The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity: God Grants Life by Justifying Sinners

Readings: Genesis 4:1-15, 1 Corinthians 15:1-10, Luke 18:9-14
Hymns: LSB 613, 559, 628, 557, 689

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

When Adam and Eve were created by God through His divine ability, they were perfect. They were made in the image of God. That is, they were righteous and holy (Eph. 4:24), they knew God and His truth (Col. 3:10), and they were like God (1 John 3:2). They lived in Paradise. All was good.

But then they ate of the forbidden fruit. They became sinners and brought the whole world into sin. They were removed from the Garden of Eden. They were told that their lives will be difficult.

But they were also given a promise—a divine promise. God told them that from her seed would come the Messiah who would defeat Satan. The Son of God will be born of a Virgin, becoming a Man, to conquer sin, death, and the Devil.

When Eve conceived, she born a child and named him Cain. The translation we heard today does not accurately reflect what Eve said in Genesis 4:1. Instead of saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord,” the Hebrew reads, “I have gotten a Man the Lord.” Translators have added words to make sense of the Hebrew, but in doing so, they take away the true meaning of the passage. Eve figured that her son, Cain, was the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Savior.

Eve piously desired the advent of the Messiah, for she likely had a heavy heart for her part in corrupting the entire world with sin. All believers look forward to seeing Christ.

As we heard in our Old Testament lesson, Cain did not turn out to be the Lord as Eve had hoped. Instead, he ended up being a murderer, killing his own brother.

Most people, through their personal experience, find that the world seems to be getting worse and worse. We think back decades ago and feel that things were better then. Our memories sugarcoat the past, and we tend to have rather cynical opinions about the present.

What we heard in our Old Testament reading is not what we would expect. We would expect Cain and Abel to be nearly perfect, their children a little worse, and the successive generations getting worse and worse. But total corruption came into our world upon Adam and Eve’s original sin. This is demonstrated by the horrible crime committed by Cain against Abel.

The mercy of God is as astounding as it is unimaginable. Here God created a perfect creation, and man ruined it. Then He promises to send His only-begotten Son to die for the sins of the world to restore mankind and reconcile the world to Himself.

Now, i you worked hard on something, taking six full days to make it, and in just moments someone destroys it deliberately, what would you think of that person? How would you treat him? At best, you would be filled with unrighteous anger. At worst, your rage could lead to murder or, even worse, desires of condemnation for the one who wrecked your week of hard work.

But that is not the way of our Lord. He mercifully allowed Adam and Eve to live and bear children. He sent His Son to save the world from their sin and open the gates of Heaven to all who believe.

Cain figured that the solution to his problem is death. He thought that he could do away with his unbelief, jealousy, and temptation if he only gets rid of his brother, Abel.

Satan is still leading people to believe that death solves things. Some in despair take their lives. Some take the lives of others. In our own country where we have the ability to see the babies mothers’ the wombs through ultrasounds, we lie to ourselves with the false narrative that the unborn are not yet human, and so we have created laws which not only defend but support the murder of little babies, as if that abortion will solve the mother’s troubles.

God has demonstrated a better way, for it is the way of life. God put a mark on Cain so that no one kills him. He promised to Adam, Eve, and all believers in Christ the gift of everlasting life. Jesus firmly declared, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

The death of Jesus, though, did solve the problem of sin. You see, Adam and Eve could not do enough to make amends for their sin of eating the Forbidden Fruit. Not only was it insurmountable to correct their sin by their good behavior, but all their good deeds were tainted with sin. In fact, everything they could do would just earn for themselves more reasons to be condemned. The good works we do, though necessary and good for our neighbor, do not place us in a better standing with God. For even our most righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

This shows the folly in the Pharisee’s line of thinking in today’s Gospel. He went to the Temple to pray. That’s a good thing. But he didn’t pray for mercy. Instead, he prayed by telling God the good things he did and the bad things he avoided. He didn’t pray in repentance, confessing his many sins before God, for he figured that God must be pleased with his good behavior.

But God was not well-pleased. The Pharisee did not go home justified. For God knew the Pharisee’s deep-down corruption. God knew every sinful thought the Pharisee held. God knew the many sins the Pharisee did that the Pharisee didn’t even know were wrong. God also knew that none of the Pharisee’s good works undid the sin the Pharisee inherited or the sins the Pharisee committed.

What the Pharisee needed was not his own good works to show before God. What the Pharisee needed was a Savior, who would shed His innocent Blood on behalf of the sinful Pharisee as the all-sufficient, atoning sacrifice to take away his sin and replace his sin with the Savior’s own righteousness.

Like Cain, the Pharisee figured another way would somehow work. Cain’s solution was murdering another. The Pharisee’s solution to exalt himself and brag before God of his own righteousness. This was leading him to the death of his soul and was earning for him eternal death. He thought he was on the way of life, but he was actually on the path to eternal death.

Comparing ourselves to others so that we can build ourselves up and demonstrate how we are somehow better than the next person does not impress God, nor does it save us. If we want to tear into others, what do we seriously have or do that is better than our neighbor? Where can we outdo our neighbor that will not lead to death? Do we really think we can escape death if we somehow prove to God our righteousness?

In contrast to the Pharisee, the tax collector’s sin was before him (Psalm 51:3). He knew he could not save himself. He knew he could not muster up enough good works to fix his sinful self or his broken relationship with his Creator. He could have been like Zacchaeus who promised to give half of his goods to the poor and restore fourfold to those whom he defrauded (Luke 19:8). But that still would not gain God’s favor or fix his fallen nature.

And so, he confessed his sin before God. He pleaded with God to be merciful. And God was merciful. The tax collector went home justified. He went home forgiven. He went home restored as a child of God and an heir to eternal life.

This did not come about from his own doing, but God granted it to him in mercy. For the tax collector believed in God, trusted in Christ and His mercy, plead guilty of his sin, and received from God the gift of eternal life.

The terrible sinner—the tax collector—received from God what the self-righteous Pharisee figured he could earn but, of course, did not. The tax collector was forgiven and received the gift of eternal life.

This again shows the mercy of God. And this mercy is applied to us because One Person could actually make amends for our sin. One Person who was truly righteous could atone for the sin of the world. For the Lord laid on Jesus all our iniquity. Jesus was held accountable by God the Father for our many sins. Jesus went to cross, was forsaken by the Father for being blamed for our sin, and shed His innocent Blood in our place.

Taking the life of another or taking our own life never solves life’s problems or difficulties. But Jesus died to take away our sin. And His death did not end in death. For, as St. Paul testifies in today’s Epistle, Jesus rose from the dead. He lives. He is not gone forever in death, but He is present everywhere in life. Hundreds of eyewitnesses attested to His resurrection. Even the resurrection accounts with the women as first witnesses bear testimony to the reality of His resurrection.

Christ Jesus lives. He lives to give us peace. He lives to grant us His forgiveness. He lives to usher us into everlasting life. He lives to be merciful. He lives so that we sinners can go home justified as saints.

You have come here to church to pray. You are going home justified—forgiven—as you have received the Absolution, hear the Word, and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. And, on the time our Lord appoints, you will go Home to Heaven justified. That is, you will join the saints who have gone before you to be with the Lord. And you will live, for our Lord Christ also lives. Amen.            

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen