The 10th Sunday after Trinity—8 August 2021
41 When [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. (ESV)
Introduction: Faithless in Repenting
This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me (Matthew 15:8). With these words, Jesus describes the Jewish leaders who were faithful in attending synagogue services and in making temple sacrifices, but who were faithless in terms of repenting.
The Israelites’ tragic mistake: thinking they did not need to repent!
This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. These words also apply to the Israelites of Jeremiah’s day. With their lips, the Israelites confess the right creed: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deuteronomy 6:4). But their hearts are far from God. Rather than repenting of their sins, they continue in their sins, expecting God to protect them from their enemies simply because they worship at the Lord’s temple. They cannot imagine God would allow His temple to be destroyed, and so they think they are saved in spite of their impenitence. They cry out This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD and so we are delivered! They think just because they worship at the LORD’s temple they will be delivered from their enemies.
But such was not the case. Because of the Israelites’ unbelief and impenitence, God allowed the temple to be destroyed and the Israelites to be conquered by the Babylonians. All this could have been avoided if the Israelites had only heeded God’s call to repent. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God had said to His people: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. But the people did not repent; they went on doing abominations—stealing, murdering, committing adultery, speaking lies, bearing false witness against their neighbour, and worshipping other gods. They might have attended the temple services regularly, they might have confessed the right creed, but their hearts were far from God, and so they made the temple into a den of robbers who robbed God of the repentance they owed Him.
Once again, impenitence leads to destruction!
Centuries later, history repeated itself when the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and when they robbed God by making the temple into a place of commerce rather than a house of prayer and repentance. And so Jesus warns them of the coming judgment that impenitence brings: the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation. This prophecy was fulfilled in 70 AD, when the Roman army laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed the holy city and the temple once again.
Even today, some think that repentance is optional!
This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Sadly, these words describe not only ancient Jews but also modern-day church-goers who go through the motion of attending church and even receiving the Sacrament but without living a life of repentance. Today, the Church seems to be infected with the deadly virus of thinking repentance is optional. But if you truly seek to live in Christ, then you cannot opt out of repentance. Yes, if our confession of Christ is done in the power of the Holy Spirit, then our saying with the lips that “Jesus is Lord” will always be accompanied by repentance in the heart. Faith and repentance always go together, but today some live as though it is possible to keep faith and throw out repentance, as if as long as you confess Christ, you can willfully and persistently sin without bothering to repent. But those who make repentance optional are making a terrible mistake. They are killing faith, for faith cannot exist where there is no repentance. They honour God with their lips, but their heart is far from Him.
When people expect God to save them apart from true repentance through faith in Christ, then although they may confess the right creed with their lips, their hearts nonetheless are far from God, for their hearts are proud and stubborn rather than broken and contrite, as God desires. Oh, they may come to church and mouth the liturgy and receive the Lord’s Supper, but this does not mean they are saved, for our Lord warns us all: 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 (Matthew 7:21). Our Father’s will is that we live lives of true repentance, confessing our sins and trusting God to forgive us for Jesus’ sake. To all who expect God to save them even though they refuse to repent of their sins, on the last day the Lord will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
The Bad News—it’s possible to pay only lip service to God!
The Bad News in our text comes through loud and clear. As was the case of Israelities, it is possible for us to honour God with our lips but to be far from Him in our hearts. It is possible to go through the motion of attending church and even receiving the Sacrament but without living a life of true repentance. To all who fail to repent, our Lord speaks a word of condemnation that bars them from the kingdom of heaven.
Listen. Do you hear it?—the loud hammering of the Law upon your heart, accusing you of the many times you have failed to do the Father’s will, the many times you have robbed God of the full and true repentance owed Him. I hear the Law hammering upon my own heart and I tremble with fear, for I desperately do not want to hear my Lord say: I never knew you; depart from me, you worker of lawlessness. But that is exactly what you and I deserve—our Lord’s word of condemnation.
The Good News is that Jesus has compassion for sinners!
But the Good News is that there is…now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). The Good News is that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned (John 3:17-16).
Our Lord Jesus has a heart of compassion for sinners and He desires and yearns for their salvation. Notice what our Lord does as He is about to enter Jerusalem: And when [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!” Here we see deep into the heart of our loving Lord, who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (Ezekiel 33:11;1 Timothy 2:4).
The Good News is that our Lord Jesus weeps for impenitent sinners, desiring their salvation. But our Lord does even more than weep for sinners. He dies for sinners, for sinners who deserve hell. He dies for you and me. We were born imprisoned in unbelief and impenitence, but Jesus loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood through Holy Baptism (Revelation 1:5). And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).
The Lord’s death and resurrection—for you!
Jesus died on the cross and rose again to free us from our bondage to sin and to give us eternal life. He now comes to us through Word and Sacrament to give us the gift of faith and forgiveness. In Baptism, He fills us with the Holy Spirit so that we confess Jesus as Lord and He now lives in us to keep us free from unbelief and impenitence. We cannot do it on our own; on our own, we would end up just like the ancient Israelites, who died in their sins. But in Holy Baptism, our risen Jesus sets us free to live lives of true faith and repentance. And through His Holy Word and His Holy Supper, Jesus sustains us in that freedom so that we desire to amend our sinful lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, by God’s grace, we live as people who are free, not using [our] freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (1 Peter 2:16). Now, by God’s grace, as penitent sinners, we can truly proclaim: We are delivered!
The risen Lord Jesus has set you free, but it is always a freedom to repent and never a freedom from repentance. Freedom from repentance, as the ancient Israelites discovered, is a way that leads to death. But thanks be to God, our Lord has placed you on the path that leads to eternal life. The path that leads to life is the path of true repentance in Christ. The Lord has set you free from thinking that God and His Word and Sacraments will save you apart from true repentance in Christ. Even now, the Lord ever works to keep you free—free to repent and free from unbelief and impenitence. And having set you free, the Lord has gathered you here this morning, not as a den of robbers who rob God of the repentance owed Him, but as Christ’s bride—the Church, who freely confesses her sins and trusts God to forgive her for Jesus’ sake.
And for Christ’s sake, God forgives you. Yes, for Christ’s sake, God forgives you. God has taken all your sins and has nailed them to the cross of Christ and He says to you: “In spite of your many sins, there is…now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2). The Good News is that Christ does not condemn you; rather, in His Holy Word, in His Holy Supper, He gives you the strength and the freedom to honour God with both your lips and your heart as you live a life of faith and repentance, truly confessing Jesus as Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. What Good News! Jesus, God’s Son, bound all your sins to Himself on the cross to set you free in His forgiveness. And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).