ST. PAUL'S SELECT SERMONS
St. Paul's Anglican Church
“And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”
William Golding’s novel, The Lord of the Flies, caused quite a stir when it was released in 1954. In this small but important
book, he tells us about a group of English schoolboys whose airplane is shot down during WWII, leaving them stranded on
an island, presumably in the Pacific. The story relates relates how this group of middle and upper-class boys quickly
reverts to tribalism, savagery and barbarism in a very short period, even going to the point of idol worship, the so-called
“Lord of the Flies.” It is a vivid picture of our true fallen state, when Law or Gospel does not govern it, or in this case, even
human maturity. In short, The Lord of the Flies goes to the heart of what we believe makes us human.
Similarly, our Gospel for the day goes to the very heart of what we believe to be true as Christians. It is about as basic as
that. In the opening lines of the Gospel passage we read, from Mat. 4:1:”Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the
wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”
Recall that at the end of the previous chapter of Matthew, Chapter 3, Christ has just come from His baptism in the river
Jordan at the hands of John the Baptizer. In that amazing scene, remember that the Spirit of God had just descended upon
Jesus and a voice from heaven had said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Christ submitted to baptism
(though of course He had no original sin to wash away) and showed us the way, while receiving glory and recognition.
Christ also more closely identified with our humanity by His Baptism in Jordan, just as He assumed our Humanity at the
Incarnation, yet without sin. Remember that what Christ did not assume, he could not redeem. What he did not redeem, he
could not glorify. Yet, the glory of Christianity is that Christ did assume our humanity. He fully identified with us in His
humanity and paid for us on the Cross, thus accomplishing the Atonement. After his mighty Resurrection, He glorified our
humanity by taking it to heaven with Him in the Ascension. Thus, these four doctrines: Incarnation, Atonement,
Resurrection and Ascension are key to our beliefs as Christians.
Note also, the direct inference to the Holy Trinity in this passage, as we see Jesus recognized by a “voice” that says, “this
is my Son”, which necessarily implies a Father. Next, the Holy Spirit comes to him like in bodily appearance, “like a dove”
and lights upon Him. Those who have doubts as to the Trinitarian nature of God need to review this word of Scripture.
The early church Fathers used this important passage as they culled the doctrine of the Holy Trinity from the Scriptures.
Now, comes the temptation of Christ. Satan tries to undo God’s Plan by the invocation of one little word, “if.” Christ had just
been exalted, and now as Matthew tells us in Mat 4: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted
of the devil.” Oftentimes, honor precedes humbling or trials; as Matthew Henry tells us: “After we have been admitted into
the communion of God, we must expect to be set upon by Satan. The enriched soul must double its guard.” If we see
Christ, the Lord and Captain of our Faith set upon by Satan after having received great honor, should we expect different
treatment? It is an interesting question, is it not?
Many commentators on this passage have mused as to why Jesus Christ would need, submit to, or even agree to such a
situation. Although there is much discussion of this, we may safely assume three areas of consensus:
1. Christ suffered temptation that he might fully identify with all aspects of our human condition, yet without sin.
2. Christ battled with Satan and overcame him, not in evidence of divine power, but in the absence of any outward
manifestations of power.
3. Christ, in his human nature, exhibited complete reliance upon His Father and his Holy Word, thus giving us
the perfect model
Turning to the temptations themselves, note that there three of them. It’s always been interesting to me, as an aside, the
role that numbers play in the Scriptures, especially the numbers three, four, seven, twelve and their respective multiples.
Examples of this can be found in the Holy Trinity and the temptations of Christ (representing three), as well as the Four
Last Things on which our Rector preaches from time to time, which are Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Other examples
abound as well. Although being an English major and therefore not necessarily a “numbers guy”, I do respect the way that
numerology plays such a significant role in the Bible. The point to be noticed here is that the Scriptures themselves testify
that we have a God of order, who “rulest all things well.”
The first temptation deals with Christ’s physical well-being, as we see Him hungry and in the wilderness, tempted by Satan
to make bread out of stones. This attack is both insulting and predatory. First, comes the insult, “If thou be the Son of
God…”, as if the Son of God was not self-aware. This is course is manifestly false, as we have been tutored out of Luke 2:
49, when Christ tells his parents, ”And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my
Father's business?” Recall that this episode occurred at the age of twelve, when his parents found him “sitting in the midst
of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.” Here, Satan the Great Deceiver is seeking to cause Jesus
to doubt himself in his physical weakness.
This leads to the predatory aspect of Satan’s attack on Christ and on us. Being the wicked and brilliant tactician that he is,
the Devil attacks us when we are weak. Be it through physical need, be it through sickness, be it through melancholy, be it
through (God forbid) despair, he seeks a chink in our spiritual armor in which to insinuate his infernal suggestions,
temptations and fears.
Of course, there are times when all of us, being mere flesh and subject to the weaknesses of the same, fall prey to his
devices. However, if we keep our minds and our spiritual eyes on Christ, we will, in the words of Father Nsofor, “frustrate”
the plans of the devil. In this instance, Christ dismisses Satan’s assault with a word of Scripture. From Deut 8:3: “And he
humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know;
that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of
the LORD doth man live.” Satan is rebuffed.
Having failed in his first attempt, Satan then takes another approach, this time appealing not only to Jesus’ physical safety,
but to the very image of who He Is. Now we see Jesus, taken by the devil to a pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem. Again
comes the insult and the word of doubt, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down…” Here is a great lesson concerning
evil, the nature of sin and Our Adversary’s dealing with us. Note that Satan does not throw Christ off the pinnacle himself,
thus doing Him direct harm, but rather, suggests that Jesus “cast” himself down. Thus, Satan has no power over us but is
limited to the power we give him in our lives. Sin always requires an active response from us in some assent of the will.
In this case, Satan’s temptation is obvious and flagrant. Once, again, Christ repels him with a word from Scripture, “It is
written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Some commentators have interpreted this as “Don’t presume on God
to save you when you engage in some self-destructive or sinful act, in exercise of your free will.” Yet, even when we act
stupidly or behave in a flagrantly sinful way, or are self-destructive, God in his mercy often mitigates the ill effects of our
actions. Somehow, by common grace, He does not allow to be as bad as we could be. He may also allow us to realize the
consequences of our sins to teach us. We know, while God forgives us our sin, the “scar tissue” of our misdeeds remain.
Forgiveness abounds from God’s mercy when we truly repent, but the consequences of our sin are a lasting reminder of our
rebellion against God.
It is not so with Christ. Satan is defeated again with a rebuke from Scripture, but being the persistent, devious “devil” that
he is, he takes yet one more approach and makes an appeal to Jesus’ supposed pride. In a twisted, perverted view of
Christ’s Kingship, Satan shows Jesus all the earthly glory, or at least the satanic version of it. In Mat 4:8 “Again, the devil
taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” Here
is where Christ’s patience is exhausted at last, for as the Tempter says, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall
down and worship me”, Christ expels him a command: “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord
thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
This is the so-called “last straw” for Christ, for the idea of the Lord of Heaven and Earth prostrating Himself before this
hideous fallen angel is too much. Christ speaks with authority and the Devil leaves, defeated and frustrated.
Now, the victory is won and the angels, who had been watching this whole contest with worshipful admiration, came and
ministered to Jesus, tending to His needs. Satan had done his best and had failed. Just as Christ would defeat Satan on
the battleground of Calvary later in His ministry, so he vanquished him now.
At the start of this homily, I mentioned that this passage “goes to the very heart of what we believe to be true as
Christians.” Satan used the “if” word three times, once for each temptation: “if thou be the Son of God, “if” thou be the Son
of God, and “if” thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Each of these is a conditional statement that seeks to provoke doubt
or sin. Each time, Satan seeks to cause Jesus to question Himself, and/or he mockingly insinuates that Jesus Christ is not
the One, the eternal Son, and the Spotless Lamb of God.
If this were true, Christianity would be shattered. If Christ is not who He says He is, the Son of the Almighty God, the Lord
and Savior of Mankind, we are confounded and hopeless. If Christ is not the Son of God, we might as well submit to the
toothless doctrine of the Enlightenment, where Christ’s dying on the Cross is not substitutionary, but merely a supreme
example of what a good man does. Finally, if we worship an “If” God, we Christians are, in the words of St. Paul, the most
miserable of all people.
“But, now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.” (1ST Cor. 15:20) In the eternal
sense, now is our Savior Christ victorious over sin, death, hell and the Devil. We do not worship an “If” God. No, we
worship an “Is” God, He who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Great “I AM THAT I AM” does not exist in
the past, He does not exist in the future, He simply exists. Thanks be to God.
Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and forever. AMEN
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
All Saints Day
November 1, 2015
Revelation 7:9 “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and
all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm
branches were in their hands;”
Today we observe a great feast of the Church, All Saints Day. Today affirm several things: our identity, our true family and
the nature of our fellowship both with Christ and one another.
That sounds like a lot to affirm in one brief address! It would be, if one was to consider these items piece by piece, or in any
other manner other than the organic whole in which they reside. Instead, our affirmation becomes a profound, yet
dynamically simple, and extremely powerful reality.
What dynamic, eternal, yet earthly “whole” are we talking about? How can it be powerful, yet invisible; finite yet eternal,
while being tangible, yet spiritual?
We are, of course, referring to the living Body Christ left when He ascended into Heaven, the Church. Similar to the Holy
Trinity, it too has a tripartite nature to it: the Church Militant, the Church Expectant, and the Church Triumphant. These
three make up a glorious totality, in which we affirm who we are now and who we will be eternally.
Considering the earthly part of the Church, the Church Militant, we acknowledge that it is a worldwide “web” of believers
consisting of all those who profess the basic truths of Christianity. Obviously, one has to believe certain things to be a
Christian: the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection of Christ, and the necessity of Holy Baptism. We know that different
groups believe in these key doctrines in different ways, but their essential truth must be affirmed to be considered a Christian.
We who are alive on Earth now make up the visible Church for the world to see. Sometimes, like the Great Awakening in the
latter 1800’s, the Church is glorified. The Gospel is spread throughout the world. Other times, when one group fights
another, as during the so-called Hundred Years’ War when Protestants and Catholics persecuted each other, the Church’s
witness is not as splendid. Despite these struggles, there is a mystical communion that connects all parts of the Church.
Despite man’s sinfulness, this can never disappear.
This communion, however fragile or damaged it is at any given time, is a critical aspect of our identity as Christians. If we
believe in the essential truths of Christianity, we are united in the essential nature of the Body of Christ. St. Paul mentions
this several times in his epistles. How we sinful men have done damage to this Body through zeal, that often manifests itself
in uncharitable acts, words and deeds towards fellow Christians. Yet, how glorious is God’s forgiveness How glorious if we
could all be one Church again! Someday, in God’s sovereign Will, it will be that way again. In the meantime, we must work
to edify the Body and not detract from it.
Perhaps one of the most mysterious and unknown parts of the Church is the Church Expectant. This is that group of faithful
believers who have, quoting Hamlet, “shuffled off this mortal coil”, and who await the Final Judgment. This state is
mysterious to us, as Anglicans affirm. Yet God is in control and that is all we really need to know about it. We bow our heads
and give thanks for those who have gone before us into that part of the mysterious and eternal Church.
The third and most glorious part of the Church is the Church Triumphant, or those who reside in heavenly bliss with our Lord
in Heaven. These blessed souls have fought the good fight, persevered in righteousness to the very end, and are now
reaping the benefits of their labors in Christ.
Although we cannot earn our way into Heaven, there is something we can do after we have been enlightened in Christ. Once
we have been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, we should engage in a full life in Christ through the Church. We
receive the life-giving sacrament of Holy Communion, we participate in the worship of Almighty God, and we grow in love and
fellowship with each other. In so doing, we will find something else: a change in how we regard the World and ourselves.
We will change in subtle but wonderful ways that show us to be Christians. We will love more, hate less and be more
tolerant of the failings in others, chiefly because we are increasingly aware of how God graciously overlooks our own failings
This is how we persevere in righteousness. In so doing, we will find the blessed culmination of our journey in Christ, where
we will rest in the Lord forever in contentment and bliss.
Yet, beloved in Christ, we are not there yet. We still have a job to do. We still have the job of building up the Body of Christ
here, on earth, now. We still have the blessed obligation to help bring others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We still
have the obligation of preserving an orthodox expression of historic Christianity that glorifies God and edifies Man. In short,
we still have the glorious obligation to work, pray and give for the spread of the Kingdom.
That brings us back to today’s celebration of the Feast of All Saints. Today, we affirm our common heritage with the all the
saints: those alive on Earth, those alive with God in the Church Expectant, and those most fully alive with God in the Church
Triumphant. Perhaps this is the hardest to understand. How can it be that some members are glorified, while other members
have yet to come to their Final Judgment? Isn’t that supposed to happen at once? How is it possible?
The answer lies in the finitude of man and the eternality of God. Those who have passed from this realm into eternity are no
longer bound by the constraints of linear time. In eternity, events don’t happen in sequence. In fact, they don’t happen at all.
They, like God, simply are… There is no past, present, or future. There is simply the eternal Now of God.
Today, we affirm that reality. Today, we affirm our earthly relationship one to another in the Church Militant. Today, we affirm
our membership in the Church Expectant, as we look toward our eternal home. Finally, we give thanks to God for our place
in the Church Triumphant, a place prepared for us in Christ Jesus our Lord and sealed with His Holy Blood for ever. AMEN.
Our Gospel from St. Luke brings forth some interesting questions. How does God call us? How do we know
when God calls us? What is the nature of our call? Finally, how do we respond?
First of all, we know that God calls each of us in different ways and fashions. Each man and woman hears
the call of God in a different, yet intensely personal way. Our Lord speaks to us all individually, if we are
inclined to listen. What is fascinating is how He does it.
To His glory, God uses both unity in diversity and diversity in unity when calling us. What do we mean by
that? Simply that Our Lord uses the same general means to call us, yet it is perceived and received in a
myriad of ways.
God uses both a general call as well as an individualized one that all men are issued at some time in their life.
The general call of grace is one that was issued from the Cross. Christ, through His one- time Sacrifice,
called all men unto Him. John 12:32 says: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”.
There was, and is, a general outpouring of grace from this act. Some hear and are moved to respond. Their
response may be a great commitment, a greater yearning, or even just a greater curiosity. At the same time,
there are many who never listen to this general call of grace.
All people also receive an individual call from God as well. He calls all people, someway, sometime in their
life. Many people are led to follow that call. These people are destined to grow in the faith to whatever
degree God has willed for them. They are to enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit and of the Church. There are
also many other people who are called, but do not answer. That is a profound mystery known only to God
Within the general call of mankind there is a special subset for those whose call is deeper and with a more
persistent nature. These people respond with a stirring of the heart and of the spirit to God. These are
those souls for whom the Spirit does not return empty. Rather, through the advocacy and facilitation of the
Holy Spirit, there is a communication, a link, a response that says “yes” to Him.
The question is, how do we know when God call us and what is the nature of that call? This is difficult, and
the answer may not be satisfactory to those who admire clear, crisp answers. The reason is that one can’t
give a perfect answer, except that one will simply “know” when He calls us. Here is where the diversity in
unity is apparent. While His Call is general, our perception of it is individual and specific. As a younger man,
searching for God, it was frustrating trying to hear the voice of God, most probably because I was seeking
the wrong things. God is heard more often in the quiet, small voice than in the babbling of many tongues.
Also, while “crash-boom” spiritual experiences are more dramatic, they are less common and may be less
meaningful over time as well. How many of us have known someone who has had a remarkable conversion
experience and has turned their life over to Christ, only to revert to their old, unsatisfactory ways some time
afterward? Unfortunately, it happens, especially if one is looking for the quality of the experience, rather than
the durable nature of a changed life.
Consider the” home-grown” conversion; one that is private, deep and meaningful, without the spiritual
fireworks. In the quiet interior of our souls, we sense God’s call. This may begin as a “drawing towards”.
Something in us simply wants something, although it is not always apparent what that is. It is also an
unfortunate fact that a calling comes usually not from a sense of comfort, but discomfort. That is, only in
answering the call will that soul find peace.
Despite what our call may have been, or how it was received, the last and most important question is: how
do we respond to it? Let’s look to our Gospel selection for answers.
First, we recognize that Christ was simply following ancient Jewish tradition in gathering disciples to him.
Jewish doctors of the law often recruited disciples to teach Torah. Yet Christ did this not by going to the
Temple to select the “best and the brightest.” Instead, He went to the lake of Genessaret and taught the
common crowds as they “pressed” upon him by the lake. They were hungry to hear him, for the people
perceived the truth in what He was saying, as well as they way He delivered it. You’ll recall that one of the
Gospels (Mat. 7:29) says, “For he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” In this case,
as He was teaching by the Sea of Galilee, the people were actually “pressing” Him into the water!
