Sunday, October 08, 2023

The Gospel of John, October 8, 2023

The Sure Foundation

[Below you'll find live stream video of today's worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. You'll also see the text of the message shared. The traditional service was a wild, but satisfying ride, including a baptism!]

Over the past few Sundays, we’ve listened in on Jesus’ confrontation with “the chief priests and the elders.” Today, identified as “the chief priests and the Pharisees,” that confrontation continues in our Gospel lesson. These leaders of God’s people are offended by Jesus, claiming Jesus has no authority to forgive sin, perform miracles, or claim to be the King of the world.

This morning, Jesus tells another parable, a story, the beginning of which would have been familiar to everyone around Him. You can see similar stories told by the prophet in Isaiah 5 and by Asaph, a musician in the court of King David, in Psalm 80.

In all three stories, we’re told how God graciously planted His people in Israel the land He promised to them. And in all three cases, something goes terribly wrong.

According to Isaiah, when God turned to the vineyard Israel, He “looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” (Isaiah 5:2) In other words, God saw an Israel that had turned its back on God to worship false idols, the gods of other peoples. For its idolatry and all the sins that flowed from it, God allowed His people to be conquered and turned out of their land.

Asaph sees a nation that has turned away from God, relying instead on false idols, self-sufficiency, and military and economic power. For, this Psalm 80 says God will break “down [Jerusalem’s] walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes” and, referring to enemy peoples around ancient Israel, says that “boars from the forest ravage it, and insects from the fields feed on it.” (Psalm 80:13)

In these two passages from the Old Testament, God was reminding His people that salvation and oneness with God were not the product of their behavior, goodness, or strength. They were saved solely by God Who gives forgiveness and new life as a gift to be received by faith alone.

This is why the Old Testament says of Abraham, not yet renamed by God, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

When God saved Israel and planted it in the world, just as when God saved you and me in Holy Baptism and gave us faith in Christ through the Word and sustained that faith in the sacrament of Holy Communion, it wasn’t because the ones saved were, in themselves or by their actions, holy and righteous, it’s because the God Who saves us from sin, death, and futility is holy and righteous. It’s because God gives His holiness and righteousness to sinners by grace through the faith in Him that His Holy Spirit creates in us.

In speaking to the religious leaders of first-century Judea, Jesus creates a different twist to the ancient story of God’s people.

In Jesus’ telling, the “landowner,” clearly God, rents out to farmers, clearly Israel, a vineyard, which He prepared and protected, then went elsewhere. When harvest time came, the landowner expected to receive fruits from his land and investment, just as God expects to see the fruit of His righteousness and His forgiveness manifested in our lives.

But, as you know, the landowner sent many different people to collect what the farmers owed and each of his servants were beaten, killed, or stoned, just like the prophets God sent to His people Israel to call them back to saving faith.

Finally, the landowner decides to send his son to collect the harvest. “They will respect my son,” he reasons. (Matthew 21:37)

You know what happens.

The farmers think that if they kill off the son of the landowner, clearly representing Jesus, they will be free of the owner; they will, to speak clearly what Jesus means here, be their own gods, free of the authority of almighty God.

And that friends, is the goal of all human-centered religion: to be the makers of our own righteousness, to be gods ourselves, without accountability to God.

Humanly-centered religion, whether secular or clothed in the pretense of piety, says with the poet, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

And it always leads to death and damnation for one simple reason: One day, we will all stand before the God we meet in Christ for judgment.

Those who try to claim a place in eternity because they think they’ve been good people or because their grandfather was involved in mission work or they gave money to the church, will stand naked in their sin and be sent to hell.

Those who can say with the saints, the forgiven sinners who trust in the God revealed in Jesus, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” will be welcomed to live eternally with God.

Matthew says the religious elites realize Jesus had told this parable about them, secure in their self-generated goodness and unrepentant rule-keeping as well as their descendance from Abraham.

When Jesus asks them what the landowner will do to those who killed the landowner’s son, just as they will soon join the Gentiles in killing God the Son, they say, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end…and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” (Matthew 21:41)

Antisemitic people over the ages have used these words to say that Gentile Christians have superseded Jews as God’s people. But this is not what Jesus says. It’s what the Jewish chief priests and elders say.

Trust, faith, in the Messiah and Lord pointed to by the entire Old Testament and revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, brings salvation to Jews and Gentiles like. The apostle Paul, himself a Jew, says “it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise [that is, the promise of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone] who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” (Romans 9:8)

Jesus says that the landowner–God Himself–responds to those, both Jew and Gentile whose sin put His Son on the cross to die, very differently. He shows them this through Psalm 118: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes…” (Matthew 21:42)

There are those who try to commend themselves to God for their own effort, supposed goodness, and ingenuity. Like us, such people have an inborn penchant to turning from God and doing things their own way. They turn a deaf ear to Jesus’ call to repent and believe in Him for forgiveness and life with God that never ends. Whether in this life or, absent repentance and faith, in eternity, the self-reliant will be smashed by Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who bears the full weight of a holy and mighty God.

But there are those who, like you here this morning, have heard the Gospel Word about Jesus and believe that Jesus is the cornerstone for everlasting life with God.

You know that you can build your life on Him.

You know Jesus’ promise about Himself: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…” and so, He has become the foundation for all your hopes. Jesus has become the One Who tells you that because He died on the cross for you, all Your sins are forgiven. (John 3:36)

Jesus has become the One Who assures you that He is always with you. (Matthew 28:20)

Jesus has become the One Who tells you as He told the grieving Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die…” (John 11:25-26)

In Jesus, you and I see THE foundation of our eternal help “and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Keep your eyes on Jesus, friends.

He brings forgiveness to sinners, hope to the repentant, life to the dead and the dying and He will never let you down.