First President of the LCMS and it's Grandfather CFW Walther
Here is a list of Pastor Wagner's sermons. Most of them have been preached at Christ Our Savior; however, some of the earlier ones were preached at other locations.
You might notice that some of of the sermons do not have an audio player. These sermons were not recorded. However, all of the sermons do have a link to the manuscript.
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Mid-week Lent III
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who feeds His people with the pure Word. He guards and protects them. He gives them everything they need to support this body and life. This you confess as you confess the Creed, speak the Lord’s Prayer, and recite the Ten Commandments and meanings. Jesus is and was everything the prophets, priests, and kings who came before never were and what those who come after Him never can be.
But it wasn’t just God’s coming in the flesh by which He accomplished this.
Jesus’ life was one of hardship. You Christians have reaped the same rewards as He had for the kind of life He lived. He lived a life of perfect obedience to His own law. You bear His name upon your brow and heart; you are claimed by Him. He was mocked and scorned for His life. You are mocked and scorned for being His. He suffered and died as a result, you might say, of disrupting the religious status quo. You are constantly under the threat of death, and many of your brothers and sisters in Christ have given their lives for the confession of faith in Christ, even to this day. Your life as a Christian is hard for the sake of Jesus Christ; His life was immeasurably more difficult.
But His difficult life was one He endured willingly for you. You are a sheep, having been scattered, as it were, under the false pretenses of those who would teach you falsely about God and His Christ. Daily, you are bombarded with false messages of salvation from left and right, front and behind, in your minds and from those whom you encounter. It’s enough to make one run away screaming in confusion and delusion. To what do you run? Perhaps its the latest fad or something that makes you feel comfortable or relaxed. Perhaps you feel more comfortable just cowering in a corner. Whatever it is, off you go, running from Jesus.
His sheep still scatter. Jesus’ life of hardship, suffering, and death for you resulted in the scattering of the sheep, too—this time, for all of the right reasons, not the false teaching of the deceitful shepherds of the past. After Jesus and the disciples had celebrated the Passover meal, they made their way to the Mount of Olives. Luke leaves this point out, but from there, they would all scatter. Mark says that Jesus even told them that they would be made to scatter.
The sheep will scatter because the Good Shepherd will be struck. “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”
Sorrowful to the point of death—He was looking His own death squarely in the eyes—He goes off to pray in solitude. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Who wouldn’t sorrow over all that is going to happen, if you knew it was going to happen? I speak not merely of Christ’s crucifixion, but of His entire Passion—the binding that will happen, the beating and being spat upon that will happen, and even the scattering of the sheep. It’s enough to make a grown man cry. These things had to happen, though.
It’s a symptom of this fallen nature. Imagine, if you will, being one of Jesus’ disciple. Jesus is a pretty neat guy, if you get to know Him, learn from Him, and receive from Him. You wouldn’t want Him bound, struck, and killed. You may even try to get in the way when He says that it will happen (cf. Matthew 16:22)—that it MUST happen. And even knowing that it will happen, when it does happen, in fright you scatter.
But these things had to happen, Jesus declared. And the hour had come. Judas, that wolf in sheep’s clothing, arrived in the garden with the guard, and betrayed Jesus with a kiss. The guard laid their hands on Jesus and took Him. They bound Him and led Him to the chief priests and scribes to be put on trial. Along the way, they beat Him bloody. Not even on the cross yet, not even before the Praetorian guard yet, Jesus already shed His blood for you.
It’s a gruesome sight to behold, and it’s only going to get worse. I sympathize with those who try to recreate Jesus’ Passion and Crucifixion, who try to find a balance between portraying the violent death He endured and toning down that violence so that it can be watched. Only one production that I am aware of doesn’t strike this balance, and it is violent in much the same way that Jesus endured violence. And if you watch it, you will be tempted to scatter your looks away. You can hardly bear to watch Jesus—even if just an actor—undergo the treatment that you for your sins deserve. One viewing is enough—more than enough, perhaps—for some.
