Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Lord Speaks and We Leave It All Behind

Third Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 12, 2017

Matthew 24:15–16
The Lord Speaks and We Leave It All Behind

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When you see the abomination of desolation,” says our dear Lord, “flee.” He doesn’t say that we should stay and fight. Even though we really want to.
What we’re fighting for is our stuff. We hang on to dear life with all our power. Why? Do we want to continue in sorrow, in pain? People are forever telling me they aren’t afraid to die, but I don’t believe them. I don’t believe you. You’re hanging on to your stuff and you don’t want to let it go. That not wanting to let it go is fear.
It is as though our dear Lord pops His head in the door and says, “Grab you stuff, we’re going. Wait. Leave your stuff. Its only stuff. Don’t look back. Don’t bend down to grab your jacket. Leave now.”
But we like that jacket. And we like the earrings our mother left us and a favorite book and a fancy bottle of single malt we’ve been saving. We like our families. We like the grandchildren and the old friends. We like our pets and we like our place. It is all stuff even when wrapped up in pious talk.
The world is coming to an end. Good riddance. What are we afraid of losing? Name the thing you can’t live without. Music? Freedom? A child? Luther says that is your god. That is what you won’t let go off. That is why you fear death. Repent.
We aren’t so prone to turning statues into gods, nor do we normally turn to evil things. We turn to good things. We make gods of wives, jobs, children, reputations. We worship health, money, and pleasure. Those are the things we think we need. But the Lord pops His head in the door and says, “Let’s go. Leave it. Flee.”
This world is coming to an end. It is under a death sentence. It can’t go on. And our hope cannot be in it, cannot be in stuff of this world.
There is the good news here: The Lord can, and the Lord has, and the Lord does bring a clean thing out of an unclean. He has reached into the septic tank where we were feeding, grabbed us, wiped us off, and given us good food and drink, a place in His house, and a Name. Do we now become nostalgic for cucumbers floating in the toilet?
Flee the abomination of desolation. Your body is Gods temple and in it lives your lying flesh that is always trying to get justice, instead of receiving mercy. There are incidents when abominations have been erected in God's house: a Zeus statue in the Temple, a pope masquerading as Gods voice on earth. But the worst is within you.
Leave behind your justifications, your need to excuse your lack of care for the poor, your need to protest that you are not afraid to die, or that you’ve done your best or that, at least, your kids are good people even if they don’t go to church and live in sin.
You don’t need to justify yourself. The Lord has justified you. He has answered for you. In Christ, there is no one left to accuse you, nothing to answer for. You dont owe anybody anything, not even God.
Does that sound too easy? God’s mercy always chafes against our fallen flesh, but this is what God has done in Christ: He brings a clean thing out of an unclean.
But that is not yet the whole good news: that God brings a clean thing out of an unclean. Heres a bit more. St. Paul writes:
We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.
Here hangs our hope, the end of all our need for stuff: Jesus died and rose again. What of those who have fallen asleep? Since Jesus died and rose again they will be brought with Him, with Jesus, through Jesus.
But that is still not all. For what of you who are alive when the end comes? Since Jesus died and rose again, and has ascended to His Father’s right as your Advocate and Savior, He will descend. He will come for you. You don’t go to Him. He comes to you. Since Jesus has died and rose again, you will be caught up, either from beneath the earth where you have been resting or from the surface of the earth, snatched away, into the clouds, to be always with the Lord.
Still, that is not all. For He is not a passive God. He does not sit and wait to see what you will do. He does not ask you to explain yourself. He intervenes for you, answers for you. He who came in lowly, despised ways to be a Sacrifice for sin, He still comes. He comes now, not just in the future, but He comes now to get you. Even if He does not yet come in clouds while the world burns, still He comes now. You don’t go to Him. He comes to you. He bestows life in His risen Body and Blood, separating you from your stuff and from death.
Ours is a faith built upon history, the historic fact of Christ crucified, the innocent and pure desolated as an abomination for all our vile sin. Here is the source of our Life in Christ.
Ours is a faith that also, even as it gathers around the cross, looks forward, eagerly, to the Kingdom of glory. Jesus is coming back. We will be with Him always.
But ours is a faith that lives now, in the present. We confess: “Jesus lives.” He lives now. And now, here in time, here in this building, here upon this altar, the Lord comes with forgiveness, acceptance, and refreshment in His physical Body and Blood for us physical sinners. Jesus lives. He comes also in His Holy Word and Absolution, in Hymn and Chant. He speaks the Baptized clean. And He hears the fervent prayers of His people. His Name is upon us and He comes for us.
Now is the day of salvation. This is the day that the Lord hath made. The world is coming to an end. Good riddance. Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45

Adapted from a sermon by the Rev. David H. Petersen.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Feasting at His Table, Now and Then

All Saints' Sunday (observed)
November 5, 2017

Isaiah 25:6–9
Feasting at His Table, Now and Then
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Isaiah is speaking about the reality of heaven in his 25th chapter. And he talks about the food.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.
ISAIAH 25:6 NIV 1984

This feast is happening right now. And the guests keep coming to the table because Christians keep dying. Every day new eaters come to eat and to drink the best of meats and the finest of wines. Their invitation was their Holy Baptism and their arrival was through their death into eternal life. Their eyes of faith have been replaced with eyes of sight. They have ascended to the mountain of transfiguration. They see Jesus. And they will never leave; they live there always because Jesus is present and they see Him.

They are the Holy Church, God's people, who have triumphed in Christ's death. On the other hand, we still live in the Church militant, God's people who are still fighting the good fight of faith. Like those who have gone before us, we already have God's blessing through the washing of Holy Baptism. This washing drowns us into the death of Christ. St. Paul wrote:

3Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
ROMANS 6:3–4 NIV 1984

Out of this drowning comes a resurrection of a new person. This new person now has faith in Christ's crucifixion—they know that His death means that even though we die, we will always live.

7On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8He will swallow up death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove the disgrace of His people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.
ISAIAH 25:7–8 NIV 1984

Our dear Lord doesn't stop at wiping our tears; He removes our disgrace from all the earth. Occasionally I have wondered how much of our lives here on earth we will recall in heaven. I speculated that remembering any of this life would make us sad since we would remember our past sins and our friends and family who reject Christ. I now think I was trying to answer the wrong question. We will remember our past because we rejoice in what Christ has done for us. The prophet Isaiah wrote:

In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”
ISAIAH 25:9 NIV 1984

However, our memory of our past disgraces will no longer disgrace us for the sake of Christ. He is our God; we trusted in Him; He saved us. The shame, pain, and sadness of this world will flee away. Only Christ will remain with us. We will eat at His table and be glad.

That day” that Isaiah spoke of is coming soon for us. Every day more and more are being gathered up in God's banquet hall. But today we enjoy a taste of heaven: the Lord's Supper.

As we prepare for His feast, we hear these words, just before we sing Holy, Holy, Holy:

Therefore, with all the saints on earth and hosts of heaven, we praise Your holy name and join their glorious song

After receiving His true body and blood under bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sin and the guarantee of salvation, we pray in the liturgy:

We give You thanks, O Lord, for the foretaste of the heavenly banquet You have given us in this Sacrament.

We live now with the real presence of Christ, but soon and very soon we will join the feast of His glorious presence forever. It will be heaven, because heaven is where Jesus is and where He feeds us.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

David’s Son Saves David

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
October 29, 2017

Matthew 22:3446
Davids Son Saves David

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Pharisees were shocked that Jesus had received the praise of men on Palm Sunday as though He were God. Their question about the greatest command is issued in the Temple sometime between Palm Sunday and Holy Wednesday.

The question is a set up. He offended their religion. They expect Him to answer much as He does. They think that they will then be able to point out that He is a blasphemer because He allowed people to treat Him as God and there is only one God.

He, of course, is two moves ahead of them. He answers their objection with questions before they can even protest. “What do you think of the Christ? You know there is only one God. But who is the Christ? Is He not God? Do you think He is only a man? Whose son is He?”

They say: “He is David’s Son.”

Yes, of course. He is David’s Son,” says Jesus. “The Messiah must be a man to be the Man of Sorrows. He must be a Man to fulfill the Law and then to suffer the Law’s punishments. But David calls Him ‘Lord.’ This is because the Messiah, true God and true Man, is the Lord whom we should love with our whole, heart, soul, and strength.”

After this, they stop asking questions. No one can accuse Jesus of sin. No one can dispute His miracles. No one can argue with His teaching or find a place where He is inconsistent with Moses, the Prophets, or the Psalms. He has shown Himself to be God and Man, the Christ, the long-awaited Redemption of Israel who has come in the Name of the Lord.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to believe in Him. They harden their hearts. They are like children sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling so they don’t hear what they don’t want to hear. They say to themselves: “You think you are the Son of God? Let’s do an experiment and see how the Son of God bleeds.” Remember: this is holy week. They are days away from killing Him.

And we hear them fulfill this jab. As He is crucified, they say: “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 27:40, ESV) and again: “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:43, ESV)

These statements might be the worst blasphemies in the long, torrid history of sin. For if Jesus is the Son of God He can’t come down from the cross nor can the Father deliver Him. To pit these two things against each other – the Divinity of Christ and His mercy – is to completely misunderstand both. The Pharisees are simply pagans, with a religion that is no different in substance than the Greeks who worship Zeus.

They are a warning for us. Let us not be like them. Let us instead repent and ask for the Spirit to open our hearts to His Word that we would not invent our own religion but would worship Him in spirit and truth. Rather than being children throwing tantrums let us be children lost in the grocery store in a panic calling for their fathers. Let us learn to pray and to listen.

It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer these terrible things. He does so for the life of the world. This is an act of purest love, not of man loving God with his whole heart, soul, and mind, though the Son of David is a Man and He does love the Father and the Spirit with His whole heart, soul, and mind and He does lay down His life in obedience, but the death of Jesus is primarily an act of God loving humanity. He loves us with His whole Father, Son, and Spirit. This how God loves the world. This is how He loves Pharisees even while they mock and blaspheme Him: He dies for them. He takes on their sin and punishment. He is driven into Hell’s fires with their guilt upon Him so that they would be spared. His Blood is offered for their door posts that the angel of death would pass over. He is wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace is upon Him. By His stripes we are healed. This is how God loves and redeems the world. This is the answer to the prayer: Hosanna. The Sacrifice is bound to the altar in love and we confess that Good Friday above all other days is the Day the Lord has made and in which we rejoice.

The Father will deliver the Son after it is finished and humanity is delivered. He will raise Him from the dead and vindicate Him – but not before the Centurion does it by his confession.

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54, ESV)

The centurion saw what the Pharisees refused to see. Let us be like him! Let us rejoice and ask the Spirit to kindle and sustain this faith in us, to keep our Baptisms before us, to feed us with the risen Body and Blood of Jesus, to speak to us in His Word, that we might ever confess that Jesus is the Son of God who has loved us to the end, that we might have the faith of the centurion and recognize Jesus as the Son of God.

The greatest commandment is ‘You shall love Jesus, the Lord your God, with all of your heart, soul, and mind,” and the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor, who is loved by Jesus and for whom Jesus died, as yourself, as Jesus loves him.” And above those commandments stands the first word: “I am the Lord your God, the Son of David, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who laid down His life and took it up again to free you from sin. I am your God and you are my people and I am not letting go.”

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Ft. Wayne, Indiana

What Are You Wearing?

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 15, 2017

Matthew 22:14
What Are You Wearing?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

So a clown walks in and goes up to the front. She stands next to the guy in the tuxedo. A wedding where the bride dresses up as a clown will be remembered.

Jesus described a wedding celebration that His Father is having for us. Of course as with any party it started with the invitations. But the A-list guests rejected His call to come and be with Him and His Son. His reaction is just and right: He destroys these enemies who were sincerely called, but who chose to say no to His Father.

But the party is going to happen, even though the original guests wouldn't be there. So more invitations are sent out to gather up the B-side, both those who look good on the outside and those who don't. Soon the party is full of guests.

These guests were going about their lives and the Father's invitation came unexpectedly. So helpfully and as was the custom in those days, the wedding party provided wedding clothes to the guests. You showed up in your old clothes, you changed into the free new clothes, and then you went into the wedding.

Everyone was wearing their free new clothes, except for one. He insisted on wearing his own clothes. What does this mean? It doesn't mean that Jesus will accidentally allow in an unbeliever to heaven and have to correct it later. It does mean, as Jesus said at the end of the story, that

MATTHEW 22:14 NIV 1984
many are invited, but few are chosen.

The wedding hall was full of guests, so Jesus' point shouldn't end up with us trying to guess the stats of heaven and hell. It means that those who have Jesus have been given Jesus.

They are wearing Jesus because He called them and chose them. They are wearing His perfect life that was full of honoring His heavenly Father and doing His holy will and obeying His earthly parents and speaking the Gospel truth in perfect love to miserable sinners and treasuring the gift of marriage and blessing children. He never had a sinful thought, spoke an angry word, or failed to do the right thing His whole life long. His clothes are perfect, clean, and wholesome. And He gives them to you.

The man who refused Jesus' clothes is the unbeliever who wants to wear good clothes, but insists on doing his own thing. He refuses or ignores God's things. He thinks his life is pretty good and feels that he tried hard to be a nice guy. He worked hard, made money, spent it on his family (and on himself), gave offerings to charities and did the 50/50 raffle at church, and stayed out of the newspaper. He loves his country and even knows the words to the anthem and hold his hand over his heart and says UNDER GOD nice and loud when the pledge is recited.

His funeral obituary is a long list that proves that he was a nice guy, and why everyone at the funeral will say that this guy is in a better place.

But this guy is a clown, like a bride dressed up like a clown at her own wedding. My choice of illustration isn't perfect, but Jesus' point is that what you are wearing matters. Isaiah the prophet told the truth about all our good deeds: to God they are bad.

ISAIAH 64:6a NIV 1984
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags

Doing your own thing and wearing your own filthy rags, your own sin-twisted goodness, is a rejection of Jesus. I do wonder about those who dress up like Princess Leia and Han Solo to get married. Or those who wear the regular fancy clothes, but write their own wedding vows. More often than not, their vows reveal that they think marriage is about them and their choices and their feelings of love.

But true love is Jesus. And He called you and chose you. He dresses us up in His clothes, His righteousness, so when His Father sees you, He sees Jesus.

You wear Jesus. You can certain of this because He died for all and then He spoke to you. He said, “I baptized you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Because He makes you clean, you are going to the wedding. And it is already in full swing. And probably and hopefully we all will get to join the party today. The apostle John heard Jesus tell this story in real time, and before John was called to the wedding feast, he saw this vision of reality of heaven, filled with sinners who were wearing Jesus.

REVELATION 7:9–17 NIV 1984
9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:
Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb." 11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
13Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14I answered, “Sir, you know.”
15And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,
they are before the throne of God
and serve Him day and night in His temple;
and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them.
16Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

Sunday, October 8, 2017

What More Could He Have Done?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 8. 2017

Matthew 21:33–46
What More Could He Have Done?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

33“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
MATTHEW 21:33–34 NIV 1984

Everything so far was routine. A typical business arrangement that should have worked for both sides. Then things quickly got out of hand. As you listen, ask yourself, “What could the landowner have been thinking?”

34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.
MATTHEW 21:34–36 NIV 1984

The tenants, who had already agreed to return some of the fruit as their rent, attacked the servants. Without any moral grievance or legal right, they broke their agreement with landowner and became his enemies. They became violent and worse, it was premeditated. As far as the story goes, we can assume time. Time for news of the violence to reach the landowner. Time for him to decide what to do. Time for the next servant to go and approach the vineyard. In all that time, the tenants never repented of their violence and lawlessness. Instead of asking for mercy, they escalated their planned violence: beating, killing, stoning.

This story is about the Jews. Jesus was speaking to His own Jewish people about their own history of violence. Looking back on the time before Jesus Christ was born—the Old Testament—the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote:

[Some of the prophets] were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—38the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
HEBREWS 11:35A–38 NIV 1984

The reason for this violence, which went on for a long time, was that these prophets told the truth. They told the truth about sinners and their sins. Evil queen Jezebel chased after the prophet Elijah to murder him for exposing her useless gods (1 Kings 19). King Joash stoned the faithful prophet Zechariah after Zechariah exposed Joashs betrayal of the true faith (2 Chronicles 24).

Perhaps the worst example comes from about 600 years before Jesus was born. The kingdom of Judah—the southern part of the Holy Land—has a king who was a psychopath named Manasseh. He murdered innocent people. He indulged in the pagan rituals, including burning his own son to death. Worst of all, he set up idols to false gods in the sacred Temple of Solomon. So the Lord sent prophets to tell the truth, among them Isaiah.

10The Lord said through His servants the prophets: 11“Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. 12Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their foes, 15because they have done evil in My eyes and have provoked Me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day.”
2 KINGS 21:10–15 NIV 1984

The Lord allowed Manasseh to die in his bed after being king for 55 years(!), but not before Manasseh is said to have sawed the prophet Isaiah into two halves. And soon after this evil kings peaceful death, his whole nation was destroyed.

So we see how Jesus story played out. His own people forsook the true faith, that trusts in the true God who places us into a good vineyard, a good place and good situation. And instead they produced bad fruit. Most were not monsters like Manasseh, but they accomplished just as much evil with their indifference and indecision. They said nothing while babies were being murdered. They refused to teach their children the story of salvation and the comfort of the coming Savior. Instead they taught themselves that many gods and many lies can all be true. They lived like money would make them happy. Then they lived their lives like they would just go on forever, and when that didn't work out, they became bitter. And worst of all, whenever a true prophet or preacher came along, sometimes they would angry at him, but mostly they just ignored him.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

So what could the landowner have been thinking? He kept sending servants. In the story the servants who keep getting clobbered were Gods prophets to Israel. Now, whats the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again with the same results. The landowner keeps doing the same thing. Here's the thing: the only insane people in the story were the tenants—they thought murdering the owner's slaves would make them the owners of the vineyard. But since he dealt mercifully with these insane tenants, the owner ran the risk of looking crazy himself.

And even more strangely the landowner, like the tenants, decided to escalate. No more servants; now his son.

37Last of all, he sent his son to them. They will respect my son, he said. 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, This is the heir. Come, lets kill him and take his inheritance. 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
MATTHEW 21:37–39 NIV 1984

What more could he have done? The landowner who represents the Lord God Himself, sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, on a mission that certainly would end in His death. And it did. Gods enemies killed His Son in His day and now lie about who Jesus is. On the other hand, God’s friends—you—are killed with Him in His death and raised to life in Holy Baptism and now speak the truth about the Son. He gives you His vineyard, a good place and a good situation, to produce good fruit, not to save yourself, but because you already are saved.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

There Is a Third Son for You

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 1, 2017

Matthew 21:23-32
There Is a Third Son for You

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I hope many of you will stay for our Bible study later this morning. It's about a son who said yes to his father as to his future and then didn't do what his father wanted. Instead this son did what he thought his heavenly Father wanted. Instead of pursuing a life as a respected professional—what his father wanted—the son tried to get his heavenly Father's approval by performing religious acts. These acts of religious piety often were so over-the-top that they were concerning or even annoying to the son's new religious community.

Over time, the son began to realize that his religious performance did not please his heavenly Father. The son felt lonely and isolated from his heavenly Father. He had traveled the path of self-correction and self-perfection and it left him without hope.

Fifteen hundred years earlier, Jesus spoke with this son's fellow travelers. They called themselves Pharisees. At that time Pharisees had only good connotations. Pharisees looked good. They helped people. They lived upright lives. People liked them. People wanted to be like them. They were outwardly kind and compassionate people (and some were doubtlessly truly caring).

But Jesus saw through them. He saw what really drove them as individuals and as a group. They driven by their desire to please other people and their heavenly Father with their religious performance. They talked a good game, but they were not about their Father's business. Jesus laid it out for them like this:

28What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, Son, go and work today in the vineyard.29He answered, I will not, but later he changed his mind and went. 30Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, I will, sir,' but he did not go. 31Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
MATTHEW 21:28–31 NIV 1984

The Pharisees did not miss Jesus' point. They were the second son. They respectfully said, “Yes, sir!” to the father, but then they did not do what he asked them to do. On the other hand, there were other sinners, who had rudely said no to the father at first, changed their minds and later did what he asked them to do. Sinners, really bad people, were turning to Jesus' heavenly Father and were doing His will.

What is His will? In the story the father asked them to work in his vineyard. And Jesus explained that this vine work was confession and repentance.

32Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”
MATTHEW 21:32 NIV 1984

Many Pharisees had heard John the Baptist preach the way of righteousness. This way means calling sin, sin. This way means calling yourself what you are: sinner. And this way means receiving forgiveness from God Himself. Dr. Luther explained this righteous way in two parts:

The one is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution or forgiveness from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that our sins are thus forgiven before God in heaven.

Even though this righteous way is life for all who trust in the Lord, there are many who find this way off-putting and tiresome and even wrong. The Pharisees thought their performance of right deeds would force God to honor them as VIPs in heaven. Martin Luther, the son who disobeyed his earthly father, was taught the same.

Today many cultures still revere their religious performers, such as Buddhist monks or Hindu gurus or yourself. It is easy to spot idols if Indiana Jones grabbing a golden head off of a bobby trap, so it is easy to be sad about those self-righteous actors in our world, whether from Kathmandu or Hollywood or Washington. But it's much harder to spot idols or actors when they live in Davenport. Or in your house. Or look at you in the mirror.

We are these two sons. We say yes and we say no. We do our Father's will because He has made us alive to do His will, but we also sin and do our own good things that really aren't so good.

We don't want to be the guy who says yes and then goes off to do his own thing. But we aren't saved by saying no to the Father and then saying yes to Him later with our good deeds. That risks becoming a religious performance, too. Our salvation is not about us, the two sons. Our salvation comes from the other Son, not mentioned in Jesus' parable. We are saved by the Son who said yes to His Father and then did His Father's will all the way to the cross.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45