Matthew 11:12-19 (Reformation Sunday)
“You Didn’t Dance; You Didn’t Mourn”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 26, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 11:
“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
They simply are not satisfied with either. John is too stern. Jesus is too forgiving. Jesus’ ministry is too “liberal” and shamelessly celebratory, welcoming all the wrong kinds of people! John’s ministry is too harsh, calling people to mourn in repentance over their sins. When John came baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, they wanted the pipes to play and have everyone dance instead of turn away from sin. When John refused to join in this game, they called him demon-possessed. When the golden days of Jesus came and it was time to celebrate the coming of God-made-flesh, they insisted on playing funeral. When Jesus came celebrating with eating and drinking as the friend of sinners, they were dissatisfied and labeled Him glutton and drunkard. What they demanded of John, they condemned in Jesus; what they condemned in John, they demanded of Jesus!
So Jesus compared His generation, His contemporaries, to silly children who want to call the shots, and when others don’t play their way, they cry out and blame others for ruining it all. Like children who did not want to play either happy or sad games, that generation was dissatisfied with both John and Jesus. That dissatisfaction with both John and Jesus was a result of a generation of people who rejected God’s Word because God wasn’t acting in the way they thought God should act.
God had promised through His prophet Malachi, “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me.” (Malachi 3:1) God was going to come and renew and refine Israel. This prophecy about the preparation of the way of God is fulfilled in Jesus, the Coming One, who is “God with us.” The Lord also promised through Malachi, “Behold, I will send to you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes.” (Mal. 4:5) Jesus clearly wants His contemporaries to receive John the Baptist as the Elijah who was to come, the messenger to prepare the way before God who comes among His people in the flesh!
But that preparation to meet God involved the recognition of sin followed by repentance. And talk about sin is such a downer. Who wants to hear, “You can’t do this. You should do that. Stop living that way. That is wrong. This is right.”? Why can’t people simply live the way they chose to live? What could be wrong about living the way that works for me, or feels good to me? John says consider sin in your life. Mourn over what you do, desire, think, and say that goes against God’s Word. Jesus, likewise, says the same. But that’s no fun. We want to hear music and dance and have a good time. We want to engage in actions that make us feel good. We want to live the way that works for us. Who needs rules and standards of morality? Let us each do what is right in our own eyes. That’s how God should act! So John and Jesus, go get a life!
However, Jesus does eat and drink with cheaters and liars, with those who have sex outside of marriage. Does that mean that Jesus is an “accept everybody and every behavior” kind of guy? Is that the kind of God we have in this Jesus—a God who says “everything goes”? Do we really have to worry about standards of morality and behavior since Jesus Himself hangs around those so-called “sinners”?
As Jesus was compelled to look at “this generation,” meaning His contemporaries, we, too, are compelled to consider “this generation,” our contemporaries, indeed, ourselves. So many in our society and culture are dissatisfied with God. They want a God, a Jesus, like the one I have just described. They want an “everything goes” Jesus, and no mention of sin, wrong, or immoral. They do not want to hear the message of John or Jesus, “Repent, for the reign of heaven has drawn near.” Instead, they want a Jesus who is a friend who allows all behaviors without standards and rules. Is there any wonder, then, why there is a huge decrease in morality? What is and is not moral in “this generation” has become totally dependent on the individual’s interpretation and mindset. There are no longer any absolutes, any definites.
This prevailing attitude in our culture has a direct impact on the Bible. The Bible is no longer viewed as absolutely true. The Bible is not considered to be the divine Word of the living God who made heaven and earth. If the Bible is not God’s Word, then it is not all true. It if it not all true, then I don’t have to follow the rules that I don’t like, the words that I consider “out of date.” If there are no rules from God to follow—no true or real right or wrong—then there can be no sin. If there is no sin, I cannot get in trouble with God. If I can’t get in trouble with God, I can do whatever I want, think however I’d like, say whatever I want to say, and there will be no consequences from Him. To the point, I don’t need Jesus as a Savior.
A number of you have lived the majority of your life in a world where moral standards of behavior and conduct were enforced. To “sleep around” outside of marriage was scandalous. To cheat on a spouse was disgraceful. To live an active homosexual lifestyle was appalling. Disrespect and disdain for parents and teachers and authorities wasn’t tolerated. There was a clear right and wrong, and the Bible was received as the Word of God, the source of what is wrong and right.
