Sunday of the Passion – B LSB #’s 443, 940, 919
Text – Mark 15:1-2
And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders & scribes & the whole Council. And they bound Jesus & led Him away, & delivered Him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “You have said so.”
THE KING OF THE JEWS
For as long as I could remember, I always knew the Sunday before Easter as Palm Sunday. Because of that, around 20 years ago, it came as a surprise when I looked at the gospel lesson for this Sunday. It had nothing to do with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Since we follow a three-year of cycle of rotating through different lessons each week, I checked the gospels for the other two years. Neither of them dealt with Palm Sunday either. Even during my years of seminary & vicarage, I’d never noticed that. Now, today is officially called the Sunday of the Passion. I doubt that I’ll ever get used to that.
What the Gospel reading for today is designed to do is focus our attention on the events of Good Friday to help us prepare for its arrival. Traditionally a Christian would prepare for that by stepping back & examining their life. What sort of choices do I make, & why? What are the priorities in my life, & why? Is Jesus really the king of my heart?
It’s not too difficult to mouth the words “Jesus is King” when life is going smoothly:
When your work is steady, when the house is new, the car is running, the children are well behaved & everyone is healthy. When those are the conditions of life, we seem to run on autopilot as things easily fall into place & nothing disturbs our peace.
And though it’s easy enough to mouth the words “Jesus is King” at times like those, the fact is that living our lives as if Jesus is King is never easy. Quite often, when life is going well, is when we most easily forget Him. We seldom stop to reflect on our lives, our decisions & our priorities. And when the difficult times arrive, just because we stop to think about our life, does not mean that we give Jesus 1st place in our heart. Typically, if you have not learned to focus your life on Christ during the easy times; when the struggles arrive, you don’t turn to Him then either.
You feel guilty, inadequate, or like a hypocrite, so again, you manage to ‘get by’ without seeking God’s influence or direction in your life.
Last Sunday’s sermon dealt with ‘seeing Jesus,’ & we found that it is on the cross where we truly see Him for what He is. That makes for a nice lead in to this week’s sermon, & things start out with Palm Sunday.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus commands His followers not to tell anyone of the miracles He’s done. From our vantage point in history, that seems like a contradiction to what we’ve been taught. Even if we’re afraid to do it ourselves, we do understand the great commission, “Go therefore, & teach all nations.”
Because Jesus keeps telling people not to spread the news of His miracles, it seems as if He’s trying to keep His identity a secret. One solution to that contradiction is that the people of Jesus’ day had a total misunderstanding of what Messiah would look like. They were looking for an earthly king, a superstar, not a dead man hanging on a cross.
The disciples of Jesus were still looking for the earthly kingdom even at Jesus’ ascension to heaven. But here, on Palm Sunday, Jesus agrees to the desires of the crowd, & His triumphal entry into Jerusalem marks Him as the King.
In this way, Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah, “Behold, your king comes to you, righteous & having salvation, gentle & riding on a donkey.” (9:9) Jesus allows the people to see Him as their Messiah, even if it is their incorrect version of it which they see. Now, the time of Jesus’ death is near enough, that the shouts of, “Hosanna, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!” will soon be replaced with “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”
The leaders of the church, & the majority of the people, wanted a king who would restore Israel to its political glory, a kingdom of earthly power & wealth. It’s ironic that, after rejecting Jesus because He didn’t conform to their ideal of an earthly king, they do have Jesus condemned for exactly that, an earthly king & therefore a threat to Caesar.
Pontius Pilate sees the falsity of their charges, but he’s constrained by the political atmosphere to yield to their demands. Thus it is that Jesus is condemned to die for being the King of the Jews. Nevertheless, Pilate didn’t believe the charges, & the Jews refused to grant Jesus the title.
Neither side is satisfied with the situation. It’s a very messy affair & nothing could be accomplished as cleanly or neatly as either side wanted. Jesus is very much like that in our lives. His law calls us to perfection – to holy & complete obedience, which makes a very messy affair of our lives as we try to cover up our mistakes, to hide our sins, to deny our guilt.
We would just as soon have a Jesus that makes our material lives more comfortable, more manageable, neater & cleaner. We’d just as soon have a Jesus that looks safe & uncontroversial, a Jesus that does our bidding like a Genie out of a bottle whenever a problem needs to be taken care of.
However, the Son of God will not come to us like that. He only reveals Himself on the
cross, in all His blood-stained agony, as the King of the Jews. He won’t give us everything we ask for, & He is not our King in order to make our lives neat, & clean & comfortable.
As far as the Jews were concerned, crucifixion was for someone cursed by God, & Jesus Christ was all of that. Yet that is ultimately how He reveals Himself as Messiah. As Passion Week unfolds, we find Christ enthroned as King – on the cross. He has attendants at His left & right hand. He’s had the purple robe & the crown of thorns placed upon Him. The soldiers have knelt & bowed down before Him, hailing Him as King of the Jews.
The obedience that Jesus exhibited in submitting to the will of the Father reversed the pattern of disobedience that began with Adam, & has been continued by all subsequent members of the human race, except for Jesus Christ.
The message, centered in the cross, was empowered by God to overturn Adam’s offense, to overturn man’s sinful nature & to bring men, by the power of the gospel alone, back into the proper relationship with God. In the same way the bronze serpent on the pole was empowered by the Word of God to heal men of the snakebites in the desert.
And yet, multitudes are still blind to the love of God. While Jesus was voluntarily hanging on the cross, the chief priests & the scribes were mocking Him: “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself.” How profound those words are, because in order to save us, Jesus Christ could not save Himself. He had to sacrifice Himself instead. PAUSE
At noon, darkness fell over the whole land. That’s a sign of the Day of the Lord, a day of judgment for those who will not believe, yet a day of joy for those who do.
Christ is the center of God’s radical judgment & deliverance. The cross of Christ is the judgment of God on man’s sin & also the acquittal of man from sin in one great act. It’s the abrupt transition from inexorable judgment to inexplicable grace.
The next words of Jesus are well known to Christians: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me!” In that cry we find the experience of the damned being cut off from God, cut off from the source of all that is good. Jesus is experiencing the Holy Wrath of God that unbelieving sinners will feel when they reach hell. As Jesus experiences becoming sin, He experiences the despair that sinful men feel when they come to grips with the fact that we are poor miserable sinners, wretched & blind to God’s love or presence. However, although as sinners we’re blind to that, God’s love is still there, & He is still providing for us.
In Hell, God’s love will no longer be present – there will be no provision, no blessing. There will be only the horror of complete separation from love. In the cry of Jesus, we find a ruthless authenticity that provides the assurance that the price of sin has indeed been paid in full.
As Jesus said, “It is finished!” & breathed His last, the Centurion overseeing the crucifixion said: “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Compare those words to the mocking taunt of the chief priests & the Scribes: “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself!”
Belief & unbelief are held in bold contrast to one another in response to the same event – the crucifixion of the King of the Jews. PAUSE
Where do you stand, or sit, this morning? Do you stand in the shoes of the Centurion, or in the shoes of the chief priests & Scribes? Is Jesus your King, or is He your failure? When the final Day of the Lord comes, will you be shouting, “Hosanna, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”? Or, will you be shouting insults & taunting God?
Do you expect Messiah to guarantee a nice, comfortable earthly kingdom? Or, are you looking to Jesus on the cross in order to find the kingdom of God? Your sins have been paid for. Through the blood of Christ, you have been washed clean. May the Lord grant you a faith that empowers you to say along with the Centurion, “Surely, this man still is the Son of God!”
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Midweek 6 – 2021 LSB #’s 423, 535, 845
Text – Jonah 3:10
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, & He did not do it.
LOVE SO BROAD
In the name of Jesus, whose broad love extends to every single person. Amen.
In Jesus Christ, how large is the love of God for sinners? That’s the theme that we’ve been exploring during this Lenten season. For this last Wednesday night service, we will consider this dimension of God’s love – how broad & wide it is.
All human beings, from every culture, have a tendency to draw a circle around the people who we think are “the right kind” of people, our kind of people – people who are worth caring about, worrying about, speaking well about, treating with value & dignity.
Perhaps for you that is a very large circle, with not too many people falling outside of it. Yet, for each one of us, there is a temptation, at some point to draw that line, whether we realize it or not. On the other side of that line there are people who are bad, offensive, despicable, evil & nasty, who are unworthy of our love or pity or care.
During His ministry, Jesus’ disciples acted this way, & famously, so did one of the OT prophets. God called Jonah to go & preach repentance to the ultimate enemy of His people. He called Jonah to enter their capital city of Nineveh & preach to the ruthless Assyrians & their ruthless king. Hopefully, you know the story.
Instead of obeying & going to Nineveh, Jonah headed straight in the opposite direction, hitching a ride on a ship heading west. God sends a storm on the sea. God rescues Jonah from drowning by preserving him in the belly of a fish. Jonah prays to God, & the fish vomits Jonah back out onto dry land. That’s where the sermon picks up in Jonah chapter 3. God commands Jonah a 2nd time to go to Nineveh & call the Assyrians to repentance. Notice, as I read, the stark contrast between how wide God’s mercy is, & how not-so-wide is the mercy of Jonah:
“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, & He did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, & he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord & said, ‘O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that You are a gracious God & merciful, slow to anger & abounding in steadfast love, & relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’”
The Assyrians were the scourge of the world in Jonah’s day. They were known for brutally subjugating other people groups, torturing those who dared oppose them. There is ancient artwork that archeologists have discovered, depicting the Assyrian troops impaling people on sharp poles or skinning them, both while they were still alive.
