Beloved. Throughout Scripture our Lord gives us various images and ways to think of the Church, the Kingdom of God. For example, Jesus compares the Church to a mustard seed, a small seed but one which grows into a large plant; He compares it to yeast that is in a dough, leavening all of it. In these, the seeming smallness and insignificance of the Church but her powerful effect and influence in the hearts and lives of individuals and in the world are emphasized.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the Church to a Great Banquet in which we can feast on the great gifts and blessings of God that Jesus obtained for us: the gifts of the forgiveness of sin, life and salvation. In the Church, around God’s holy word and sacrament, is the only place that God offers and gives these gifts to us. It is a great spiritual feast! It begins now in this life and continues into all eternity.
As we hear Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel, we see that this Great Supper is a feast of God’s pure grace to us. Look at how Jesus begins it: “A certain man made a great banquet and invited many people. When it was time for the banquet, he sent out his servant to tell those who were invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’” That certain man is God. He promised Adam and Eve in Eden, right after the first sin, that He would send a Savior to destroy the works of the devil, to crush him underfoot and save humanity. Throughout the long centuries of the OT times God was preparing everything for the coming of His Son, the Savior, through whom He would bring all people the forgiveness of sin and eternal life. Finally Jesus came. During His earthly life He went out and preached calling people to repent and believe in Him; He called sinners to salvation, to the Great Supper. Today, He still calls us sinners to salvation, to Him, to His gifts through the preaching of His Church.
You see, this is pure grace. A certain man made a great banquet and invited many people. The certain man did all the work to prepare the banquet; and He invited many people. They had to do nothing but show up. That’s the picture of God’s grace and our salvation. Jesus did all the work and He invites us simply to believe and receive it. And not only that, but we receive grace upon grace. When they all alike began to make excuses, and did not come what did the master of the house/ God do? He sent the servants out to invite and bring in others: ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town, and bring in here the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And to show us the superabundance of God’s grace, Jesus adds in this parable: “The servant said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and there is still room.’ “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and urge them to come in, so that my house may be filled.’” God wants heaven filled; He wants to give us His grace and every spiritual blessing now and for all eternity; He wants us at His Great Supper of grace and salvation now in His Church on earth and eternally in the Church Triumphant in heaven.
But we dare not take God’s grace for granted and reject or postpone receiving His invitation in faith. But they all alike began to make excuses….Then the master of the house was angry. God’s grace is rich and abundant, but it does have an end. And what do we hear about those who reject God’s invitation to His Great Supper of salvation, who reject Him as He calls us through His word to come into the Church, into His kingdom of grace and already now to enjoy this Great Supper? – I tell you that none of those men who were invited will taste my banquet. Here is our warning lest we reject our Lord’s invite into His Church, to begin enjoying the Great Supper of our salvation. Let’s not express disgust at those in Jesus’ parable who made excuses, but let us examine our own hearts and lives because these excuse makers show our true inner selves so that we can be aware and on guard and repent and root out of our hearts any notion of delaying acceptance—even for one second—Jesus’ invitation to the Great Supper of salvation which begins now in His Church and continues eternally in heaven.
In the world—certainly in our circles—there seems to be more rejection of Jesus’ gracious invitation to the Great Supper of salvation than acceptance. It seems that in our midst the Church is one the decline, that so many are abandoning her, rejecting Jesus’ invitation to the Great Supper of salvation and her best days are behind her. It is very easy to get discouraged over the state of the Church today and how few are seemingly in her fold. That’s why our text from the OT prophet, St. Micah, is such a wonderful and necessary corrective. The thing is, we must always remember that, as Jesus says [Lk. 12.32], the Church is a little flock. She will always seem small and insignificant in the eyes of the world. But she has a great glory and dignity which is seen by the eyes of God and the eyes of faith. Let us always remember this when we become discouraged.
Our text: Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. We again come to that phrase we see so often in the OT prophets: Now it shall come to pass in the latter days. Like it so often does, it refers to the time when the Savior has come, the NT era, the time in which we now live. So now, today, what is happening? The mountain that has the Lord’s house is exalted over all the other mountains and hills. This does not mean that it is levitating at a height higher that Mt. Everest. It is a picture/ an image. But of what? – the mountain of the Lord’s house, that’s the mountain that has the temple. And what was the temple for the OT believers? –It was the place where God promised to meet His people. And what is the image of a mountain? –it is one of strength and security. So this whole image of the mountain that has the Lord’s temple higher than all the other images is an image of what? –It is a picture of the glory of the Church. Whatever people put their trust in and look to for safety, their mountains and hills—be it other religions, be it power, be it their nation, be it wealth or their own wisdom—all pales in comparison to the Church, the mountain of the Lord’s house. That’s because Jesus established the Church; the Church is firmly grounded on Jesus, His Person, word and work. St. Paul [Eph 2.19f] speaks of the Christians as fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
Jesus established the Church by His holy and sinless life and His innocent, bitter sufferings and death. By His holy life, Jesus kept God’s holy law for us and is our righteousness. By His sufferings and death, Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins, appeasing God’s righteous anger over our sin. By His resurrection, we see that His sacrifice for our sin was accepted as perfect, complete and once for all; with His resurrection we see that sin, death, devil and hell are all defeated; by His ascension we see heaven opened to all believers. The Church is firmly established by Jesus and His work. Through faith in Him we are part of this Church firmly founded by Jesus. Through baptism we are united with Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone, and with our fellow Christians.
Remember: the Lord’s house is where God has promised to meet His people. Jesus is that true temple of the Lord because in Him God and man meet—Jesus is the God-man. And what makes the Church so glorious is that Jesus dwells in the midst of His Church. And as Jesus is in the midst of His Church—all His dear Christians are united with Him through faith and baptism. In His Church, and in each congregation there is Jesus also meeting us in a wonderful way in His Sacrament feeding us His life-giving body and blood. The Church is glorious. It is founded by Jesus; it is grounded on His work; and He—the God-man—is in the midst of His Church giving us the fullness of His gifts and graces. Is it any wonder that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills?
There is nothing greater or more glorious than our Lord’s Church—no matter what it seems/ how lowly and despised She is and how exalted the powerful of the world seem to be. This is seen even by fact of history: The Church is permanent and established forever. Hers is an eternal nature; other kingdoms of the world—no matter how powerful they may seem to be—are here today and gone tomorrow. And the Church is universal. She is made up of Christians from every time, race, age; geographic boundaries do not affect where Jesus reigns/ where the Church is. He is Her eternal, almighty King and He is with Her.
The Church/ Jesus’ kingdom of Grace is glorious also because of the gifts and blessings she gives, fully and freely, which Jesus obtained: the forgiveness of sin and eternal life. Our text: For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. When Jesus gave His command for His disciples to go out into the whole world, they began from Jerusalem and as they preached and as that word was faithfully passed on to the next generation, the Church/ the Kingdom of Grace was expanding until it came to you and me. And may we pass it on purely and faithfully to others.
And notice what Jesus does in and through that word that goes out from His Church—that word of forgiveness and eternal life: He gathers people into His Church as through that word the Holy Spirit creates faith to believe and receive it and its gifts and blessings. The Gospel gathers. And peoples shall flow to [the Church].
What a beautiful picture—like a river, people flow/ stream upstream to the mountain of the Lord’s house. This is Jesus gathering people into His Church through the word and sacrament. This flowing/ streaming is faith that lays ahold of Jesus and His gifts and blessings, of the forgiveness of sin and eternal life He offers; it is reliance on Him. It is not forced; it is the desire for the salvation He won and now offers us. When we feel our sin and are tormented in conscience, Jesus, in the Gospel, in His word He entrusted to His Church, offers us the forgiveness of sin. Here we see that the Church is made up of sinners; of sinners who know and feel their sin but who in faith receive that forgiveness Jesus offers in His word and Sacrament.
If we do not feel an urgent need for forgiveness and feel our sin weighing on us, then we are like those in our Lord’s parable who made excuses. If we do not feel our sin, it is easy to put off going to the Lord/ feeling no need for Him/ other things seemingly more important. To counteract this, take into hand the holy 10 Commandments and honestly and sincerely look at heart and life. Recognizing and troubled over sin, then in true faith we honestly say to ourselves and others: “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” We then go to church where Jesus has promised to meet us in Word and Sacrament to give us forgiveness of sin and eternal life. Partaking and feasting on our Lord’s blessing, we refresh ourselves once again in His grace and full of joy and thankfulness, strengthened by word and Spirit, we strive to obey His voice and order our life and walk according to His will.
Never be discouraged at the lowliness of the Church. No matter how it may look to the world, the Church is Jesus’ glorious kingdom of grace, exalted far above anything this world considers great, offering and giving us in the word and sacrament His grace: the forgiveness of sin and eternal life. INJ Amen