Lessons: Jeremiah 23:16-29, Acts 20:27-38, Matthew 7:15-23
Hymns: LSB 658, 745, 623, 585, 647
Sermon by Seminarian Thomas Goodroad:
The sermon today is based on the Gospel lesson, especially these words, “21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” In the name of Jesus. Amen.
This verse is a little bit of a roller coaster, if you look at it closely. At first read, you may think, “But wait… Doesn’t God tell us to do just that? Doesn’t He tell us to call on Him, to say ‘Lord, Lord’?” Yes, He does! In Psalm 50 He says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you, and you will glorify me,” Alright, then what’s the deal here? Now God says that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven?” Is He changing His tune here, is He saying, “Well… I won’t deliver everyone who calls on me in the day of trouble…”? No. No, God isn’t changing His tune here, He isn’t being wishy-washy or flip-flopping or anything like that. Our God is a God of certainty, not of uncertainty, our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He is not changing His mind about this. The key to understanding this passage is in the second half of this verse, verse 21, where Jesus says, “but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
There are many who would immediately read this verse and jump to the wrong conclusions. “Ahh, the one who does the will of the Father!” They might say, “That means good works! We have to do the will of the Father to get into heaven!” And then those people would go on to do all kinds of things that they think are getting them into heaven. They think that if they give money to their neighbor or give money to the church, or help the old lady cross the street they’ll earn a spot in the kingdom of heaven. These are the people that Jesus is talking about in verse 22 of our Gospel lesson, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” When Jesus says “On that day” He means on the last day when He Himself comes back and raises all the dead and all are judged before God. People who believe in their own works will show them to God, expecting them to be enough to earn salvation. “Look, God, look at all the things that I’ve done! Look, aren’t I amazing? I was prophesying in your name, I was casting out demons in your name, I was doing so many mighty works in your name! So which room in that big old mansion of yours is for me? The deluxe? The suite? The penthouse?”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ve all been there and done that before. We’ve all thought that we can do something for God in order to earn some kind of favor or get on His good side. We all have thought that we were such good Christians sometime for doing some random act of kindness for someone. It’s way more common than it should be for someone to think, “See God? I went to church. I held up my end of the bargain, now it’s your turn!” or to think that all they have to do is check things off a list and they will get what they want, or all they really have to do is say something, they don’t have to really believe it! “Yeah, sure, I confess all my sins, yep, I’m forgiven, amen. Now let’s get home to watch the game!”
But Jesus says that’s not what being a Christian really is. It’s more than just doing a few acts, it’s more than just saying a few words, it’s more than just giving something lip service, it’s more than just saying, “Lord, Lord!” It’s about the will of the Father. And what is that will of the Father? It’s that all would have faith in Him. It’s that the Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself, go to earth, humble Himself by taking on human flesh, live a perfect life, and die a bloody death to pay for the sins of the world, then after three days, rise again. And when Jesus talks about doing the will of the Father, He’s not talking about doing good works or just going to church to check an item off a list, He’s talking about having faith in God, and in Jesus Himself. Jesus is being clear in our text today, you don’t get points by just doing something, you can’t make God owe you something by doing works, however mighty they are. The only way you can get anything is by having faith, and we can’t even do that ourselves, like it says in the Small Catechism, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” Our faith is a gift from God. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who works through means. The Holy Spirit instills faith in us through the Word, when you read it, when you study it, when you hear it read, when you hear it being preached. The Holy Spirit works faith in you through Holy Baptism, the combination of plain water with God’s holy and precious Word. And the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith through the Lord’s Supper, the Body and Blood of Jesus in, with, and under the bread and the wine. All of this happens in order for us, God’s children, to enter into His Kingdom, heaven, eternal life, everlasting salvation.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is what God’s will is, that we enter into His presence in order to be with Him forever in perfect unbroken joy and happiness. That is why faith, true faith, given to you: so that all of your sins are forgiven. All of them. The times when you sin and you know about it, the times when you sin and you don’t know about it. The times when you think you’re earning your way into salvation by doing a good work, the times when you think you’re doing something for God by just showing up in church, the times when you think that just by saying the words and giving lip service, you’re putting one more point in your heavenly bank. The blood that Jesus poured out on the cross is enough to pay for all of those sins and more. And how do we respond? With thanksgiving. With praise. With love, love for God, but also love for our neighbor. Because while it’s true that good works don’t earn us a place in heaven, and the good works that we do don’t forgive our own sins, God does still tell us to do them. He does still tell us that we should help our neighbor. Giving your neighbor money won’t help God, but it will help your neighbor. Giving money to the church doesn’t make you a reservation in God’s mansion in the sky, only the blood of Christ poured out on you can do that, but giving money to the church keeps the doors open and the lights on. It makes the church continue to run so that it can do what the church is supposed to do. It’s a place where Christians come to receive God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. It’s where we come to hear God’s Word preached in its’ truth and purity. It’s where we come to receive the Sacraments distributed rightly by the pastor. Good works aren’t done for God, and they aren’t done so we get something back. They’re done out of love, because God first loved us. So as Christians, we can and should do things for others as we are able to, we should cheerfully give whenever we have the opportunity. In verse 17 of our text today, Jesus says that every healthy tree bears good fruit. You are a healthy tree, dear Christian. You can and should bear good fruit. But only because you have been nurtured by our almighty Lord. Only because you have been fed with the Word, and watered with the life-giving water of Baptism. Our salvation, our eternal life, our place in God’s heavenly kingdom, all rests upon Jesus. His perfect life, His bloody death, and His glorious resurrection, not upon our fruit; our fruit is just the healthy product of that, not the end itself.
So now, we know, we can be assured, when we call upon our God, when we are the ones who call out, “Lord, Lord!” He does hear us, and He does answer our prayer. But not with the words of our text today, not by saying, “I never knew you, depart from me.” But instead, “I always knew you. Enter into my kingdom, which has been prepared for you from the very foundation of the world.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.