Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read, especially the words, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Scripture doesn’t tell us what Joseph’s brothers were thinking about as Jacob lay there approaching death. It’s clear in the blessings that Jacob bestows on his family right before this that they all knew the time was coming, but what were the brothers thinking? How did the topic first come up, this worry that they had? Obviously it weighed on them, and had for a while. My study bible timeline estimates that Jacob was brought to Egypt in about 1876 BC and died in about 1859, so that’s 17 years or so. Who knows just how long it was, but it’s a while, right? And all this time the brothers haven’t forgotten. You wonder who brought it up? Was it Reuben who first argued Joseph shouldn’t be killed, or Judah who agreed and suggested sending him to slavery? “Brothers, our father is dying, and we deserve Joseph’s wrath. If you remember, I didn’t want to kill him, it was you guys, but now, what if with Father dying, he’s also planning to kill us?” Or perhaps it was something that still burdened the conscience of one of the other brothers, Asher, or Gad, or Levi? That sort of guilt can stick around, can’t it?
And you can imagine the worry when the day finally came that Jacob did die. It’s not for sure, but it sort of seems that this approach to come to Joseph is contrived, is made up, isn’t it? Maybe Jacob really did say that, maybe he really did tell the boys to make sure Joseph didn’t harm them, and to let Joseph know that was Jacob’s own wish. Maybe, he told them that if they thought Joseph was acting suspiciously to do so. We don’t know for sure, but it sure seems like an attempt out of desperation. An attempt, like I said flowing from those burdened consciences—which makes sense because sin really does do a number on our conscience. Because the reality is that sin deserves wrath, it deserves justice. Doesn’t it? It deserves payback.
Even the Law makes this point, doesn’t it? Look at what Moses tells the people in Leviticus, “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death… If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.” Sin puts that rift between our God and us, separates us from the Tree of Life, so it deserves death in kind. And that burdens us, or to look back at Joseph and his brothers, they’d thrown him into the pit where the Midianites were able to steal him out and sell him into the slavery—just like Judah had suggested, but without the brothers getting the benefit of the sale. But they’d thrown him down there. Would Joseph throw them in a pit? Would he enslave them? Would he just be done with it and kill them? Who knows, but they were worried, weren’t they? “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” And so they come to him with this request of Jacob—which to be fair, even though I’m contending that it was made up, I’m sure it’s what Jacob would have wanted. “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And you can imagine the anxiety as they waited. Anxiety deserved, anxiety stewed by these pricked consciences.
But what did Joseph do? It’s so telling isn’t it? There’s no anger. There’s no question as to what will happen. There’s no doubt in Joseph’s mind what he’ll do. He knows the God who is gracious and merciful. As he tells them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones. Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And so Moses says, “Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”
Yes, Joseph knew God’s wisdom. He was able to look back and see how hard things were, but how the Lord had brought this great good out of it. Even the evil of these brothers, even their jealous, selfish sin. Even that God had brought good out of it. And so, Joseph showed mercy.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Such words for us to hear and understand. And we see it in the story of Joseph. We see the example he sets for us in it. Has someone harmed you, offended you, abused you? Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Of course, this story isn’t merely an example, it’s a picture too. Sure, a picture as we are supposed to live our lives as a picture, a picture representing to the world our God in His graciousness. But it shows us that graciousness too before God Himself revealed it in Christ. But that cross is where we see it the most. On that cross, the evil that the world did was met not with evil returned. No, on that cross, the evil of the perfect man, God in the flesh, the One who never sinned and never did anything deserving death, or pain, or suffering, that One was nailed to the tree and murdered. And of course, Jesus knew it was coming. He knew the scourging, the beating, the piercing. He knew it all would be borne on His body. And He knew that the Father would use that, and use His death, this death at the hands of sinful, evil men, for something even greater. He knew that this would be the time when the Father Himself would pour out the justice deserved against sin.
All of that guilt Joseph’s brothers bore on their consciences, all that their consciences told them they deserved, that and more was poured on Christ. And the same goes for your conscience. All that it tells you your sin deserves, all the guilt that you try to bury in there, all of the sins that you hide and pretend don’t exist. The wrath those deserve was poured on this Christ. Why? Because this evil that we intend, our God is so good, so merciful, He brings good out of it. And so having poured out the wrath on the One who didn’t deserve it, He raised His Son showing that death, the consequence of sin, that death couldn’t hold Him. Why not? Because that sin had been forgiven. Because that is just how merciful this God is.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. As we live in this world, that’s a hard thought, isn’t it? Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Everything from the earliest days of our lives tells us to repay evil for evil, to demand justice, to pour out our wrath in vengeance against those who harm us. But as we read these lessons for today, we see what this means, Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. We see how it plays itself out.
Look at how Jesus tells you to do it, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” If you are gracious to others, grace will be shown to you. Now, it’s worth making the point in our day, does this mean that we shouldn’t have police, or we shouldn’t arrest people for crimes and have punishments for them? By no means. We can see this in places that have put policies in place reflecting that mindset. From stories I have read online, there are a lot storeowners in California really suffering because of this. The laws have been amended such that shoplifting amounting to less that something like $1,500 will not be prosecuted. Apparently it’s ruining small business owners. Is that what this means? That the state has no authority to do this? No, but it means that you forgive as an individual. It means that when someone takes from you, you show them mercy, you don’t condemn them, you forgive them.
To continue in this passage, it means that when that happens to you, you don’t look at the speck in their eye, but you see the log in your own, that you remember the Christ who died for your sins. In fact, this is the only way to be able to do those things. We could even connect it to the story of the Prodigal Son last week, where I made the point that this love of the Father, this love and mercy of God is so certain it frees us to see the immensity of our sin. It frees us to acknowledge the logs that our in our eye, to see them for just how big they are—that they are rafters like you see on the ceiling, not just small logs. It also frees us to know how to begin to live as Paul describes in the lesson from his letter to the Romans.
I don’t know about you, but some of the things Paul says there are tall orders, aren’t they? Of course, he is only mirroring things our Lord Jesus has already said, but what he says there: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…. associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil… live peaceably with all… never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God… if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” How are those even possible?
Because you know the mercy of our God. Because you know that your sin has been atoned for. Because you know that as Christ suffered for all sins, He is even making right those sins that have been enacted against you, those sins that harmed you. As I mentioned the conscience, I’ve said it before, but even those sins against us taint our consciences. But the blood of Christ cleanses that. I don’t know if you recall what Peter says about baptism, but he makes the point in his first letter. In chapter three there, he says that baptism, “now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Lest your conscience be burdened, He promises it has been cleansed in the blood of Christ poured out over you in your baptism. And He continues to pour it out to you in the holy chalice of Christ’s blood, His body and blood fed to you in His Supper.
Christians, this is mercy upon mercy upon mercy. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. For He has been merciful to you, and in Christ, He promises He will continue to do so, even unto eternity. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read; the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
In reflecting on this parable this week, I realized that I’ve had a theme that’s come up a couple of times in the sermons over the past few months, and that’s the theme of necessity. I spoke about it last week in connection with the necessity of the Lord’s house and feast being filled eternally, and I spoke about it on Easter in connection with the necessity that Jesus would rise from the dead. Now, to be clear, those are different words in the Greek that relate to that necessity, and I’m not going to delineate the difference, partially because I’m not sure I could, and mostly because the point can be seen without it: there is a necessity that happens when it comes to God. We see that same necessity in this parable too. Where, you might ask? In the end where it said, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
Now, you might hear that and say, “what is it saying is necessary? I don’t hear necessity in that sentence.” And as it’s translated you don’t, but it’s in the word “fitting.” That word is the word for necessity flowing from the working of God. It’s happening or it’s going to happen because of a divine necessity. So, on Easter I described this word saying that it was necessary that Christ would rise from the dead. It had to happen that Christ would rise from the dead. In the same way, it’s not just fitting that there is this celebration. It has to happen. The father in the story is saying that it’s almost like he couldn’t not celebrate. This son came back from the dead. This son was lost and now is found. There HAS to be a celebration for this.