Years after Jonah, the Assyrians would annihilate the northern kingdom of Israel. Ten of the 12 tribes of God’s people, were erased from history. Shortly after, the Assyrians invaded the southern kingdom of Judah. God rescued Jerusalem at that time, but historians estimate that as much as 50 percent of the population was killed or force-marched into a life of slavery.
If Jonah was going to draw a circle, with certain people outside that circle who did not deserve love or mercy, it makes sense that he put the Assyrians outside the line. God did not. The pity, the mercy & the love of God drew no lines, & extended all the way to their capital city, all the way to the king on his throne.
Because of their great sin, God declared that His judgment was at hand, & that Nineveh would be overturned! But because of God’s great mercy, he sent them a prophet, led them to repentance, took pity on them, & spared them. That drove Jonah mad.
How different the attitude of Pastor Henry Gerecke. He was a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastor who volunteered to serve as an army chaplain during World War II. When the Allies defeated the Nazis, it looked as if Pastor Gerecke would return home to his wife & family. Yet, because he was Lutheran, & because he spoke German, top brass requested that he remain in Europe a bit longer for a special assignment.
He was to travel to Nuremberg, Germany, to serve as the personal chaplain to the Nazi war criminals who were being put on trial by an international tribunal for the unspeakable things they had done, including the carefully orchestrated murder of millions of Jews.
These men had certainly drawn a circle around a group of people they thought were worth valuing. Everyone outside of that circle was beyond their care, beyond their pity. The world knew them as monsters, spoke of them with the label “monsters.” And that they were.
But Pastor Gerecke had a calling, a calling not only from Allied authorities, but from our God, whose mercy is so broad. By God’s grace, Chaplain Gerecke did not draw his circle so narrowly that it excluded these men. He spoke to them frankly about their sins, about their need for a Savior, about Jesus Christ, who had borne their sins – all of their sins, yes, even theirs.
Some, like Hermann Goering, refused to believe that Jesus could help him, refused to believe that Jesus was anything more than a man. Goering died without hope, without God, without the divine mercy or forgiveness which the Great I Am was so graciously extending to him through Pastor Gerecke.
But several other prominent Nazis came to acknowledge their overwhelming sin. They confessed their evil to Gerecke & to God. He pronounced Holy Absolution. He communed them with the body & blood of Christ. He continued to minister to them with God’s word & promises, right there in prison.
A number of them were condemned to die & Gerecke walked beside five of them on their way to be hanged. Some of them you will meet one day, in the light & joy of heaven, where
forgiven sinners share in Christ’s glory & love forever.
In 2015, a book was written by journalist Tim Townsend, about Gerecke’s chaplaincy. It’s called Mission at Nuremberg, & it’s a great book. From beginning to end, it gives striking testimony to the wide mercy of God, & to the beauty of that mercy being extended through the lives of his people. But not everyone appreciated the book.
The circle-drawing spirit of Jonah is alive & well in hearts today. If you go on Amazon & read the review comments, most are very positive, but two negative reviews stand out. The first one-star review reads:
Getting close to these monsters & giving them human qualities & emotions is very difficult... to swallow. I understand the Christian philosophy of forgiveness, but that should be left to God. Let them go to their deaths fearing they may burn in hell. They provided no comfort to those they burned.
The other reviewer who gave it one-star was offended for the same reason:
It appears the author tries to rationalize why... Gerecke... became so close to the Nazis. He does this in a number of ways. First, by giving a short biography of each Nazi, quoting numerous times, “Gerecke strived to remember that before their alliance with Hitler, before the choices they made that led to mayhem & murder, they had all been boys once & that they were still God’s children.”
The reviewer begins to wonder what his purpose was other than to downgrade what the Nazis had done. He then closes his review with the blunt statement: “…just asking forgiveness is not enough to save these Nazi monsters’ souls.”
Oh, but it is – because of Jesus Christ. Dear friends, God’s love extends to all. To Assyrians. To Nazis. To monsters. To sinners. To you, & me. His mercy is so great, & so wide because Jesus Christ, His Son, came to be the Savior of all. The whole world. Every nation. Every person. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16) Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)
“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, & entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) “As [Adam’s] one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so [Jesus’] one act of righteousness leads to justification & life for all men.” (Romans 5:18)
“Christ died for all,” St. Paul writes. (2 Corinthians 5:15) Christ. Died. For. All. Elsewhere Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
It is remarkable that no one is excluded from God’s mercy. It is remarkable that His love for sinners, in Christ, is so broad, so wide, that it excludes no race or clan, no woman or man. Since that is true, what is so remarkable, & so amazing, is that God’s love & mercy therefore includes even me. No one is excluded from God’s pity & love.
The sermon hymn stated, “How wide the love of Christ! It knows not class or race but holds our one humanity within its broad embrace.” LSB 535:1.
“God desires all people to be saved & to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) As God’s mercy & love extends to all, He calls us as His forgiven children to erase the lines that we have drawn in our heart. No more circles. God calls us to love & to care, to be more like Chaplain Gerecke & less like Jonah.
