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Honour Your Father and Your Mother

February 21, 2024; Rev. Kurt A. Lantz, Pastor
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Doing the Will of My Father

On Ash Wednesday we noted how Jesus addressed the skeptics of His day, who wanted proof that He was the Son of God, by referring them to the sign of the prophet Jonah. That was the beginning of tonight’s reading from the Gospel according to Matthew: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:39-41).


Jesus was speaking directly to the scribes and Pharisees who would not believe that He was the promised Saviour from God. They had seen Him heal people and cast out demons, but they claimed that Jesus was given this power from the devil and not from God. They said this, not because they didn’t want people to be healed or to be free from demonic oppression, but because they didn’t want people to listen to Jesus’ preaching.


Jesus was preaching about true godliness. The Pharisees lived outwardly holy lives, making a public display of how exacting they kept God’s laws. They looked down on others who were not living that way. Jesus was preaching that the source of all godly living was not in outward actions, but in the condition of the heart, and He accused the Pharisees and scribes of not having a pure heart.


Jesus called them the children of the devil, the offspring of the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35). He was telling the Pharisees and scribes that their good works would not justify them before God while their hearts were evil, and so their works were truly evil even if they had the appearance of being godly. But if the heart is made good, then the works that come from the heart will also be good.


That is why the Pharisees and scribes demanded that Jesus show them a sign to prove that He was the promised Messiah. They were placing all of their hope for justification before God on their religious works and they wanted to silence anyone who might suggest that there was something else which is needed for a man to be justified before God.


Good works are important, but truly good works flow not from pride or arrogance, but from a heart that is humble before God, one that does not boast in its godliness but confesses its sinfulness. Truly good works are works of repentance, that flow from a heart that knows its need for a Messiah from God, and is not offended when the Messiah preaches the need for repentance, the need for your repentance. Good works flow from a humble repentant heart that hears the preaching of the condemnation of its own sin and clings steadfastly to the preaching of salvation in Christ alone, the Messiah sent from God to save His people from their sins.


It is easy to point at the scribes and Pharisees and say, “Ya, what He said,” to agree with Jesus when He is talking directly to someone else, someone who is arrogant and full of pride. Surely that would not be you or me. But it was not only to the scribes and Pharisees of His day that Jesus preached this way. He preached repentance to everyone, for the kingdom of God had come near in His gracious visitation and He was inviting all people to come to Him for salvation.


He warned that the unclean spirit of pride and arrogance quickly returns even to someone whose outward actions are good. When someone has gotten their life turned around and eliminated their bad behaviours, when they have gotten their house in order, that is the when the evil foe makes another attack, and seven times worse than the first. He manipulates our sinful nature to focus on our success of replacing evil actions with outwardly good actions.


Instead of maintaining a holy spirit of humble repentance in the heart, we so easily look to the outward works of our life to justify ourselves and to declare what good people we are. That is the way that we judge others, too. We disregard their humble repentance and ask what good they have done lately. Where is the proof? Where is the sign that they are godly people?


It should hit close to home for us as it did for Jesus. For while He was preaching about these things, His own mother and brothers came asking to speak to Him. I think we kind of expect that Jesus would stop everything in order to speak to them right away. It was His mother, the humble-hearted Mary, who submitted to the will of God that she bear the Son of the Most High. It was His brothers, those who shared a familial bond with Him, at least two of whom would hold high regard in the church after His resurrection and contribute to the writings collected in the New Testament.


We are not told if Jesus went out to them right away or if He made them wait until the sermon was over. We are not told if He scolded them for interrupting His preaching or if He embraced them warmly and welcomed them in immediately. We are told that He graciously stretched out His hand toward those who were humbly listening to His preaching of repentance and He declared His most intimate fellowship with them, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50).


Note that it was to those who embraced and received His preaching of repentance that He was gesturing; those who received it with a humble heart of repentance. It was of these that Jesus could confidently assert that they were doing the will of the heavenly Father, for true deeds of godliness flow from the repentant heart that has received His Word. It is a most blessed and gracious standing that He gives to people such as this, people who gather to hear His Word with a humble acknowledgement of their sinfulness and their need for the Christ who saves His people from their sins.


That is what He preaches to us as we are shortly into this season of Lent. There are actions and outward deeds that are to be done, but they are to flow from a heart of humble repentance and faith. He warns us not to rely on the fact that it appears we have gotten our house swept clean, our lives freed from overindulgence and self pleasure. He warns that there are seven more demons eagerly awaiting to squat in our clean swept, prideful hearts.


Those who are brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ are those who hear His preaching of repentance and then from a humble heart do the will of His Father in heaven. The will of the Father is first of all that you listen to His beloved Son, and then do those things which He has commanded. It was for your sake that Jesus obeyed His Father’s will and went to the cross and the grave in payment for your sins. It was from His heart of humble obedience and submission to His Father that He made Himself a servant and suffered for your salvation. That is the heart that is behind truly godly deeds. It is not with pride or arrogance, but with a humble heart that acknowledges the love of the Father, that we obey His commandments and submit to His will.


Tonight we focus on the Fourth Commandment, given when “the glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai... and He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:16-18).


We would rightly be humbled and submit purely out of fear in the face of the glory of this LORD. But He is the one who draws near to us in order to share His holy and godly life with us. He is the one who came down from heaven and submitted to earthly parents Himself. He honoured and obeyed His father and mother, placing Himself under the very Law and commandments that He had given for our blessing. And although He kept them perfectly and wholly, He suffered and died for our disobedience.


So it is not only humbled by fear that we submit to His will spelled out in the Ten Commandments. It is also with love and trust in the LORD who is our Saviour from sin. We are humbled by His act of outward love that flows from a pure and holy heart. He has come to call us by His Word to be His brothers and sisters, children of the same heavenly Father.


That is the preaching that humbles our heart. We know that we do not deserve such an act of love, that we should be called the children of God. We know that our disobedient behaviour toward our parents and our despising of their rule and authority over us, even into old age, are not the godly virtues that our heavenly Father requires. We know that our overbearing attitude toward our children and our neglect of their proper training and discipline is not the fulfillment of the responsibility that He has entrusted to us as His hands to care for His littlest ones in His family.


And it is not enough just to change our actions. It is not enough just to follow rules. Someone has to do something about the heart from which these sinful behaviours flow. And that is why we place no hope in our successes, and do not despair of our failures. For Jesus has come to change our hearts in the message of His atoning death on our behalf. We do not only have a threat of destruction. We have the cleansing of absolution, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus the Christ


The people of Nineveh repented with fasting in sackcloth and ashes when the prophet Jonah preached to them that in forty days Nineveh would be destroyed. “Behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” The LORD Himself has come to save us. He has come to lead our hearts to repentance, not only by fear of His threat of punishment, but also by trust in His own godly obedience to the will of the Father to suffer and die for our salvation.

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