And this fits the chapter, if you know it. It fits the rejoicing you see in the first ten verses of Luke 15. If you know that chapter, you know that it starts with the parable of the lost sheep. There are the ninety-nine that the shepherd has a location on, but the one is lost. So, he goes searching until he finds it, then he rejoices. And the lost coin. The woman can’t find the coin, so she tears apart her house, she sweeps the floor over and again, and when she finds it, what happens? She rejoices. There’s the rejoicing over the coin, there’s rejoicing over the sheep. And there’s rejoicing over the brother.
And why does the chapter tell us there is rejoicing? Because it’s like the rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. So, you have the sinner, you have that lost sheep, that coin, that prodigal son, they are lost and then found. And when they are found there is rejoicing. In the case of that father in the parable, there has to be this rejoicing. It’s necessary. It can’t not happen.
Now, as we say that, we should take a step back and ask more of what that really means. Obviously, this is like the Lord’s joy at the repentance of the sinner, but what does that tell us about God? Think about it. What do you learn from God that He tells you that when a sinner repents that it is necessary that there be this celebration? You learn that God deeply, deeply wants sinners to repent. He wants it so badly that it is impossible for Him not to rejoice at their repentance. And why that necessary? Well, we could take that a lot of directions, but if you watch my devotions, you heard me talk about the Hebrew term for it. I’ve spoken of this term before, but you see it in both Old Testament lessons for this week. It’s the word ḥesed, translated steadfast love.
Hear again how the Old Testament lesson says it: “He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.” Why is it necessary that there be this rejoicing, this celebrating? Because God delights in steadfast love, in ḥesed. And Christians, that love is immense. I think we can’t understand just how immense it is. In fact, that’s why I talk about how deep our sin is often. That’s why I make the point of our sin. It’s so that we can contrast our sin with the ḥesed of God and we can see just how immense that love is.
So, if I may make that point now. You know, we’re looking at the parable of the prodigal son, and we think about how this son goes out and wastes this gift given to him. And we look at the story, and this is sort of like the story of an addict, isn’t it? He’s living it up, and all of a sudden it gets bad with the famine. He’s out of money, and he’s got to find a way to get by. So, he humbles himself to go to work. And to be clear, Jesus is making a point about that work being lowly. This guy is not just working on a farm, he’s working on a pig farm. You’ve got to remember as common as pig farms are and as much as we love sausage and pork chops and bacon, to these Jewish ears, this man going to serve pigs would be low. He not only has to be in contact with them, but he’s feeding them. And then it gets worse. The famine is so bad that the guy wishes he could even eat the pigs’ food. He’s jealous of these filthy, unclean beasts. I say this is like the story of an addict, because the point is that the guy hits what we talk about with addicts when we talk about rock bottom. This guy hits rock bottom. And obviously, that’s us in our sin. Isn’t it? And yet there’s this love of God.
As I started to say, to make the point concrete in our day, I look at something like what we’ve been talking about in Sunday morning Bible Class, something I’ve mentioned a couple of times in sermons, and that’s what’s being called Critical Theory. Critical Theory looks at the world and it sees issues—many of them real issues. Issues like racism and people being mistreated because of their race or nationality. It looks at the mistreatment of other peoples too, within this breaking people’s identities down to race, sex, gender, sexuality, ability, weight even. It divides the world into all these categories and it says in each category there are those who have tried to create normalcy by their values within these identities and so have oppressed others who weren’t of that normal. So, whites have oppressed other races, heterosexuals have oppressed any other sexuality. People who see themselves as the gender of their birth sex have oppressed other genders, and so on down the line. Again, it’s not that there hasn’t been mistreatment within these categories in places and times. And sometimes in very harsh and real way. It’s not to say that there aren’t still ways that this happens. But as we’re talking about sinfulness, we can draw a major critique of Critical Theory, actually two, that show how we’re messing the solution up in our sin.
The first is this division of all peoples that this creates between oppressor and oppressed. The true issue is that we are all oppressed under sin, under death, and under the power of the devil. And we’re united in that. To deny that and divide ourselves distracts us from the reality that these are our common enemies. As Jesus said, a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. And this is only worsened when the confession of our sins under the law of God is considered a problem. That’s the first critique is this division—and you see this increasing I think.
The second is that there has become an assumption that this reality of oppressor versus oppressed is the primary reality that one can liken to a religious devotion. I was reading a book about this this week and it made this point. In fact, this book wasn’t even written by Christians but it made the observation of what an ideological problem this has created. There is such devotion to this perspective that if you push against it, you are treated as, in essence, being a heretic who deserves what heretics deserve. It said that questions are allowed if they’re for seeking understanding in further grasping this oppressor versus oppressed dialectic. If questions are asked because it’s not being believed, then you are seen as a part of the problem and you have to be attacked.
What’s my point? My point is that as God is missing from that perspective, as the things of God like mercy and grace and unity and love are missing from that perspective, it becomes messier. And that shows how sinful we are as people that we mess this up so much. And yet this ḥesed of God is so immense that He still loves us in the midst of it. He still finds it necessary in that love to rejoice when there is repentance.
Or, I’m thinking most of us don’t have that mindset, so to bring it to our own hearts, look at our own sin. Look at yourself and the ways you sin. Look at the ways you try to justify your sin. And be honest about it. In fact, think of the security you have in this ḥesed to be honest about it. You know I watch even how children struggle with this. You call a child out on how their wrong and their first reaction is to explain it away, to justify themselves somehow. It’s like Adam in the garden isn’t it? You say, “Billy, don’t hit your sister.” And what’s the response? “She started it!” “It’s not my fault! It’s the woman you gave me!” Right? And we’re all that way. We all try to minimize our sin. We all try to pretend like we know that we’re bad, but maybe we’re not THAT bad. “Yes I’m a sinner, but I’m not THAT sinner. I’m not Hitler, I’m not Dahmer, I’m not a murder or a child molester.” And we see how quickly we can actually identify with the older brother in the parable, don’t we? And yet look at the love of the father toward that son. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” “Son, I have this same love for you, come to this feast and celebrate too!”
And as I say that look at how Paul exemplifies this. You know, here’s Paul, the self-righteous of the self-righteous. Elsewhere he tells of the confidence he could have in his human goodness. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, the tribe that with Judah had remained faithful. He was circumcised on the eighth day, and he was zealous. And yet all of that was loss, all of that was literally manure (actually the translation would be more akin to a word I’m not going to say from the pulpit because it would offend many of you, but that’s what Paul calls it), manure for the sake of knowing Christ. This love of the Father frees Paul to say that. Or look in this passage. As Paul speaks about the horridness of persecuting the Church, this ḥesed frees him to call himself the chief of sinners. As he says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” That’s Paul, the Paul we all respect and admire because of his dedication to the faith, but he sees himself as foremost of sinners. And notice it’s not “of whom I WAS the foremost.” No, it’s “of whom I AM the foremost.”
Christians, that love is the same love for you. That love is the love shown to you in this cross of Jesus. The cross of God’s ḥesed winning the forgiveness of your sins. The cross of every sin you know about, every sin you try to justify, every sin you try to minimize, every sin that you don’t even know, all of that crucified and buried in His tomb that you would have life in His resurrection. And that you would truly know that for your own life, in that same ḥesed, the Father has joined you to that death and resurrection in baptism. He has fed you with that cross in the Holy Supper. He has bespoken you freed from that sin in His Gospel, that forgiveness in your ears. And He has done all of this because He wants to rejoice with you. He wants you to repent, and as you do daily, He rejoices daily. He has to. It’s necessary for Him to. He loves you that much. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson which was previously read.
As we’ve had such an upheaval of our lives in the midst of the pandemic, something that certainly has been uprooted is the standard for wedding receptions. It’s become the tradition that people will get engaged, then have a long engagement in order to plan the feast that will accompany the wedding ceremony. In fact, for many, that reception has become the priority. That’s a part of what has been realigned in this. In something that, I think is good, many couples found that it was best for them to go ahead and solemnize the marriage rather than delay it for the reception.
That said, such an occasion is certainly worth bringing attention to. Scripture itself acknowledges that. A wedding feast is a huge ordeal and appropriately so as you have this union between man and woman into one flesh. In fact, at the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry, it was common for wedding feasts to last for days on end. You see that with the miracle of turning water to wine at the wedding in Cana.
Even today, some cultures will hold weeklong observances for the occasion of a wedding. My wife and I enjoyed a glimpse of that when some friends of ours of Indian descent were married years ago. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but that was an experience. It was in New York, and we flew in on a Thursday. That night we were fed a delicious array of food, where there was also dancing after to celebrate the occasion. The next day there was meal after meal of food in preparation for the official ceremony. That went into the evening. Then on Saturday, breakfast, lunch, there ceremony itself, then snacks and cocktails, dinner, deserts. It was a feast.
Of course, I’m talking about wedding feasts here, but as we hear of the parable in the Gospel Lesson this morning, it doesn’t specify that the feast the man holds is one for a wedding. Nonetheless, it sounds like he’s planning quite the occasion. It’s planned, it’s prepared, and the man wants to host it and he wants people there to enjoy it. It sounds like it’s going to be a banquet.
That said, I made this connection to a wedding feast because of the context. I think it’s clear that when our Lord is describing this occasion, He’s not just telling the story about a man and his party. No. What’s He doing? He’s describing eternity with our Him. You see, throughout the Scripture, there is all of this imagery with regard to eating. In particular, you see this imagery about eating with God. Look at it, even in the Garden. What do we know Adam and Eve did with their time? We don’t know much, but we know that they ate. That’s what the serpent used to deceive them into sin was food. That’s what they were cut off from in the Garden, eating from the Tree of Life. In fact, I think the Tree of Life is understood as the place where they go to commune with God, you could say, to eat with Him. And when they’re cut off, that’s what they’re cut off from. Yes, in a sense they’re cut off from the face to face presence of God, and that’s important. But just like God works through created means, you could say works sacramentally with us, so also He worked with Adam and Eve sacramentally. He cut them off from the sacrament of the Tree of Life—and so also us, so that neither they nor we have that communion with Him in that way.
Having said that, this imagery of a meal with God doesn’t stop there. You see it keep going, whether it be the meal Abraham has with Melchizedek, or the meal Moses and the Elders have with God, it’s a recurring theme. But you see it especially associated with the end of time. And in Revelation it calls that feast at the end a marriage feast. Hear what John says, “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;’” The book of Isaiah seems to give us a picture of the same in Chapter 25 where it says, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”
Now we might think this is an odd and sort of physical way to think about eternity, but remember, this is the resurrection of the body that we confess. That’s what we’re talking about here. And it sounds glorious, doesn’t it? And hear how you can find it in the Old Testament Lesson from Proverbs too: “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” There’s the beauty of the meal with God—which by the way I’m expecting the fare there to be better than anything I’ve ever had in this life. I figure if the Lord is the Chef, any chef here will pale in comparison.
But it’s not just the joy of a good meal that makes this so great. It’s that feasting in insight as the Proverb described. There will be a liberty from the sin that weighs down our minds and our common sense. There will be freedom from the sin which binds us to corrupted understanding and reason. All the questions we don’t understand now, we will then. Or if we don’t they’ll be gone and we won’t care, because there will be this trust and this communion with God that is so full in its unity that all of our doubts and cares otherwise will be satisfied.
Now, as I say that, hopefully, it’s clear that this communion with God is the big thing about our eternal life. Our fellowship with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier is the be all end all of eternity. So often we think about the joy of being with our loved ones when we die. And that’s OK to look forward to that. But Christians, that’s just the proverbial icing on the cake. The main thing is that we will be with our Lord. This God who has loved you with an eternal love will greet you face to face. And Revelation tells us that at that feast He will reach up His loving hand and wipe away our every tear.
But that said, there will be those who have gone before us and those who come after us. And that fellowship will be awesome. I remember once hearing a sermon where the pastor was talking about his wife’s worry when Jesus says that we will neither be married nor given in marriage at the resurrection. And if I recall, she even worried that there wouldn’t be a knowledge of their life together now. And his answer was enlightening. It was something I think I had an inclination about in my brain but hadn’t thought to make it concrete and phrase it this way. He said that there we will know everyone better than we do now. In other words, there will be this feast, there will be this food, there will be our God, and there will be this unity unbounded with those who are there. We see that alluded to in the Epistle Lesson from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Now, I mentioned this in my devotion this week, and you see it in this Gospel Lesson. As the host of the feast gets angry about those who don’t come, that’s in reference to the Jews who have rejected the Christ. There is throughout these images an understanding that those who were God’s people by promise of their heritage in Abraham lose the benefit of their status as they reject Christ and remain in the Old Covenant. There’s this tension, then in the Early Church as to how this affects the relationship between Jew and Gentile in the Church. You see it a lot in the letter. And you see it in Acts too. How Jewish were the Gentiles supposed to be? Were they to keep Kosher? Were they to be circumcised? What would that look like. And it looks like some of the Jews even viewed themselves as having a position of honor in the Church because of their heritage. So, there’s this division. But Paul makes that point that the walls of division are broken down in Christ.
And that’s what we see in this feast. The walls of division are broken down. There is the food, there is the Lord, there is fellowship, and there is unity. There is unity of man and woman, not a battle of the sexes. There is unity transcending race, and skin color, and culture, and language, and all the things that divide us now.
Christians, that feast will be amazing. And so, as we hear this parable, then there’s a warning. As we see the anger of the host, we should hear that warning. I mentioned that this was with regard to the Jews because they had been called in the invitation, but this is for us who have been raised in the Church too, for our children and theirs, for our culture around us. It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt, and so often that’s true. We are so familiar with Christ that all the other things seem more important and interesting.
And we see that in parable too. Look at the people called. There’s the one with the oxen, who has to go examine them. Then there are two excuses that actually come from Old Testament excuses from military service, there is the man who has married his wife—the Old Testament Law giving him a year of marriage before leaving to fight—and the one that I find interesting, the man who bought a field, again the Law giving understanding that it’s appropriate for that owner of the field to reap the first harvest of his land rather than fight. Now, why do I find this one so interesting? Because he says he “must go out and see it.” In other words, he has something that is more necessary than the banquet.
And how often do we think that? Now, we might rationalize this by saying that we don’t find anything more important that God, but let’s think about the eternal banquet and how God links us to that now. Where is the connection we have to that eternal banquet now? It’s here, right? It’s here in the Divine Service. Just like the most important thing about eternity will be that we are the presence of our Lord, so also in this gathering Christ comes in a unique way. Think about the verse we all know. “Where two or three are gathered, there I am with them.” Is Christ omnipresent, that is, is Christ everywhere? Of course, we confess that to be true. But somehow, He’s here in a unique, in a special way. How so? In the preaching of His Word—“He who hears you hears me.” And in the giving of His Holy Supper—“This is my body… This is my blood.” Which, a quick note about the Supper, the word used for this feast in the Gospel is the same word Paul uses when he calls it the Lord’s Supper in I Corinthians 11. Here is the feast, the foretaste of the eternal feast. Here is our Lord. And yet how often do we find something more “necessary.”
We need to take heed, because we don’t want to miss the feast. And it’s not our Lord’s fault should we miss. No. And that’s why I really think this excuse is so interesting. Because, while the man thought it necessary to miss the feast, the master found it necessary that the feast, that his house be filled. That’s necessity to God. It’s necessity that He show His generosity. It’s necessity that He give and have this celebration. And He wants us there. He wants us there in His presence, enjoying that presence, enjoying that feast, enjoying that unity and communion. That’s why we must take heed not to miss it. Because nothing could ever make it worth missing. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson that was previously read, especially these words: “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’”
The call to hear Moses and the Prophets is a stark one, isn’t it? In the story, it’s even said that if the people won’t be convinced by Moses and the Prophets, they won’t be convinced if someone rises from the dead. I think we all assume that’s not the case, though, don’t we? We all assume that if just the right sign is given, then faith will come. If the words are spoken in just the right way, then faith will come. If the right explanation is laid out, then faith will come. But that’s not what those words say, is it?
And as I was teaching Bible Class this Wednesday, I had one of those moments where I could understand why. However, before I get into that, I should clarify. What is Abraham talking about when he says, “Moses and the Prophets?” Hopefully, it’s clear, but it’s good to just make sure. Obviously, Abraham isn’t saying that Moses and the Prophets are standing right in front of them talking, so what’s it mean? It’s talking about what we call the Old Testament. That’s what I was marveling about this week. We were reading Daniel in Bible Class this week and we were looking at the prophecies in Chapters 7 and 2 and in those there is this description of four kingdoms from the time of Daniel. You see that these kingdoms are Babylon where King Nebuchadnezzar was reigning when Daniel interpreted his vision, then the Kingdom of the Medians and Persians after Babylon. After Persia it says Ionia, which is Greece, and a kingdom after that. That kingdom in history, we see to be Rome. And listen to how it describes that kingdom in Daniel Chapter 2: “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.” In other words in the days of this fourth kingdom, that is in the days of the Roman Empire, God would “set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed.” And He did just that. Do you know how? In the death and the resurrection of Jesus. This One crowned with thorns on the cross was the One whose life, death, and resurrection merited exaltation that He would reign over a kingdom never to be destroyed. In other words, God the Father gave to God the Son—the Ancient of Days as He’s called in Daniel, and Jesus as we call Him—the Father gave Him an eternal Kingdom because He lived perfectly, died for our sins, and so won forgiveness for all of them for you and me. And when did this happen? During the fourth kingdom, the Roman Empire. Brothers and sisters, that is Moses and the Prophets proving its fullness. And it proves how we should all be listening to Moses and the Prophets.
Of course as I say that, I’m meaning it a tad differently than Abraham in the parable. Sure, I mean what we call the Old Testament too, like he did. After all, I haven’t said it in a while, but it’s like I often say: The Old Testament is the context for the New Testament and the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old. We should certainly not ignore the Old Testament. In fact, we should read it Christologically. We often just read it like it’s history. And it is, and that’s extremely important. It is the story of our spiritual ancestors as we also are sons of Abraham by faith in the promises of God, just as the Jews were by familial descent. That’s important. But it’s more than just history, it’s theology. It tells us about God. In fact, it’s Christology. It tells us about Jesus.
I know I’ve told the story before, but I was given such an insight to this by a professor in seminary. He said that as you read the fall into sin and the promise in Genesis 3:15 that there will be this offspring of woman who will crush Satan, that is, who will crush the head of the serpent, you see in Genesis 4:1 where when Cain is born, Eve says, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” At least that’s how it’s always translated. In the Hebrew, it literally says, “I have gotten a man, the Lord.” When Cain is born, Eve thinks she’s given birth to the Messiah.
Of course, Cain proves that he’s not the Messiah in an indisputable fashion when he murders Abel. But the insight is given. When you see someone come on the scene in the Old Testament, that should be the question: “Is THIS the Messiah?” Cain? No, murderer. Noah? No, gets drunk and is defiled in his nakedness. Abraham? Well, he’s quite the important character, right? He’s key in this story for today. Is he the Messiah? No, he jumps on God’s promise and tries to fulfill it by his own hands, sleeping with Hagar to give birth to Ishmael, rather than wait for Isaac from Sarah. And so it goes… Moses? No, hits the rock instead of just speaking the word. Samson? No, too arrogant. David? No, that whole fiasco with Bathsheba. Solomon? No, brings false worship into play… etc., etc., etc. Until you have silence from God for hundreds of years. Then, finally, you get Gabriel coming to Zechariah and telling him that he and his wife Elizabeth will give birth to the Elijah who will pave the way for another. Then Gabriel appears again to Mary. And there it is. The Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth. Born in Bethlehem, just like it said He would be. Crucified, cursed to hang on a tree like Moses said. Pierced for our iniquities and by His stripes we are healed, like Isaiah said.
So, yes, when I say we should listen to Moses and the Prophets, I definitely mean that we should listen to the Old Testament. I marvel at how the New Testament does this, Paul and Peter and all preaching Christ from the Old Testament. But also, that we understand that to mean God’s Word altogether, Old Testament and New Testament. And what does that Word tell us?
Well, look at what this says about this God, this Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that this Old Testament, this collection of Moses and the Prophets would be so attentively fulfilled. Look at what it says about this God that at the very outset, the very inception of sin, you get the promise of a Savior.
You know, it’s so often said that the Old Testament God is this angry wrathful God, and the New Testament God is loving. But you see the same God throughout. You see this God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that He could rescue them from the tyranny of death, the suffering of sin, the dominion of the Devil. But you see this God promise this all the way back in Genesis Three and follow through on that promise.
It’s in this, then that we see that this God is love, as John tells us in his first letter. Of course, we also see in this portion of that letter that we have this morning that that love engenders in us a love for our neighbor. I love that section there. In fact, my wife and I even had this as a portion of our reading for our wedding, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him… We love because he first loved us.” Now, it’s noteworthy that John has explained just before this section what that love of God is for us: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” That love that God shows us is this Christ atoning for our sins. And what does that do? That gives birth to a love in us that pours out for out neighbor
Now, I think it’s so important that we define what that love looks like. In our day as we say God is love, we’ve created an idea of love that has no grounding apart from what we feel must be right. As I always say, if I feel it’s right to leave my wife because I feel love for another woman, then who are you to question that? But is that love according to what God says? No. How do you know? What do His commands tell you? You shall not commit adultery. Man has been joined to his wife and the two have become one flesh. What God has joined together let man not separate. This God has told you how to love. Even more importantly, He has told you of His love for you.
And that ties in so well with our lesson for today. Not only does Abraham tell the rich man that the brothers ought to listen to Moses and the Prophets, and through that, not only does Jesus tell us that we ought to hear that Word, and that Word ought to be sufficient for us, but this message is given in the context of a call to mercy.
You see, I think we have to make this connection to the Word and the call to love in light of this story. This story about how this rich man should have shown mercy and care to Lazarus. In fact, it has to be addressed a holistically because on the one hand we can just talk about the Word and the need to heed it. On the other hand, we could separate the imagery of the parable from the Word and just talk about mercy, but these have to go hand in hand—like I’m hopefully doing. Hopefully, you can see that as we talk about the Word, as we talk about this beautiful collection of writings, divinely given words that tell us of the Christ from cover to cover, that this also calls us to love like the rich man did not.
Now, to be clear, it could look like the rich man goes to hell for living a lavish lifestyle, and Lazarus goes to heaven because he had it bad. The way Abraham phrases it in the story even lends to that. And in view of that we have to acknowledge the call to mercy. But that’s where we also look at what Moses and the Prophets say altogether. That’s where we look at what John says as we did, about God first loving us. That’s where we look at the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Christians, this world needs that mercy. This world needs you to show that mercy. Do so.
But even still, most of all, don’t forget—or even in the midst of showing that mercy—don’t forget the most important thing, as Lazarus suffered in this life, but was shown mercy by the Lord, even sending the angels to carry his soul to Abraham’s bosom, so also He has already shown mercy to you. You were His enemy in sin, but He has forgiven you of it in Christ. And Christ Himself has tended to you, shown you mercy as He has washed you clean of that sin, as He feeds you His loving forgiveness with His body and blood, as He speaks forgiveness into your ears. Mercy upon mercy upon mercy.
Yes, we have Moses and the Prophets, let us hear them. Let us hear of how even from the fall into sin they tell us of this loving God, and how this loving God comes to us even still and forgives us by that atoning sacrifice on the cross two thousand years ago. Let us hear them tell us of this love that has no match. And may that always be sufficient for us by more mercy upon mercy. Amen.