Today we enter a time called “pre-Lent.” We’re getting ready for Lent. Instead of going into it cold, we take time to settle into it and prepare for the penitential season. So the Alleluia is gone, but we still sing Gloria in excelsis Deo. White has given way to green which will give way to purple. The Introit introduces the sorrows of Lent to us, as it reminds us that sin and death distresses us, so we must call out to The Lord to rescue us.
But these 3 weeks do not focus on our sins and death and how bad off we are because of them. They focus on our rescue. They focus on what Christ has done, is still doing, and will yet do for us. They are especially fitting in this Reformation 500 year, because their theme is the solas of The Evangelical-Lutheran Reformation.
This theme was introduced to us last week on The Mount of Transfiguration when the disciples looked up from the ground and saw nobody but Jesus only, solus Christus. Today we learn we are saved by grace alone, sola gratia. Next week we’ll learn we are saved by Scripture alone, sola Scriptura. In 2 weeks we’ll learn we are saved by faith alone, sola fide. Luther’s Reformation is grounded in these things.
We are saved by grace alone, by God’s grace alone. What is grace? It’s God’s divine, fatherly, undeserved loving-kindness for us poor, miserable, unworthy sinners. It’s won for us and given us solely by and because of Jesus’ Death. It’s God’s favor on us solely for Jesus’ sake. You don’t do a thing to get it. Jesus just gives it to you just because He wants to.
That’s the point of the parable of the vineyard. A vineyard-owner went out a few times one day. He went out at 7AM, 9AM, noon, 3PM, and even 5PM. Each time he went to the local job bank to find people to hire for his vineyard. Each time he found people who probably should have been there earlier but weren’t, or who had just gotten there. He paid them at 6PM.
He paid every single one of them for a full day’s work. Even those who worked only 1 hour, which means they didn’t work much and didn’t work hard – they got a day’s pay! They got paid first too. Those hired all the other times got the same thing. Finally those hired first got the exact same thing. And when they did, they were mad!
Why? He simply fulfilled his contract with them. Did they know he didn’t have a contract with the others? He simply told them he’d pay them whatever is right. Perhaps the newer workers told them this, so they simply assumed those people would get a certain percentage of a day’s wage. But that’s not what happened. Everybody got the exact same thing. The owner was very generous, wasn’t he?
You’d never expect that. Our labor unions would never allow that. But that’s what happened. He gave the same thing to everyone. They got not what they deserved, but what he desired to give. They got a gift, not what they had coming to them. That’s God’s grace in action. What you get from Him is a gift, not what you have coming to you.
When people think about what they have coming to them, they often don’t think about it the right way. They think about how much good they’ve done in their life. They don’t really consider all the bad they’ve done; in fact, they probably think all the bad they’ve done actually isn’t all that bad after all – at least not near as bad as some cruel dictator in world history or some guy you saw on America’s Most Wanted or even the school bully. We’re good at self-justifying ourselves, of saying “I had to do it my way” even if it was, God says, the wrong way. We’re good at saying we’re better than our next-door neighbor, let alone everyone else. We’re good at thinking we deserve God to give us everything we want, to not take anything away from us ever, to give us life eternal because we’re just so good. That’s human nature. And that’s sin.
To all that God says: “Take what’s yours and go.” By “go,” He means “get outta My face.” That’s not something you want God to say to you, because what’s yours is nowhere near as good as you think it is. You may think so right now. You certainly think so when you enjoy committing a particular sin. But eventually that sin comes back to get you or others in this life – which makes it very uncomfortable for you – and you never know if you might hear about it all the time in the death – not the life – to come.
God does not want that to happen. That’s why the landowner called the man he called aside, “Friend.” God wants to freely give the highest good to all people. Those who are condemned are condemned because they choose to be condemned, because they choose to not confess their sins to Him and believe in Christ. In other words, they are condemned because they didn’t trust in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him.
So how can you be saved? Receive the denarius. Receive what you have not earned. Receive what Jesus has earned for you. Receive it, take it, grab hold of it, and don’t let go. What has He earned for you? Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. He forgives you all your self-justifying thoughts and activities, all the bad things you’ve done you thought weren’t so bad, all the things you thought were good when they weren’t, even all the good things you did without the best intentions.
So what should you do? Hand your sins over to Him. Admit you can do nothing good without His help. Admit you deserve to be punished for your offenses. Then receive His help. Call on Him to help you, to mercifully deliver you by His goodness. In your distress call to Him, and He will hear your voice. Cry out of the depths of sin and death to Him and He will hear you. He will not count your iniquities, your guilt, against you, but will forgive you, will declare you not guilty. Why? Because Jesus was already declared guilty of your sin when He died on The Cross, and He was forgiven it when He rose from the dead. That means your sin absolutely cannot condemn you. Period. No questions asked.
So today God is paying out that forgiveness. No matter how long you’ve been a Christian, He’s paying it out. Have you been a Christian just a year? He’s paying you eternal life. Have you been a Christian 90 years? He’s paying you eternal life. Have you been strong in faith? He’s paying you eternal life. Have you been weak in faith? He’s paying you eternal life. No matter who you are – do you believe in Him? He’s paying you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, not because you earned it, but because Jesus earned it on The Cross – FOR YOU!
That’s the message The Evangelical-Lutheran Reformation has been preaching for 500 years. That’s the message Pre-Lent has been preaching far longer. That’s the message God has been proclaiming ever since He came to fallen Adam and Eve in the garden. That’s the message, the only message, that will get you into eternal life. Jesus only gets you into eternal life – by His grace alone, sola gratia.