There is no difference! All people have sinned & fallen short of God’s glory. But God’s mercy & saving righteousness & forgiveness in Jesus Christ is for each of them. For Gentiles & Jews. For slaves & free. For rich & poor. For black & white. For citizens & for immigrants. For male & female & even those who are confused about their gender or disordered in their sexuality.
God’s love & mercy in Christ extends to labor & to management. To the famous & to the obscure. To Republicans & to Democrats. To progressives & to nationalists. To your neighbor whose dog keeps getting in your trash, & to that person whose social media posts get under your skin like no one else.
God’s mercy extends to all of those people, & even to you. “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.” LSB 611:1. Lent is a season of repentance – a time to examine our own hearts before God, to confess our sins, & cling to His enormous mercy for us in Christ Jesus.
Lord God, open my eyes to my own lack of love & mercy for others. How have I been like Jonah? What lines have I drawn in my heart to exclude others from my pity & love, from my prayers & from my help? Lord God, have mercy on a narrow-hearted sinner like me. Grant me your grace, that I may walk in love & mercy toward all, with a wider heart of love, with a wider mercy toward every other; just as your mercy is for all, heavenly Father, even for me. Amen.
How wide the love of Christ! It knows not class or race but holds our one humanity within its broad embrace. How deep the love of Christ! Descending to a cross! He bears within His wounded hands all human pain & loss. All praise to You, O Christ, for love whose depth & height, whose length & breadth fill time & space with endless life & light! Amen. LSB 535:1, 4-5.
5th Sunday in Lent – B LSB #’s 437, 570, 560
Text – John 12:20-21
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, & asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
HAVE YOU SEEN JESUS?
How many of you have spoken to someone on the phone, formed a mental picture of what they look like, & then met them in person? It’s fairly common that they don’t look anything like you’d expected. Such is the story from the Gospel lesson today. Some Greeks who came to Jerusalem for celebrating the Passover asked if they could see Jesus.
I think the answer they received wasn’t anything like they had expected. The reply of Jesus does not seem to fit the request: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” How is that an answer to, “We wish to see Jesus?” As usual, there’s a lot of depth behind Jesus’ answer.
Have you seen Jesus? Have you ever looked for Him? People who’ve been to the Holy Land normally bring back an impressive sense of the ancient history. You walk the same paths that Jesus took almost 2000 years ago. That aspect makes an impression on most anyone who visits there. But is that the same thing as seeing Jesus?
I’ve heard people remark that they’d like to meet Jesus & just talk with Him. They believe that would be a special experience. Others would like to have been there while Jesus performed one of His miracles. They feel that would’ve been a highlight of their lives.
The congregation where I grew up puts on a Living Nativity walk in early December, & some of the comments from guests have stated that coming back to reality at the end of the tour was a rude awakening. The walk was, for them, so real that it’s like they were there the very
night Jesus was born. They did not want that feeling to end. Apparently, those are not the
experiences Jesus was talking about, because His answer to the Greeks has nothing to do with a personal meeting of Jesus. He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
At the wedding in Cana, recorded 10 chapters earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ mother said to Him, “‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’” (John 2:3-4 ESV) In John chapter 12, that hour has arrived. So what hour is Messiah talking about?
The context for today’s Gospel reading is Holy Week. The Jewish families would be selecting the perfect lamb to be sacrificed for them at Passover, only a few days away. Palm Sunday has come & gone, & the evening before that, Jesus was anointed by Mary, the sister of the man whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
It’s as if her anointing had marked Jesus as the perfect lamb who would be sacrificed to take away the sins of the world. Biblically speaking, thousands of years of history & prophecy were all coming together. The path from creation to flood, from Egypt to Sinai, from Bethlehem to Calvary, that path was drawing to a close. That hour had come.
And Jesus continues by talking about the kernel of wheat that must fall to the ground & die. Because when it dies it produces many more seeds. Jesus is that kernel of wheat. His death will bring life to many, just as a seed planted in the ground produces many times its number. The hour for Jesus’ death had arrived.
Then He explains how we go about seeing Jesus. The man who loves his life in this world will destroy it, but the man who hates his life in this world, will keep it for eternal life. That’s the answer to the Greeks. It is also the answer to you & to me.
Have you seen Jesus? If not, it’s because you love life in this world, too much. This world is your god & not Jesus Christ. This world is where your treasure is, & not in heaven. Whoever would serve Christ must follow Him, & our Father in heaven will honor those who serve their Savior. Those will be honored with seeing Jesus. And the Jesus they will see, is the Jesus on the cross, suffering & dying for their sins.
And, since we are no better than our Master, we too will suffer in this life. But through that suffering God will draw us closer to our Savior & we will see Him for what He truly is – the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. PAUSE
In Christ’s life here on earth, His heart was troubled as the Gospel reading stated. But in suffering He took His eyes off of Himself & His problems to focus them upon His Father in heaven. In last Sunday’s OT lesson, the Israelites were in the wilderness complaining against God, so they were disciplined with poisonous snakes.
