Beloved. In today’s epistle, St. Paul tells us that we are all slaves. We are either slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness. A slave must serve its master and do its bidding. No matter how much we may think we are free, we are really slaves. There is a grave error that so many people around us believe. So many think that the holy Christian faith is a shackle, slavery, drudgery and that the only way to be free is to throw off the shackles of religion with its moral restraints, with its do’s and don’ts and to do what I truly want to do. And that’s what they call freedom. But what is really happening? --One type of slavery is being exchanged for another. Instead of slavery to righteousness and Christ, there is then slavery to sin and the devil. And the truly amazing thing is that the person is so deluded that he/ she does not think they are in slavery but are, instead, free. That’s the strong delusion of the devil. But if the person, serving self, being a slave of sin and ultimately of the devil, truly examines self, they will see what their “freedom” really brings them. This going from one sin to another, supposedly being free, shows a discontentment. The true inward longings are not being satisfied and the person goes from one sin to another, thinking that service to self, to sin, to unrighteousness will bring happiness and contentment. It won’t. It is simply just slavery—to unrighteousness and sin. What promises freedom really only gives slavery.
The so-called shackles of the Christian, its do’ and don’ts, are really freedom—freedom from a slavery to sin and unrighteousness. Again, remember, no matter what we are slaves. The question is: slavery to what? St. Paul in the epistle: Indeed, just as you offered your members [that is, your body] as slaves to impurity and lawlessness, resulting in more lawlessness, so now offer your members [that is, your body] in the same way as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. And the question to consider—which St. Paul also brings up in the epistle—is what is the end result of our slavery: For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness. 21So what kind of fruit did you have then? They were things of which you are now ashamed. Yes, the final result of those things is death. Our service to the Lord, our slavery to Him and to righteousness, our new life of faith and good works is not in vain. There is a blessed end to it: But now, since you were set free from sin and have become slaves to God, you have your fruit resulting in sanctification—and the final result is eternal life. Slavery to lawlessness and unrighteousness—which is what so many are deluded into thinking is “freedom”—is in vain; it ends in death and damnation. Slavery to the true God, to His will, to righteousness—a life of faith and good works—results in eternal life, soul and body, with our Lord in heaven.
To put it all a different way—we don’t miss out on anything by being a Christian. We don’t miss the so called “freedom” and “fun” of the world—that is, the sin and unrighteousness it calls/ thinks is “freedom” and “fun.” Again, that is slavery to sin and that ends in death—eternal damnation in hell. We as Christians are in slavery—to God. Now, we reap the rewards of joy and peace in the Lord; now we live in the forgiveness of sins and the certainty that things are right between us and God; now we live in the certainty of eternal life, soul and body with our Lord in heaven and He is working to bring us safely there to Him.
A few chapters after today’s Gospel, St. Peter asks Jesus [Mark 10.28]: “See we have left all and followed you.” The point being: what do we get for being a Christian because, after all, we have given up a lot to be a Christian? Perhaps there are even sins, we’d like to engage in, but do not/ cannot because we are Christians, slaves to God and righteousness. Aren’t we missing out on things because we are Christians? Jesus answers St. Peter: Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. Our service to the Lord and our new life of righteousness is not in vain. A glorious example of that is today’s Gospel. A crowd had been with Jesus for three days hearing Him. What did they lose for following Jesus? Absolutely nothing! They only gained much spiritually, hearing the words of eternal life. And even bodily they weren’t out anything, because why? –Jesus fed them.
For us, dear Christian, it is clear. God, in grace, rewards us. We don’t follow our Lord/ we aren’t Christians because we want some reward from God for some supposed good we think we have done. Instead, we are Christians because we recognize that we are sinners who by ourselves only earn and deserve God’s wrath and punishment; and we see that in love and mercy God Himself saved us from our sin by His life, suffering and death for us; that He rose again from the dead, Victor over sin, death, devil and hell and ascended into heaven, opening it to all believers. In other words, we are Christians because God loved us first and saved us. Because He brought us to faith, we now love Him and have become His slave/ strive to serve Him with a life of holiness/ of good works.
In the midst of our day in/ day out lives in which we at times feel our sins as the law and our conscience accuse us, as we suffer some way on account of our faith in Jesus, as we struggle against sin, as we see the unrighteousness and sin in the world around us increasing and becoming more bold, we need to hear what the Lord told the holy prophet Isaiah in our text: Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds. Here the Lord promises that in grace He rewards the righteous. That’s the promise we need to hear in times of trial.
