In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I think you’ve all had the experience of waking up from a nightmare with muscles tense, and breathing a sigh of relief, relaxing when you realize that it was only a dream. But what if the reality, what if your life, is worse than the dream? Maybe that’s happened to you. It must have been something like that for the inhabitants of Judea 600 years before Jesus was born. The nightmare was Babylon. Babylon, which had overtaken Assyria and become the great world power. Babylon, which had swept down to Jerusalem, destroyed the city and burned the temple. But when the people woke up, the reality was worse. Because they woke up in Babylon. They woke up exiles, without a city, without a home, without a temple; maybe without a God. At least not the God they wanted. That’s why they were telling this parable, spreading it around among the exiles there in Babylon. “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the teeth of the children are dulled, or set on edge.” The point is clear: they thought that God was punishing them for the sins of their parents or grandparents. They thought that God just needed someone one to punish, a scapegoat; so, since the fathers were dead, He was punishing the children with exile in Babylon. The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are dulled.
That is, in fact, how some people think that Original Sin works. Way back, Adam and Eve ate from some magical fruit, and now we’re being punished for their sin—or, at least, we would be, if God actually existed. But even though sin entered the world through one man, and even though death followed after, St. Paul is clear: death spread to all men, because all sinned. It’s not that we poor, innocent souls are being punished for our ancient father’s sin; no, we’ve contributed more than enough to our sin-savings account, we don’t need any help from Adam or anyone else. God tells the people of Israel something like this: in the verses missing from our reading this morning, He asks them to imagine a righteous man. Because this man is righteous in God’s sight, he does righteous things. He doesn’t share in the sins of the surrounding culture; he doesn’t worship their gods. In his righteousness, he will live. But imagine that this man has a son, and he rejects his father’s righteousness. He shares as much as possible in the sins of the surrounding culture; he worships all their gods. In his wickedness, he will die. His father’s righteousness will not save him. But what if that man has a son who rejects his father’s wickedness. He repents and seeks the mercy of God. He will not die for his father’s wickedness. No, each one is accountable to God for his own actions. Each one belongs to God, because He is the Creator of all things. No one dies and no one lives because of what his parents did or did not do. God rejects their parable, but they are not satisfied. Still they say that the ways of Yahweh are unjust. He has not taken into account our good works. He does not give us what we deserve. He does not give us what we have earned. His ways are unjust. God answers, Is it My ways that are unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? Is it not you who have not taken into account your evil works, what you deserve, what you have earned? Still, the house of Israel says, the ways of Yahweh are unjust.
Well, at least we know what we deserve for our sins. We confessed it a few minutes ago. We said of ourselves, and not of anyone else: “I, a poor, miserable sinner.” I confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You. I deserve both temporal and eternal punishment. We said, according to our sin, and no one else’s, what I deserve is punishment now and forever. But, you know, I’m not sure I buy it. Is that really true? I know it’s on the page; I know we confess it often; but I’m not sure that I can believe that what I really deserve, for my sin, is nothing good but only punishment. I wonder if the ways of God are not really unjust. I wonder if He’s really taken into account everything good I’ve done. Has He weighed in the balance everything I’ve given, everything I’ve sacrificed? He hasn’t given me what I deserve, everything I’ve earned. His ways are unjust, especially when I compare myself to other people. He says, Is it My ways that are unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? Have you taken into account every evil you’ve done? Have you weighed in the balance all your bitter thoughts? All your biting words? All your actions that have damaged relationships and issued in rebellion against your Creator? Haven’t you been willfully blind to your own sin? Why will you die? Throw off your transgressions and your old ways and get yourself a new hear and a new spirit! Why will you die? And you say My ways are unjust?
I will show you unjust. I will show you the extent of My injustice. I will show you My Son. My Son, who willingly entered the flesh of the wicked, who willingly entered this nightmare of sin and death. He went up on that cross, under the weight of your thoughts, words, deeds, and willful blindness, and He drank down to the dregs the bitter wine made from the sour grapes of your sin, so that your teeth will not be dulled by death. This is how far My unjust ways go for you. My ways are not your ways and My thoughts are not your thoughts. He lets His body be broken and His veins opened, and when you come to this place, it is not temporal and eternal punishment that rushes down upon you. But from the wounds of Jesus flows into your mouth the sweet wine of His blood, shed for your salvation. His blood covers you completely, contrary to the demand Justice makes against you. He knew that stone hearts cannot remake themselves as hearts of flesh; He knew that rebellious spirits cannot remake themselves as holy spirits. So as His blood flows into you, He does what He promised twice through the prophet Ezekiel: He says, I will take from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will take from you your rebellious spirit and give you My Holy Spirit. I will sprinkle you with clean water and cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and a new spirit, so that you will walk in My ways and do My will (11:19; 36:26ff.). It is from the heart that flows either wickedness or righteousness; either justice or injustice. And He gives you a new heart, so that you will, as Paul says, do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, shining as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, which is Christ Jesus. Holding fast to Him only; and when He comes, He will awaken you from this nightmare of sin and death. But when He does, the reality will not be worse, but far beyond what you can imagine; far greater, far more glorious, than anything in this age.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/24/11