Why The Church - And The Gospel - Are For Sinners Only

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Too often, we get it all wrong as Christians. For example, when we think about the Bible or when we hear the Bible read, the majority of us will not listen to what is actually being said, but instead, we will hear what we want to hear. And what do we want to hear? Well, more often than not, we like our Bible stories to be pious, happy, and pleasant. You see, we think of the Bible as a book that contains good wholesome stories that serve as lessons to make us more moral. 

Take the Book of Genesis, for example. When we think of Genesis – the first book of the Bible - we think of Adam and Eve skipping through the Garden of Eden while naming all the animals. We think of Noah in the Ark with peaceful animals and beautiful rainbows shining down on dry land. We think of Father Abraham, Lot, Jacob, and Judah as the great steadfast fathers of our faith. 

So, what is the point? The point is that our way of thinking creates two categories of bad and good. And so, when we look at stories in the Bible, we want to put bad people into the bad category and good people into the good category. Therefore since we like Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Judah, and David, we put them in the good category, and then we don’t mention the bad things they have done. We do not want to hear about their bad things because we want to keep them in the good category. If all the Bible characters are in the good category and we are in the good category, then everything is fine and dandy. We are at peace! All is well!  

But we have a VERY big problem. In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus did not stay in the good category, but He crossed the line and placed Himself into the bad category when He came to John to be baptized. 

What? Jesus can’t do that! Jesus belongs in the good category with Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Jacob, and Judah!  

Well, my friends, Jesus does just that – He leaves the good category and goes to the bad category in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew!  

John the Baptist baptized anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000 people in the muddy Jordan River. He was calling the ragamuffins, hobos, vagrants, bums, riffraff, and sinners of Israel to come into the dirty water to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. In other words, John’s baptism in the Jordan was for sinners only – only for those in the bad category.  

So, when Jesus came along and stepped into the waters of the Jordan, well…. Jesus messed everything up. This is why John would have no part of this absurd and foolish game Jesus was playing. 

By wanting to be baptized, Jesus was crossing the line! He was crossing over from the good category (where He belonged) into the bad category (where He did not belong).   

Dear Baptized Saints, this is the nature of the Christian faith, for this is who your Jesus is. Even though Jesus is completely and totally sinless, He entered into the waters of the Jordan - water that was polluted by Israel’s sin. Jesus, who is the sinless Lamb of God, submitted Himself to the baptism that sinful Israel was undergoing. Jesus, who is the Mighty Savior and the one who will execute justice on the last day, stepped into a river contaminated by idolatry, profanity, rebellion, murder, hate, adultery, lust, theft, dishonesty, lying, betrayal, and coveting of Israel. By being baptized in that dirty, sinful water by John, Jesus is not only standing with sinners in the bad category, but He begins His ministry where He takes the place of sinners in the bad category. 

And so, dear Baptized Saints, this is all quite simple. The goal is not for us to escape the bad category and get to Jesus in the good category, for we will not find Jesus in the good category. Jesus did not come for the righteous (those in the good category) but sinners (those in the bad category). 

Remember all those people from the book of Genesis. As it turns out, they are not really moral heroes, after all. That is to say, the Book of Genesis is not a book showing us heroes that we need to copy or telling us stories that we must aspire to. No! In Genesis, we read about Adam and Eve standing naked, pointing fingers at each other before God in disobedience. We read about Noah getting drunk and one of his sons dishonoring him in his bedroom. We read about Abraham, who tried to give his wife to another man to save his own neck. Abraham also slept with one of his slaves to produce a child because it was his wife’s idea. However, later on, Abraham’s wife became jealous and kicked the slave and her child out of the house to live in poverty. And Lot? Well, he offered up his daughters to a violent mob to try and appease their violence. 

Jacob and Judah – they also have rap sheets a mile long. In other words, Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Jacob, and Judah are not heroes of the faith because they somehow victoriously escaped the bad category and arrived in the good category. No! 

They are heroes of the faith because they trusted in the Messiah – the promises of God. They understood and believed that the Lord has always been and always will be for repentant sinners – to forgive, renew, and sanctify. They knew that a pretend flawless performance meant nothing before God. They knew that when their pride was shattered, and their hearts were tattered, that this did not escape the Lord’s notice, for the Lord is a God rich in mercy and abounding in grace for repentant sinners. 

Baptized Saints, practically speaking, we should put a sign outside above our front door saying,  “St. Paul’s Lutheran – a church for sinners only!”  The reason being, Christ began His ministry by being baptized with sinners. He completed His earthly ministry when He died for sinners. He is the God-man who comes to find you not in the good category but find you in the bad category.  

Case and point: He met you as a sinner in Baptism and snatched you from darkness unto light – giving you faith. He hears you as a sinner in confession and forgives you with His Word of Absolution. He meets you as a sinner with open hands at the rail and lays life and salvation upon your tongue.

Indeed, Absolution, the Remembrance of your Baptisms, the Preached Word, and the Holy Sacrament are for sinners only. The Gospel is for sinner only – sinners like you and me!  

Martin Luther, in a letter to Friar George in 1516, commented on this very idea of Christ identifying with sinners. He said,

“Therefore, my dear Friar, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, "Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not." 

Luther goes on to say, 

“Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account, he [Christ] descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. Meditate on this love of his, and you will see his sweet consolation . . . you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours...”

Baptized Saints, beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. 

He has made your sins His own and made His righteousness His own. He sought out the bad category to give you His good category, not by your merit or strength or piety but because He is a God who is rich in mercy and abounding in grace for you.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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