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Pentecost 17 2020 Proper 21A
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
September 26, 27, 2020
Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32, Philippians 2:1–18, Matthew 21:23–27

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                            pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            I was in high school in the early 1980s and computers were just starting to become more main stream.  When I was a freshman, the computer lab was still using punch cards for memory, but by my senior year we had the black 5-1/4 inch floppy drives that could hold 360 kilobytes of data.  I think I would only need 355,000 of these discs to equal the storage capacity of the tiny micro sd card in my phone.

            The personal computer was just dawning on the scene and if you took a computer class in school you were taught basic programming using the computer language called BASIC (Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code).  In learning to write simple programs, one of the fundamental lines of code was the “if…then…else” statement. 

IF number<0 THEN

  PRINT “Number is negative”

ELSEIF number>0 THEN

  PRINT “Number is positive”

ELSE

  PRINT “Number is zero”

END IF

            If…then analysis is also used all the time in things having nothing to do with computers.  Playing games, especially a game like chess, you have think, if I do this then they will do that, else this other thing with happen.  Many times each day you use if…then…else to make calculated responses to things happening in life. 

            We see if…then analysis in politics all the time.  A candidate is asked, “What do you think about black lives matter?”  The three words are not controversial, but if I say I am in favor then they may think I support the Black Lives Matter organization with its fairly radical agenda.  Politicians, it seems, don’t just tell you what they believe, instead they filter everything through thinking about how this could be used against them.  What do they actually believe?  It’s hard to know.  Are they telling the truth, or just saying what they think certain people want to hear.

            You would think that the Jewish religious leaders at Jesus’ time would be concerned about God; about sin and forgiveness, but the chief priests and the elders of the people at Jesus’ time are basically just politicians trying to balance the demands of the Roman authorities with the desires of the Jewish people.  There is a fine balance that the religious leaders try to maintain so they can remain in their places of prominence and continue to line their own pockets with money.  

Jesus, this radical preacher from Galilee, has come to Jerusalem and is stirring up trouble. He is messing up the good thing the religious leaders have going.  He almost caused a riot at the temple as He went around driving out animals for sale and flipping over tables covered with coins.  The chief priests and elders want to get rid of Jesus and so they attack Him by questioning His authority.  Matthew 21:23 (ESV) 23 And when [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”[1]

            Who told you that you could do this?  Where do you come from?  Who do you think you are?  If Jesus says He has human authority the chief priests and scribes have more authority. If Jesus says He has authority from God they will charge Him with blasphemy.  Jesus knows it is a trap, so He turns the question around on them.  Matthew 21:24-25 (ESV) 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” [2] …Now the chief priests and scribes are faced with an if…then analysis.  They don’t just answer the question and say what they believe, instead they consider their answer and what effect it might have.  … Matthew 21:25-26 (ESV) 25 … And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”[3] 

            The chief priests and the scribes are not worried about the truth, they are not worried about God, or sin and forgiveness.  They are worried about the political and social effects of what they say.  They are all about the if…then analysis of what they say.  They want to make the proper, calculated response. 

            As a Christian you are called to confess the truth regardless of the results and yet there are so many who call themselves Christians who are not concerned with God, sin and forgiveness, but rather with saying the right things so that no one is offended.  Entire church bodies are willing to give up on the truth of the Bible so that they can get along with the cultural elites.  When confronted with questions that might offend, they do an if…then analysis in order to make a calculated response to please others. 

            Is Jesus really God in flesh?

Is Jesus the only way to heaven?

            Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

            What is God’s plan for marriage?

            Is the Bible really true?

            Is Hell real?  Are people really going to go there?

            When confronted with these questions you are tempted to do the if…then analysis.  You are tempted to calculate your response in order to please others and fit in.  You are tempted to conform to the world and reject Jesus.  Resist the temptation.  Confess the truth.  Jesus is God in flesh.  Jesus is the only way to heaven.  Jesus did rise from the dead.  God’s plan for marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.  The Bible is true and reliable.  Hell is real and people are choosing to go there by rejecting Jesus and His forgiveness. 

  Sinners rejoice at this good news.  Sinners know they are sinners who deserve death and Hell, but the Good News of the Bible is that Jesus came to save sinners.  

            Confess the truth of God and be honest about who you are in Christ.  It is easy for Christians to start to believe that they are better than others.  This is why we begin worship with the confession of sins.  You are, by nature, sinful and unclean.  Christians are not better; just forgiven.  Forgiveness is not something you earn, but is purely gift from Jesus to you. Jesus’ gift of forgiveness, life and salvation to you is the full gift that is given to all people who believe, not more to some and less to others.  Before God we are all equal.  We are all sinners needing forgiveness and Jesus pours out His forgiveness in His Word, in Baptism and Holy Communion.  Full forgiveness is found in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. 

            Sinners rejoice at this good news.  Sinners know they are sinners who deserve death and Hell, but the Good News of the Bible is that Jesus came to save sinners.  Jesus promises sinners will not get what they deserve.  Jesus offers the gift of forgiveness to all sinners everywhere.  It is a free gift for everyone and yet so many reject the gift because they reject Jesus.  They do not want to Jesus to be Lord of their life because they are more concerned with fitting in to the world than they are about God, sin and forgiveness.

We see this in the chief priests and the elders who are not concerned about God. They are not concerned about sin and forgiveness.  They are concerned with political power.  They are concerned with what other people think of them.  And so Jesus tells them Matthew 21:31-32 (ESV) 31 … “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. [4]

            Brothers and sisters in Christ, reject if…then analysis when speaking about faith.  Reject giving calculated responses to fit in with the world. The truth of forgiveness of sins in Jesus is more important than being liked by others.  You do not need to be liked.  You need Jesus. 

            This is not a call for you to seek out confrontation but rather in the Words of St. Peter, 1 Peter 3:15-17 (ESV) 15 …in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.[5]

            When it comes to the truth of the Bible do not do if…then analysis.  Don’t calculate your response to make it palatable to the world. You know the truth.  Confess the truth.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluua! Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

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