The first part of the promise is: Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them. The righteous are the Christians, the believers. Here when Isaiah first spoke these words of the Lord, He was speaking to the OT people of Judah and Jerusalem. The Lord was threatening the people with judgment. But: Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them. The righteous were mixed in with the wicked and yes they were the small minority. And who were the righteous? They too, like the rest, were sinners, but they knew their sin, confessed their sin and looked forward to the coming Savior who would take away their sin; they trusted in the word and promise of God and looked to Him for forgiveness; they loved Him and tried to do His will; in short, they were slaves to God/ slaves to righteousness. Yes, they were not at all free from sin—just like you and I, dear Christian are not free from sin—but through faith they were trusting in the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness; like you and I, their sins were forgiven them. Like us the holiness and righteousness of the Savior was given to them. In love and thankfulness, they had a life marked by good works. Like you and I/ the Christian—the righteous of today—these OT righteous were righteous because they were forgiven their sin, covered with the perfect holiness of the Savior and served the Lord with a life of righteousness—although it was far from perfect, they, like us, strove for holiness.
Like these OT saints, we too need to be buoyed up/ strengthened in our life and walk as Christians. We feel the attacks of sin within us, we feel the pressure of the sinful world to go along and be like it; we suffer the trials of daily life; we often face the temptation: is it really all worth it to be a Christian? We need the Lord’s promise: Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them. The Lord is gracious. He rewards our persevering service to Him and to righteousness—not because we deserve it/ earn it but because He is gracious and merciful.
Think of today’s Gospel, that crowd of 4000 that Jesus fed. They were doing the right thing. They recognized Jesus as the Messiah; they stayed with Him three days hearing His life-giving/ saving word. They did the right thing—and really only doing what they were supposed to be doing—doing what we are commanded to do in the commandments—gladly hearing the word. But what? I feel compassion for the crowd. As Christians living out our lives as Christians—struggling against sin, feeling the pangs of conscience and the law, perhaps even enduring some sort of persecution or suffering for our faith—and that’s in addition to the normal trials of life in the world—we are doing the right thing but merely doing what we are supposed to do. But to us, His Church, His dear Christians, Jesus says, I feel compassion for [them] and Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them. Our gracious Lord rewards us for doing what we are supposed to do. He assures us that no matter how it may look, in the end it will turn out in the right and best way for us. Sometimes we may not recognize our reward of grace; sometimes it may not seem like a reward or seem like it is well with us. Here is where the hard work of faith comes in, holding to our Lord’s word of promise: it shall be well with them. Look at what Jesus says about the crowd in today’s Gospel: they have already stayed with me three days and do not have anything to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will faint on the way. Some of them have come from a long distance. There’s our Lord full of compassion—knowing their hurts and needs—and acting on it. He does the same with us. That’s why He gives us the promise: Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them. And the thing is God is God. He not only knows our needs, He not only has compassion, but He can act and graciously so—so that it will be well with us!
Our text: Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds. In grace God rewards the righteous, His dear Christians, by allowing them to eat the fruit of their deeds. The fruits of our deeds are the life of faith and good works we do. Again, the faith and good works of the crowd in today’s Gospel, literally ate the fruit of their faith and devotion to the Lord as He, in grace, rewarded them, not only with hearing His life-giving word but also by bodily feeding them in the wilderness—a grace upon grace.
And perhaps we can say this is a grace upon grace upon grace. Jesus fed them in the wilderness—a grace; they were hearing the word—a grace; and why were they even there to begin with wanting and desiring to hear—because God in grace called them there; in grace He brought them to faith so they desired to hear Jesus. And that’s the same way it works with us. The very fact that we do good works and are slaves of righteousness—live a life of piety—loving and striving to serve the Lord is because He loved us and showed us grace first—working in us that gift of faith in the waters of Holy Baptism. In other words the Lord’s gracious promise Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds, is grounded in His grace toward us first. The very fact that we are the righteous is because of God’s gracious work on us first, giving us the gift of faith. And from faith flows the fruits of righteousness. And precisely this righteousness God rewards; He assures us that it shall be well with us, for [we] shall eat the fruit of [our] deeds. We are saved by God’s grace through faith. Our faith is marked by good works. Like a trail of footprints behind us, we dear Christian, leave behind us a trail of good works. Wherever we go, our works follow us—all the way into heaven, as St. John heard in heaven [Rv. 14.13]: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” What grace—God rewards His Christians: Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds, now and forever. INJ