And the disciples fled. “Then all the disciples left him and fled,” Matthew wrote. (Matthew 26:56) According to Luke, only Peter followed him, and that at a distance. Were you there, you would have high tailed it away, too, fearful for your own life, frightened over what is happening to your teacher. Though you may have said like Peter, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death,” you, too, would forsake Him, and even deny Him thrice before the rooster crowed.
But the Shepherd does not deny you. He has not, nor will He ever. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not merely for being everything the shepherds of the past were not, but because, as Jesus put it, “I lay down my life for the sheep...The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:15, 11) Jesus, the Good Shepherd, must give His life for the sheep, for in His life given for them—for you—they have redemption, life, and forgiveness. No, this Good Shepherd doesn’t deny you; though all would forsake Him and flee, He goes steadfastly to the cross...for all—for you.
The Good Shepherd doesn’t deny you. Though all forsake Him and scatter, He still gathers those who believe in Him. His suffering and crucifixion are frightening and life-threatening events, even to this day, but Jesus has suffered and died for you, that you may be forgiven, and live as one of His own. It was on a dark, Good Friday, as Jesus was lifted up on a cross, that He drew all men to Himself. (cf. John 12:32)
“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…” (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 16)
Though scattered, you are drawn to and into the Lord, Jesus Christ in His crucifixion, because you are covered in the blood that He shed there. On the cross, He sought you out, lost, driven away, broken, and sick—all sin—and He found you, brought you back, bound you up, and strengthened you, all by grace, without any worthiness or merit in you, all because of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy. This speaks volumes about your God and His love for you.
And in order that you may be His own, He rose again from the dead that your place in eternity would be secure. Jesus lived, died, and lives again, and you are in Him so that in Him you live, die, and live again. Jesus gathers you back to Himself, who would, for myriad, selfish, sinful reasons, abandon, deny, and forsake Him—and His gathering you is accomplished by the forgiveness of your sins, which He won for you as He was struck and pierced on the tree of the cross. This is the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ for you.
Jesus was incarnate, was born, was betrayed, captured, and struck, was crucified, and was buried for you. His death for sin is your death to sin. The forgiveness He won on the cross as He spilled His blood covers your sin, even the sin of forsaking Him. To you, the blood of the Lamb was applied for life and you were declared righteous as you were washed in the water and the Word, and it is your daily sign and seal of a life redeemed and gathered from the scattering your Old Man prefers. For by that water, blood, and Word, you are the righteousness of God. You are forgiven for all of your sins.
Discounting the work of demons is nothing new to fallen man. You see that in the words of some of the people who witnessed the exorcism that Jesus performed in today’s Gospel reading. “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” Now, you can gauge by Jesus’ response to them that they had accused Jesus of being a demon or in cahoots with the demons in order to put on a good show. It’s the kind of thing that some televangelist healers pulled off on their miracle shows: a plant in the audience that would fake an injury or illness and would be miraculously healed for all to see—the supposedly lame walking, the supposedly deaf hearing, the supposedly blind seeing, etc. In any event, these people doubted the validity of the work of demons in their midst, consequently, that Jesus was really casting demons out.
Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
No, what Jesus was doing was serious business. He wasn’t a snake-oil salesman or sleezy televangelist. He was really casting out demons, pronouncing the wrath of God on those minions of the devil and the grace and mercy of God to those who were under their possession. And, as it turns out, these exorcisms, like all of his miraculous works and signs, pointed to Him as the promised Messiah, and especially to His work on the cross.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) This is the curse that God spoke on the serpent as Adam and the woman were cast out of the Garden of Eden. It’s called the Protevangelium, a fancy word which means first gospel; so-called because it prefigures the death of Jesus on the cross, whereat He ultimately and forever crushes the serpent’s—read, the devil’s—head, or authority, over creation.
It is by way of Jesus’ crucifixion, by the spilled blood of the Lamb, that Michael and his angels defeated the devil and his angels in the war that broke out in heaven. (cf. Revelation 12:7-12, especially v. 11) It was at the crucifixion that Jesus crushed the devil’s head. Consequently, it is by way of His crucifixion that Jesus cast out the demons during His ministry. It’s not that the devil never was the Lord’s devil, as you may recall from the sermon two weeks ago, but that the victory over the devil at the cross was the ultimate blow to any thought, dream, or desire that Satan might have had to conquer the world and turn all of creation against God.
Now, the devil still tries his best to turn man against his Creator and Redeemer. That’s the reason for the woe you hear in Revelation after the devil and his minions are cast to earth: “But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” That’s the reason for the warning you hear from the pen of St. Peter: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) But you are armed with the Word of God to combat the devil and his angels, just as the Word of God incarnate did. You are armed with the truth that the devil is an enemy defeated at the cross. And though devils all the world should fill, though the devil may rage and scowl, one little word can fell him: liar. (cf. A Mighty Fortress is Our God)
I’m convinced that the devil is still at work, masquerading himself in all kinds of ways available to him, not the least of which is all of the luxuries with which the modern world lives. Whether that’s diseases or knowledge or what-have-you, the devil still works to deceive you. He has myriad more subtle ways to do so, and, I’m sure, has no problem not outwardly receiving the credit for the falling away from God of anyone. “We are more enlightened than they were centuries ago—we know better than to call this the work of demons and that the work of some god,” they may say, and the devil is all-to-pleased to have the company.
That’s the world’s stance on all of this: devils and demons are myths and fairy tales. But Jesus has overcome the world (cf. John 16:33)—He is crucified, dead, buried, risen and ascended. That’s the devil’s take on all of this: he lies and deceives in order to turn you from your God and devour you. But Jesus has crushed the serpent’s head—He is crucified, dead, buried, risen, and ascended. But there’s still that sinful flesh of yours.
To how much are you willing to be subjected for your belief in the existence of demons? For your stance that demons are still at work in this world? For your confession that the devil still prowls around seeking to devour even you? The world will hate you for all of this, and likely the more you speak about the devil and demons, the more the ridicule will increase. It’s nothing new. Jesus was mocked for his work against the demonic, as evidenced in today’s text. So, you should expect nothing different. And, you should not be afraid to keep quiet about these things. Jesus cast out demons; they are real, and they are dangerous—and the mocking and ridicule can be too much to bear for the sinful flesh.
If you’re willing to budge on this, it could easily lead to budging on any number of doctrines of the faith. In fact, as the world considers the devil and demons myths and fairy tales, so it also does with God and His Christ. If you want to keep silent about the devil and demons and their evil work, how hard would it be to convince you to keep silent about God, His Christ, and the salvation and victory He has won on the cross?
That silence is the work of the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh.
Thankfully, God has giving you armor and the weapon with which to stand against that evil triumvirate, and they all center on the cross of Christ.
[B]e strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… (Ephesians 6:11-17)
The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, as shoes the readiness given by the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God—these are your arms and defense against the world, the devil, and your sinful flesh. The truth is that demons are real, and so is Jesus, who has conquered them in the fight on the cross. The righteousness that is your is yours by way of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, given to you for His sake. The gospel of peace is that while once you were enemies of God, in Christ and His shed blood you have been reconciled to His Father and yours. Faith is that which trusts in Jesus and His merits for your salvation. Salvation is the fact that you are saved, that is spared the wrath of God that is due the devil and his demons. And this is is declared to you and to the world in the Word of God. Against these no devil can stand, be he alone or with seven of his friends.
That Word of God declares to you that your sin is taken from you by the Son of God and was crucified with Him on Calvary. From there, by the work of the Spirit, begun as the Word is declared to you and you were baptized, and continued in you as you continue to hear the Word of God, you are sanctified, made holy, for the sake of Christ. It is all His work, and done because of God’s great love for you. The Spirit is at work in Christ to change your likeness into His likeness—He is crucified, dead, buried, risen, and ascended.
So, while demons and the devil continue their evil work in this world, you have the Word of God and His means of grace and gifts. His Word and means of grace have the power to cast the devil and his demons out, and through them, Jesus is still at work doing just that and forgiving sins and healing all manner of diseases by His Word, means, and gifts, which very well include those advances in technology and western medicine, certainly gifts from God. But it is in the Word of God and His means of grace that the kingdom of God is present. In your hearing of His Word and use of His means, the kingdom of God comes upon you; in fact, by them you are placed in the kingdom of God. And it is in this kingdom of God that you hear these miraculous words: you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For just about the entirety of Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees and chief priests sought a way to capture Jesus. They didn’t like how He healed people. They were offended at the fact that He forgave people. They were maddened that He claimed that He was the Lord of the Sabbath (as He is), and extended that lordship to His disciples. They refused to come to terms with the fact that Jesus was offering a new way of holiness through Himself. Then, when one of His own gave them the means to make that capture happen, they were overjoyed at the prospects.
Betrayal is an interesting concept. If you look the word up in the dictionary, the sense is there but not explicitly stated. In order for one to be betrayed, the betrayal must take place by one whom is trusted or in whom confidence is placed. Only someone who is “on your side” can betray you. This is why, sometimes, betrayal is also known as a cross. The word betray shares the same Latin root as the word traitor. The famous traitor from the history of this country, Benedict Arnold, betrayed the fledgling country to the British, leading a British force against the very men on the American side that he had once also commanded.
So, when Jesus predicted His betrayal to the disciples in Luke 9, it should be no wonder that the saying was hidden from them. Had they understood it, they would likely have deliberated over it and debated it among themselves, being consumed with the thought of who among them would betray Him, and would not be mindful of the things He would be teaching them from that time forward; of course, it wouldn’t be until after His resurrection, that their minds would be opened to all that He had taught them (cf. Luke 24:45), but it stands to reason that they wouldn’t even be able to be reminded of what Jesus had told them, because they would be too consumed with the betrayal even to listen to Jesus from that time. It wasn’t until Jesus reclined at the table with His Twelve at the Last Supper that His betrayal wasn’t concealed from them, and at that time, they did debate among themselves—you’ll hear more about this next week. However, it is likely that at the time of Luke 9 Judas had no desire to betray Jesus, whether or not he was getting annoyed with Him.
But, the time did come, and Judas did betray Jesus, for a sum of money. And while Judas’ betrayal is at the front and center of tonight’s text, his isn’t the only betrayal of Jesus. All the other disciples fled when Jesus was arrested. Peter denied Jesus three times when Jesus was before the Council. At one point or another, everyone who followed Jesus, to one degree or another, betrayed Him in one way or another. The disciples had all told Jesus that they were willing to die with Him, but Jesus, predicting Peter’s denials, indicated that He and He alone could and would die for the sins of the world.
And those betrayals continue to this day. Hypocrisy is rife in those who call themselves Christian. You believe in Jesus, confess a faith in Him, but with your actions, you betray your confession and your Lord. Your lips say one thing, but your deeds another. Are you really who you say you are? Do you really believe in the Jesus that you confess? Do you, by your actions, deny that Jesus is who He says He is?
There’s a stark warning for those who betray and deny Jesus. “[W]hoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33) You don’t want Jesus denying you before the Father. But that’s the consequence of saying, “I don’t know this Jesus.” Jesus says, “I do not know you.” (cf. Matthew 25:12; Luke 13:25, 27) Are there any more frightening words to hear from the world’s Redeemer? “I do not know you.” Betrayal and denial carry the consequence of not being known by Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want to know you.
Judas betrayed Jesus, and with it set in motion the events that would lead to Jesus’ death and resurrection. He was an instrument in your salvation, although one with evil intent. Jesus knew this and for this purpose chose Judas to be His disciple; He said as much! (cf. John 13:18) Was there hope for Judas? Absolutely, there was. Jesus died for Judas as much as for anyone else! But, Judas, in his despair, ultimately denied Jesus and “turned aside to go to his own place.” (cf. Acts 1:25)
The same could be said of Peter and the other disciples. They all abandoned Him, and Peter denied Him three times in a time where, legally, Jesus could have used witnesses in His trials. Was there hope for any of them? Absolutely, there was! And they each were restored to their places as disciples and apostles. Peter’s restoration is especially notable. Following His resurrection, Jesus was with His disciples, and He asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”—once for each time Peter denied Him. After answering in the affirmative all three times, Jesus told Peter to feed and tend His sheep and lambs, restoring him to the office of disciple, and especially of apostle. (cf. John 21:15-17)
Both Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus. Both Judas and Peter were contrite. Both Judas and Peter despaired over what they had done. What was the difference? Peter, in faith, repented. Nowhere in Scripture is that stated overtly, but given the outcomes of both men, one has to conclude that contrition met with faith in Peter and produced repentance. That faith was missing in Judas. Did he ever have it? When did he lose it? Once again, nothing is said so overtly, but if faith doesn’t meet contrition, then all that is left is rebellion or utter despair. In despair, Judas hanged himself and “turned aside to go to his own place.”
So, you, when you betray your Lord and Savior, you also have hope. Jesus Christ shed His blood and gave His life for you, as much as for Judas and Peter. When that sin is laid bare before you, it produces contrition. And you have been given faith by God to trust that He merciful and gracious toward you for the sake of Jesus. So, that brings you to repentance—all of this done to you and for you and in you from outside of yourself—and in repentance, you joyfully receive these words: you are forgiven for all of your sins.
I’ll begin by briefly talking about what everyone always wonders about when it comes to this text. Most everyone is concerned with the soils, and with good reason. “Why soil type do I fall into?” More importantly, perhaps, “How can I be sure I’m that fourth soil type—the good farm land?” Well, I think Dr. C.F.W. Walther1 might say that if you want to be that fourth type, if you are so concerned about being that fourth type, then you probably are that fourth type. What you are likely more concerned with, then, is what it means to hold fast to the Word of God with steadfast endurance.
I’ve spoken at length in the past what that means. Simply put, it is similar to how things go when you love or admire someone. After all, one with faith in Jesus certainly loves and admires Jesus. So, in this love and admiration of Jesus, you would hang on every word He says. Some of the things He tells you are able to pull you through those times of tribulation, be it temptation or suffering, so you are emboldened to hang on even more. And some of the things He says point you to the goal of this faith and eternal life, and so you are able to hold fast to it with steadfast endurance. All of this, by the way, is by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in you and nothing else, as He works through the means of the Word of God.
And that brings me to the point that I want to make, something that is so easily glossed over in this text, and that probably because it is treated in so few words—seven in this translation. Before even getting to the soil types, Jesus said, “The seed is the word of God.” What does that mean, especially in regards to today’s text? Well, no matter the soil type, the Word of God does things—primarily, it creates faith. Notice how that was stated even about the path soil type; the Word of God was taken away from them so that even having come to faith (which would be a better translation of the Greek) they would not be saved.
The Word of God has the power to create faith. This it does by the work of the Holy Spirit, when and where it pleases Him. But, not all come to faith, not in that it doesn’t please the Spirit to bring people to faith. And in some who do come to faith, the faith created lasts but a short while. I could stand up here and wax poetic about this all day; suffice it to say, some are so obstinate that they refuse to believe, and, at least for the sake of this text, some believe for a while, but come to a point where they lose that faith. Maybe there’s something more alluring in the devil’s playground, so the Word is taken away. Maybe temptations are overbearing in that they don’t trust that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is capable of overcoming them. Maybe the worries of this life are more compelling than the glories of the life to come. But in every case, the Word of God creates faith.
Still, Jesus does not force this faith on anyone. That’s why Jesus gives His Word in parables, so that those in whom the Spirit has worked faith and the knowledge of the kingdom hear it and receive it in faith and those who do not have this knowledge don’t receive it, but reject it. It may not seem like it, but this is all in keeping with the old Lutheran adage: if you’re saved, it’s all God’s doing; if you’re damned, it’s all your fault. God gives his faith-creating Word. You receive it in God-given faith, or you reject it out of disdain or doubt.
So, do not hear Jesus’ explanation of His parable to mean that there are some that Jesus saves and others that He doesn’t. This isn’t a text that proves the heterodox doctrine of double predestination. The Word of God is proclaimed to all; there are some on whose ears it falls, but they do not receive it in faith. Nevertheless, it is the desire and goal of God that all to whom the Word is proclaimed—which is everyone—are brought to the knowledge of salvation. As St. Paul wrote, “God our Savior…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), so it follows that He would have His Word proclaimed to all the world. So it is that He Himself said,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18b-20)
Nevertheless, “[G]ood news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” (Hebrews 4:2)
So, the reconciliation is this: Those who have been given the mysteries of the kingdom of God receive the Word of God in faith, in and through which they receive the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Those who do not know the mysteries reject the Word of God in disdain and doubt. If you are saved, it is all God’s doing. If you are damned, it is all your fault. It is the Word of God that does things for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. That’s what Jesus was teaching with this parable.
So, I don’t think you need to concern yourself with which soil type you are. As I said, if you are concerned about being that fourth soil type—the good farm land—if your concern is how to be and remain such, then you probably are. How can I say that? Well, the one who is truly concerned with keeping the Word of God, bemoans those times when he does not keep the Word of God. Such a mindset is indicative of a faith which trusts in Jesus for forgiveness, life, and salvation; a faith which is created, nourished, and sustained by the Word of God.
Do you have your moments of disdain and doubt? You most certainly do. You live in this Vale of Tears, in this fallen and cursed creation. But, God has broken through the fallen-ness and curse and sent His Son as your redemption. The Word of God is proclaimed to you creating faith. In that faith, you have come here to confess your sins—your disdain and doubt of His Word—and His Word is proclaimed to you again, restoring, nourishing, and nurturing that faith that it first created in you. The Word of God is cast once again into the soil, transforming you into His righteousness and good soil, forgiving you for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This prompted the parable you heard as today’s text, but not before Jesus first answered,
Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:28-30)
So that might help to give a little context for the parable—the parable where a master goes to the marketplace several times to find workers for his vineyard. It might also give you pause to how you have most often heard the parable explained—that God is equally but unfairly gracious to all whom He has placed in His vineyard, regardless of how early or late in the day that was, and in this case, the day being the lifetime of a person, so how early or late in life one came to faith.
Now, I don’t mean to dissuade you from such an understanding. It is an obvious understanding of the parable since the master goes to the marketplace throughout the day to hire workers. Then, at the end of the work day, he pays them all the same, no matter when they were hired. It is, therefore, a good sense to have of your heavenly Father, who is a most gracious Master, equally and unfairly so.
So, if you’ve been a Christian since infancy or have only very recently come into the Church Militant, you are a Christian, one claimed by Christ the crucified in those Holy Waters and made a son of His Father and Yours, and co-heir with Him of heavenly riches. Those heavenly riches—forgiveness, life, and salvation—He gives equally to all of His beloved children, though unfairly, because all have need of them, no matter when in life they have come to faith. You are all equally forgiven of your sins, given eternal life, and saved from this valley of tears, for the sake of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul described oneness in Christ regardless of heritage, station in life, and gender, but you could add age and longevity in the faith to that as well. You are all one in Christ; that should be cause for great rejoicing!
But think also of the master paying the hired hands each the same thing regardless of how much they have worked and how hard they have toiled under the heat of the day or didn’t. The parable now sounds like a warning against expecting more of what is promised for more labor, as if the work that you have been hired to do somehow earns you more than what is promised.
What is promised is forgiveness, life, and salvation. How much you’ve left behind to follow Jesus, how much good that you’ve done in the name of Jesus, how much you’ve given for the sake of Jesus…all of this has no bearing on the promise that God has made to you—forgiveness, life, and salvation. To expect something else or something more is to turn an evil eye toward God; or, to put it more precisely, to turn one’s eye evil by taking one’s eyes off of God. Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs explains it thus:
The master’s actions are stunningly unexpected. However, they are only insulting or hard to swallow…if one takes one’s eyes off of the owner. One can imagine the scene as the parable sets it up. Wages are paid out, beginning with the last group and ending with the first. As the first group stands in line and waits their turn, their gaze falters, leaving the master who has hired them, given them meaningful work, and promised them a fair wage. They stop looking at the master, and they start looking at their fellow workers. That’s when they get into trouble. Their eye actually becomes evil because the master is good to others.
It would seem that the most at risk for obtaining this evil eye would be pastors and those in offices with similar work as the apostles. Most simply put, it is to the disciples that Jesus told this parable, because Peter boasted on behalf of all of them that they had given up more than anyone else to be a follower of Jesus. And, being apostles, they could easily have thought that they have done more work for the Church than an ordinary Christian—church history would agree with them in this regard. Pastors, missionaries, and teachers in the church might say that they do more work in and for the church than anyone else. Who else spends as much time in study and preparation and delivery and administration in order that you might hear and receive the salvation wrought by Christ? While there are certainly laymen who spend as much time, if not more, doing “church work,” by-and-large, the bulk of this “church work” is done by church workers.
That is not meant to sound as a boast on my part, though it certainly can become one. And in the event it does, then my eye has become evil toward God, especially if in that boast I expect more or something other than what has been promised to all who have been made a part of God’s vineyard, the Church. God guard me and all pastors and workers in the Church from this arrogance.
Still, there are degrees of difficulty in the work that God gives to all of His children. To this one He says go there and do that work which will take you the better part of the day; to another He says go here and do this work which will take you only an hour. Some have a harder task in the Church than others, but in every case, God provides the means to see to the task that He has given you. So, perhaps you were hired at the third hour, or sixth hour, or eleventh hour—to you each God has given a task and the means to accomplish it. And while in the parable the promise isn’t repeated, it is still the same for being brought into the vineyard—forgiveness, life, and salvation.
It is as St. Paul wrote, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) Recall Jesus’ parable of the talents, wherein the master, going on a trip, gives to three of his servants a different amount of talents, “each according to his ability,” Jesus said. (cf. Matthew 25:14-15) So it is with each of you. The work you have been given to do is according to the ability that God has given you. Some do more than others, who in turn are doing less than the some, but each are doing what it is that God has given them to do.
To then look at what your brother and sister have done in comparison to your work and see that they receive the same forgiveness, life, and salvation which God has promised to you is to take your eye off of Him who promised this to you and turn your eye evil toward Him. The promise that God has made to you to forgive your sins, give you eternal life, and save you is not dependent on the work He has given you to do—you cannot get more of any of this promise for having done more than your brother or sister in Christ. Likewise, you do not receive any less of this promise because you have been given less to do than a brother or sister in Christ.
So, what does doing the work with eyes fixed on the master look like? Well, simply put, if you’re not looking at anyone else around you, then you are not comparing what it is you do, how hard it is that you’re working, or how long you have been working to that of anyone else. With your eyes fixed on Jesus, your work becomes a joyful task in which there is no boasting, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, as St. Paul put it. (cf. Philippians 3:14)
Then, the end of the day will come—the end of days will come—and the Master will call all to account for what they have done. Like sheep and goats, recall, is how the King will separate mankind. The sheep—you, dear baptized believers—will be ushered into the everlasting life that was promised to them, their good deeds recounted for them, unawares of having done so much. That’s because joyfully doing the work that God has given you to do with your eyes fixed on Jesus involves no score keeping; there is no evil eye involved here.
But St. Peter wanted to keep score. James and John wanted to keep score, according to the request of their mother. (cf. Matthew 20:20-21)(cf. Philippians 3:4-10) It’s inevitable that score keeping will happen; it’s part and parcel of life in this Vale of Tears. Fixing your eyes on Jesus is an impossible task for you. Only Jesus can fix your eyes on Him, and when He does, He draws them to His cross and empty grave—to His death and resurrection, the means by which He makes the promise to you—forgiveness, life, and salvation. There, see the greatest work done to earn the promise; after all, who among you could give your life and take it up again?
There, at the cross, Jesus took all your sin upon Himself and died with it. His death destroyed the score. His death destroyed the boasting of working longer and harder in the vineyard. His death took all of that and more away from you—all your sin and death and guilt and evil desire—and destroyed it once and for all. His resurrection brought to light immortality and life. These all Jesus gives to you freely, without any worth or merit in you, all for His sake. Therefore, “On the Last Day, the reign of God in Jesus will come in all its fullness. All who have been called as workers in the vineyard—all disciples of Jesus, without distinction—will receive from the Master what he deems just, in accordance with his pledge when they were first called,” Dr. Gibbs wrote.
Do you believe this? Then let it be done to you as you believe. You are saved. You have eternal life. You may not feel it now, even as you struggle with your Old Man, but these are all yours because you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.