses. A wise and savvy businessman will want such a partnership to take shape in such a way that his own business gets the maximum benefit, while the other business assumes the maximum risk.
Of course, the owners of the other businesses will usually not allow themselves to be drawn into that kind of imbalanced and lopsided relationship. They don’t want to be taken advantage of, or exploited, by a potential partner.
A partnership in which you have all or most of the risk, and in which the other party has all or most of the benefit, is not the kind of partnership that you will knowingly enter into - if you are a sensible and smart businessman. But, in an area of life that is much more important than the realm of business, and business partnerships, that is basically what you do all the time.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about the partnership that Satan is always trying to establish with your old fallen nature, with your old Adam, with your sinful flesh; and, that he is generally successful in establishing.
The devil knows that his goals for this world and for the people in it, and the usual consequences of the impulses of the sinful nature that infects humanity, are very compatible. They are natural allies.
And so Satan is always looking for opportunities to establish a “partnership,” as it were, between himself and that sinful nature - as it exists within each of us. But, he always wants this partnership to be set up in such a way that we take all the risks, and incur all the liabilities, while he gets all the benefits.
The ultimate benefit for himself that he is working for, and plotting to achieve, is to alienate us from God, and to gain possession of our souls. When that does happen, our loss is incalculable.
But unlike the usual circumstances in the ordinary business world, the devil is almost always able to find willing partners, who will in fact join forces with him, even on the basis of those extremely unfavorable terms.
In the foolishness and blindness of our sinfulness, we actually do cooperate in the destruction of our own spiritual life. Perverse though it is, we willingly and eagerly cooperate in the estrangement of our souls from God, and in the entrapment of our souls in the schemes of the devil.
That sinful aspect of our human existence enters into a cooperative partnership with the devil on the very worst of terms - for us. In that partnership, he always wins. And we always lose.
But I say that Satan almost always finds willing partners in this effort, because there was one occasion - described in today’s text from St. Luke’s Gospel - when Satan was not able to establish that kind of lopsided partnership with a descendant of Adam.
In fact, he wasn’t able to establish any kind of cooperative relationship at all with this person. His proposals to this man for such a “partnership,” were rejected each time.
I am, of course, talking about Jesus, and the satanic temptations that he successfully resisted in the wilderness. The devil did probe him, however, searching for a gullible sinful nature, which he had always been able to find every other time, in every other human being.
And if he had found such a perverse nature in Jesus, he would have done what he always does. He would have enticed that sinful flesh into a “partnership” with him, deceiving the mind and will of Jesus into cooperating in Jesus’ own spiritual death.
But this time, it didn’t work. None of the enticements that the devil tried on Jesus bore any fruit. His repeated ploys to enter into a partnership with the sinful side of Jesus failed, because Jesus - alone among men - had no sinful side.
Note especially the way in which Satan tried to appeal to Jesus’ bodily cravings - in particular, his craving for food in a time of hunger. “The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’”
Now, the desire to eat, in itself, is not wrong or sinful. The same can be said for other bodily cravings which were built into the human race by God for its survival, such as the intimate attraction that a man and a woman have for each other within a loving and fruitful marriage.
But remember that the nature of men and women, from birth, is now in a corrupted state. Because of our inherited sinfulness, our nature is now twisted in such a way that these natural desires have also been twisted by the destructive impulses of gluttony and lust, greed and selfishness.
Our old nature is governed by the assumption that we have the right to take whatever we want, at the moment we want it. The old Adam in us doesn’t think that he has to wait for a meal, or a spouse, to be given to us by God, by means of the ordinary and orderly channels through which God wishes to bless us in these and similar ways.
That kind of short-sighted and careless way of thinking is what Satan expected to find in Jesus - since he had found it in every other human being with whom he ever dealt.
And so he probed Jesus, at the weak point of his physical hunger, to try to find within him a nature that was willing to misuse his powers - impulsively - to satisfy his momentary craving then and there, rather than waiting for the right time, the right place, and the right method, to eat.
But the devil didn’t find what he was looking for. The human heart and mind of Jesus were pure and strong, morally clear and faithful to God. No sin was committed. No partnership with Satan was established.
Jesus knew - he really knew, deep on the inside of his sinless humanity - that some things are more important than satisfying the bodily urges of the moment. Trusting in God, and in God’s love and providence, is more important.
And so Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And it went on that way with the devil’s other attempts that day, as well. None of them worked.
Satan did go on to try to appeal to the common human love for power, which he thought he could find in Jesus. He showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, and told him that he would give to him all the authority and glory of these kingdoms, if Jesus would only worship him.
But Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
We are told that Satan also “teleported” Jesus to Jerusalem. He then tried to appeal to the common human desire, fueled by pride and vanity, to be the center of others’ attention; and to be lauded as a celebrity by others - which, again, he expected to find in Jesus - by setting him on the pinnacle of the temple, and daring him to throw himself down from there.
What a performance for the people below that would be! What an impression that would make on the residents of the city! But Jesus responded: “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Jesus did not fall for any of the devil’s deceptions. He did not succumb to any of his enticements.
He did not cooperate, even slightly, in the fulfillment of Satan’s will, but he remained true to his calling - as God and man - to do his Father’s will, and to trust in his Father’s ways. No partnership was formed.
But that really does present quite a contrast to us, and to our weakness. We allow ourselves to be enticed by the devil into doing his bidding all the time.
Our sinful flesh enters into a lopsided and foolish partnership with the devil on a regular basis - in which Satan always gets the maximum benefit, while we always assume the maximum risk.
It is often the case, that morally weak and spiritually gullible human beings, like us, put up no resistence at all, when the devil whispers in our ear that our feeling are all that matters, not the feelings of others.
It is often the case, that we surrender immediately, when Satan proposes to us the idea that our comfort is what is important, and that we should make all of our decisions with that in view; and that the comfort of others matters not at all.
As we are led astray by the cooperative efforts of the “old Adam” inside of us, and the “old evil foe” outside of us, there is little if any impulse control in our life; there is little if any appreciation for the principle of delayed gratification; there is little if any sensitivity to the needs of others; there is little if any recognition of the obligations that we have toward others.
We live for the moment, in the ethical blindness of the moment, and not for the godly future that God has planned for us.
Our thoughts and actions are shaped by gluttony and lust, greed and selfishness. What reigns in our life is a self-assured pride - which the devil is easily able to manipulate.
And what that really means, is that it is actually the devil who is reigning in our lives - in exact proportion to the delusion that we are reigning over ourselves, and are serving ourselves, and are benefitting from the partnership that we have established with a dark, fallen angel who despises us, and will devour us.
Can anyone help? Can anyone open our eyes to the craziness into which we have hurled ourselves?
Can anyone serve as a divine “trust-buster,” who will sever the foolish partnership - between our sinfulness and the devil’s slyness - into which we have entered? Can anyone vanquish the devil from our lives, and silence also the poisoned internal voice of our own old Adam - filling us instead with God’s truth and peace?
Can anyone show us the pathway back to God, so that we can be established in a life-filled and life-giving new “partnership,” so to speak, with God; be filled with his Spirit; and be recreated in his image? Can anyone forgive our foolishness, and pardon our gullibility; and give us instead, wisdom and sanctification from God?
Yes. There is a champion, a Redeemer, a defender, and a trust-buster, who can help us, and save us.
The one who resisted where you surrendered, will help you. The one who succeeded where you failed, will save you.
His resistance, and his success, are not just examples for you to follow - although you certainly should imitate his appeals to the unchanging and sacred Scriptures, in response to the devil’s deceptions. But he resisted, not only for himself, but for you. He succeeded, not only for himself, but for you.
When you are tempted as he was, he will protect you. His wisdom will cover over your foolishness. His strength will cover over your weakness. His confidence in his Father in heaven, will cover over your fear. His righteousness will cover over your sin.
When the devil lies to you, he speaks to you God’s truth, in his gospel and sacraments. When Satan entices you to harm, he draws you - by his Spirit - to faith and hope. And he fills you with a godly love for those you are called to love, and to serve.
With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabaoth Lord, And there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever. Amen.
21 February 2016 – Lent 2 – Luke 13:31-35 - Pastor Paul Webber (Guest Preacher)
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text for today is from Luke, chapter 13, verses 31-35, and please rise as we hear these words again in Jesus’ name.
“‘I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
These are Your Words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.
It is just sad that the people of Jerusalem rejected Jesus when he came to them. After all, the purpose for which God had made the Israelites his people was so that he could one day send his messiah through them and to them.
They were the primary reason why Jesus, the eternally begotten Son of God, had been conceived and born of the virgin Mary, and given the name Jesus. He had come to save them from their sins, and deliver them from death, and to give to them, through God’s gifts of faith and forgiveness, every eternal joy.
But, as a whole, the people of Jerusalem refused to accept this gift from God, just as they had, so often, rejected those whom God had sent before Christ. “O Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” Jesus wouldn’t end up being the first prophet whom the people of Jerusalem would reject.
Other prophets had been sent by God to his people to bring them God’s saving Word. For this, the prophets should have been welcomed with open arms. And even though the prophets hadn’t labored to this end, they should have had been offered every gift and comfort by the people in exchange for their labors.
But how did the people receive Jesus and the prophets? Well you know the end that Jesus met. The people cried out, “crucify Him, crucify Him,” which is exactly what happened to Jesus. And for Isaiah, who was perhaps, the foremost Old Testament prophet—tradition tells us that the king of Israel ordered that he be put inside a log which was then sawed in half—not a magic trick. Just a horrible way to die.
Both Jesus, and Isaiah, and all the other prophets whom God sent to His people in Jerusalem should have been welcomed as the bringers and manifestations of God’s Word with open arms as the great gifts from God that they were. But sadly, the people of Jerusalem did not do this. They rejected these messengers of God. And in doing so, they rejected God himself, and rejected the healthy, fruitful, relationship with God through His word that they needed.
But it wasn’t only sad that Jesus and those who had come before him were rejected. It was also entirely unnecessary. Think especially about Christ. He didn’t just show up in the city and say, “Hey everyone, I’m the messiah. I can’t prove this in any way so you’ll have to just take my word for it.”
Through His prophets, God had told us, in so many Words, how the messiah would come into the world. Through Micah he had said that he would be born in Bethlehem—which Jesus was. Through Isaiah he had said that the one who would bear the name and description of Immanuel, meaning God with us, would be conceived and born of a virgin—which Jesus was. Through Nathan he had said that the messiah, the eternal king of the church, would be a descendant of David—which Jesus was.
And then, to top it all off, just in case people didn’t know the Scriptures, when Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan river, God the father announced for all to hear that Jesus was his beloved son, with whom he was well-pleased.
It wasn’t just things about Jesus that showed he was the messiah. After his Baptism, for the whole of His earthly ministry, Jesus did and said all the things that marked him as being not only as a faithful teacher but as being God himself.
Every words which came out of Jesus’ mouth agreed with and upheld the prophets whom God had sent before him. And, something that no one should take lightly, Jesus performed miracles. He did things which showed that he was no ordinary man, but that even if you didn’t especially like Jesus and what he was saying, marked him as being none other than God himself. Who other than God can turn water into wine. Who other than God can cure someone of blindness, or paralysis, or leprosy? Who other than God can raise someone from the dead? The answer is no one. These are all things that only God can do.
So it was not only sad, but also entirely unnecessary that Jesus was rejected by the people of Jerusalem. As far as the people there were concerned, they never should have rejected Jesus, and his preaching of repentance and salvation. There was absolutely no need that Jesus be condemned and crucified at their hands. But this was exactly what happened. Jesus was rejected by the very people to whom, and for whose salvation, he had been sent.
And God knew that this was going to happen. He didn’t will it, of course, just as he never wills that anyone not believe, and not be saved. But God foreknew the rejection of Christ by the people of Jerusalem, and through this sad and unnecessary evil God worked the salvation of mankind.
Jesus hadn’t come into our world only to preach and perform miracles. He had also been conceived and born so that he could be killed and buried in a tomb. This was necessary, because our sins and those of all mankind required a sacrifice, someone who would suffer and die as one of us, but who could also die in such a miraculous, divine, way so that his life could atone for all of our sins instead of just for himself or, at most, a few people.
As the incarnate Son of God, Jesus was that sacrifice. Through, and in spite of, the evil of the people of Jerusalem in rejecting their promised messiah, their messiah still did what was necessary to save them. Jesus has suffered, and die, and risen in victory over sin and death. And through faith in Jesus, the once-rejected savior of the world, even the sins of those who took part in his condemnation and crucifixion can be forgiven.
As we, here, today consider the sad and unnecessary nature of Jesus being rejected by the people of Jerusalem, perhaps we are thinking that “if” we had been there, that we would never have allowed this to happen. We would have seen what was true, and believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and we never would have done anything even resembling rejecting this one whom God had sent to preach and bring salvation?
But can we say this? Have we never rejected one whom God has sent to us? I’m sure that we would like to think that we neither have nor ever would reject Jesus. But our desires don’t determine reality. Remember, Jesus didn’t only lament the fact that the people of Jerusalem would reject him. He also lamented the fact that, in history, so many of God’s faithful prophets had also been rejected by the people of Jerusalem.
God doesn’t sent prophets into the world anymore. The prophetic age in which new revelations were given has expired. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t send anyone. Now God sends his people pastors.
Your pastor, and all the other pastors whom you have had and will have in the future, has not consented to come here and work for his own personal advancement. He has been called here to serve as an undershepherd for Christ. Nor is your pastor here to preach his own opinions, or to administer special doses of his personality. Your Pastor has been called to preach God’s Word and to administer the Sacraments. Your pastor has been rightly trained, rightly, called, and rightly ordained. In this way he has satisfied the “signs” of his being the one whom God has sent to you.
And, functioning as your pastor, has he done anything that would mark him as a false teacher? Has he taught you anything else than the truth of God’s Word. He has not conformed his teaching to the sound doctrine of the Lutheran Confessions. And in accord with both of these has he not, in the place and by the command of Christ, forgiven your sins, and administered to you the true body and blood of Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins.
But have you accepted your pastor? Have you accepted him as you would have accepted Christ? Have you always viewed him, certainly not every aspect of his person, but rather the office that he fills, as one that Christ has established for the good of His people, and specifically for your present and eternal good.
In this way I am sure that we have all failed. We are all guilty, to one extent or another, of having hardened our hearts against the word of God that our pastors have spoken to us. We have all seen our pastor’s personal flaws, and viewed these not as the personal failings that they are, but as things that bleed into and somehow invalidate his office as pastor.
And stemming from this, even though we hopefully haven’t wished death on any of our pastors, we have wished, at times, that he would take a call to somewhere else and leave, or that he would just resign his call and leave, so that we don’t have to listen to or receive anything from him anymore.
But what if the reason why we have been inclined to reject our pastor isn’t because he has been wrong, but because we have? After all, does everything we come across in the Bible affirm us in our persons and actions? Even more specifically, when we look at the whole of God’s moral law, do we see reflected back at us our righteous successes or our sinful failures?
If we refuse to ever see or hear anything other than that which would confirm our own, personal, righteousness, then how healthy are we, spiritually? What is our standing before God? Like the people of Jerusalem, if we refuse to accept, and listen to, those whom God sends to us, then we who should be the temple of the Holy Spirit, have made ourselves to be houses forsaken—people who have rejected not only the one whom God has sent to us but also, through this rejection, the God who sent him.
This is no small thing, because do you want to be forsaken by God? Of course you don’t. And is there some, salvific, good that God is going to work for you through your rejection of his called pastors? No, unlike was the case with the rejection of Christ by the people of Jerusalem, there is no good that can come to you or anyone if you reject your pastor because he is doing and saying exactly what he has been called by God to do. The only possible outcome is that you, and others who see and mimic your impious example, will again becomes separated from God’s love by sin.
If this is the path on which you have set yourself, this is something about which you should be alarmed, but this is not an irreversible course. If it were, then all of the sins that we commit in our lives would eventually lead to our eternal destruction. That is what would happen to us if Christ was not in the equation—but he is. In fact, in His church, Christ is the entire equation.
In Christ, there is forgiveness for every sin—even the sin of rejecting Christ and those whom he has sent. And as ones who have been forgiven by our creator for the sake of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have not been given this forgiveness only for our own benefit. We have also been given this forgiveness so that we can forgive those who have wronged us.
Jesus teaches this to us in the Lord’s prayer, in which we pray to God to forgive us for the ways in which we have trespassed, just as we, as a result of receiving God’s forgiveness, strive to forgive those who have trespassed against us.
Now is it always going to be easy for us to do this? Humanly speaking, absolutely not. But in the Gospel of His Son God has shown us his grace, and through faith He has put his grace and his love inside of us, which is how we are able to forgive those who sin against us instead of forever trying to hold onto those sins, and the anger we feel on their account.
In the same way, through his word God has shown and given to us humility. He has shown us that we are not always right. We are not beyond reproach, and often we have created very good reasons to ask for the forgiveness of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ—even our pastor, who remember is not God, but a forgiven sinner just like every other Christian.
If you have wronged your pastor by rejecting him, even if this rejection has only taken place in your heart and mind, you can change your course. You can make amends, and as a Christian, and as your pastor, he will forgive you and move on.
If such reconciliation between you and your pastor is necessary, then I guarantee you that, no matter whom you’re talking about, that this reconciliation is what your pastor wants. He wants you to be at peace with God. That is the first and last goal. And to that end, he wants you to be at peace with him, so that there won’t be any barriers to your continuing to receive God’s grace through his ministry.
And this is something that you should want, just as much as you want to be at peace with God. You don’t want to reject Jesus and the prophets whom God has already sent. In the same way, don’t reject the faithful pastors that God still sends.
Neither the prophets, nor Christ, nor pastors now, have been sent to you for their own gain. You have seen in the Scriptures that Jesus suffered and died for you. And you have seen and heard from your pastor that He has come to bring you the word of God, so that you can hear it, believe it, and be saved.
So just as you would never want to reject your Savior, don’t reject the one whom your Savior has sent to you. Your pastor has been called to bring you God’s word and administer his Sacraments. It may be that this will not be a ministry and message that you will always want to receive, but it will always be one that you need to receive, because it is through the ministry of Word and Sacrament that Christ has promised to keep you under his protecting wings, until he brings you to join him in eternal joy and peace in heaven. Amen.
28 Feb 2016 - Lent 3 - Luke 13:1-9
And [Jesus] told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’”
Soil is a resource. A farmer, or a fruit grower, uses this resource for the growing of a crop.
A bush, vine, or tree is planted in the soil, draws nutrients from the soil, and then, with those nutrients, produces the desired vegetable or fruit. A landowner, we might say, “invests” his soil into his plants, and expects a payoff in the form of produce that can be harvested and sold at a profit.
In the parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel from St. Luke, we hear of a fruit farmer, who owned a vineyard in which a fig tree was planted. The farmer invested his soil into that fig tree, expecting it to bear figs.
But it did not. The tree was absorbing the nutrients of the soil - so that those nutrients were not available to another tree or plant - but no figs were appearing on the tree.
The life-giving potential of the soil was going to waste. And so the owner, who had a right to expect fruit from the tree, directed his vinedresser to cut it down.
The landowner in this parable represents God - not God in his total character, but God according to his severe righteousness, which demands righteousness from his creatures; and God according to his blistering wrath, which threatens the destruction of those who rebel against him and defy him.
People today are usually not inclined to believe that God has a side like that. God, in the totality of his being, is perceived as being ever nice, and always indulgent. Seldom is there a recognition of God’s fiery indignation with respect to human sin and wickedness.
But just ask the people who were alive in the days of Noah, if there is a side of God that is like that - a side of God that punishes evil, and evil people. Just ask the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah if God sometimes reaches a limit in his patience, so that there is hell to pay for those who have made him their enemy.
Now, even if we are willing to admit that God does sometimes manifest his anger, and pour out his judgment, we would still likely assume that this does not really pertain to us, but only to really bad people. And that category is defined, by each of us, as those people who are worse than we are.
So, I may feel that in God’s eyes my sins are less condemnatory than the sins of a burglar. A burglar may feel that in God’s eyes his sins are less condemnatory than the sins of an armed robber. And an armed robber may feel that in God’s eyes his sins are less condemnatory than the sins of a murderer.
But are those kinds of gradations really in play, when we are considering the demands of God - again, according to his righteousness and holiness - that all people would be as righteousness and holy as he is?
The human race was created with the capacity for this. God accordingly has the right to expect this.
Does God see this in anyone? Does God’s warning that sin will be punished - that the unfruitful tree will be cut down and destroyed - exclude any of us? What does Jesus say?
“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”
“‘Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”
All of them - all of us - are destined to perish. That is, we are destined to perish, because of our sin, unless there is a change - a change in how God sees us, and a change in what we are.
The word “repent” means “change” - a change in thinking, in believing, and in living. If you do not repent, you will perish. If you do repent, you will not perish.
The fruit that the landowner was looking for from the fig tree in today’s parable, was, in its deeper meaning, the fruit of repentance that God was looking for in the nation of Israel, and in all nations.
That fruit would be, and is, a deep and genuine turning away from sin, and a despising of sin. That fruit would be, and is, a faith that humbly acknowledges God’s authority, and that joyfully receives God’s gifts. That fruit would be, and is, the works that naturally flow out of this faith, into the lives of others in need.
In his Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul speaks of such fruit, and of such spiritual life, when he writes: “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
He speaks in a similar way when he writes to the Colossians: “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
That’s the kind of fruit the Lord expects from us. That’s the kind of fruit we know we owe him.
His Word, like rich soil, has long nourished us - just as the oracles of God were long entrusted to the people of Israel, so that they could know his Word, believe his Word, and put his Word into practice through faithful worship and service.
But have we borne the kind of fruit that God had a right to expect from us, by virtue of what he has invested in us? Did Israel as a whole bear the kind of fruit that God - the great landowner - had demanded of them?
Or should we expect God to say, with respect to us, what was said in today’s parable?: “I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?”
You are, as it were, using up the “ground” of God’s Word. You have access to God’s Word, and hear God’s Word. It’s a part of your life, at least externally.
But you have not borne the pure and perfect fruit that God’s law demands. And the fruit you have borne - such as it is, in itself - is shriveled, worm-holed, and misshaped, because of the sin that infects and pollutes your earthly life, and everything that flows out of your earthly life.
According to your sinful nature, and because of all the sins you have committed - in thought, word, and deed; by what you have done, and by what you have left undone - you do not deserve God’s favor.
You do not deserve to remain planted in his vineyard, sucking up his blessings, but giving him far less of a return on his investment than he deserves from you. Because of all that, you deserve to be cut down - so that your place in God’s kingdom can be taken by another, who will be more faithful, and more fruitful.
But, you will not be cut down as you deserve. God - even insofar as he is a God with severe demands - will nevertheless still give you more time, and will continue to be patient with you.
Why? Because the vinedresser has interceded for you. Because the vinedresser even now is interceding for you, persuading the landowner to hold off and relent.
“And he answered him, ‘Sir, let [the fig tree] alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good...’”
Centuries earlier, the Prophet Isaiah’s description of the work of the Messiah had already included these words: “He poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
This intercession of Christ for his people has not come to an end. It will not come to an end until this world comes to an end.
Jesus, in his resurrected glory, is now seated at the right hand of the Father. And as the Epistle to the Hebrews explains, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
Jesus ever intercedes for his flawed yet beloved people; his people who admit with remorse that they do still sin, and fall short of the glory of God, but who also rejoice in their Savior’s uplifting grace and free forgiveness. Jesus, as our intercessor, reveals to us that aspect of God that is not angry at us, and that has - in Christ - been reconciled to us.
God, because of his righteousness and holiness, would deny an important part of his own character if he were to ignore sin, and refuse to punish it. But it is also so, that “God is love.”
And because God is love, he found a way, through the sending of his Son, to heal and restore us, and not to destroy us as we deserve.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
God would indeed prefer to be merciful. In and through his Son’s propitiatory sacrifice, and his atonement for sin in our place, God is merciful to us, for Christ’s sake.
Jesus paid for all our sins. God therefore removes our sin from us, as far as the east is from the west. And God justifies us - not in ourselves, or because of ourselves; but in Christ, and because of Christ.
And through Christ, who is now upon us, and in us, God sees our fruit, such as it is - our paltry and deformed fruit - as perfect and pure fruit, just as it is supposed to be. By his perfect obedience, which is now credited to you, Christ justifies you by faith. And, Christ likewise justifies your works, done in human weakness, but done in faith.
Jesus causes God to see these things in that way. And insofar as God is our Father in Christ - and not our judge, apart from Christ - that’s what God wants to see.
And so God does not cut us down, and clear us away from his vineyard. He lets us remain.
Each year, as the vinedresser intercedes for us, the landowner holds back. And in the year following - and on and on every year - as the vinedresser intercedes again, the landowner holds back again.
As he is prompted by his mercy in Christ, God refrains from implementing what his justice would otherwise demand. As he is prompted by his mercy in Christ, God protects us, and enriches us ever more with his Word.
There are very few occasions where it would be respectful to think of the Word of God as dirt, let alone as manure. But commenting on the imagery of this parable is one of them.
After Christ intercedes for us, the soil of the gospel is made even richer for us by Christ, and in a sense multiplied, so that in both Word and Sacrament, the means of grace are layered upon us, over and over again.
“Sir, let [the fig tree] alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure,” the vinedresser says. In effect, Jesus says to his Father, as he intercedes for us: “Let me give them even more of the gospel, into which they are already planted.”
“Let me make the gospel be for them, more rich and lush than ever before: purely preached in sermons, frequently administered in my Holy Supper, acutely applied in counseling, and continuously reenforced in the mutual encouragement that comes from all the members of my body, the church.”
And as the gospel is in all these ways offered and received, given and accepted, embraced and internalized by faith, our spiritual life is fertilized. We do bear fruit.
The life of Christ is lived within us. The love of Christ is manifested through us.
Still for us He intercedes; His prevailing death He pleads,
Near Himself prepares our place, Harbinger of human race. Amen.