Good Friday – 2018 LSB #451
Text – Romans 5:8
but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
THE DAY CREATION FELL APART
In 1993, St. Louis, MO experienced what at the time was called a 500-year flood. The Mississippi & Missouri Rivers both rose to heights not seen in generations! It happened about a year after the state of Missouri passed a law to allow riverboat gambling. A number of preachers drew a line between those events & declared this was God’s judgment upon riverboat gambling.
Never mind that the riverboats were the only things that survived the flood – after all… they float! It would seem that if this was God’s judgment against riverboat gambling, lightning or something like it would have been more effective. Can you picture God sitting on a cloud casting down lightning bolts in retaliation for human behavior?
It’s an odd picture because we live in a world where God’s wrath is questioned & jettisoned as that of some cartoon character. Perhaps as an unintended consequence of the Reformation, & a testimony to its success, people today believe that God is loving & forgiving, but that He never He gets angry. Even the Pope is saying that hell does not exist.
However, floods & hurricanes do raise important questions related to the wrath or judgment of God. Does He get angry? If so, why? How does He express that anger or judgment? And upon whom? Many of these questions find their answer in what happened on Good Friday, with the death of Jesus around the year 30 AD.
That death forces us to confront the seriousness with which God considers sin, & more importantly, what He does about it. One of the themes throughout this series has to do with how God works in creation & though creation in order to carry out His purposes. This applies both to the expression of God’s wrath as well as the manifestation of His love & blessing. We can put it quite simply: When God blesses, creation flourishes & life abounds. When He curses things, creation falls apart & life ceases to exist. We see this from the very 1st page of Scripture. Throughout the Bible, we have specific statements identifying God’s blessing & curse.
In Genesis 1 God blessed the earth & what happened? It sprouted & blossomed with life! He blessed the animals & humans & what happened? They became fruitful & multiplied in number! As with the blessing – so also with the curse.
After Adam & Eve sinned, God cursed the ground, the very earth from which we were raised & given life. But now that earth, which had been created to give us life, ground us back into its dust. We see it happen again with the flood. Upon seeing the pervasiveness & destructiveness of evil on earth, God regretted that He ever created life. So He judged that evil.
And what happened? Creation fell apart; it came undone. The earth opened up with water, the skies opened up with water & all the distinctions of land, air & sea that God had created were erased. We find the same pattern occur time & again throughout the OT. Consider Jeremiah 12 where the birds are swept from the land.
We see similar things happen today, but let’s be clear about this. Without a word of revelation from God, we cannot & should not identify any particular tragedy as being God’s judgment on a particular action. We can only speak in a general way because we know that both the blessing & the curse of God are embedded in creation.
We see blessing & curse impact all of us as everyone lives & dies – often times subtly & slowly – at other times suddenly & dramatically. We carry God’s creative blessing as well as His judgment within our bodies. God gave us life through our parents. He nourishes & sustains our lives as our bodies & minds grow into adulthood.
At the same time, we can see within our bodies the curse working toward other ends.
Our bodies slowly fall apart no matter how healthy one may be. Interesting how we use that term, isn’t it? I’m falling apart. My life is falling apart. Then it happens finally with death as our bodies fall apart into so many organic molecules decomposing into the dust from which we were made. Thus we experience life all the while moving towards death.
And because of sinful mankind, the earth suffers as well. The earth itself carries that blessing & curse. Because of God’s blessing, the earth has a stable orbit, babies are born, vineyards grow, life springs forth year after year despite the presence of sin & evil.
At the same time, the curse embedded in the earth fills our lives with toil & worry, occasionally erupting in ways that cause widespread death such as hurricane & flood. These are not necessarily punishments for specific sins as if some deserved them more than others. When we see them, we can only say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
We see all of this (love & wrath) manifested by God within creation through what took place on Good Friday in the death of Christ. God pours out His wrath upon His only-begotten Son, who dies in His body, His created body, the flesh He took on from His mother Mary.
We read in the gospels that Jesus “gave up His spirit.” His body falls apart. It stops functioning. It stops moving, & creation does not remain unaffected. Creation suffers too. The sky darkened & the earth quaked. Creation fell apart. It ripped at the seams. Jesus’ body grew limp. He was taken down from the cross, & placed into a stone tomb.
On this night, as we consider the death of Christ, we need to do more than dwell on the physical agony He endured – the graphic descriptions of nails through His wrists, the dehydration, the asphyxiation as a result of hanging by His arms.