God’s provision for their healing was a bronze serpent hanging on a pole. The Israelites were to look at that serpent on the pole in order to live, which meant taking their eyes off the problems & struggles of this life. It meant losing their life & all the treasures of this world, because those treasures will chain & enslave you to the poisonous attitudes of sin.
In last week’s Gospel reading, John wrote that just as the serpent was lifted up on a pole in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. At the end of today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says that when He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die. I believe He also said this in order to show us how to see Jesus.
Now is the hour, the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified by His death. It’s on the cross that you will see Jesus. For ultimately, it’s on the cross that He displayed His love for us. It’s on the cross, hanging naked for all the world to see, that His unmistakable love for you is most clear. It’s there that He who knew no sin, became sin for you & for me.
Consequently, if you want to see Jesus, you must see Him as He was on the cross. You
must see Him being crucified in your place. You must see the scars in His hands, His feet & His side; for in that vision you will see the full power of the Gospel. Here’s an example.
A young girl was suffering from terminal cancer. She had little time left & what she did have was destined to be humiliating & painful. The effects of the cancer were visible to the eyes of all who saw her – that is, to all who dared to look. She was a sight only to be pitied. But those circumstances did not take away her joy for life or the beautiful smile she wore each day.
One day, however, the pastor was visiting & noticed that she wasn’t in her usual cheerful mood. Thinking it was due to the intense pain he shrugged it off, until he saw her tears forming. “What’s the matter?” he asked. The young girl sighed, “Soon, in heaven, I’m going to have a new body.”
The pastor replied, “That’s right, but that’s happy news. Why are you crying?” “I’m going to have a new body when I get to heaven, but Jesus will always have the scars.” PAUSE
What profound insight. How is it that a small cancer-ridden child can recognize the Gospel & its essential truth, while we often remain unmoved & uncomforted in our pain? The certain answer is that our sinful nature blinds us to the love that Christ has for us. It’s a love that would cause God to be crucified even for ungrateful people like we often are.
The answer to our ingratitude are the means of grace God provided for the nurturing of our faith. It was by faith that a young girl dying of cancer had seen the scars in the hands & the feet of her Savior. It was by faith that she saw the side of her Lord, which had been pierced with a spear. It was by faith that she knew & believed that those scars were intended for her.
Have you seen Jesus? May your heavenly Father grant you such a faith. Amen.
Just as I am, without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me & that thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come. Amen. LSB 570:1.
Midweek 5 – 2021 LSB #’s 420:1-4, 544, 420:5-7
Text – Micah 7:19b
You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
LOVE THAT DEALS THOROUGHLY WITH SIN
In the name of Jesus, who shows us great love by thoroughly removing our sins. Amen.
In the midweek Lenten services, we’ve been describing the dimensions of God’s love. We’ve considered specific ways that God shows that His love for us, in Christ, is enormous. Last week we heard how the forgiveness of sins is the greatest gift we could receive, & how God displays His rich love for us in this, by bringing His forgiveness to us in a multitude of ways.
This week, I want to take you on a tour of the many ways that the Bible describes what God does with our sin, by forgiving it. When we’re done, I hope you will be encouraged, & assured, & grateful for just how abounding God is in love, just how rich He is in mercy.
As covered last week, the forgiveness of sins is the deepest & most desperate need we have. Everything else in life will fall into place if God is on your side, & when your sins are forgiven, He is on your side. That your sins are forgiven means that God looks on you with favor. Come what may, He will warmly welcome you into His kingdom on the last day.
To get rid of our sins – to deal with our sins – what can I compare it to, this great need, this deepest & most desperate need? There once was a man whose backyard was being churned up & ruined by moles. Their raised tunnels were everywhere, & their raised piles of dirt dotted the yard. He grew determined to rid that yard of moles. He placed rodent poison in the tunnels. He set up menacing looking traps with a trip lever & sharp metal spikes.
He tried flooding them out of their tunnels with a water hose & then whacking them, when they emerged, with a shovel. He tried gassing them out of their tunnels by hooking up a hose to the exhaust pipe of his car. He even read somewhere that Juicy Fruit gum would kill moles, so he put that down there. Determined to kill or to banish the moles, he went about it about in every way conceivable. Kind of like God, in His great love for us, gets rid of the guilt of our sin, in just about every conceivable way, as we’ll hear in a moment.
For the record, God is more successful with our sin than this man was in his crusade against the moles. And, for the record, Juicy Fruit gum doesn’t do much of anything. But our need to be rid of our sin before God – it can’t be compared to the nuisance of some burrowing rodents in a backyard.
To what can we compare it? To the frantic need to be rid of a cancer growing inside of us? That’s closer. To the need to do something about a huge asteroid rushing toward earth, on its way to obliterate us? Yeah, that’s closer. But finally, nothing that can truly compare with the need to have our sin & guilt before God dealt with & removed.