Jesus needed a place to teach, so He enters into one of the fishing boats nearby and asks the fisherman to
push off a little into the lake so He can address the crowd. After speaking for a while, he turns to the
fisherman, Simon Peter, and tells him, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.”
Simon’s answer is instructive: he says, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing:
nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. In other words, “we’ve worked all night, we’ve caught
nothing and we’ve even cleaned our nets, but if you say so, we’ll let down the net.”
Jesus’ calm, commanding presence compels him to do so and his attitude changes dramatically. Why? The
miraculous draft of fish is so great that the net begins to break and they fill both boats full to the point of
sinking! Note Peter’s reaction.
He recognizes the ultimate holiness there with him, and is terrified. Recall that an ancient Hebrew believed
that if one were to come in contact with God’s holiness, the result would be instant destruction.
Jesus calms Simon and issues His call, saying “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men” He calls
Peter just as he is, where he is. This is exactly what God does for us. He calls us as we are and where we
are. He calls us “To launch out into the deep and to let down our nets for a draught.”
We, like Peter, are often afraid, or resistant. Perhaps we too have “toiled all the night” in the deep, dark
places of our souls “and have taken nothing.”
That is, until Christ calls us, our lives’ nets are empty until they are filled with the miraculous “catch” of His
love. Certainly, one can seem to have it all: job, money, family, success. But without God, there comes a
moment in everyone’s life when they realize they “have toiled all the night and have taken nothing.” You see,
our lives’ nets are truly empty without Christ.
Luke 5:8 “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful
man, O Lord.”
The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Easter Sunday, 2016
V. Alleluia! The Lord is risen!
R. The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!
This ancient Easter greeting reminds us why we are Christians. Today is the feast of the Resurrection of our and savior
Jesus Christ. It is the feast of feasts, the day of days for us. Today we celebrate Christ’s victory over death, sin and the
grave. Today we celebrate freedom from the greatest fear of man: death, and of the unknown. As Christ is victor over the
grave, so are we victorious over fear, over uncertainty, and over doubt, for we Christians know where we are going with
courage, with sureness and with faith.
How can we have such a bold assertion? Consider the simple, tender and yet profound words of the children’s hymn:
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” This little verse tells us that Jesus’ love for us is simple: he loves us
for what we are and who we are, without reservation, unconditionally. It is tender, because the love of Jesus is knitted to
the soul of the Christian. It is profound, in that Jesus paid the ultimate price for our redemption
Consider the following from the Word of God that clearly delineate this love and our eternal destination:
John 11:25 25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet
shall he live:
John 14:2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, 1, I would have told you. I go to 2 prepare a place for
KJG Matthew 20:28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom
On Maundy Thursday, we remember our Lord’s death and were given the Holy Communion. We are fed spiritually each
time we partake of the Eucharist. On Good Friday, Our Lord offered himself as the “one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice” for
us. On Holy Saturday, our Lord’s body rested in the sepulcher. Today, Easter, our Lord rose from the dead and opened
unto us the gates of Paradise.
Today we celebrate our victory with Christ. Those of us who have been baptized into his death also share in His
resurrection. Today is that day. As Jesus told his disciples: “ John 16:20 Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep
and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Today is the day
that we have joy like no other, for we know that our Lord liveth and maketh intercession for us.
In the glorious words of Job, chapter 19: “25 For I know that my 1 redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day
upon the earth: 26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet 1 in my flesh shall I see God.”
We as Christians know this to be true. As Christ is, so shall we be. Christ tasted death and chilling isolation from God so
that we would not have to. Christ, our Captain of salvation, did this for us.
Early in the morning, Mary Magdalene came to the sepulcher, perhaps to mourn for Christ, or as other Gospel accounts
say, to anoint the body of Christ. Expecting to find the tomb sealed, she finds it open. Immediately, she thinks that Christ
has been removed and runs to tell the other disciples. Peter and “the other disciple”, John, run to the tomb. John, being
younger, outruns the middle-aged Peter. He comes to the tomb, sees the linen grave wrappings, but does not go in. He
hesitates. When bold and brash Peter arrives, he rushes into the tomb. He sees the clothes and amazingly, the head
napkin, neatly wrapped and lying by itself. This is not a scene of confusion. It is a purposeful situation where our Lord arose
from the dead, neatly wrapped up the cloth that was around His head, and went out.