In terms of purely physical suffering, one could argue that many people (before & after) the death of Christ suffered incredible agony for much longer than six hours (indeed, for days & weeks) as the result of devious tortures invented by their tormenters. The physical agony is not what makes Jesus’s death unique or extraordinary, much less of significant value for us today.
I don’t intend to take anything away from the physical agony Jesus suffered upon the cross. But what made His suffering & death absolutely unique in human history is that in His created human body, Jesus experienced the full outpouring & venting of God’s wrath upon the entire human race from Adam & Eve to the present day.
The wrath God could use to annihilate the world & all living creatures, by withdrawing His sustaining hands, is experienced by Jesus. Consider His words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why have you abandoned me? The wrath of God is being abandoned by God rather than embraced by Him.
For when God abandons us, or His creation, everything returns to nothingness. Tohu & Vohu are the Hebrew words. Without form & void are the English. At Golgotha, God withdraws His support & turns His back on the human race & His creation. But Yahweh does this to Jesus in our place. St. Paul wrote:
“But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV) Can you describe to me what that means? Jesus died so that we would not endure God’s eternal displeasure & disappointment. The Scriptures describe this act in which Jesus took our place & died for us as an atoning sacrifice. It is the propitiation.
That is, Jesus is the one who turns aside God’s wrath. He deflects God’s anger off of us & onto Himself. Consider the analogy of a lightning rod. Its purpose is to attract a bolt of lightning, absorb it & dissipate it until it is no more. That is what Christ does for us. Like a lightning rod, He attracts the wrath of God to Himself so that it will not strike you or me.
Then He absorbs it & dissipates it until it is no more. Jesus does so by dying, & because
it is no mere mortal who dies, but the very Son of God in the flesh, He absorbs God’s wrath against all humankind – & He does so in His creaturely/created body! And as God turns His back upon Jesus, He turns His loving face toward you & toward me.
What does this mean for the art of living by faith? It means we have the certainty of God’s love for us. Look how He demonstrated it & acted upon it so we might live forever. He sacrificed His Son. That’s how much He wanted you & me. That’s how much He wanted us to enjoy the benefits of His love & gift of life!
Have we taken this for granted? Many of us have heard it since childhood, but consider what it was like for people who lived in another place & time. In the years preceding Luther’s Reformation, a German monk named Dietrich Kolde wrote in the preface of Mirror of a Christian Man that he had found three things troubling his heart:
The 1st was – he knew he would die. The 2nd troubled him more for he did not know when he would die. The 3rd troubled him most of all – he did not know where he would go when he died. This captures nicely the anxiety of the age.
In the 16th century, people’s lives were often shaped by the reality that they would stand before the judgment seat of Christ on the last day. They had better prepare to meet their maker. They were reminded of that every time they passed the cemetery on the way to church. For at the top of the archway over the gate into the graveyard was a statue of Jesus.
He was sitting on the judgement seat. This is what awaited them! In order to help prepare for that day, guidebooks were written on the art of dying. How should one prepare for death & set things right in order to meet one’s maker? What some feared most (next to not knowing where they would end up) was a quick & unexpected death.
That meant they’d have no time to prepare for meeting the Judge who would separate the
sheep & the goats. How different from our day when the last thing we want is a long, protracted & painful death. We prefer to be taken quickly & unexpectedly! Perhaps it is a way to avoid the thought of death & the questions it forces us to ask, yet as Christians, we need not shy away from those concerns.
Because the Reformation uncovered the comforting message of the gospel, you & I know that we need not fear facing the wrath of God or the Christ as a judge with a sword coming out of His mouth. Jesus Himself has met & endured the wrath of God for us, dissipating it until it is no more. We are safe & secure beneath the umbrella of His cross.
The art of living by faith means that whenever doubts creep into our hearts, we respond, “Christ died for me so that I need not die an eternal death!” Amen.
Stricken, smitten & afflicted, see Him dying on the tree! ’Tis the Christ, by man rejected; yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He! ’Tis the long-expected Prophet, David’s Son, yet David’s Lord; proofs I see sufficient of it: ’Tis the true & faithful Word. Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load; ’Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man & Son of God. Amen. LSB 451:1, 3.
Palm Sunday – B LSB #680
Text – John 12:25
Whoever loves his life loses it, & whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
BEING A LOSER
A 1st grade teacher was explaining to her class what Holy Week was & why we call it holy. She explained Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday & finally Easter. When she thought she’d made her point, she asked the students if any of them had questions. A curious young boy raised his hand & asked, “What happens if you don’t want to be holy all week?”
