Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

What is God like? Is God fair?

These are the readings for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

What is our God like? Over the next four Sundays, the Church hears Jesus tell four parables that reveal characteristics of our God. Today’s lessons cause the worshiper to ask: Is God fair? No, he’s not. He doesn’t give us what we deserve, and that’s called mercy. In fact, he gives us what we don’t deserve, and that’s called grace. Our God is inconceivably gracious.

First Lesson – Isaiah 55:6-9

What urgency do you sense in the words “while he may be found” and “while he is near”?

This was their time of grace. Salvation was close at hand in the Word that was being preached to them. The opportunity for repentance was still being held out to them. Indeed, for God’s chosen people, there was no time like the present.

How are God’s thoughts and ways higher than man’s?

Man’s thoughts and ways are inherently evil and lead to eternal destruction; the Lord’s are good, righteous, and holy; and lead to everlasting life. Whereas the weight of man’s sins seems unpardonable, yet God in his mercy forgives them all.

How gracious is God?

His call to repentance doesn’t extend only to backsliding Christians. His call to return to him isn’t restricted to upright citizens. The Lord calls the ungodly and wicked men who worship lust and self. The Lord calls the hardened sinner whose conscience has long stopped balking at his deeds. Look at what he promises to these people when they repent: mercy and pardon—the care of God and the forgiveness of God. They won’t get what they deserve—that is mercy. They get what they don’t deserve—the free pardon of grace. God’s plan to save sinners by grace soars above all that we could conceive or imagine.

Supplemental First Lesson – Jonah 4:5-11

Jonah wanted Nineveh destroyed; in his mind, it would only be fair. Nineveh was wicked, bloodthirsty, and feared. Jonah had not wanted to prophesy to them because he was afraid that they might listen and repent. Jonah knew what that would mean: God would have compassion on them and forgive them (Jonah 4:4). But God is far more gracious than Jonah could have even imagined. The Lord taught his prophet with a vine and made a striking point. Jonah, though you had no part in the creation, growth, or life of this vine, yet you were so emotionally attached to it. But think of me, Jonah! Those people, those children—even those cows—I made them; I sustain them; I want them to be mine forever. So great is my grace!

Second Lesson – Philippians 1:18b-27

Who did Paul credit for sustaining him during his time of imprisonment?

First, Paul was leaning heavily on the powerful, persistent prayers of the Philippians, whose petitions were serving to further advance the gospel in his absence. Secondly, the ministration of the Holy Spirit in his heart gave him the strength and willingness to endure the present tribulation and rejoice in the knowledge that he could do all things through Christ, who gave him the strength.

How are the words “to live is Christ and to die is gain” a win-win situation in Paul’s mind?

Through Paul’s work, which entailed a good deal of hard, physical labor, as well as by the near-death experiences he encountered, Christ was highly exalted. It made no difference to Paul if this happened by his life or by his eventual death. If he lived, he would have the opportunity to grow more in the knowledge and likeness of Christ day by day. If he died, through Christ, all his hopes and expectations would be fulfilled.

What is Paul’s warning to the Philippians in verse 27?

Paul’s hope was that the Philippians would lead lives that would in no way bring shame or disgrace on the message of the gospel. This called for standing together firmly in one spirit. It called for solidarity and unity of faith in the face of attack. It called for firmness and constancy in the midst of temptation.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 9:6b-16

Is God fair? Is God just?

Neither—he is inconceivably gracious, as our eternal election proves. Paul answers the question by pointing us back to God’s speech to Moses in Exodus 33. The Israelites had worshiped the golden calf, and Moses made intercession for them. Moses asked the LORD to show him his ways (v. 13) and his glory (v. 14). God responded by declaring his inconceivable grace: he would show mercy and grace to those he chose, regardless of any merit or worth. Though these people had abandoned him, he would be merciful and gracious to them. So also with us, the children of the faith of Abraham: God’s eternal election of us to salvation had nothing to do with merit, worth, or works but only stems from his inconceivable grace and mercy.

Gospel – Matthew 20:1-16

How is the world’s system of justice different from God’s?

In temporal, worldly affairs, whatever a person accomplishes and merits will be credited to him as a matter of just reward. But in the kingdom of God, all are justified solely by the grace of God. Whether we labor diligently in God’s vineyard all our lives or heed God’s call in the eleventh hour of life, the resulting salvation is the same.

Explain the seeming contradiction that “the last will be first and the first last?”

Unfortunately, there are those who are full of vain self-conceit who believe themselves to be the first before God, and for that very reason, in their woefully inadequate state, are the last. Conversely, those who are subservient and sincerely humble, assuming a meek attitude of heart, will be first where it counts—in the eyes of God.

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