The Great Exchange
Text: Matthew 7:15-23
Grace and mercy to you from God our Father,
and our Savior, Jesus Christ
Hear the Word of the Lord:
“Not all who say to me 'Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Then, who, O Lord, can be saved? For who has done the will of your Father in heaven whole and undefiled? The best we can do is rise to the level of the hypocrite, calling you Lord with our lips while failing to show it with our lives. Indeed, the same lips that call you Savior, also speak lies, slander, and gossip. The same hands that hold your holy body have also been held up in clench fists or stolen a cookie from the cookie jar. The same feet that walk through the church door have run away from a neighbor in need.
All true, Lord, all true. These things we have done: but surely you are too harsh. For we're not all bad. We have evangelized friends and family, colleagues and kids! We have attended and taught Sunday School, Weekday School, Vacation Bible School! We have cast out demons with your Name as we bring our children to your Baptism! We have worked at church functions and sat through church meetings! We have done all these things and more! We're not all bad! A mixed bag to be sure – but who isn't? And we have done all these things for you, O Lord.
Repent brothers. And sisters. It is not enough to be a hypocrite. It is not enough to be better than others. God does not grade on a curve. Hear the response of Jesus to such half-way measures, he says: “In that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” And, have you not worked lawlessness? For the greatest lawlessness is to be a law unto yourself, to pick and choose when you want to keep God's law and when you do not want to do so. And the times you choose God's good law do not balance out the times you choose to ignore it. God is not impressed with your faltering efforts and he sees through your attempts to glue plastic apples on your fruitless tree.
So leave your excuses and justifications in the pew. Jesus is not interested in them. Let go of all these excuses because you will need your hands free for receiving Jesus alone. Jesus wants you to let go of everything else so that you may hold on to him. Let go of your pride, your greed, your love of self, and most of all let go of your attempts to excuse and justify your actions. Leave these things behind and turn to Jesus.
For hear how much he loves you. In spite of your sins, in spite of your weakness and failings, in spite of your hypocrisy: Jesus has come to save you from your unbelief and your eternal death. Indeed, Jesus has changed the rules on your behalf. Or rather, Jesus has fulfilled the rules in an unexpected and miraculous way so that he might bring you to life, now and forever more. For the great Rule of God is this: the soul that sins shall die. Take note of that Scripture, beloved: the soul that sins shall die, not just the body. The punishment for sin is death all around: death to body, death to soul, death to both together in hell forever.
That is the Rule: the soul that sins shall die, and only the one who does the will of the Father in heaven will enter the kingdom of heaven. That rules writes out every son of Adam and daughter of Eve, for all have sinned and fall short of God's glory. -But now enter in Jesus for a surprising twist on this rule. The sinner must die – yet God wants you to live, so Jesus himself, God in the flesh, will himself become the sinner so that he might die in your place, laying down his life of eternal worth so that you may live. Or, as St. Paul says, “God made Him Who knew no sin to be sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The great exchange, the great switcheroo has been pulled. Jesus has become the sinner – for that is what it means to die. For that is what God said to Adam, “In the day you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in that day you shall surely die.” And yet on that day, Adam did not die. An exchange was made, God killed a lamb instead of Adam and clothed Adam and Eve with its skin.
That lamb, that died in the garden, who took Adam's place on the chopping block, was but a shadow of the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who took your place on the chopping block of the cross. Indeed, this great Lamb of God took the place of the whole world, for as God and man the sacrifice of Jesus is whole and complete and more than a match for the sins of the world. God himself has died for you brothers and sister, thus there can be no condemnation for you.
And so, confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe with your heart that he has died for you and is risen from the dead and you shall be saved. Listen again to Jesus' word in our Gospel lesson today, “Not all who say to me 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,” is fulfilled for you today. No one has done the complete will of God the Father except God the Son in the flesh. And Jesus gives you his completion of the Father's will. Jesus gives you his righteousness – and so all your sins are forgiven. The Law of God with all its demands and threats has been fulfilled for you by Christ who is the Completion of the Law for all who believe. Or as Jesus himself says in John 6, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
So rejoice brothers and sisters: there is now no condemnation for you. You can let go of your excuses, justifications, and pride. You are free from all that. Jesus has done all that ever needs to be done to justify you: Jesus has died for you and got up from the dead for you. Jesus has baptized you to make you his child. In that Baptism Jesus has grafted you into himself. Jesus loves you more than he loves his own life and laid it down for you. Jesus speaks tenderly to you in Holy Absolution and forgives you all your sins with the living voice of the Gospel. For, baptized and beloved of God, you are now the Church, the Bride of Christ and as Jesus’ Bride you are one flesh, one Body with him. And thus you, who are the Mystical Body of Christ, receive the True Body of Christ in the Lord's Supper. The proof of your salvation is here, even today at the altar. Your debt has been paid. The body has been broken, the blood has been shed, and now today you receive it with empty hands. Be of good cheer: eternal life is yours.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.