How we struggle with being holy! Yet we struggle more with being a loser! That’s the bottom of the barrel – the lowest of the low. The Detroit Lions have been losers for longer than I’ve been alive, & I’m not a teenager anymore. It’s being predicted the Detroit Tigers will lose over 100 games this season, & I was told; don’t even bring up the MSU men’s basketball team.
In popular culture, Charlie Brown is a lovable loser, but no one strives to imitate or to be like him. Instead, “We’re number one” is the rallying cry of the human race. It’s for that reason that so many people have a problem with following Jesus. The Man who saved the human race gets to set the priorities for those who follow Him.
Do you want to be number one, or do you want to receive the gift of eternal life? That is the dilemma which lingers behind our each & every decision. Completely mundane choices, like buying a new microwave instead of worshipping God with an offering, are the type of decisions I’m talking about.
It’s not that buying a microwave is wrong, but the motive for choosing that over giving an offering could be wrong. That’s where those mundane choices can go off track. Then, there’s the stewardship of our time. You can use your time cleaning the house or keeping up the yard, but maybe God had prepared, in advance, for you to spend time with your children, or visiting someone who lives in a nursing home. Again, cleaning the house & keeping up the yard are not sinful activities, unless your heavenly Father had other plans for your time. Working overtime may seem like the logical thing to do, especially if money is tight. On the other hand, if that interferes with the Bible study you were going to attend, which is more important for eternity?
I could go on & on with a never ending set of comparisons, but the point should be clear. There are so many possible ways for us to love our lives. All of them can be perfectly harmless & mundane. All of them could be a choice that costs you a small part of your life; eventually even losing all of it. The words of Jesus are clear: “Whoever loves his life loses it…”
The real danger is that we can lose our spiritual life without even realizing it & the author of the book of Hebrews gives a very stern warning about that:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, & have shared in the Holy Spirit, & have tasted the goodness of the word of God & the powers of the age to come, & then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance…” (6:4-6 ESV) By loving his earthly life a man destroys it.
The faith we have in Jesus Christ as Savior from sin is something we should not take lightly. Granted, in our sinful weakness, there will be many times when we do, & Jesus promises to protect us, but the danger is so great we should beware & always be ready to run back to Jesus. To do so takes willingness to suffer humiliation in the eyes of the world.
If our reputation among our worldly acquaintances means more to us than Jesus does then we are loving life in a way that leads on the path to losing it. The prophet Isaiah shared these words from Yahweh, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” (55:8 ESV)
To our natural self, this seems like a contradiction, but the best way to end up as a loser is
to love your life. If you remember last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus had just announced, again, that He was going to die in service to the human race. So James & John come to Him asking Jesus to do for them anything they ask. The Son of God is on His way to suffer & die while His disciples are only thinking about power & glory.
Jesus knows of our tendencies to sin, to love our life, to seek 1st the things of this world rather than the kingdom of God. The Savior of the world knows that without Him dead on the cross of Golgotha, there is no hope for you or me. All we are capable of doing is looking out for #1. Without Jesus, all we are capable of doing is dying.
Without Jesus, the ultimate loss is death, because no one would ever recover. Without Jesus, there would be a sign by every cemetery across the land – THE END. The law of self-preservation is also the law of self-destruction, & Satan knows it. Loving this life is a self-defeating process. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said:
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (16:25 ESV) The 2nd person of the Holy Trinity became a human being so He could understand where you & I are coming from. We come from a place of weakness, suffering & death. In order for us to have life, Jesus must bury the old & bring forth the new.
In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus uses the simple analogy of a grain of wheat to explain what He was doing here on earth: “…I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth & dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (12:24 ESV) The human flesh of Jesus had to die so that your flesh & mine could be recreated at the resurrection of the dead.
Jesus is like a grain of wheat. If you don’t bury the seed you won’t be able to harvest a crop. God’s only-begotten Son must die so that His brothers & sisters may be given the new life that Jesus has already brought into this world. That new life is not complete yet, but it will be, come the Last Day of time. The season of Lent is about preparing ourselves for a funeral. It’s about being a loser. It’s about confessing, “I, a poor miserable sinner…” All of the Christian life is about how to be a loser for Jesus’ sake in order to find the everlasting life that our Lord is bringing through His own flesh & blood. Lent is a most solemn time but a time of solemn glory.
That probably sounds like a contradiction. The full, unhindered, eternal glory will come after the suffering of this life, yet by the power of the Holy Spirit, working through faith, we can see it & taste it already in this world. How do we know that? Do you remember the crucifixion & the words of the Roman soldier standing guard there?
“And when the centurion, who stood facing Him, saw that in this way [Jesus] breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:39 ESV) That centurion finally saw the glory of God in the suffering, dying & death of Jesus. Many people who have suffered in the name of Jesus have reported that same sort of ‘seeing.’
In looking out for number one I minimize my daily opportunities to die to self. And I also thereby minimize my opportunities to rise to newness of life. In that way I end up being a loser. The Gospel of John gave us a glimpse into the humanity of Jesus so would we realize that He does understand our fears of suffering & death.
His crucifixion was not some kind of elaborate charade. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” (John 12:27 ESV) Jesus debated with Himself as to whether He should ask the Father to save Him from the awful struggle with Satan that the hour of His passion involved.
Like us, Jesus struggled with being a loser. He shrank back from death as ordinary men, women & children do. Maybe we’re facing cancer or heart disease. Maybe we’re facing the loss of a job & income. Maybe we’re moving to a new city & don’t know anyone there. Each of those occasions, & many others like them, cause us to fear. Yet, Jesus was not deterred. He did not succumb to the temptation. As Philippians 2 stated: “…though [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (2:6-7 ESV)
That is the story of Christmas in a nutshell, but it continues with His death & resurrection:
“And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him & bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven & on earth & under the earth, & every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11 ESV)
Many hard working people are good at making sacrifices of their time & body to earn money, but not to receive spiritual rewards. Being a loser is not pleasant or well thought of, even if Jesus did it. The Good News is that Jesus did it out of love for all of His creation. Our sins have been forgiven, even though we are poor, miserable sinners.
As we think of being losers, maybe we need to take these words of a song to heart:
“All Star” by Smash Mouth
Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me
I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed
She was looking kind of dumb with her finger & her thumb
In the shape of an ‘L’ on her forehead. Amen.
Thine the life eternally Thine the promise let there be Thine the vision Thine the tree all the earth on bended knee gone the nailing gone the railing gone the pleading gone the cry gone the sighing gone the dying what was loss lifted high. Thine the kingdom Thine the prize Thine the wonderful surprise Thine the banquet then the praise then the justice of Thy ways Thine the glory Thine the story then the welcome to the least then the wonder all increasing at Thy feast at Thy feast. Thine the glory in the night no more dying only light Thine the river Thine the tree then the Lamb eternally then the holy holy holy celebration jubilee Thine the splendor Thine the brightness only Thee only Thee. Amen. LSB 680:2, 4-5.
5th Sunday in Lent – B LSB #857
Text – Mark 10:42
And Jesus called them to Him & said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, & their great ones exercise authority over them.”
LORDING IT OVER THEM
A well-dressed European woman was on safari in Africa. The group stopped briefly at a hospital for lepers. The heat was intense, the flies buzzing & she noticed a nurse kneeling in the dirt, tending to the pus-filled sores of a leper. With disdain the woman remarked, “Why, I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world!” The nurse quietly replied, “Neither would I.”
That opening paragraph gets right to the heart of the Gospel reading from Mark. It cuts a very definite line through the middle of human beings across the world. The opening paragraph demonstrates, through a story from life already here on earth, what Jesus was talking about concerning Judgment Day in this reading from the Gospel of Matthew:
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, & all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, & He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (25:31-32 ESV) On the Last Day Jesus will draw a line through the middle of humanity across the world & throughout time.
But the story about the European woman & the nurse & the leper drew that line already in the here & now. Men, women & children who follow Jesus are called to lead others through serving them, not through lording it over them. By the comment of the woman on safari it seems that she’s more comfortable in the role of lording it over people.
If that’s true, she would fit in well with James & John as they approach Jesus with these words, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” (Mark 10:35b ESV) God’s Son had just finished telling the disciples how He, their Lord & Master, was going to serve all of humanity through His suffering & death. James & John respond by saying, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand & one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:37 ESV) That response is pretty much along the same lines as seeing the nurse treating the leper’s pus-filled sores, but then remarking, “Why, I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world!”
Both responses are totally out of place. They reveal a blindness to God’s kingdom that hopefully is stunning for you to hear, because that same blindness exists in your heart & in mine. If we don’t recognize that we are in a world of hurt. Most people do not enjoy doctor appointments. They only go if they are certain they need help.
The same is true with repenting of our sins. None of us enjoys doing it & we only do so if we’re certain that we need help. At this point in Jesus’ ministry His disciples were seeking glory instead of repentance. They sought glory without suffering. This attitude revealed their ignorance of Jesus’ mission even when He explained it to them:
“He began to tell them what was to happen to Him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, & the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests & the scribes, & they will condemn Him to death & deliver Him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock Him & spit on Him, & flog Him & kill Him. And after three days He will rise.’” (Mark 10:32c-34 ESV)
Almost that entire paragraph deals with Jesus’ suffering & death, so that the last six words slip by all but unnoticed, “…after three days He will rise.” The point – suffering comes first, then comes glory. Along with the Disciples, you & I are inherently blind to that reality. Our emotions want nothing to do with it.
Years later, after Jesus’ resurrection, when the apostle Paul is teaching, he demonstrates his understanding of that reality. He & Barnabas, on one of their missionary journeys, recorded in the book of Acts, traveled through various cities to strengthen the believers: “They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (14:22b NLT) And yet, when the going gets tough, so many Christians seem to think that isn’t how it’s supposed to be. If your life is filled with struggle, even fellow children of God are drawn into questioning your faith. The friends of Job questioned his faith.
It’s not easy to preach suffering & hardship, self-sacrifice & service. It runs against the grain of your very heart & soul to faithfully receive that message. How many politicians campaign on what they, & the government, are going to do for you? Then consider how many politicians campaign on what you should do to serve the needs of others?
“And Jesus called them to Him & said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, & their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, & whoever would be 1st among you must be slave of all.’” (Mark 10:42-44 ESV)
Don’t you agree the world would be a better place if more politicians & world leaders considered themselves as slaves of all? The struggle we have is that Jesus is not only preaching to them. He’s preaching to you & to me as well. We’ve been studying the theology of the cross in the Sunday morning Bible class. Listen to the words of the prophet Ezekiel:
“This is what the Lord God says: I will take a branch from the top of a tall cedar, & I will plant it on the top of Israel’s highest mountain. It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches & producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches. And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down & makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither & gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, & I will do what I said!” (17:22-24 NLT)
In Jewish thought it is precisely the lowly whom God chooses. Ezekiel gives vivid & poetic expression to the theology of the cross, the way of the Gospel, the administration of the Kingdom of God versus the kingdoms of this world. The 1st shall be last & the last shall be 1st. Jesus had this to say in Luke chapter 9: “And He said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself & take up his cross daily & follow me.’” (9:23 ESV) That does not sound like a glorious path to follow. It is anything but, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand & one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:37 ESV) Even then, the Son of God, who was present & involved in creating the entire universe, responds with humility:
“…to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mark 10:40 ESV) In verse 37 James & John said: “Give to us...” In verse 40 Jesus said: “It is not mine to give.” They ask on the basis of presumption & pride. His answer – humility – is the very antithesis of that.
The Son of God does not assign places to His servants in the Kingdom of God. The Father, to whom Jesus willingly submits, has chosen them from eternity by grace, & He will give them their portion with the Son of God in the coming glory. Participation in Jesus’ future glory comes only by participation in His suffering.
The measure of all greatness, by God’s definition, is the self-giving greatness of the Son of Man who serves to the utmost, to the giving of His life for the ransoming of the many. This runs totally contrary to our sinful nature & to the way of the broken world in which we live. That’s why St. Paul wrote this in his letter to the church at Rome:
“Don’t copy the behavior & customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good & pleasing & perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NLT)
On earth, we are to be shaped & formed by the suffering, death & resurrection of Jesus that He accomplished for us. In Heaven we’ll enjoy His glory, & be shaped by it, for all of eternity. All human beings are powerless to do any of this on their own. Our efforts to ‘lord’ it over others are an expression of our brokenness. ‘Lording’ it over others is also an effort to gain glory for myself apart from God’s will. That effort on my part is neither good, nor pleasing, nor perfect. That sort of ‘self-confidence’ does not proceed from faith, but rather from rebellion. And, it is doomed to eternal failure.
There is a time & a place for power to rule here on earth. It is needed to protect the citizens of our country from evil men & women who would ‘lord’ it over others. Our Father in heaven has given the government which He establishes the authority to make laws & put people in prison if they are unwilling or unable to restrain themselves from evil.
In this life, earthly rulers in the kingdom of power have the responsibility to rule over others. Jesus is not condemning them. It is a fact of life, but in the kingdom of God on earth, whoever wishes to be great or 1st must be servant & slave.
God sent His Son to be a servant & His greatest service was giving His life as payment for the sins of humanity across the world & throughout time. As the OT reading from Jeremiah stated, “For I will forgive their iniquity, & I will remember their sin no more.” (31:34b ESV)
The nurse, in the opening illustration, was demonstrating the heart of Jesus, because she was not tending to the pus-filled sores of a leper for all the money in the world. She was doing it out of love for Jesus Christ, & the fact that He died on the cross to take away her leprosy of sin.