So what changed? Morality has changed. It’s severely lacking. Definitions of right and wrong have changed. Does that mean God’s Word has changed? Are suddenly God’s commandments, given in love for the good of His whole creation, no longer applicable to “post-modern” society? No, God’s Word has not changed. What has changed is people’s willingness to receive the Bible as the true, inerrant, inspired Word of God. The Bible is still absolute truth. But this generation rejects truth in much the same way as the generation during Jesus’ earthly life rejected the truth of God’s Word spoken by John and by Jesus Himself.
God doesn’t act in the way that postmodern people want Him to act. God still judges and condemns sin because “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 2:23) And where do we find the glory of God revealed to us? In His Word found in the Bible. There God speaks the Holy Spirit inspired words of the prophets and the apostles HIS Word to humanity. And it is a Word that sets the standard. It is a message of Law that says “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not.” And if you transgress the Law of God, you will die. So, thus says the Lord, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21 ESV) And society cries foul! The culture responds that this is unfair, not in step with the world of today. Thus says the Lord, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10 ESV) And society cries foul! The culture responds that this is unfair, not in step with the world of today.
Yet the truth remains the truth. “The one who sins will die.” (Ezk.18:20) Reject God’s Word and believe the lie—but know that if you do, you are taking a huge risk with your life. Sin can only lead to death and condemnation. And that is why, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, you must hold fast to God’s Word. It is the only Word that brings you life and salvation. For without the truth of God’s Word, you would not know sin. And if you don’t know sin, you cannot know your deep abiding need for a Savior from sin, death, and hell. But there again, ever consistent, ever true stands the Word of God, yes, the Word of God-Made-Flesh and dwelling among us in the God-Man Jesus Christ. It is Christ and Christ alone who shed His blood on the cross to save you from your sins and the endless death of hell. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God declares you “not guilty” of sin by grace through faith in Christ alone. Through the gift of faith in Jesus as your only Savior from sin, you receive forgiveness for your lack of trust in His Word. You are granted absolution for thinking that you know better than God. Through Jesus’ blood, you are restored to a good standing before our God and Father.
It is in that good standing that God the Holy Spirit leads and guides all of us into the “paths of righteousness.” (Ps. 23) The Spirit enables us to receive the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures to be His Word, without error. We are able, through the recreating done in us by the Holy Spirit, to know for certain that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 ESV) It is the gift of faith in Christ in the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit that you are then able to discern the very truth of this passage, knowing that it speaks of “this generation”: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4 ESV)
Do not be like them. Do not reject the Word of God and fall into sin, calling the truth of God a lie. (Rom. 1:25) Nor stand idly by while others are turning away from the truth. Preach the Word. Be ready in season and out of season to reprove, rebuke, and exhort others with the Word of God with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim. 4:2) Let others know that there are standards for living by how you act and what you say. Let them know that there are consequences for sin. And then tell them about Jesus who loves them as they are, sinner that they are. Jesus does not excuse the sin, to be sure! But with Christ, there is the forgiveness of sins. He takes it away and removes it from them. That is what Jesus does for you and me when we stray from God’s Word and living the life He demands that we live. And He will do the same for all sinners. The forgiveness of Christ’s cross and resurrection is for the liars and cheaters, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for those who disrespect parents and other authorities; for thieves, gossips, haters, idolaters, murderers, and all manner of unrighteousness. There in Christ, at the foot of His cross, covered in His holy, precious blood, all nations stand redeemed and forgiven. The Word of God tells us that this is true.
Many in our world are dissatisfied with God and His Word. They don’t care about sin. They don’t think that they need Jesus the Savior. Pray the Lord to keep you from such thinking and believing. Pray the Holy Spirit to so fill you outwardly and inwardly that you always receive the Bible as the true Word of God that shows your sins, that leads you to repentance and faith, thereby receiving from God through faith in Christ alone forgiveness and everlasting life. In the power of the Spirit do not let yourselves be swayed by the lies of the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh. Cling to the Word. Cling to Christ. Amen.