SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 43:16-21; Phil. 3:8-14; Luke 20:9-20; Psalm 3
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Today’s Scripture readings speak to us wonderful words of comfort. In Isaiah 43 God calls His believers “my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself.” The holy One who is above and before and after all things has chosen you and is forming you. How blessed you are! Philippians 3 says that righteousness – that which God considers good and right – is not dependent upon the good things that we do. Righteousness is outside of us. It is from God, His work and His gift to us in Jesus. “Christ Jesus has made me His own.” (Phil. 3) Thanks be to God! For, we fail and sin continually, but Jesus has done all things well, and by His death for us He has forgiven our sins. “Christ Jesus has made me His own.” His perfect righteousness is ours, through faith alone! Every one of us who believes in Jesus can truly say, “I am righteous!”
Surprisingly, less comforting and much more challenging is Jesus Himself, who tells us a parable. “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while.” A long while, indeed. Our Lord hasn’t been visibly among us for 2,000 years. This is hard. We believe in and worship an unseen and unheard God! And then, Jesus goes on to say some things that are very difficult to accept.
- How would you like to have been the 2nd or 3rd servant mentioned in the parable, and be sent to collect rent after the first guy was beaten? “They also beat and treated [the 2nd] shamefully… they wounded [the 3rd] and cast [him] out.” Is this any surprise? How would you have liked to have been one of those servants?
You are. We are not only Christ’s vineyard, His planting from whom he expects good fruits. We are also His servants. Sometimes the fruit He expects is that you go to people who are very difficult and seek to change them and bring forth good fruits from them.
Jesus can ask this of us, and expect good fruit from others, because He is “the stone that the builders rejected [that] has become the cornerstone. Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Jesus calls Himself the cornerstone. Everything revolves around and depends upon Him. This means that if you believe in Him you cannot be unchanged. You cannot keep Him at arm’s length. He cannot be just a part of your life. He cannot be in your heart and not also on your lips and your hands. Your life must serve Him, and not vica-versa. Many pastors and churches today make it seem the other way around and say that Jesus came to make you happier, more successful, a better person who can overcome sins and live your best life now. Jesus doesn’t speak so nicely. He says He’ll either break you to pieces or crush you. That doesn’t sound very nice at all!
It isn’t, if your main focus and concern is this life. But, if your main concern and desire is for eternal life with God, be glad! This is also Christ’s concern. He gave Himself up to be broken upon the cross to save you from your sins and win for you eternal life. It is His focus. To give you this life He must first break you into pieces and make you realize that you are a sinner. But, blessed are you sinners! Our Jesus is a lord who doesn’t reject broken sinners or leave us broken. “Christ Jesus has made me His own.” He who loves sinners has borne sin’s punishment for sinners. In your Baptism He forgave you and made you His own. Never tire of confessing that you are a sinner, and even saying with St. Paul that everything in your life apart from Him is rubbish! Only then will you truly know and rejoice in Christ and His righteousness for you.
Today we remember and honor a man who knew this well: Patrick, the man who devoted his life to the Irish as a missionary to them. In his Confession, which he wrote at the end of his life, he doesn’t boast of all the things he did. He doesn’t speak about hoisting a green beer with the Irish and singing Irish songs. Instead, he begins with the words: “I, Patrick, a sinner, the least of all the faithful.” He then goes on to say:
“[Although the son of a priest] I did not know the true God; and [at age 16] I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts; for, quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation…
And there [in captivity] the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.
Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favors and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.”
Patrick knew God’s harshness. God let him be taken from his family and enslaved! But, he praises God for the chastisement of his captivity, because by it God broke him to pieces and turned his heart to cry out for God’s help in Christ. A sinner saved by Christ and changed by Christ; this is how he wishes to be remembered. At the end of his confession he states:
Beyond any doubt on [the last] day we shall rise again in the brightness of the sun, that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as children of the living God and co-heirs of Christ, made in his image; for we shall reign through him and for him and in him.
For the sun we see rises each day for us at [his] command, but it will never reign, neither will its splendour last, but all who worship it will come wretchedly to punishment. We, on the other hand, shall not die, who believe in and worship the true sun, Christ, who will never die, no more shall he die who has done Christ's will, but will abide forever just as Christ abides forever, who reigns with God the Father Almighty and with the Holy Spirit before the beginning of time and now and for ever and ever. Amen.
Amen! Our heavenly Father desires to bless us all with such certainty of our salvation in His Son. He does not want us to be crushed in the eternal judgment. And so, He reveals our sins, breaks us into pieces by our unworthiness, and forms us anew in Christ.
On this fifth Sunday in Lent, this St. Patrick’s Day, take to heart the words of Patrick in his most famous hymn, known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate:
“I Bind unto Myself Today” – (#604 LSB)
I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me forever, by pow’r of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
His Baptism in the Jordan River, His cross of death for my salvation,
His bursting from the spicèd tomb, His riding up the heav’nly way,
His coming at the day of doom, I bind unto myself today.
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name, the strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation; Salvation is of Christ the Lord!