The Gospel reading from Mark is appropriate in this season of Lent because it helps us to recall our sins, & sinfulness, which caused the Lord to willingly suffer & die that we might be set free. What great love He must have for us. Amen.
Lord, help us walk Your servant way wherever love may lead & bending low, forgetting self, each serve the other’s need. You came to earth, O Christ, as Lord, but power You laid aside. You lived Your years in servanthood: in lowliness You died. No golden scepter but a towel You place within the hands of those who seek to follow You & live by Your commands. Amen. LSB 857:1-3.
4th Sunday in Lent – B LSB #’s 651, 783, 698
Text – Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance so that in those good works we might conduct our lives.
CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS
The school shooting in Parkland, FL was tragic news just some weeks ago. Back in the year 2000, the tragic news was from Uganda where killing in the name of a religious cult was going on. They’d found 924 bodies but hadn’t investigated a 5th site because they didn’t have the resources to handle the work if they found more.
It was a story about religion gone bad, & it seemed all the more bizarre when we realized that it happened because of the Millennium. In this country there’d been hype for years about the possible end of the world, as 1999 became 2000. Newspapers reported that security was being stepped up, especially in Israel, the supposed site of the Biblical Armageddon.
But then, the momentous day came & went with seemingly nothing happening. To add to the let down, the whole Y2K thing turned out to be a non-event as well. But 3 months later the news said that something terrible did happen after all.
Yet, it wasn’t a mysterious or supernatural event. It was the normal result of human sin. The cult leaders had been promising the end of the world, & the trusting followers had been giving the leaders all their possessions. When the world didn’t end, apparently some of those disciples thought there should be a money back guarantee. That thought cost them their lives.
From our vantage point, the whole event seems incomprehensible. We wonder how people can get sucked in so far that mass murder could occur on such a scale. Maybe part of our lack of understanding comes from a subconscious concern that it might somehow happen to us. In some respects, it’s probably a case where we’d rather be ignorant, because to understand it
is more than we really want to know. We don’t like to get close to that sort of horror. However, what’s at the root of it all isn’t that difficult to understand. It stems from every person’s basic desire to be accepted, to belong, to have a place where you fit in.
Philosophy has long dealt with the issue of the meaning of life. People want to have some idea of why they’re here. What’s their purpose in life? What’s the meaning of my life? All social organizations exist to meet that basic need. Gangs & cults, churches & families, for good or for evil, give meaning to life.
They provide reasons for living, but not all of those reasons are the truth, & certainly not all of them are from God. What reasons do you have for living? What brings you a sense of purpose or worth? What gives value to your days here on earth?
Many people are very uncomfortable with those questions, because how you answer them reveals a lot about you; often more than you want others to know; often, more than we ourselves want to know. Yet all of us want our lives to mean something. We need purpose.
In St. Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, his 2nd chapter is written about purpose. The people of that city were very concerned about purpose & meaning, but they were searching for it in the wrong places. Superstition, magic & special powers were the focal point of their day. Good luck charms & idols provided a thriving business for merchants.
The Ephesians were looking for answers, purpose & meaning, but they were looking in places that lacked the truth. Their magic did not point to Jesus Christ as the Way & the Truth & the Life. Likewise, the people in Uganda were no doubt searching for answers to the meaning of their days. The answer they found was not a beneficial one.
Their leader had claimed to be seeing visions of the Virgin Mary, but those visions didn’t point to Jesus Christ; therefore they were from the devil. The result, over 900 people being murdered, is also from the devil. God’s purpose for us is clearly stated in Ephesians 2:10. For we are God’s workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance so that in those good works we might conduct our lives.
That’s where God’s children find meaning & purpose. We find it in a life of service to others. We find it in caring for, supporting & encouraging one another, as we conduct our lives according to God’s will. And it doesn’t cost anything, because God promises that He, & not us, has already prepared those good works in advance. They’re ready to go.
All God asks is that you not walk away from them, but rather, walk in them instead. Conduct your lives in the very good works, which God has planned for you to do. Don’t go chasing off after the latest thrills & fads of the day, & examine everything, to see if it is of Christ, or of some other spirit. Will you be serving God, or something else?
God’s kingdom is where we fit in. It is where we belong, giving meaning & purpose to our days. Especially, it gives meaning to our lives when we are struggling or suffering.
That’s where false religions fail the test. The leaders of the cult in Uganda wouldn’t tolerate giving back the possessions they had gained. They wouldn’t tolerate disobedience on the part of their disciples. Rather, when the followers demanded their possessions back, the leaders had everyone killed.
Our leader, our Lord, allowed Himself to be killed in our place. He bore the humiliation & pain of our failures that we might be saved. Through the death of Christ, we have been brought back to life, rather than being killed. In baptism we’ve been connected to Christ’s life, & His holiness.
While we were dead in our sins, when there was no spiritual life, God created it out of nothing. This spiritual life stands in bright contrast to the former way of life. Earlier in Ephesians 2, Paul wrote, “And you were dead in the trespasses & sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world...” The sermon text, however, places us in Christ, rather than in sin. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
We don’t live our lives like we used to. There is hope, there is joy, & there is meaning where there should be none, because the Holy Spirit has created them out of nothing. Though our lives may be dreary & boring by the world’s standards, we have true life, & not the living death that the rest of the world experiences.
Their lives may appear full on the outside, but on the inside they are hollow & hopeless, because they have no meaning. They’re simply chasing after the wind, from one fad to another. Nothing satisfies & nothing gives purpose. There’s no substance & no life. They do have to earn everything they get, by hook or by crook. And if they fail, there’s nothing to fall back on.
The truth is they live in a very unforgiving & narrow world, because they exist in a world without love. They can never let down their guard, because no one is backing them up. That’s the beauty of being in Christ & living in the good works He created in advance for us to do. Someone is looking out for us, because God is guiding us & preparing us to do so.
In the same manner, we are allowed the privilege of helping others along the road to eternal life. What can you do in this world that has a more lasting effect than help someone grow in their faith? Your sinful nature will come up with all kinds of excuses, but in Christ, you don’t have to listen to your sinful nature. It is by grace that you’ve been saved. It is a gift from God.
When children receive gifts at Christmas, their joy is not diminished because they had nothing to do with making them or earning them. They enjoy them for what they are. And as we mature, we enjoy gifts because of the love they represent. God’s love for us is far beyond that expressed by any other treasured gift you may have received. God has created you in His Son. You have been given eternal life. You have already, in a very real sense, been raised from the dead. You & I have been raised from the spiritual death in which we lived, where we always had to look out for number one. Now we’re able to relax, to let down our guard, & to rest in the love that our heavenly Father has demonstrated.
The Creator of all the world has given us the eyesight of faith, & with that we are enabled to look to the future with hope, with meaning & with purpose. We look forward to opportunities to be life-giving blessings to people who’re hurting & in need of God’s love.
The horror of the killings in Uganda has long been forgotten along with the hysteria surrounding Y2K, & the shooting in Parkland, FL will be forgotten one day as well. But our Father in heaven will never forget His children.
We have no need to be afraid of failure. There’s no reason to feel inadequate. There’s no lack of purpose in our lives. Feeling inadequate & being afraid are the work of the devil. But we are God’s workmanship, as His Word declares us to be, created in our Savior Christ Jesus in order to do good works, & so we shall, for God’s Word does not fail. Amen.
Take my life & let it be consecrated Lord to Thee. Take my moments & my days let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my voice & let me sing always only for my King; take my lips & let them be filled with messages from Thee. Amen. LSB 783:1, 3.
3rd Sunday in Lent – B LSB #865
Text – Exodus 20:2
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
WHAT DOES SLAVERY LOOK LIKE?
Here in the United States, the selling of human beings is no longer as prevalent & public as it was during the slave trade of the 17 & 1800s. I say it that way because it still goes on out of sight in the underground world of sex trafficking. In either case, when Americans hear the word slavery, what comes to mind is a horrific & inhumane practice.
As Exodus 1 describes, it was just as bad thousands of years ago in the land of Egypt:
Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us & are stronger than we are. We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, & if war breaks out, they will join our enemies & fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.” So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom & Rameses as supply centers for the king. But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied & spread, & the more alarmed the Egyptians became. So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar & make bricks & do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands. Then Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave this order to the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah & Puah: “When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” (1:8-16 NLT)
It is certainly correct to answer the question, “What does slavery look like?” by saying it is the horrific & inhumane treatment of one group of human beings by another. And yet, as correct as that answer may be it doesn’t cover all the bases. There are other spot-on answers to the question. Can you identify who the slaveholder is in the following list of circumstances?
A comedian, by the name of Flip Wilson, caused a lot of laughter with his act as he began using the line, “The devil made me do it.” However valid & funny it was in the world of comedy, the line has zero substance in the world of God’s creation. Satan cannot ‘make’ us do anything. The Word of God makes it clear, “Resist the devil, & he will flee from you.”
