Law and Gospel in Joyful Clarity
You are baptized, and of all the joys that the Lord has already given you in this life, and of all the joys to come, this is the greatest, that Jesus puts His name on you, and the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit, that He calls you His friend, that He assures you that all of your sin that you’ve inherited from Adam, from your own father, and all the sins that you yourself will commit cannot stand between Him and His love.
Now, A., when you grow older you will no doubt encounter people who will say that your baptism doesn’t count because you don’t now understand God’s grace. But if understanding God’s grace is a requirement for baptism, then none of us would be baptized. I was at seminary for four years, and for eight years now I have had the vocation of being a pastor in the Lord’s church, handing out His grace every day, and I have not even begun to understand His grace. And there are some very old Christians who have meditated on the Lord’s mercy every day, and they have not begun to understand this.
St Paul, a man practiced in the Lord’s grace, says that “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Colossians 1:19), it is a love that is too deep, a grace that is too profound, a mercy that is always a surprise. But, and here’s a surprise if you were looking for one, Paul tells us that the love of Jesus surpasses knowledge in the middle of a pray that we, the Church, would know this love. This is Colossians 1:14-19:
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
It is not a matter of our minds, our brainpower or our IQ that gets us to God’s love, it is faith, a simple trust In the Lord and His Words of promise, and A, we know that little babies like you can and do have faith. In fact, when Jesus wants to show the irritated crowds gathered around Him what faith looks like, He takes a child and puts it in the midst of them, and says, “Unless you have faith as a child, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
This is a great joy for you, A, and for all the children here today, that the kingdom of heaven belongs to you by faith, that your simple and abiding trust in Jesus and His love, His promises, makes the Lord smile.
But not everyone was smiling when Jesus taught this so many years ago, and not everyone smiles when they hear it now, and this is why: we all have the law embedded in our flesh, this conviction that what is necessary for salvation is not God’s grace and His grace alone, but something more, something good that I’ve done, or something good that I am, some good contribution that I make.
Now, we might not know that we have this legalism rolling around in our flesh, which is why Jesus tells the parable about the workers in the vineyard.
Have you ever had a splinter, let’s put it in your foot, and you thought you got the whole thing out, but the next day you got out of bed, and, yeouch, there’s still a little tiny bit down in there, and you’ve got to get the needle out and dig and scrape around to ferret it out? You know about that? That’s what this text is like.
A man has a vineyard, and he needs work done. So at 6 in the morning he’s hiring men to work. “I’ll give you each a denarius.” Then more at 9, more at 11, more after lunch. Then, an hour before the day is over, more men are sent to the vineyard. The last are not told to work, just to get to the vineyard, and it seems like they arrive at the vineyard just in time to get in line.
Now the steward is giving out payment for the day’s work, and those that came last are at the front of the line, and they are paid a denarius, a day’s wage. The guys who worked all day, cover in sweat and dirt and sticky with grape juice see this happen, and you know how it is, their faces light up. If those guys got a denarius for an hour, we’re gonna get two weeks wages. You can imagine it yourself, they are already tasting the lamb chops they are going to pick up from the butcher on the way home, and how they will surprise their wives with this unexpected pay-check.
But then the fellows who worked three hours are paid, and they also get a denarius. And then the lunch shift, also a denarius. Then the mid morning guys, a denarius. And these guys at the end are ready to protest. “And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’”
The guys who stood in line are paid as much as the guys who put in 12 tough hours, and these guys protest, “This just isn’t …… fair.” Right. You would say the same thing, I would too, and we’re caught, Jesus has caught us. Not because we are wrong; this isn’t fair. We’re caught because we think that it matters. We think that fairness, justice, equality, measuring things up, that these things make a difference in the kingdom of God, that they have something to do with our salvation.
We trust in our works. We trust in our going to church. We trust in our decision for Christ. We trust our goodness. We trust in our trying hard to do the right thing. We trust in the experience of being in God’s presence. We trust in the fact that at least we didn’t reject Jesus. All idols. All idolatry. All despising the Lord’s generosity. All a faith in ourselves disguised. All dangerous. Repent.
Heaven is not fair. Salvation is not what you deserve.
If the Lord were lining us up at the end of the day to give us what we deserve then we would all be in line for destruction. But Jesus cuts to the front of this line, takes the beating that hell had for you, and puts you in the mercy line, in the grace line, in the getting what you don’t deserve line.
Dear saints, Jesus has you in the line of His grace, where you have nothing to present, no works to claim, nothing to boast of, nothing at all except His promise of a gift that you have not deserved.
And that promise is enough. That promise is your hope and your life and your joy and comfort and peace. That promise, that His death matters, that His death is my life, that His death overcomes the world and the devil and delivers us to hope and forgiveness, this promise is the only thing; this promise is everything.
All we have is Jesus, and Jesus has you. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO