Trinity 17 – September 26th, 2010
Text: Luke 14:1-11
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.
Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus is always teaching. The Pharisees are always grumbling. Jesus preaches repentance. And the Pharisees reject His Word. Jesus comes to dinner and the Pharisees watch him like the KGB.
Usually it's the Pharisees asking Jesus the tough questions: "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? Teacher, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?" But this time, Jesus turns the tables on them. There's a man with dropsy – and whether he strolled in uninvited or was planted by the Pharisees in order to trap Jesus, it doesn't matter. Jesus responds to the lawyers – that's New Testament speak for so-called experts in the Law of Moses, the theologians of the day – and the Pharisees:
"Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?"
He stumped the Pharisees. They would not answer. Silent. Big on complaining, short on answers.
According to God's Law, there's no work on the Sabbath. And remember, the Pharisees were experts at the Law. Where God gives a Law, the Pharisees create more laws – 39 rules to keep in order to preserve the Sabbath from no work. This is what sinful man loves to do with God's Law – God gives the commandment and our old Adam inserts his list of demands. God gives His Word and sinful man constructs a ladder, or in this case, a hedge. Legalism sells.
"Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" What do you say, if you're a Pharisee? It's a catch-22. If you say, "No, you cannot heal this man; it's the Sabbath," then you are unmerciful. Not only that, your hypocrisy is revealed: "for which of you having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on the Sabbath will not pull him out?"
If you say, "Yes, this man should be healed," then you have broken at least handful of the 39 the Sabbath Laws.
Either way, you're going to break some Law. If you keep the Sabbath you fail to love your neighbor and if you love your neighbor you fail to keep the Sabbath. This is the problem with legalism – it's paralyzing. Damned if you do; damned if you don't. And this is exactly where God's Law should lead you.
The Law always accuses. We – and the Pharisees – can't possibly live up to it, on the Sabbath day or any other day. The Pharisees were slaves to their own rules and traditions, fettered by their self-righteousness. And we are no different – for anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
"Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay, death brooded darkly over me.
sin was my torment night and day; in sin my mother bore me.
Yea, deep and deeper still I fell, my life became a living hell, so firmly sin possessed me."
(Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice).
The problem with the Law is not the Law; it's us. The Law is good and we are not. The Law oppresses, exposes and crushes us. Jesus only takes real, sick, good-as-dead-in-your-trespasses sinners. If you're just a pretend sinner then all you have, or need, is a pretend Savior. But you need a real Savior for real sin. Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
From the bondage of sin, death and the devil, there is only one way to be free. If the Son of Man makes you free you will be free indeed. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world – not to be a new law-giver – but to free the world; to be a law-fulfiller for you. You are free from the Law. "Sin boldly," Luther says, "but believe in Christ more boldly still." In Christ the guilty are released; the captives are set free; the fettered chains of death and hell are broken and you are forgiven. The Law condemns. Jesus forgives. Satan binds. Jesus releases. The devil accuses. God takes your blame, your guilt, your sin, your debt, your captivity – all of it and hangs it on His Son so that sin will no longer have dominion over you.
Jesus comes to bring freedom and life and rest. Jesus is free and in Him so are you. But the Pharisees do not understand this. They reject Jesus. They prefer a freedom of their own labor and pervert God's Law into a new slavery, a new Egypt. Their silence condemns them.
Is it lawful for Jesus to do His healing, forgiving, rest-bringing, Sabbath-fulfilling, saving work? Of course He heals the man. This is what Jesus does – He heals. He saves. He rescues. He forgives. Jesus will not let the Law stop Him. He is not afraid to be ashamed. He will suffer all to rescue the lost. For though He was the Son of God, seated in honor at the right hand of God, he left that seat of honor to take on the servant's form in human flesh. He left the highest place of honor for the lowest place of humility on the cross and in the grave, for you. There is no lower seat. He humbled Himself to death for you. And from His humility He is highly exalted, seated in our humanity at the right hand of God the Father so that where He is you might be also. And it doesn't get more highly exalted than that.
You see, it's no coincidence that Jesus teaches over a meal. The Pharisees' selfish seating chart goes beyond bad table manners. Theology and practice always go together. Wherever you find bad church practice, you'll soon find errant theology. Your table etiquette reflects how you were taught. Just look at the Pharisees. They had bad table etiquette, not chiefly because they were rude (although they certainly were), but because of their theology. They feared loved and trusted in their 39 rules and in their outward piety and in the god of their own image. Their rules and traditions defiled, not sanctified, the Sabbath day; they despised Jesus' teaching and preaching of God's Word, grumbling and plotting and killing instead of listening, learning and inwardly digesting.
Teaching and Life always go together. It was true for the Pharisees and it's true for us too. This is why the Church practices closed communion. What happens at and around the Lord's Table reflects a church's teaching on the Lord's Supper. This is why the Church uses the liturgy and the hymnal. What happens during worship reflects a church's theology.
This is why we don't approach the Lord's Table as if we have earned the right to be there; as if God should be so flattered that we bothered to take the time and show up. No, we take the lowest place. "I a poor miserable sinner, confess unto you all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You. God be merciful to me, the chief of real, rotten, good-as-dead, no-hope-with-out-You, sinners."
And Jesus loves dining with sinners. He rejoices in gathering you for the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. That kingdom which comes among us today in bodied and blooded forgiveness. Divine healing in, with and under simple bread and wine. He doesn't invite you expecting to repay Him. He invites empty-handed, poor, broken, beggarly sinners, the likes of you and me, to come and feast:
"Friend, I forgive you. Come up to the higher place. Sit with me at My table. I have taken care of everything. Dine with Me - I am the host, the waiter, the cook and the feast. It is all here, given and shed for you. You are no longer salves. You are free. Come and kneel at the place of honor for I was humbled and exalted so that you who are humbled by sin are exalted in my life. No, It is not lawful, but it is merciful.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.