Moreover, Satan doesn’t need to ‘make’ us sin, because Jesus taught, “…out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19 ESV) Sin is rooted in us from the moment we are conceived. For some good news, Jesus also taught that no one, including the devil, will snatch us out of the Father’s hand.
What does that mean? It tells us that Lucifer cannot force us into slavery. He needs willing human participants. The source of much sadness, even to God, is that the world is full of willing participants. Jesus spoke to that issue in Matthew 23:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets & stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you were not willing!” (v. 37 ESV) For the most part, Jesus’ own people were not willing to have God rescue them, yet they willingly participated in the slavery that Satan offered. He well disguises it. While revealing something of what slavery looks like, by writing about false prophets, St. Paul throws the devil in as well:
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15 ESV)
Their end, which is eternity in hell, corresponds to their deeds. Their deeds are that of seducing men, women & children into a slavery that does not end with this life. The devil often disguises that as the pursuit of things that are only of this world. It’s not wrong to want a clean house or car, but it is wrong to enslave yourselves to them.
It’s not sinful to desire a college degree or even a certain type of car, but it is slavery if your pursuit of them pushes your heavenly Father out of the way. “Seek 1st the kingdom of God & His righteousness, & all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 ESV) What does slavery look like? Jesus did not mince words when He warned us concerning the danger:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one & love the other, or he will be devoted to the one & despise the other. You cannot serve God & money.” (Matthew 6:24 ESV) And there is no life apart from our Creator, no matter how clean your house is or which TV star your significant other may resemble.
Are people being enslaved, in our day, by their smartphones or the various forms of social media? How about the 24/7 news cycle? What about sporting events at all ages & all levels of society? People are desperately seeking to be connected. They desperately search for significance. They no longer go on crusades to Jerusalem, but they do crusade for & against political parties & for following their passion. In seeking the freedom to define what ‘they’ think they should be people created by God are ignoring His design for their lives. In so doing, they are becoming slaves to their passions & to false prophets disguised as servants of righteousness. For any of us who do not turn back to our Creator, our end will correspond to our deeds.
If we stop rejecting the will of the Holy Spirit then our end will correspond to the deeds of Jesus, who lived the perfectly righteous life in our place & on our behalf. The eternal Son of God entered the confines of time & space to keep the Ten Commandments perfectly specifically because He knew we would die trying.
If we’re honest, most of the time, even God’s children look at the Ten Commandments as if they were designed to take our freedom away. We think of them like we do the lines on this page. We see them as taking away our freedom to ‘color’ wherever, & however, we want to. Because of our sinful nature, we cannot help but look at them in that manner.
And yet, our heavenly Father has given the commandments as a blessing. How do we reconcile these conflicting viewpoints? Galatians 5:1 gets us on the path: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, & do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (ESV) It is only after we’ve been set free that we can see the commandments as God intended us to see.
Relating it to the coloring page, until the Holy Spirit creates faith in your heart, you can never color between the lines. You can never live as God’s child. You can never appreciate, let alone perfectly keep, the Ten Commandments. Yet, false prophets will tell you, “In order to become a child of God, first you must train yourself to color between the lines.”
The Good News about Jesus Christ is not only that He has colored between the lines for you. The Good News is also that once the Holy Spirit has created your faith in Christ, then, in Christ, you finally do have the ability to color between the lines. In other words, in Christ Jesus you have the ability to do the good works God prepared in advance for you to do. That’s simply the teaching of John 15: “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me & I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (v. 4b-5 ESV)
Apart from Christ, all we have is our sinful nature, but that nature is not only the source of our sin. Having a sinful nature means that every single thought I have begins with me & ends with me. Apart from Jesus I can do nothing. In Christ, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” including appreciating the Ten Commandments as a blessing from God.
The 2nd person of the Holy Trinity took on human flesh so He could rescue us from sin. Jesus did so in order that we could once again color between the lines, so we could once again live as children of our heavenly Father. The Ten Commandments describe how God’s children live; giving us boundaries or lines within which to live our lives freely & in a healthy manner.
Without faith in Jesus as Savior, our lives are chaos & we live destructively as slaves to the devil. Unbelief is what slavery looks like. Hell is where unbelief shall reign for all of eternity. Like the Ten Commandments, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV)
It’s time to consider, what does slavery look like in your own personal life? Pray for your Lord & Savior’s guidance. Repent & believe the Good News, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. In Christ, your saintly nature understands & appreciates the blessing of God’s commandments. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 James 4:7 ESV
 Philippians 4:13 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet