You can't get away from the generic Protestant appeal to explore God that has been going on recently. Unbelievers are invited to bring their questions to any one of hundreds of churches to talk about them. The pitch is, "Hey, we all have questions; let's talk." Did Noah go to the world, Lot to Sodom, Jonah to Nineveh, John to Israel, or the apostles to the nations with a let's see if we can get your questions answered? If you're really serious about exploring God, then explore this!
The almighty God has a claim on you no matter how many questions you have or whether or not they are ever answered to your satisfaction. You in fact are God's slave. Our English translations tone this down translating the Greek "slave" as "servant." Sorry all humanity is owned by God and has an absolute duty to serve Him. We have as little right to get our questions answered by God as a slave does by his master.
Your duty as God's slave is never to lead anyone the slightest bit astray from God's truth. Even if you have no idea what the Bible says, you are bound at least to go by the truth about Himself God reveals in nature: He's eternal and divine. Although Jesus says literally that it is "impossible" for people not to be led astray, He also says woe to you if you do it.
Not only is it your duty to be sinless in a sinful world, you're to forgive the penitent and trust whatever God says. Think of that person who hurt you most but said they're sorry. It's you're duty to forgive him. You must; you shall; you have to. Think of all the incredible things God has said, not for you to explore, not for you to wonder about, not for you to question but to believe. It's your duty to believe, to trust every single one of them.
And if you don't? If you cause someone to sin, if you fail to forgive, if you fail to believe? Oh don't worry. Just go to another round of exploring God discussions. No, it's millstone time. What any court in the land would forbid as cruel and unusual punishment, God threatens His slaves with. Only mobsters and drug lords give someone cement shoes or wrap them in chains and throw them off a bridge. But God almighty says He will do worse than that to you who lead another to sin.
Likewise if you fail to forgive the penitent person who repeatedly sins against you, it's no forgiveness for you. God doesn't care how many or how serious your reasons for not forgiving a person are, you can't have His forgiveness if you withhold yours from others. God has no patience for exploring your reasons or struggling with your questions about His commands. He says forgive or be unforgiven.
How do you like Him now? Have a warm, fuzzy feeling for God, do you? Want to believe, trust, have faith in Him? No? Without faith it's impossible to please God. You could be a great person to others, a generous person to charity even to churches, and without faith God would have no pleasure in you. You know that awe shucks attitude the explore God commercials have. "Awe shucks good-buddy we all have questions, we all have doubts. It's no biggie." It is to the true God. He commands, "Believe Me or be thrown into the lake of fire with the millstone of your sins tied to your neck."
You haven't even heard the worst of it yet. Even if you never cause anyone to sin, always forgive, and always believe, you're still an unworthy slave. Yeah it's slaves not servants in that last line too. Explore this! God's no friendly, portly grandfather type who invites his grandkids to poke Him with questions and explore His beard with their hands. It's not a matter of you coming to Him on your terms, but Him to you on His. We get the first hint of what those terms are in Jesus' last words about the master's attitude toward the salve. It's not, "Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?" It's, "Would he have grace to the slave because he did what he was told to do?" Grace doesn't come to person because of what they did or didn't do. Thank God!
But how does grace get to us? Explore this! God the Son became a slave. That's what Philippians 2 says using the same Greek word we find here. God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became a slave not to answer all your questions but to answer for all your sins. You can die with ten thousand times ten thousand questions on your mind and still go to heaven; you can't die with even one sin on your mind, body, or soul and go.
God the Father sent His only beloved Son into the world as a slave to live a perfect life free from sin. He not only didn't lead anyone else to sin; He never sinned Himself. Don't believe me? Believe Pilate who declared Jesus innocent 6 times. Believe the centurion who crucified Him. "Surely this was an innocent man!" Believe the thief who was crucified next to Him. "This man has done nothing wrong." Literally he said nothing "out of the way" or "untoward."
Not only did Jesus forgive the penitent, He forgave the unforgiveable. You be the judge. Hanging on the cross, having been tortured, beaten, ridiculed, spat upon, Jesus says, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Nobody said, "I repent." No one said, "I'm sorry." No the Jewish leaders continued to make fun of Him and the soldiers cast lots for His clothes, yet Jesus forgave them.
And you think you have legitimate questions for God? You think He has to answer for some things before you'll believe in Him? The perfect Jesus hanging on the cross goes right on believing in God even though God forsakes Him and never tells Him why. "My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?" cries the perfect slave Jesus. And the darkened sky is silent and the pain only gets worse. But the perfect slave who is led to death abused and tortured keeps right on believing that God is His Father. He dies saying, "Father into your hands I commend My Spirit."
Explore this sinner! Millstones that should be around your very dirty, very guilty neck were around the neck of Jesus. You who fear being tossed into the lake of fire with the millstone of your sins, a sin, or that sin around your neck, have no fear, that millstone was hung on Jesus and down, down He sank in that lake of fire till every last sin was paid for.
Explore this good news guilty slave. The penalty for your failing to forgive because that person has said sorry one too many times Jesus paid for lash by lash. That's how Isaiah saw it. "By His stripes you are healed," he said. See it Isaiah's way. Each and every lash that landed on the holy body of Jesus took off not only His skin but one of your sins. See all the rage, all the wrath of God against our hardened, unforgiving hearts dissipate as the lashes number into eternity.
Explore this! The perfect slave of God, His only beloved Son, took upon Himself our unbelief, our misbelief, our doubts, our questions and stood before God guilty for them. You don't have experience with kids if you can't see how God could be enraged by doubts and even questions. Have a child question your decisions that are for their good or doubt you are being fair when you are, and see how fast you get mad. Then you'll see just how wrathful God can be at you. And then you'll appreciate Jesus standing guilty before God with not just your outright unbelief or ever so subtle misbelief but with your smug doubts and conceited questions. See the holy blood of Jesus flowing from hands, head, neck and feet covering all that up forever.
Don't be sad. This is good news worth exploring. The parable ends with the revelation that you can't make yourself worthy of grace even by doing your duty. Grace can only come undeserved, unearned. In Jesus, God almighty gives us one grace after another. That's what John 1 says. Yes we deserve wrath; yes we have earned punishment, but in Jesus God gives grace after grace. What about my many sins? Where sin increased, grace increased all the more! That's what Paul says in Romans 5. In fact, Romans 5 says that God has grace not just for unworthy slaves but for ungodly ones.
Explore this! Embrace the confession that you are an unworthy slave even when you have done your duty. Embrace the confession that you are an ungodly sinner how could there be a godly one? Embrace the confession that you are a poor, miserable, ungodly sinner everyday, in everyway. It's not just here or there that you fall; it's not just that you do or don't do this; it's that you are fallen. Sin is not just what you do but a state you're in. Embrace this; emphasize this; because the blacker you paint your sins the whiter you must paint your forgiveness; the more you see your sins increase the more you are required to see God's grace increase. Explore how God can be gracious to unworthy and ungodly salves for Jesus' sake.
And explore how this grace gets to you. Don't leave it in the heart of God because that's not where Jesus left it. Jesus put the grace of God that He won in the Waters of Baptism, in the Words of Absolution, in the Body you eat for Bread and the Blood you drink for Wine. The teeny, tiniest amount of faith receives all the grace, all the mercy, all the peace, all the forgiveness that are in these three. Even so much as the thought, "O how I want all these wonderful things he is saying to be true" is faith. Sure it's tiny but it's not the size of faith that matters; it's what faith believes.
You believe that sinners in the waters of Baptism are plunged beneath the blood of Jesus to be forgiven; you believe rightly and well. You believe that through the mouth of a man your sins are sent away from you; you believe rightly and well. You believe that in this Bread and Wine Jesus gives you His Body and Blood not only for forgiveness and life now but for salvation forever; you believe rightly and well. Why? Because this is what God invites you to believe; wants you to believe; tells you to believe. If you really want to explore God, explore this: His answers not your questions. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (20131006); Luke 17: 1-10