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Exalted Flesh

September 19, 2020 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Verse: Matthew 20:16

Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
September 20, 2020
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Pentecost 16
Exalted Flesh

"So the last shall become first, and the first, last." Mt. 20:16

Jesus is not "woke"! 

And so we can be certain that today's parable was not given to justify a socialist world order, or validate so-called "protests" by which those who think of themselves as "last" try to make themselves "first" by brutality, destruction, theft and murder.

That is sin, damnable in the sight of God! Not only for those who do it, but for those who cheer it on, as well. (Romans 1:32) And if civil authorities will not carry out their God-given vocations then "the judge of all the earth" will. He will judge the lawless, and judge the judges; “and whatever a man sows, that will he also reap.”

No today's parable is not about the advent of a new world order, but about divine grace, and our Lord Jesus Christ who brought it into existence.

In particular today’s parable is about the Jewish and Gentile Church in the first century. The Jews were the ancient people of God. They were the First to be called into the vineyard of the church, where sins are forgiven, and eternal joys are to be found.

The Gentiles, on the other hand, were late to the party! As the parable tells it they stood idle in the market place for centuries. Not because God did not want them, or love them, but because when God works in history he does so by his own inscrutable designs.

When God is at work, recreating the fallen world, he orchestrates all things, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, at a rate that makes the combined computing power of the whole world look like a snail.

Note that verb! Re-create! Because the world cannot be “fixed” or “healed” or “made just” as people like to dream today. But it needs to be saved instead. Saved from the devil, and saved, above all, from the sin of its inhabitants. We are those inhabitants.

And so do not listen to the baby talk of those who control the culture’s narrative. It is bigger than them, and bigger than you. Instead: let us hear the holy gospel where the Lord of the Vineyard reveals his goodness to the disgruntled worker when he says,

“I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? And so the last shall be made first, and the first, last.”

Again, do not mistake the Lord’s teaching as justification for a new world order because this teaching only works person to person.

It only works when Christians, in imitation of Christ, humble themselves for the sake of others. When they make themselves Last so that others may be First, even as Jesus did who, “did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28) You are those "many".

Yes, Jesus who was First, made himself Last by suffering and death for our sins and for our sake; and in the verses following our parable we learn what Jesus means when he says: the Last shall be made First, and the First, Last.

St. Matthew writes, “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem he gathered the 12 disciples to himself, and as they traveled he said to them, ‘Behold! We are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.’”

First note that Jesus “gathered his disciples close by” just like “a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” and he revealed, the final act in the salvation of the world, to them.

In the same way let the Lord’s disciples today gather near to Jesus “while he may be found” to hear the gospel, and to receive the benefits of the glorious cross that are freely distributed here, in the church.

Note next that they “ascended” to Jerusalem, where Jesus was about to be raised up high upon the throne of the cross, from which he graciously rules all things in heaven and on earth.

From which the forgiveness of sins; and all grace, mercy, peace, light and life proceed. By the cross, sinners who are Lost and Last because of their iniquity, are made First by Jesus who made himself Last for us.

The Lord says further that, “the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles …”

The chief priests and scribes were the Old Testament ministers of the Word and Sacrament. By sacrificial rites, and the teaching of Scripture, they forgave the sins of penitents: all in light of the coming Christ!

But what had been only a thrilling promise in the Old Testament was now flesh and blood in their hands, and the greatest sacrifice of all time was about to be performed by them.

But not by them alone. But the Lord was also “handed over” to the Gentiles, they too would now play their part, and carry out the death sentence that reconciles Jew and Gentile alike, with God.

Yes, he who was the First Born of all creation: was made man, for us men and for our salvation. And so the church rightly sings today,

     “Salvation unto us has come,
     by God’s free grace and favor.”

And know this, too, that what we hear in today’s parable is not only a story; but rather a living liturgical reality in which all Christians may take part, here in the Lord’s vineyard. Here Jesus continues to serve us. Continues to exalt us, and make us truly Great in the Kingdom of God.

By the holy communion we are celebrating here today, Christ is “magnified in our flesh,” (Phil. 1:20) as St. Paul’s writes; even as he magnifies us with “abundant pardon”. (Is. 55)

Here Jesus continues to serve us. Continues to “hand over” his exalted flesh to us in Holy Communion. Let us continue to receive him humbly, and as we do we will find ourselves who were Last because of sin, First with Jesus. Amen.