This passage of Scripture illustrates two approaches to the Christian faith, one symbolized by John, the other by Peter.
Some people, like John, come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ gradually. They, in effect, look in the tomb to see if
they should go in. Eventually, they make the commitment to believe in Jesus Christ. John, hesitated; then, seeing the
example of Peter, came in and believed.
Others, like Peter, burst in to the faith. They receive such an explosion of grace that they seek it, with both hands. This is
However one comes to the faith of Jesus Christ, it is vital that we all see the empty tomb and believe. This is the bedrock
truth of Christianity. We have a Lord who died for us, and rose again to new and everlasting life. As he is, so shall we be.
Some Christians look in the tomb, looking for a dead Jesus. That is, they look in the tomb to see if their faith is alive. For
some, the answer is mixed. St. Paul talks of this in 1 Cor. 15, where he speaks of those who doubted the resurrection:
“13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is
empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that
He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up -- if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is
not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen
asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”
If this were the end of the story, we would have to agree. In fact, woe be to us. But, the Apostle continues: “20 But now
Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came
death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”
This is the truth of Easter. This is what we celebrate today. This is our faith, our hope, and our joy.
John 20:8 “Then entered in therefore the other disciple also, who came first to the tomb, and he saw, and believed.”
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity, 2016
Matthew 18:23 "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts
with his servants.”
In today’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us an amazing story of grace, forgiveness and ingratitude.
Christ speaks to all of these topics, but focuses on one of the central themes in Christianity: forgiveness.
Peter came to Jesus and asked, (Matthew 18:21) “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I
forgive him? Up to seven times?" Some of us might wonder why Peter sought to quantify forgiveness.
Perhaps one answer lies in the fact that the Prophet Amos set forgiveness to three times, and gives a
warning that God may not withhold punishment for the fourth trespass (Amos 1:3-13; 2:1-6). “Thus saith
the LORD; For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof;
because…” and here he gave various reasons why the fourth offense was unforgiveable. Rabbinic
teachers also set a limit on the number of times one might be forgiven to three, perhaps because they
thought that repentance on the offender’s part might not be genuine.
Thus, when Peter says, “how many times shall I forgive my brother, up to seven times?” he may have
actually thought he was doing well in our Lord’s eyes because he was going beyond the legal limit. Yet,
Christ, in line with His Divine Character, explodes the limited expectation of man to an almost unthinkable
degree. He says, Matthew 18:22 “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
To the Hebraic mind, this would have resonated, because of the principle of vengeance being carried out
seventy times seven as was first stated in the Book of Genesis, chapter 4. Here Jesus characteristically
fulfills this principle by applying it not to vengeance, but to forgiveness.
A Hebrew would understand this number as expressing a virtually unlimited amount.
Christ further expounds this principle using an analogy. He makes the profound simple and transmits great
truth through this device. He tells us of a great king who was settling accounts with his servants. Some
king is settling up with his debtors. One man owes ten thousand talents, an impossibly huge amount.
Putting this into perspective, one must realize the combined annual tribute of Galilee and Perea just after
the death of Herod the Great came to only two hundred talents and entire tribute of Judea, Samaria and
Idumea came to six hundred talents, as told to us by Josephus. . This fact reveals the poor man’s
predicament and the character of the illustration. The debt was more than all the hard currency that
existed in the whole country at the time!”
Even so, the man falls downs and pleads for mercy. Yhe King is moved and grants him not just a reprieve
in terms of time, but actually forgives him the entire debt. This is incredible. The man is free.
Then, in a gross example of ingratitude, this same servant goes out from the presence of the King and
finds a fellow servant, who owed him a very little amount of money, 100 pence. Now, a pence was worth
about 14 cents, so the contrast to the amount the original servant owed to the amount is immense and
The end of the story is just; his fellow servants inform the Lord of his outrageous behavior and he is
delivered to the tormentors until he can pay the debt, which, as we’ve seen, is not very likely. The man’s
fate is sealed.
Christ closes this parable with a solemn statement: so our Heavenly Father will deal with us if we do not
forgive, from the heart, those who sin against us. Where is this same thought echoed? It is in the great
prayer that Christ gave us, the Our Father. In that prayer, we say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we
forgive those who trepass against us.” Even our forgiveness is conditional, as we forgive the sins of
others. This is very telling and very solemn.
Yet, to the true penitent, God’s love and forgiveness is not limited. Just as the King forgave the debtor his
impossibly heavy debt, so God forgives us our impossibly heavy load of sin and guilt. Without berating all
for our burden of sin, God exacted a price that only God could pay. This, of course, was accomplished
by Jesus on the Cross. Yet, despite this, one might be tempted to say, “How do I owe God anything?”
To the unspiritual man, this is indeed an excellent question. This thought may occur if it even enters his
head, which is highly unlikely. Not being negative or nasty, but St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15:
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor
can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The world thinks Christianity is foolishness,
yet the Christian judges all things rightly with the mind of Christ.
The carnal man does not consider things for which the Christian gives thanks; such as common grace,
which actually restrains us from being as bad as we could be, or God’s wonderful sunshine and water
that produce the fruits of the earth The Christian appreciates all of these things. The carnal man may
have some vague sense of gratitude to some impersonal force of nature for producing the good of the
So, we ask, “What do we owe God?” We Christians do indeed owe a debt that we cannot pay. This
debt incurred a payment that is truly incalculable. This payment allows us escape our old nature and
become something new. We are we to demonstrate newness, in our fresh and frank acceptance of the
things of the Spirit and our conduct in the world. We also expect to be glorified and perfected so that we
may see God.
The point is this: we, who have been given everything by Him who forgives us completely through the
sacrifice of His Son, cannot afford to withhold forgiveness from others. We have been forgiven; thus we
must forgive others their trespasses, or risk the abrogation of God’s gracious forgiveness to us.
We could still be guilty of the most heinous ingratitude of all. When we acknowledge our transgressions
and offer humble repentance, our Heavenly Father, forgives us. Can we not do the same? Can we not
return a bit of God’s grace to the one who sins against us?
We recognize that forgiveness is difficult; forgiveness is hard. Sometimes, it is the hardest thing to do,
simply because we do not want to do it. Maybe, God forbid, we want to cherish our hurt a little while
longer, denying the forgiveness we know that we should give.
Yet, in the miracle of the grace of God, forgiveness is exactly what we must do in order to be healed.
When we offer true forgiveness, God begins to heal us. The forgiveness we give to others is a balm to
the soul for ourselves. It is life-giving, health-affirming goodness that we accrue to ourselves as we give it
away. When we forgive, in the wonderful goodness of God, , God rewards us with His Grace and
Matthew 18:35 - 19:1 "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not
forgive his brother his trespasses."
|Grace, Forgiveness and Ingratitude
The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Today we celebrate and ponder together the central mystery of the Christian faith, out of which all other mysteries flow. At
this, some may say, “Father Stults, that’s a mighty big claim. Are you sure about that?” This priest will answer, “Without a
doubt, for out of this mystery comes the very nature of God Himself, and thus His dealings with us.”
Today, we celebrate the wonderful mystery of the Holy Trinity. Today, we ponder anew the mind-boggling nature of God, as
we recognize the makeup of the Divine Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Today, we are reminded of the
completely peculiar and distinctive nature of Christianity at its very core.
Let us recap. God is one Being, in which there are three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are not three Gods.
There are not three Fathers. There are not three Sons. There are not three Holy Spirits. There is one Father, one Son,
and one Holy Ghost, all of which are God, and all of which are co-equal, co-existent, and co-eternal. All three Persons of
the Holy Trinity are God, yet the Father is not the Son, nor the Holy Spirit. The Son is not the Father, nor the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not the Father, nor the Son. Yet, all are God, without co-mixture, or confusion.
Even though the members of the Holy Trinity are co-equal, why does Jesus say in John 14:28, “…for my father is greater
than I.” Isn’t this an apparent contradiction to historic theology? Well, of course our Lord is correct.
Jesus is inferior to His Father in respect to His manhood, yet He is equal to his Father in respect to his Godhood. As far as
the Divine Community is concerned, Jesus is equal to his Father, for, as He said in John 10;30, “I and my Father are one.”
Recall how this statement so infuriated the Jews that they picked up stones to stone Him.
So it has always been with the Holy Trinity. For those not of the community of faith, it is a source of infuriation, or of
disbelief, or of scorn. St Paul once remarked in 1 Corinthians 1:23 23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a
stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; “ The same can be said in boldface with italics about the Holy Trinity.
Recall that this central mystery is also the chief stumblingblock in Christianity for many. It is also foolishness for many. But,
here it is: it is the chief truth of orthodox Christianity, one that must be affirmed to be saved.
Let’s explore this a little more….Unless one has the gift of faith, one cannot affirm the Trinity. Recall that every single cult,
Christian or not, does not affirm it. They do not because they cannot. This is a mystery, and one only can affirm it with the
help of the Holy Ghost, in the same way that one cannot say, “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Ghost.
Here’s the big point, beloved. The Athanasian creed says that one must believe in the Trinity to be saved. Why? Because
one must believe in the right nature of God to be saved. What is that nature? Without getting caught up in a tautology, it is
the nature of God as revealed in Scripture: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Consider this: just because we believe something does not bind God to it, or change His Holy Will. We Christians must
never get caught up in the erroneous concept that everyone can believe what he or she wants, and yet be saved. There are
an alarmingly growing number of people who adopt this semi-Universalist view. That is, they believe that since they are
basically “good” people, God wouldn’t dare send them to Hades, or eternal death, or whatever. Yet, the Athanasian Creed
states “He therefore that will be saved must thus think of theTrinity.” We can reject that thought, or we can seek some other
way, but it does not change who or what God is. It does not change the fact that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the
Life. It doesn’t change the fact that no one comes to the Father except by Him.
Sounds terribly absolutist, doesn’t it? Surely there must be a softer, more individualistic, more humanistic way to salvation.
Surely, like Islam, we can earn our salvation through good works and following the precepts of the Koran. Maybe, like the
Hindu, we can re-cycle our time on earth enough times until we get it right. Maybe like the Medieval Church, we can burn
away several hundred years in Purgatory before entering Paradise. One might say, "All this Trinity business is nice, but not
absolutely necessary to salvation. Surely there must be a way whereby all men can be saved, without all this theology."
Well, no…. consider John 14:6 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father,
but by me.” This doesn’t leave much “wiggle room.” So, to be terribly dogmatic, one must accept Jesus as one’s Lord and
Savior, thereby accepting His gracious gift of salvation and eternal life, or not. If one chooses not, then that choice has
consequences. At the Last Day, when we all stand before the Throne of Judgment, our choice will be known. Then, we will
truly understand the words of Christ from Matthew 22:14 14”For many are called, but few are chosen.”All mankind is called
by Jesus’ universal call of grace from the Cross, but not all blessed with the gift of faith, for some mysterious reason. On that
fateful day, those making other professions will be judged accordingly. Then, the separation will occur.
Thus, let us all praise and bless God for all of His benefits to us, not the least of which is this precious gift of faith. We in this
room can affirm the Trinity, even though we don’t understand it.... We can affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ, although we
certainly can’t understand His makeup as perfect God and perfect Man. Nor do we understand the enormity of His sacrifice
for us. Yet, we believe and bow our heads in love, reverence, and worship.
This gift doesn’t come of us, but from the Holy Ghost. Only he can visit us and grant us the ability to believe that Jesus
Chris is the only-begotten Son of the Father. Only the Holy Ghost can grant us the ability to believe that God the Father
loves us so much that He gave His only Son for our redemption. Only the Holy Ghost is our constant companion to lead,
instruct, comfort, and strengthen us. When we believe these things, we affirm the Trinity, and when we affirm the Trinity, we
affirm our salvation.
Thus, we ask you, do we have cause for celebration today? Do we have a reason to give thanks to God with kindled spirits
and enkindled hearts? Do we say to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, “we thank thee, we praise
thee, and we gloryify Thee?” Yes, yes and yes….
It’s important that we do this. It’s important that we believe correctly, and that we know what we believe. Trust me, the
enemies of Christianity certainly do. That is, whatever creed they hold, they really, really believe it, even to the point of
death and destruction.
The blessed new is that we, beloved, are not of such ilk. We don’t trust in bombs, or terrorism, or fear to hold believers. We
don’t threaten converts with death if they seek to leave the cult. Instead, we trust in the ever-flowing love of God as we know
Him: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
This is the reality is which we trust. This is the reality in which we believe. This is the reality which will secure our eternal
blessedness, forever and ever, world without end. Amen.