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Sermon October 8, 2023

Pentecost 19 A 2023 Death and Resurrection Sermon

Matthew 21:33-46

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today our Gospel text contains the most frightening words Jesus can ever say to us.  He said: “The Kingdom of Heaven will be taken away from you.”  I don’t know of any other words that can be more upsetting.  These words chill us to the bone.  They scare us and fill us with despair. 

These words are not what we want to hear from the mouth of our Lord and Savior.  And that is why it is a big relief to hear at the end of our reading “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking to them.”    

Wow.  Talk about a close call.  For a moment there it sounded like Jesus was speaking to us.  It sounded like Jesus was really sticking it to us and punishing us for our transgressions.  What a comfort it is to know that His Words were directed towards the chief priest and Pharisees. 

After all, everyone knows that the chief priests and Pharisees were not nice people.  And that they deserved what Jesus was saying to them.  And Jesus is totally correct when He told this parable.  For you see, it is no secret that their forefathers had rejected the servants and the prophets God had sent to them.  In a fit of rage, they stoned them and killed them.

And as the fathers did, so did the sons.  They rejected John the Baptist.  And they would soon falsely accuse Jesus at night and convict Him.  And they would demand that Jesus, the Son of God, be hung on a cross and be crucified.

In our minds the chief priest and Pharisees are guilty and deserve to be punished.  And because they interfered with God’s Redeeming Activity in this world, it is no wonder (in our minds) that Jesus told them “The Kingdom of Heaven will be taken away from you.”     

But as one reads this text a second time, one begins to realize that Jesus was not just talking to the chief priest and Pharisees.  Jesus was also talking to us.

One of the Hymns that we sing on Good Friday that always moves me and gets my attention is the Hymn “Were You There.”  You know the words.  “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

My friends, what a powerful hymn.  The hymn reminds us of the role we all had in the events that led to Christ’s crucifixion and His death.  The hymn reminds us that the Cross is meant for you and for me.  The hymn reminds us that we are all sinners.  The hymn reminds us that we are just as guilty as the chief priests, and the Pharisees, and the tenants in the parable.

And even though we have never beat up or killed anyone, the sins we commit are just as bad.  The Apostle Paul reminded us of this in his Letter to the Romans when he wrote “All have sinned, and all have fallen short of the glory of God.”  Romans 3:23

But that is not the end of the story.  Immediately after the Apostle Paul stated this, he wrote “But we are now justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 3:24

Even though “we were there” when the son was killed by the tenants, we still receive the inheritance.  Even though we were there when the sun refused to shine, we receive the “good gifts” that God so badly wants to bestow upon us. 

It is God who has made us acceptable through our baptism into Christ.  Our sins have been buried in the tomb forever.  And that is why we can tearfully sing “Were you there when God raised Him from the tomb?” because we know that since “we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Romans 6:5

My friends, “In the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake, God forgives all our sins.  To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit.”

And so, even though Jesus intended for us to hear this parable, the message is not as frightening as it first appeared.  Death and Resurrection is what being a Christian is all about. 

The text informs us that we can give thanks today because God’s love and mercy and grace is greater than the sin within us. 

And we can celebrate this morning because “we were there” when the stone was rolled away, and Jesus overcame the sting of death for you and for me.  Amen.

Let us pray: Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us from sin and death.  Breathe upon us with the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in holiness and righteousness all our days.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.