There’s also nothing we can compare to the joy & freedom & blessing & hope that comes when, through Jesus Christ, God does just that: grants full pardon & forgiveness to His child. The brief passage from the OT, the closing verses of Micah 7, share this good news with us:
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity & passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance?
He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob & steadfast love to Abraham,
as You have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”
The book of Micah is not all sunshine & roses. God sent the prophet Micah to rebuke His people for their injustices & their unbelief. The rich were oppressing the poor. The political rulers & the religious leaders had become greedy & corrupt. The people had turned aside to false gods & false hopes. Micah warned God’s people that terrible judgment was coming, & come it did. During Micah’s lifetime, the northern ten tribes of Israel were wiped out by foreign invaders, & the southern kingdom of Judah nearly was also. Yet, interspersed between Micah’s strong warnings & threats are repeated announcements of hope. A new ruler will come; a new king will be born, in Bethlehem, of Judea.
All nations of the earth will stream to the God of Israel – to know Him, to learn of His ways. As read in the beautiful closing verses of Micah, God Himself will take the great problem of the people’s sin into His own hands. He will show faithfulness & steadfast love to His people. He will take His anger over sin, & set it aside, because He delights in showing love.
Now, what about all those sins & iniquities, what will God do with sinners & with their sins? He will display the greatness of His love in this, He will grasp hold of their sins & throw them to the ground, so He can tread them under His feet. He will take their enormous sins, & will trample them into nothingness under His even-more-enormous God-sized feet.
“He will tread our iniquities underfoot,” says Micah. Have you heard anything so wonderful? In Christ Jesus, God has done it: He has trounced & trampled upon & danced upon & stomped into nothing, every shred of your sin & guilt! And that’s just one of the ways the Bible talks about what God has done in dealing with your sin.
In this passage, Micah adds another totally different & wonderful description of what God does for you when forgiving your sin in Christ. He has taken your sin from you & cast it, thrown it, hurled it way out into the ocean, so that your sins have sunk into depths, never to be mentioned or heard of or noticed again, never again to bother you or separate you from His love.
In Jesus Christ, God has trampled your sins underfoot. He has cast all your sins, Micah says, into the depths of the sea. And our passage from Micah is just a taste, just an appetizer, of the rich feast of ways that the Bible describes for us & assures us that God has thoroughly dealt with our sins. Isaiah tells us that Christ has carried them. They were too heavy for us, so God lifted them from us & placed them on His son. Jesus carried them as a sacrificial lamb – as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus is like the OT scapegoat. Once a year, the high priest would confess his sins, & the sins of the whole people of God, while laying his hands on the head of a goat. The goat would then be sent off into the wilderness, carrying with him, far, far away, the sins of the people. It pictured the way that God would deal with our sins in His Son Jesus.
God has taken our sins, & the commandments that condemned us before Him, & has nailed them to the cross. That’s what Paul says in Colossians 2:13-14. And we could add that God has buried our sins in the tomb of Christ that when Jesus rose victorious, our sins did not rise with Him, but remain buried forever in that tomb.
As we just heard from Micah, God has removed our sins from us & cast all of them, into the depths of the seas. Psalm 103 says something similar: “[God] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities... as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” As far as the east is from the west!
If you go to Google Maps & check the distance between Holt & Chicago it is 224 miles. If you check the distance between Pittsburgh & Portland it’s 2571 miles. But if you ask Google how far the east is from west – it cannot answer that for you. In fact, if you Google it, it will just take you to discussions of the verse from Psalm 103.
Children of God, through the saving work of Jesus Christ, your heavenly Father has removed your sins far, far, far from you – as far as the east is from the west, which cannot even be measured. Galatians 3:27 says that sinners have been clothed with Christ, so that our sinful garments have been covered, & can be seen no longer. Isaiah says, God has clothed sinners in a
robe of righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10) Acts 22:16 tells us that God has washed away our sins.
Isaiah was in terror when he saw the Lord. He exclaimed; I am a man of unclean lips & I live among a people of unclean lips, & my eyes have seen the Lord. Yet, in Zephaniah, God promises that in the day of Messiah, He will give the people a purified speech with which to pray & to praise Him.
God has made you pure & clean, dear friends, from head to toe, because of Jesus. Your life is clean before Him; your heart is pure in His eyes; your praises are acceptable to Him from clean & forgiven lips. And that is how God will see you in the great judgment, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:
“Christ loved the church & gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy & without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25–27)
The Word of God says that in His mercy, He will refine His people. As gold or other precious metals are corrupted with impurities, God’s forgiveness is like a fire which burns away all that is worthless & foul – our sins – leaving something golden & precious to God in its place.
Holy Scripture says that God “blots out” your sin. God keeps books, & in His righteous judgment He warns that the name of the wicked will be blotted out forever, erased from the book of life. But in His great mercy, in many Bible passages, God assures us that for Jesus’ sake He has taken pen & lots of ink to blot out all record, all mention of our sin from His books.
