for the Imperishable CrownĒ
The Parable of the
Workers in the Vineyard vividly illustrates a common complaint people
level against God. People
think God is unfair. Sinners
presume to accuse God. They
put God on trial. What are
the charges? They charge
Him with being gracious to sinners.
What a sad irony! Sinners
who need Godís grace more than they need the air they breathe complain
to God about His grace. They
work a twelve-hour shift under the blazing sun and expect to be rewarded
for their hard labor. They
resent the fact that God is not impressed with their hard work.
In fact, God prefers those who didnít even break a sweat.
Religious people who think they are working their way to heaven
are bitterly resentful of the Christian doctrine of grace.
God wants to be
gracious to unworthy and undeserving sinners.
There is no other way to know God as God wants to be known than
to see God in His Son, the Word become flesh.
He is, as St. John testifies, ďfull of grace and truth.Ē
The works-righteous Ė those who believe that they can by their
own will and strength win God over to their side Ė do not know God or
worship God. They refuse to
see their own deep spiritual poverty.
They will not listen to Godís law as it exposes their hatred,
greed, lust, deceit, and idolatrous desires.
They will not listen to God but they pretend that they have
something to say that God should hear.
They pray to God, not by laying claim to the merits and mediation
of Christ their Savior, but by reminding God of all the good things
theyíve done for Him. They
trample under their feet the blood of Jesus shed for their sins.
Then they point the finger at God as if He has no right to
forgive sinners for Christís sake! Not only do they despise Godís grace for themselves; they
forbid God to be gracious to anyone else!
How dare God make these others our equal!
Is God blind to the fact that we have worked and slaved harder
than they have? Who does
God think He is?
God is God.
Thatís who He thinks He is.
To all who challenge His grace, He asks the penetrating question,
ďIs your eye evil because I am good?Ē
And he settles the matter by saying, ďSo the last will be
first, and the first last.Ē If
you insist on riding up to God on your own virtue, you will ride
yourself straight to hell and there is no escape from hell.
If our Gospel
Lesson for today answers the most common objection to Godís grace in
Christ, our Epistle Lesson responds to a common misunderstanding about
Godís grace. People
assume that since Godís grace is given to us freely without any cost
or obligation on our part this means that a life lived under the grace
of God must be an easy life. But
this is not so.
Christian labor is
easy. Thatís true.
The workers in the vineyard who were called at the last hour did
not suffer the heat of the sun or the tiring burden of long, hard work.
It is as Jesus said,
Christís yoke is easy and His burden is light for His Christians is
because He has borne the burden for us.
The labor we do as Christians is no labor at all.
We arenít working for pay.
Christ has borne the full burden of our sin and guilt on the
cross. It is no longer ours
to bear. Christians cast
their care on the One who cares for them.
So Christian labor is easy.
But this does not
mean that the Christian life is an easy life.
While we, as Christians, are free from the cares and troubles of
this life, we are also sinners. The
forgiveness of sins is ours by faith.
It is not ours by sight or by feeling or by some kind of
religious experience that rids us of all our temptations and sinful
desires. Deep inside of us,
living right along side the faith that God has implanted in our hearts,
is a deep and irredeemable wickedness.
The Bible calls this our flesh.
Our Catechism refers to this as the Old Adam.
The Old Adam is an unbeliever.
lives a life in conflict between the spirit and the flesh.
The Holy Spirit sanctifies us to be Christians.
The sinful flesh wants to say and do everything that is opposed
to the will of God.
Those who were
baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea were set free from
slavery by Godís grace alone. They
did nothing to win or earn or deserve their freedom.
God graciously rescued them from bitter slavery by drowning their
enemies in the Red Sea. This
was more than a political deliverance.
They were called out of Egypt to be Godís own people.
They were called into fellowship with Christ.
They all ate the same spiritual food and they all drank the same
spiritual drink. The manna
that God rained down from heaven was food for their bodies. It signified for them the true Bread of Life who would come
down from heaven to give life to the world.
The water that gushed from the Rock and from which they drank was
more than water to quench their physical thirst.
As St. Paul put it, ďFor they drank of that spiritual Rock that
followed them, and that Rock was Christ.Ē
The Old Testament
Church communed with Christ. They
heard the gospel preached to them.
Christ graciously revealed Himself to them also in signs: the
cloud, the fire, and the rock. The
Exodus itself is a wonderful sign of Holy Baptism.
As the waters of the Red Sea drowned the enemies of the
Israelites, the waters of Holy Baptism drown and kill our sinful flesh
and deliver us from spiritual death and the power of the devil.
The Israelites were Christians.
The gospel they heard pointed them forward to the coming of
Christ. God also provided
signs to teach them of Christ. The
blood of the Passover Lamb signified the blood shed by the Lamb of God
to take away the sin of the world.
The serpent raised up on a pole signified the crucifixion of
Jesus. They looked up to
Calvary by looking at the sign God gave them. They, like Christians of every age, were justified by faith
And then many of
them gave up the fight. They
heard the gospel, saw the signs, confessed the true faith, and promised
their loyalty to God. Then
they fell away. Listen to
what the Apostle says in the words immediately following our text:
There is a
particularly damaging but popular error promoted these days by those who
call themselves Evangelicals. It
is the notion that once you are saved you cannot be lost.
Thatís not true. The
grace that is bitterly won by Christ, freely given in the gospel and
sacraments, and received by faith alone can be lost.
It is lost. Those
who once found such joy in the forgiveness of their sins for Christís
sake lose their interest in Godís grace and stop hearing the voice of
their Shepherd. The ďonce saved, always savedĒ crowd will argue that it
is impossible for a believer to fall away from faith because Jesus
promised that no one could snatch His sheep out of His hand.
But the sheep that Jesus promised could never be snatched away
from Him are the sheep who hear His voice.
Our flesh refuses
to listen to Christís voice. He
hates the voice that promises forgiveness for Christís sake and so he
fights against it. The
Christian is involved in a battle against the flesh.
This battle does not end until we die.
The Apostle compares the battle to a footrace and to a boxing
match. When you run cross-country you must know the course and where
the finish line is. It does
no good to run fast to wherever you feel like running.
Running fast wonít get you where you need to be unless you know
where you are going. Spiritual
struggles are worthless when they are self-directed.
Self-appointed religious works may appear to be very spiritual,
but they do no good. The
runner needs to know where he is going.
The Christian is always running to Christ.
He is never resting on his own laurels because he has none on
which to rest. The crown of
victory is Christís. He
alone has won it, and therefore it belongs to all those and only to
those who cling to Christ in faith.
Most boxers box
opponents. They do not box
themselves. But St. Paul
describes a boxing match against his own flesh and blood.
Our own flesh is our worst enemy.
To rest secure in the wounds of Jesus makes no sense to us by
nature. Our natural
reasoning cannot permit us to leave our eternal salvation in Christís
hands alone. We learn to rely on ourselves for everything worthwhile that
we have. We learn to work
hard and we teach the same to our children.
Our flesh asks us why it should be any different when it comes to
eternal treasures. And so
he would lead us to trust in ourselves instead of Christ.
So we fight against ourselves.
In the place of every false gospel of spiritual self-help, we
confess our total helplessness. Instead
of looking within our own hearts and souls for the assurance of
salvation, we look outside of ourselves.
We look to Christ. We
find him, as He has always been found, in His pure gospel and
sacraments. In these
treasures God gives us forgiveness of all our sins.
communicant members of this congregation will gather together to eat
what is more precious than the manna God gave from Moses and to drink
what is far greater than the water that miraculously flowed out of a
rock. We will eat and drink
the body and the blood of Jesus. The
body that bore all the burden of our sins is real food for us in our
need. The blood that sets
our consciences free is real drink for our thirsty souls.
Here we find Jesus, who gives us rest and peace.
As we run and as we fight, we are at rest in the wounds of our
Savior. In Him, our race has already been run and the match has
already been fought. He has
won the imperishable crown for us.
This is why and how we can run with certainty and fight with
confidence. Thanks be to
God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Rev. Rolf D. Preus