In this confidence, David prays in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (51:1) And God not only blots out your sins in His books. God blots out your sins in His mind. Jeremiah foretells with joy the day when God, having sent Messiah, will forgive the people’s iniquity, & will remember their sin no more. (31:34) God, who sees all & knows all, who searches the depths of your heart, who knows the ancient past & knows already the things to come, the all-knowing God, for Jesus’s sake, in enormous love & mercy, has chosen to forget your sins.
That’s another way the Bible speaks of how God forgives, & it’s one of the best. He truly forgives & forgets! Because of Jesus, God will never mention your sins again. That’s because He’s already forgotten them.
Finally, the Bible says that God speaks your sins away. Because of Jesus’ saving work for you, God looks at you & declares, “You are righteous. You are without sin.” And if God says this, if God, who spoke all things into being, if he says to you, “For Jesus’ sake, you are righteous & innocent” – then you are righteous & innocent, without sin in His sight.
The Holy God encounters your great offense & sin. What happens when one encounters the other? With His mighty word, He speaks your sins away. Don’t picture God sitting still as a judge on His bench, whom you must stand before trembling, as he sits & looks on, perhaps doing you the favor of not damning you. The Bible paints for us a much different picture.
Our heavenly Father abounds in love & mercy. As Micah says, He delights in showing love & mercy. God doesn’t sit still at all, but is actively at work for your good. He has energetically dealt with your sins in Jesus Christ. And if God has borne your sins, & carried them off:
& nailed them to the cross, & buried them in Christ’s tomb,
& trampled them underfoot, & hurled them into the ocean,
& removed them from you as far as the east is from the west,
& covered them over, & clothed them with righteousness,
& washed them away, & purified & refined them,
& blotted them out from His book, & forgotten them from His mind,
& declared them gone --
then you can be very, very sure, dear friends, that your sins are gone.
Your sins that separated you from your Creator, which stood between you & your God, between you & joy in God’s presence forever – they are gone. And what remains between you & God is His enormous love, in Jesus Christ – forever. Amen.
O love, how deep, how broad, how high, beyond all thought & fantasy, that God, the Son of God, should take our mortal form for mortal’s sake! For us baptized, for us He bore His holy fast & hungered sore; for us temptation sharp He knew; for us the tempter overthrew. For us by wickedness betrayed, for us, in crown of thorns arrayed, He bore the shameful cross & death, for us He gave His dying breath. For us He rose from death again; for us He went on high to reign; for us He sent His Spirit here to guide, to strengthen & to cheer. Amen.
LSB 544:1, 3, 5-6.
4th Sunday in Lent – B LSB #’s 435, 424, 422
Text – John 3:21
But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
DOING WHAT IS TRUE
Dearest Marie, no words could ever express the great unhappiness I feel since breaking our engagement. Please say that you will take me back. No one can ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you! I love you! I love you! Yours forever, Brian. P.S. Congratulations on winning the state lottery!
That letter leaves a lot of room to doubt that Brian was “doing what is true.” It’s fairly easy to pick up on the untruth in a letter like that. What is not so easy is to clearly define what the Holy Spirit meant as He inspired the Apostle John to write those words, “…whoever does what is true…”
We encounter the same sort of problem when we try to clearly explain what heaven will be like. It’s much easier for us to define heaven by saying what it will not be like. Has your life been one of doing what is true? Would you be able to explain how that’s been accomplished? Hopefully this sermon will help you to see the light, because we struggle with defining truth.
Pontius Pilate is infamous, among Christians at least, for his reply to Jesus, “What is truth?” Pilate said that in response to the claim made by the Son of God in the verse just prior: “For this purpose I was born & for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37c ESV)
That last sentence is very similar in structure to the sermon text, “But whoever does what is true comes to the light…” If you are of the truth you listen to the voice of Jesus. If you are doing what is true you come to the light. In other words, if you are in tune with the truth you are drawn to Jesus, & you may remember that two of the things Jesus describes Himself as are the Truth & the Light. The Gospel of John records both of those teachings of Jesus.
Truth! How do you get connected to it? That’s important, because all of us can see that our culture is increasingly filled with lies. That’s a reality, even though lying has been around since Adam & Eve. Today, even the lie which says that Adam & Eve were never real is mass produced across our entire culture, in the name of science.
With radio, then television, then the Internet, the speed of communication, & the ability to reach an audience, has grown exponentially over the past 100 years. It used to be, if you told a lie, you had to tell it in person, & how many people could you tell at one time? Now, a person can communicate lies to millions of people at one time, & they can do it instantaneously.
Since people you have never met, or even heard of, can now be telling you lies, how are you able to know what is real & what is not? That is where the Bible becomes so important to our lives in this twisted world. It is the only direct source of truth that we have available to us, & God gave it to us specifically so that we can know the truth.
But more than that, in His prayer, at John 17:17, Jesus asks this of the heavenly Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” Jesus is asking God the Father to set us apart from the unbelieving world for our protection & ultimately for our salvation. And did you catch how the Father will do that? He will do so in the truth, & His word is truth.
The lies that we hear, & even the lies that we tell ourselves, they change from year to year, from day to day, & at times, from moment to moment. For example, when we’re young, like age 6 or 7, we tell ourselves that life would be better if we were older, like adults. Yet, when we’re 86 or 87, we tell ourselves that life would be better if we were young again.
Now, whose life are we trying to improve by telling ourselves even those little white lies?
It’s our own lives, isn’t it? What that says is this; we are not satisfied with the life that our heavenly Father has given us. We’re too old, or too young, or too busy, or we have nothing to do. And that dissatisfaction with the gift of life from our heavenly Father ties in all the way back to the choice Adam & Eve made to eat the fruit they were told not to.
Adam & Eve were not satisfied with the gifts that God had given them. And that dissatisfaction sprouted from the lie that Satan told them, “God doesn’t really have your back. He’s holding out on you! You can be like God.” So we tell lies, & we believe lies, because we’re afraid that we’re missing out on something, even if we never know what that something is.
And the lies we tell obviously have to change in order to fit the circumstances, as we see them. When we’re young we think we’re too young. When we’re old we think we’re too old, so the lie needs to change as the circumstances do, but the truth has eternal reality. It does not change from year to year or from day to day.
The biggest problem we have with the truth is that, by our very nature, we are not true. Rather, we are corrupt & twisted at heart, twisted inwardly to ourselves. That fact is always part of our own truth & it makes us very uncomfortable. So, we’re tempted to tell more lies to cover up our uncomfortable truth.
Moments into the service today we spoke these words, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves & the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8 ESV) Many churches today eliminate that very awkward part of the service, because people find it to be depressing. Yet, if we eliminate that part for that reason, aren’t we again saying, we’re dissatisfied with what God has given?
And, if we eliminate the confession of our sins, then we miss the opportunity to hear this truth, this life & joy giving truth, from the eternal Word of truth, “But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful & just, will forgive our sins & cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV)
Hearing those words & believing them is to do what is true. If we, who are anything but truth, come to accept & believe in Jesus as Savior from our sins, then our soul becomes part of eternity. When the final resurrection arrives, then our physical body will also become part of eternity. And once we believe this, then we come to the light & gladly confess our sins.
But that is the saintly nature at work in us, a nature which God has to create in us before we can believe. Jesus had to make Lazarus alive, before Lazarus could walk out of the tomb. On the other hand, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light & does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
That is the sinful nature at work, leading & directing a person’s life. It is uncomfortable to openly & publicly confess our sins. Faith that Jesus has saved us from those sins enables us to overcome our sinful fears. In that sense, the very confession of our sins is another way of ‘doing what is true.’ Believers want others to see what God accomplishes through them.
People who come to the light willingly allow the evil in themselves to be exposed & they reject that evil that lives within them. People who reject the light will not willingly allow the evil in themselves to be exposed, but rather they hold on to & make excuses for it & even defend it. The only “truth” the world will accept is what they want to be true.
Our culture is inherently wicked, profoundly deluded & systemically diseased. It exploits every available political & religious subterfuge to sustain the sin that infects it. John 3:19 “This is the judgment – that the Light has come into the world & men loved the darkness rather than the light, so their works were evil.”
In the OT reading, the lifting up of the bronze snake in the midst of the wilderness people presented them with a crisis. This crisis demanded & elicited either faith or disbelief. The crisis resulted in life or death. The very same event that saved those who believe also condemned those who rejected it. When Jesus, the Son of God, also became a Son of Man & entered into the world, His heavenly Father placed in the midst of the world the perfect & ultimate fact of His fatherly love in the crucifixion of His only Son, Jesus, and the Lamb of God.
In this fact the reality of the final & ultimate crisis has entered God’s fallen creation & confronts us, & every other human being. The cross also, like the bronze serpent, demands & elicits either faith or disbelief. The cross also, like the bronze serpent, results in life or death. The lifting up of the Son of Man is the form & the very content of God’s love.
To do what is true is nothing other than believing the words of Holy Scripture – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” To do what is true is to live the life that God gives to you. Doing the Truth is to conform one’s life to the truth.
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, & you will know the truth, & the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32 ESV) Notice, it is not winning the lottery that will set you free. It is knowing the truth. It’s in the truth that we find rest for our souls.
Doing the truth is simply a reflection of the life that already lives within us. Doing the truth is not something that we accomplish, but something that Jesus works within us. Lord, help us each day to come to the light that it may be clearly seen that our works have been carried out in You. Amen.
O Christ, You walked the road our wandering feet must go. You faced with us temptation’s power & fought our ancient foe. When lures of easy gain with promise brightly shine, Lord, help us seek Your kingdom first; our wills with Yours align. Amen. LSB 424:1, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet