Faith for a complicated world
Midweek 5 – 2022 LSB #’s 436, 421
Text – Luke 23:22-25
A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in Him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish & release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that He should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection & murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.
FAITH FOR A COMPLICATED WORLD
Let’s be honest, the world around us is a complicated place that can be hard to figure out. Life can send us a fair bit of pain & suffering. Looking around, it’s not hard to spot cruelty & injustice. Pastors become aware of this when they walk alongside of people in their suffering.
Whether you’ve come through a lot or been spared a bit, we all know this; it’s nothing new. Life has been this way since Genesis 3, & it certainly is that way now. Let me be a little direct here, & point out a problem. Sometimes Christians speak as if the world is not a complicated place; at times Christians talk as if they sort of have things figured out, by & large.
Little sayings go around, & people often mean well. The sayings may contain some truth, but tend to make things way simpler than they really are. For example: “I believe in the power of prayer.” There is truth in that, of course, but what about the prayers to which God says, “No”? Or what about the prayers that seem to be met only with silence?
I’ve experienced that a lot in my life, & I’m pretty sure you have as well. Life is complicated, & we don’t know all we’d like to know about how it all fits together.
Here’s another one, & if you like this one, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings. It goes like this: “When God closes a door, He always opens a window.” Again, it’s a simple & hopeful thing to say, but it’s not in the Bible, you know.
I understand the good intent behind such a saying – but it does not acknowledge just how complicated the world is, & how puzzling – & frankly, how difficult life can be for people, including for children of God. And still, even though God’s ways are often hidden to us, we Christians believe that God is at work in the middle of the suffering. God is at work; yes, we do believe that. And yes, we do pray with faith because of the kind of God we have come to know.
Even with the evil in the world, we trust that God is at work against the evil, in spite of the evil, & sometimes God takes the evil & uses it for His purposes. How God does that I am often not at all sure. But I – we – believe that He does. Is this a blind sort of faith? It’s a pretty tall order, actually, asking people to believe in such a God.
The question is, why do we? A full answer would be another sermon series ... or maybe ten of them. But in a very beautiful way, the reading for tonight from Luke 23 gives us our answer, our reason for believing. We’re going to ponder what happened when the leaders of Israel led Jesus to stand before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea & Samaria.
What happened then? The short answer is ... evil, real evil in different shapes & sizes, coming against the only man ever to live of whom it could be said, “He did not deserve any of it.” And yet all that evil was taken up & put to use by the living God, the Father of the Lord Jesus, for good; for my good, & for yours, & for the good of the whole creation.
This is why we can live as we do in a broken world, in faith & in hope. Let’s look at the “major players,” one at a time, from the reading in Luke 23. There are three of them.
First, the chief priests. We met them in the verses last week that lead right up to this evening’s reading. Their evil was the blind ignorance of unbelief. They hated Jesus. In His ministry, Jesus has claimed authority as God’s Son & the true King.
Jesus rejected the way they thought about their God & one another; Jesus leveled the playing field for all people, shutting out all comparison, teaching that the only way to know the true God is in complete humility, looking only to ... Him. To Jesus. For this reason & others, the chief priests have spoken with one voice. They have led Jesus to Pilate, & accuse Him of crimes against Roman order & Roman justice. They want Pilate to believe that Jesus is guilty, & they want Pilate to execute Jesus. But it doesn’t work. They can’t convince Pilate at all.
And when Pilate sends Jesus to Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee in the north, the chief priests keep accusing Jesus there, but that doesn’t work, either. They can’t convince Herod that Jesus deserves to die. Herod belittles Christ & mistreats Him & mocks Him, but he does not rule that Jesus deserves to die. The accusations against Jesus from the chief priests don’t work.
But that does not stop them or their evil. They keep on coming, they keep on demanding Jesus’ death by crucifixion: “We would rather have that murderer, Barabbas, than this Jesus!” Did that convince Pilate to change his mind? Does he take their word for it? No. He knows that Jesus does not deserve to die.
But the voices of the chief priests continue. They meant it for evil. They were sincere, at least some of them, & they were pressing, pressing, pressing for what was ... wrong – the blind ignorance of unbelief – evil at work.
Another sort of evil appears in the reading, but we might be tempted to downplay it. We see that evil in the 2nd major player – Pontius Pilate – the governor of Judea & Samaria, directly responsible to Tiberius Caesar. Pilate represents the interests of the Roman empire, & the top two interests are (1) order & peace, & (2) tax money.
Pilate has made some mistakes during his years in the holy land. He’s learned the hard way how strong Jewish convictions are about spiritual things. It’s hard to be precise, but we wouldn’t be far off to say that Pilate has been governor at least 4 years, maybe as long as 7. As the Roman governor he has military troops at his disposal.
In matters of capital crimes, Pilate holds all the cards. Rome will not allow the local
leaders, the Sanhedrin, to execute someone even if they believe that person deserves to die. Pilate himself has to authorize the execution. With an insignificant, poor, non-citizen like Jesus, Pilate is prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, judge & jury. He can call witnesses or not call them. Pilate holds all the cards.
The chief priests get his attention at first when they accuse Jesus of disturbing the peace, interrupting tax revenue, & claiming to be a king. It’s the last one that counts the most, so Pilate asks Jesus point-blank, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus gives the same sort of indirect response He gave to the Sanhedrin: “You have said so.”
Whatever Jesus’ tone of voice, Pilate reads it as ... a “no.” He says, “I find no guilt in this man.” If the world were a just & honest place, if powerful politicians always did what was right, that would have settled things. But it’s not, & they don’t, & it didn’t. Pilate begins to move toward committing a great, great evil.
When Pilate hears that Jesus is from Galilee, he decides to get the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, into the picture. We don’t know why. Is Pilate looking for more information? Could be. Does he want to shift responsibility, or unload the blame for what happens? Maybe. Whatever the reason, off to Herod goes the helpless Jesus.
The ruler of Galilee seems to treat Jesus like a source of entertainment; he wants to see a miracle. Jesus does not speak one word to him. So, Herod mocks Him, & beats Him, then sends Him back to Pilate. Where does the evil stand now? Where it was before. Pilate knows ... & he knows that Herod knows ... that whatever else they think, Jesus does not deserve to die.
But the chief priests gather all their voices & all their forces, & they simply demand crucifixion. Finally, Pilate played the cards that only he held, the authority that only he could exercise. He decides that Jesus will be crucified. Here is where we might make a terrible mistake. We might shrug our shoulders & say, “What did you expect? Isn’t that the way it works in politics? Powerful people do what’s convenient, they compromise, they give in to special interests.” Happens all the time, right? So we might shrug our shoulders & say, “Oh well, what did you expect?”
Friends, the living God expects a lot more than that from rulers, & from Pontius Pilate. Governments are God’s idea, & whether it’s the king of Israel or the king of Moab, whether it’s Pilate long ago or a government official in any nation today, in God’s way of looking at things to whom much is given, much is demanded.
The Bible doesn’t say a lot about it, but it does say this. Ruling authorities exist to protect the weak & the helpless, the widow & the orphan. God has given to government the responsibility of rewarding those who do right & punishing those who do wrong.
Pontius Pilate is no exception, & just because we’ve come to expect so little of civil servants in our day does not let Pilate off the hook. His choice, his choice to send an innocent man ... the innocent man ... to death by crucifixion is every bit as great an evil as the screaming voices of Jesus’ enemies. Rulers are supposed to protect the innocent.
And there is no doubt, no doubt; Pilate knows that Jesus does not deserve to die. What an evil thing St. Luke describes: “He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection & murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.”
What kind of a world is that? The same kind of world we have today. The evil of blind, stubborn resistance to God’s chosen One. The evil of powerful people who know the facts, who know what’s right, & for whatever reason choose not to do it. Sins of commission. Sins of omission. It was their world & it is ours as well.
Friends, please try, now, to be a little surprised by the verses I’m going to read from Acts
4. This truth in these verses may be familiar, perhaps to everyone here. Familiar or not, we can still stand in awe & wonder at the kind of God that we have. Acts 4 takes place just a few weeks after Good Friday, Easter, Ascension & Pentecost.
The same enemies of Jesus are now the enemies of His apostles, who are preaching in Jesus’ name. They’ve arrested the apostles & threatened them if they keep on with their message. Luke writes, in Acts 4:24–28:
… “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven & the earth & the sea & everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, & the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, & the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord & against His Anointed’ – for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus whom You anointed, both Herod & Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles & the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand & Your plan had predestined to take place.”
Did you hear it? “Both Herod & Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles & the people of Israel, did whatever Your hand & Your plan had predestined to take place.” Was it evil? Did the power players do evil? Yes. Was God caught off guard? No, He was not – He had planned it all in advance.
Did God take the evil, & use it for good, even though no one could see or understand? Yes, He did. That’s the sort of God that we have, because along with the chief priests & Pilate the governor, the other major player in the text is Jesus. He doesn’t look like the Lord in these verses. The true King seems like anything but a king.
Jesus looks like a pawn; the powerbrokers move Him here & there. He speaks to Pilate once, but otherwise is silent before the power of evil. But that’s because God has planned not to stop the evil. No, God will take it & use it, actually use it. Jesus is the true King, & a true king represents his people.
In the ancient world, in the Bible’s world, you might even say that the king sums up his
people, all right there in his own person. He is the people. So, what happens to the king also happens to the people. And who could have ever understood this while it was happening? God took the evil that the people were doing & that the people deserved, & He brought that evil against ... the king – against Jesus.
God’s plan was not to stop the world from acting. Jesus knew this all, & He let it happen – to Himself, to our King, to our representative. Jesus took the evil ... so He could take it away. He took it, so He could take it away. The evil was deadly. The chief priests had their way. Pilate did the deed, & God died.
Only Joseph of Arimathea & Nicodemus were there to bury the body, to bury the corpse, to bury Jesus. The evil was strong & it went with Jesus into the tomb. But Yahweh is stronger still, & Jesus rose from the dead, leaving the evil behind, having taken the evil away from you & me.
The world is evil. But Jesus reversed how the world is, & started a new creation. You & I are part of that because we’ve been joined to Jesus, baptized into Him, & we cling to our King. Jesus is our King who takes evil & works it for good, even when no one else can figure out what is going on. Jesus knows. Jesus knows.
Friends, our world is complicated. There is a lot of pain & lots of confusion. Much of the time, it’s probably best for us to say two things. The first: “I don’t really understand how this is all fitting together, but I am here with you as we go through it.” The other thing we say & that we believe: Our God is still at work. He knows how to take the evil & use it for good.
That’s not a blind faith. The proof of it, simply put, is Jesus. God worked good from evil that night for us, & all people, through Jesus the King, our living, reigning King. God still does that today, for the people of the King. In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy
Follow to the judgment hall, view the Lord of life arraigned; Oh, the wormwood & the gall! Oh, the pangs His soul sustained! Shun not suffering, shame or loss; learn from Him to bear the cross. Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay; all is solitude & gloom. Who has taken Him away? Christ is risen! He meets our eyes. Savior, teach us so to rise. Amen. LSB 436:2 & 4.
ACCORDING TO THE FLESH
4th Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 608, 720 tune 437, 595:2-5
Text – 2 Corinthians 5:16a
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.
ACCORDING TO THE FLESH
Completely exhausted – weak, powerless & frail! Sleep deprivation will do that to you. It was not uncommon when we were “running drills” on the submarine. One of the ways we trained, for problems occurring at sea, was to go through about three days of almost constant drills. Varying pieces of machinery would be shut off & then the crew would have to react.
Some of these drills were quite dangerous, in that, if we failed in a significant way there was at least a small chance that we would not survive. The training was meant to prepare us for accidents that could actually occur, or for damage resulting from an enemy attack. At any rate, there were times when I was awake, constantly, for 30 or more hours.
Completely exhausted – weak, powerless & frail! Maybe you’ve felt that way too, even without serving on board a US Navy submarine. Life in a sinful world will do that to you in many different ways. Completely exhausted – weak, powerless & frail!
That’s the extreme, of course, & we don’t often spend time in that state of despair. Fortunately, sleep usually takes over; however, it is more common that we look at our neighbor as weak, powerless & frail – even dead. When we do so, we may be regarding them according to the flesh. We’re looking at our neighbor from a totally non-spiritual perspective.
In the Epistle reading for today, St. Paul is writing that now, as children of God, we no longer look at our neighbor according to the flesh. We could say that, as children of God, we should no longer look at others from a non-Christian perspective. In truth, our saintly nature does not look at people in the way that our sinful nature looks at them.
And if you are recognizing that there is tension built into that, you are correct. Our
sinful nature wants to look at people in a way that is centered on ourselves, & on our needs. I’m number one! Our saintly nature looks at people in ways that are centered on Christ, & then looks at people in ways that are centered on them, & on their needs. They are number one! You can feel the tension in that, do you not? As God’s children that tension never goes away in this life.
It’s easy right now, to use Vladimir Putin as an example of someone viewing others, like the people of Ukraine, according to the flesh. He’s obviously not looking at them in ways that are centered on Christ. There’s also the observation of what happens when two small children have only one toy to play with.
It’s much more difficult to recognize specific moments in our own lives, while we are experiencing this tension, so that we can make choices which are helpful to others rather than hurtful. And that does not always mean giving everyone else what they want. Our neighbors, whom we are called to love, also regard others according to the flesh.
In Christ, all believers are a new creation, but the old sinful nature still clings to us tightly. We need the word of God in our hearts & in our minds in order to see when we are making choices like the old creation wants us to. Making choices in line with the new creation requires living by faith, because we seldom see godly results immediately.
No matter who you are, no matter what you are, there are times when the Word of God interrupts the flow of your lives as it speaks, “Stop, turn, that you may hear & know righteousness & holiness, directly from God.”
But the hard & inconvenient truth is that sometimes we’d rather turn our backs on God & keep living according to the flesh. I believe that many who fall away from the faith do it for that reason – & this is not an indictment on them. God puts that information before us as a warning to us. People who once loved God turn away from Him because they never learned how to deal with the tension that a child of God feels as they live in a sinful & broken world, with their own sinful & broken heart. Satan is constantly tempting us to relieve that tension in our lives by ourselves, through ignoring our sin, or through giving up all hope because of it. When we bump into a word of God telling us “this ain’t right,” there is another way that God calls us to.
Satan tempts us to drift away from God or to put our head down & work harder, but Jesus knows intimately well what Satan’s temptations are like. Jesus experienced them Himself after not eating for 40 days. So Jesus paid, on the cross, for all the guilt of all mankind throughout all history. He took death into the grave & emerged victorious on Easter morning.
When God’s begotten Son came back to life He recreated human flesh, & when He returns on the Last Day, He will make the heavens & the earth new again. This new creation will be without temptation & without sin & without guilt. There, we will perfectly, never again regard anyone according to the flesh. Our sinful nature will be gone completely.
Until then, we are faced with the daily struggle against sin. The OT reading gave this method of coping with the tension. If we find ourselves weak, powerless & frail, here is one antidote from the Holy Spirit: “I will trust, & will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength & my song, & He has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2 ESV)
The Lord is our strength & our song because He is the One who has made us new. We struggle so much in trying to live the Christian life because, without God, none of us are capable of it. We cannot earn our way into God’s favor. It has to be done perfectly & 100% of every day & every week throughout our entire life.
God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to accomplish what we could never even begin. At our baptism Jesus begins to make us into a new creation, one that is by faith & not by sight. At the resurrection, He will complete that work as He gives us new flesh, untainted by sin or selfishness. All the weakness & failure, of the flesh you have today, will be gone. No more looking at others, like the older brother looked at his younger brother in the parable of the prodigal son. When heaven arrives we will see everything perfectly, & everything will be holy.
We will no longer need to live by faith because we will be able to truly see, & we will see everyone in heaven for whom they truly are – holy & guiltless children of the Almighty God. Amen.
We walk by faith & not by sight, no gracious words we hear from Him who spoke as none e’er spoke, but we believe Him near. Help then, O Lord, our unbelief; & may our faith abound to call on You when You are near & seek where You are found. For You, O resurrected Lord, are found in means divine: beneath the water & the Word, beneath the bread & wine. Lord, when our life of faith is done, in realms of clearer light we may behold You as You are, with full & endless sight. Amen. LSB 720:1, 3-5.
Midweek 4 – 2022 LSB #’s 436, 422
Text – Luke 22:63-64
Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking Him as they beat Him. They also blindfolded Him & kept asking Him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?”
WHEN YOU SEE SUCH BLIND IGNORANCE, WHAT DO YOU THINK?
This evening we’re going to look carefully at how St. Luke described the trial of the Lord Jesus before the Sanhedrin. Luke’s account is very focused, much more so than Matthew’s or Mark’s. After we ponder the reading closely, I want to mention one way you & I might react. I’ll mention this reaction because it’s not a good one. It is spiritually dangerous.
I’ll briefly describe it, & then suggest a different attitude of the heart as a response to what St. Luke has written for us. So, that is what’s coming in a few minutes – a warning & an encouragement. But first things first – let’s look carefully at Luke 22:63 to 23:1.
Many Christians remember the events of the night Jesus was betrayed. We remember them from all the Gospels & that includes Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. To help us ponder what Luke offers, first I want to show you how different Luke is from the others.
That will help us focus not on what we remember from Matthew & Mark (which is true & right, of course!), but on what the Spirit inspired Luke to write, what is before us this evening. When Luke describes the Lord Jesus before the high council of His own people, he says less about that. Luke’s account is a lot shorter than Matthew’s or Mark’s, by around 40%.
We could say that Luke is not only shorter, it is simplified or stripped down. Really important people, for example, aren’t even mentioned. Luke does not refer to Caiaphas the high priest! We know that Caiaphas was there & I’m sure Luke knew it, too. But he decided & the Spirit guided Luke to leave that out – his Gospel is focused & streamlined.
Here’s another thing. Luke doesn’t tell us anything about witnesses against Jesus, nor
about false testimony, nor about the council trying but failing to get the witnesses to agree. No referring to the high priest tearing his robes, or anything at all like that, which is so familiar to us from reading Matthew & Mark. Again, all those things happened but Luke does not focus our attention on them at all. What does Luke give us?
He writes what the men who arrested Jesus were already doing to Him, & from that it comes clear where this is all going. A lot of people mistreated & abused the Lord as He moves toward the cross. Only Luke tells us that even before Jesus stands in front of the council, before the council has a chance to reject Him, the people who arrested Jesus were beating & mocking & blaspheming against Him, over & over & over.
As far as they’re concerned, this is going in a certain direction & it’s almost a done deal. It’s clear, it’s simple. Jesus will be condemned to die. So, notice this. Luke invites us to see that the council, the Sanhedrin, is speaking with one voice. As I mentioned, the high priest has faded into the background; Luke never even mentions him.
There are, of course, many people there, but it’s focused. And so, not once or twice, but three times, “they” speak to Jesus, with one voice: “And they said” (v. 66), “So they all said” (v. 70), & “Then they said” (v. 71). And at the last, “The whole company of them arose & brought Him before Pilate” (23:1). Evil is speaking with one, unified voice.
The Lord Jesus Himself also speaks. When the He replies to what “they” say to Him, He doesn’t answer in a way that gives “them” traction. He’s not going to help them get where they want to go. As Jesus said in the garden, “This is your hour.” It’s almost as if the Lord is letting go, allowing evil to have its way.
So, when they first say to Jesus, “If you are the Christ, tell us!” Jesus says, “If I tell you, you won’t believe. And if I ask you, you won’t answer.” “It’s like this,” Jesus says, “You don’t really care what I say. You are blindly against me. Your mind is made up, & nothing can change it. All you know is where you want this to go.” The Lord then adds what could be taken as a warning or as an invitation; He says, “From now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
It’s coming soon, very soon, Jesus says. My victory, my exaltation to God’s right hand. It is coming. Beware & repent. Believe. But Jesus’ words go right past them. They just want to get enough against Jesus so they can hand Him over to the Roman governor – Pontius Pilate –because only Pilate has the authority to execute Jesus.
In reply, for the 2nd time, “they” speak: “So, you are the Son of God, then?” Again, Jesus’ answers is indirect: “You say that I am.” In other words, “Do you hear yourselves? You don’t even hear what you are saying, & you don’t believe what’s coming out of your own mouth.” Those accusing just want to get this whole mess over & done with.
So “they” speak for the third time: “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from His own lips.” Heard what? Well, they didn’t really need to hear anything from Jesus. They were so bent on destroying Him that they didn’t need any testimony at all.
But now they think that they have enough, & they’re ready to take Jesus to Pilate so that, as Jesus predicted, the Gentiles can torture & crucify & kill him. As Luke gives us the events, it is streamlined, focused, simple. With one voice, with one intent, the Sanhedrin is determined to eliminate Jesus. They are captive to their own unbelief.
Friends, you can describe unbelief in different ways. But here’s one: unbelief is blind ignorance. Blind ignorance. You see this in the Gospel of Luke. In the Nazareth synagogue in chapter 4, Jesus read from Isaiah & said that His ministry was all about, among other things, “recovering of sight for the blind.” He meant that literally, of course – He restored the sight of people who were physically unable to see. But there’s even more. There’s recovery of spiritual sight for people who are spiritually blind. In teaching His disciples, for instance, about how they needed to grow in their faith & understanding, Jesus said, “Can a blind man lead a blind man?” Unbelief is blindness & it is ignorance.
Perhaps we see this most powerfully in Jesus’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Unbelief is blind ignorance. The problem when you are both ignorant & blind is, well, you don’t even realize what’s going on with you.
Luke has told us that Satan is behind all the evil that is coming against Jesus, but can you imagine that the Sanhedrin is aware of this? Are any of them thinking, “Well, Satan is really our master, & we are following him right now”? Anything is possible – but it’s hard to imagine that. More likely, they are blind & ignorant.
This means that the Sanhedrin was wrong that night in two ways at the same time. First, they thought that if they destroyed Jesus, they would be serving God & getting rid of a dangerous blasphemer. They were wrong about that. Second, the council members had no clue that their blind, ignorant plan would, in fact serve the purposes of the God whom they thought they knew.
Jesus is God’s Son. God’s plan in the world & for the world will produce the greatest reversal of all time. That happens in Jesus. The first will be last, & the last will be first. Jesus, the First, willingly becomes the last. The evil planned against Him will reach its goal. Even before the trial, they treated Him like a condemned man.
With one voice during the hearing & after, they reject Jesus & hand Him over to Pilate to die by Roman execution, on a cross. The First chooses in love to become the last, & the last will become first. The evil came against Jesus so that it would not have to come against you. Sin & Satan, even God’s righteous judgment itself, came against the innocent, pure Son of God. But on the 3rd day He stripped off the sin & guilt laid upon Him. His life destroyed death. Satan was overcome & defeated. God’s judgment was overturned by God Himself when the Son of Man was raised from the dead, to sit at the right hand of God’s power.
“They” meant it for evil. Yes, they did, in their blind ignorance, but God meant it for good. In His stunning reversal & grace, He surely did. Now – for ourselves & our life in Christ, what may we learn from this reading tonight? How might we respond & react to the streamlined, focused account of evil that speaks with one voice against the innocent Son of God?
I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon that there is way of reacting to this reading from which we should turn away; there’s one response we should reject. That response would be this: to ponder this streamlined account about focused evil & to say, “How could they do that? I would never do such a thing! I would never be so blind, or so ignorant!”
That response, my friends, would be a kind of pride, a sort of arrogance. “They” did that, but “I” would never do such a thing. Let me try to show you why that arrogance would be so dangerous to you. Friends, it was a similar sort of arrogance that helped blind & deceive the Sanhedrin in the first place.
This is how that might have worked. Why did they hate Jesus so? I’m sure there was more than one reason. But if you read the Gospel of Luke, people get upset, & the religious leaders of Israel get really upset, because Jesus won’t let them compare themselves with others & come out on top. Over & over, He rejected that kind of arrogance.
You know the game: “Well, sure I’m a sinner, but at least I’m not as bad as he is.” Or, “I’ve made mistakes in life, but how could they do that?” But you can’t play that game if you’re going to reckon with Jesus. This is Luke’s gospel has to say regarding that. In chapter 4, people in the Nazareth synagogue try to kill Jesus because they thought that they had a special “in” with Him because He was from their hometown. In so many words, Jesus tells them they’re no different than Gentiles, because God wants to show mercy to everyone the same. It’s a level playing field with God. No comparisons allowed.
In Luke 7, Jesus is at the house of Simon the Pharisee, & he lets a broken, sinful woman (literally!) pour out her gratitude on his feet, & wipe his feet with her hair! The Pharisee thinks Jesus is ignorant, that He’s not a prophet because he doesn’t know “what sort of woman this is.” But Simon is the blindly ignorant one, because he’s thinking, “I’m not unclean like her.”
That Pharisee was not ready to admit, like the woman did, that he too was supposed to honor Jesus, he was indebted to Jesus, he needed to be forgiven by Jesus. When Jesus forgave her sins, Simon, & others like him, could not handle it.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables in a row. He says that a great celebration happens before God when “one of those people” repents. Jesus is among them like a father who runs out to welcome an unclean, shameful son who does not deserve to be treated like a son at all. To the father in the parable, that is, to Jesus – the older brother & the younger brother are the same.
Then there’s the parable in Luke 18 where a Pharisee & a tax collector are praying in the temple. The Pharisee says, “I thank you God that I am not like other men, or even like that tax collector.” Jesus said that Pharisee went to his home still guilty & condemned.
Over & over again, Jesus seeks to destroy the arrogance that compares. He destroys the pecking order; He cancels the comparison game; in His presence, there are no distinctions. This is nothing more or less than utter grace, but they hated him for that. And by nature so would I. And so would you.
Therefore, when we read of the evil, blind ignorance of the men who handed Jesus over to Pilate, don’t give in to arrogance. Don’t think, “I would never do that.” Instead, I invite you & beseech you to think this: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Let there be in your heart a godly fear over the evil you & I are capable of, if the blindness & the arrogance overcome us.
This is not a fear that somehow we’re not Christians or that we’ve not been claimed by Jesus. But it’s a godly fear that remembers that we don’t get the credit for our faith. As we sometimes say, to God alone be the glory.
So, tonight I invite you to a godly fear, & then this as well. I invite you to embrace a compassion for people who are trapped in blind ignorance, back then & also today. Compassion. I say that because you see this very compassion from Jesus, on the following afternoon. Yes, Jesus’s enemies meant it for evil; they did, & it was sin – not to be winked at or condoned.
But when you read about them or see this in people today, ask God to put compassion in your heart for those people. The world around us is in chaos – but it always has been, ever since Genesis 3.
Sin & wrong are still sin & wrong, but when the greatest evil in the history of the world was happening – when nails were being pounded into His hands & feet – Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Compassion – when we read these verses from long ago, & when we see spiritual blindness & ignorance in our world also today. Ask God to help you show compassion for those who do not know & who cannot see. As we hear this word of God from Luke, we pray God will grant us humility & a godly fear, instead of arrogant comparing.
And finally, there is this: a grateful wonder. This reading can help us again to a sense of wonder that our God – almighty, all-knowing, all-majestic, all-everything – would work in the world in the ways that He does. You can’t stop His desire to save; you can’t keep His plan from happening. Even human blindness & ignorance bow before Him. They meant everything that they did to Jesus for evil. And it was evil, but God meant it for good, & His Son died as the innocent one in our place, & He rose in victory & authority to forgive & to save. What a wonder our God is!
And what a grateful wonder is the response of our saintly nature to God’s mercy. Through no merit or intelligence or superiority or anything in us, God has opened our eyes & enlightened our minds to know & believe in this Jesus. To God be all the glory – all the glory – for our faith this Lenten season, & always.
May God use you & me to offer the message of Jesus to whomever we meet. For all are precious to Him. In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This way or that?
3rd Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 423, 609, 579
Text – Ezekiel 33:17
“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.”
THIS WAY OR THAT?
In 1979, at the age of 20, I moved to the city of Idaho Falls. It’s a town with a unique system of roads due to the fact that 20 different canals, creeks & laterals, as well as the Snake River, dissect the community in every direction.
Making it even more complicated, roughly 4 out of every 5 streets do not bridge those waterways & there were numerous one way streets for good measure. It would have been really helpful to me if google maps had been invented back then. For the 1st month or two every time I went somewhere new I was asking myself, “Is it this way or that?”
Yet, the consequences of a wrong turn were relatively minor. It would just take extra time getting from here to there or back again. Not all the decisions we’re faced with in life have such minor consequences. Nor do those decisions have such a useful tool as a GPS to help you make your choices.
And decision making is not an instinct that human beings are born with like cats are born with the instinct to hunt mice. All of us learn how to make decisions, for better or for worse. Some of it we are taught & some of it is learned by trial & error. How well do you make decisions? Do you invite God to be part of that process?
The sermon for last Sunday was based on a text from the prophet Jeremiah & the people were calling for his death because he had prophesied the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. King Solomon had it built & it was one magnificent building. The people had turned it into an idol such that God could no longer live in the house that was built for Him by man.
The prophet Ezekiel comes along after Jeremiah & is actually writing from exile in
Babylon. He was already there when God called him to speak to the Jewish exiles that were living there. They had seen the destruction of the northern kingdom that God prophesied, but took no heed. Now, in exile, they are still ignoring the word of God, just like the people who remained in Jerusalem were still ignoring it.
Immediately after today’s reading from Ezekiel, word makes it to Babylon that the city of Jerusalem had fallen. Destruction had arrived & the temple was gone. Jeremiah’s prophesy was finally fulfilled. God’s people were not doing well with their decision making. They’d learned too many bad habits from their parents. Abraham, their forefather, was long dead.
There was only the tiniest remnant of faith left among God’s people. And those people were complaining to Ezekiel that Yahweh was acting in an irrational manner. They said that His ways were inscrutable & unpredictable. They felt that, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ No matter how red-handed they are, as God catches them in their sin, they blame God for it all.
That is a very true picture of what it is to be impenitent, or unrepentant, or just plain not sorry for committing sin. This lack of repentance is the essence of unbelief & Ezekiel has been called by their Creator to warn them of the mortal danger they are in. The destruction of Jerusalem was but a foreshadowing of the devastation that hell will bring. This is serious stuff.
As a result, Yahweh inspires Ezekiel to write, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way & live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (33:11 ESV)
Whether it be simply the consequences of our sinful actions, or God’s intentional discipline & punishment for our sins, the pain, suffering & distress visited upon us here on earth is never an end to itself. God always has the goal of turning us back from our evil ways that we might truly live. Have you been inviting God to be part of your decision making process? Up to the fall of Jerusalem, Ezekiel was accenting God’s judgment on Israel & on the pagan nations because the people would not turn from their evil ways. Once the city & the temple were destroyed, once the idol of the people had fallen, Ezekiel speaks more of God’s grace to a new Israel that will consist of repentant & regenerate believers.
Ezekiel then becomes the preacher of restoration who faces two types of poor decision making. The 1st type is despair over what has been lost. Coming face to face with the reality brought upon them by their sin, some people resign themselves to wasting away: “What’s the use, why bother, nothing good can ever come out of this.”
Sorrow over sin exists with them, but no belief that God can bring their soul to life again. That attitude is like one that believes Jesus died on the cross, but did not rise from the tomb. That person has only turned from one sin to another.
The 2nd type of poor decision making is the claim that God is not dealing justly with those He judges. To this complaint that Yahweh is acting in irrational, inscrutable or unpredictable ways, Yahweh responds that their refusal to simply accept His offer of amazing grace, even in this very last hour before destruction, is irrational & inscrutable.
Although this type of decision making may recognize their sins, they don’t want to be held accountable for it. They are still seeking to place the blame elsewhere & don’t really want God’s forgiveness & the life that it brings.
The book of Revelation tells us that unbelievers are judged according to the record of their deeds, whereas believers are saved simply because their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Salvation is the work of God & He is faithful no matter how long it takes or what our eyes see or what our hearts feel along the way.
The exiles were grieving over their sins & the loss of their city & their land, over the loss
of their very heritage. People in our nation are experiencing similar feelings about the way things used to be here in America. We grieve over what we have given up because we were not diligent to raise our children in the faith, or to stand for the Word of God. Instead, due to our comfortable lives we became soft & unfit for the battle that Satan is always waging.
It was to people, or cultures, like ours that St. Paul wrote, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV) However, that’s what sinners do, we fall & God created a plan or a way even for us to be saved.
The people of Israel, who were in exile in the foreign land of Babylon now had nothing to return to but devastated cities & lands. It’s very similar to what is happening in Ukraine as the current Babylon, that calls itself Russia, is laying waste to entire cities & peoples. Yet, Ezekiel is giving great hope in the OT reading today.
Verse 12 says, “…as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness,” in other words, even the wicked can receive eternal hope & glory. None of their wickedness will be remembered on Judgment Day. And verses 14-16 tell us:
“Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin & does what is just & right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, & walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just & right; he shall surely live.”
If, at some point in life, you find yourself crushed by the weight of your sin & don’t know which way to turn, “This way or that?” remember that not even wickedness can keep the crown of righteousness from your head if God has washed you & made you clean.
The church season of Lent is not meant simply to prepare us for the arrival of the Easter bunny. It is meant to help us focus on repentance for our sins, so that God can make us clean & holy through His love that extends even & especially to sinners. In the name of the Father & of
the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We deserve but grief & shame, yet His words, rich grace revealing, pardon, peace & life proclaim; here our ills have perfect healing. Firmly in these words believe: Jesus sinners doth receive. Sheep that from the fold did stray no true shepherd e’er forsaketh; weary souls that lost their way Christ, the Shepherd, gently taketh in His arms that they may live: Jesus sinners doth receive. Amen. LSB 609:2-3.
the real battle
Midweek 3 – 2022 LSB #’s 436, 423
Text – Luke 22:53
When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, & the power of darkness.
THE REAL BATTLE
I happen to be a big fan of stories from more than 100 years ago by a British author named Arthur Conan Doyle. All told, this series has 56 short stories & four novels, written between 1892 & 1927. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this might help: Sherlock Holmes. (If you still don’t recognize the stories, that’s OK – bear with me.)
Holmes is the main figure in the series; a private detective in London who is the master of logical thinking, careful reasoning based on evidence, solving crimes, & so on. I first read some of the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a teenager, & he was my hero.
At one point in the series, Holmes reveals that behind a crime wave in London – murder, blackmail, & so on – behind it all is a single connection – or better, a single person – “Professor Moriarty.” Everyone else involved in the crime wave is just a two-bit figure. Like a spider weaving a web, Professor Moriarty is the root cause & the guiding mind.
Holmes is intent to find, outwit & defeat his great enemy. The other people involved play their roles but the real enemy is that one person. He’s never visibly present at the scene of a crime but he is behind it all.
Why do I bring this up, when we are reading & pondering Jesus’ agony in the garden, His arrest, & Peter’s denial? To answer that question, let me ask another one. How many people are key to these verses from Luke 22?
One person comes to mind right away of course – the Lord Jesus. Others are there – twelve apostles, counting Judas, some of the chief priests & the temple guard, a servant girl, a couple of others & several crowds of people. They all play their part, so to speak, but Luke’s Gospel reveals in a unique way that behind it all is one figure, one person if I can use that term. Satan. There’s Jesus & there’s His great enemy, who is not even named in the verses that we read tonight.
Let me show you what I mean & let me also say that these verses I’m going to mention are found in Luke’s Gospel, & remarkably, only in Luke’s Gospel. Like Matthew & Mark, Luke tells us that early in His ministry the Lord Jesus was directly tempted by Satan. When that event is over, however, only Luke makes this direct statement:
“And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.” Satan would be back. Here’s another one, you might remember it from the Ash Wednesday reading: Luke begins to tell the events of that Passover meal when Jesus was going to be betrayed.
First, he says that the chief priests & their allies were looking for a way to destroy Jesus. He wrote, “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot ... & he went away & conferred with the chief priests & officers how he might betray Jesus to them.”
John’s Gospel has a very similar statement. But Luke is making clear that now the moment for which Satan has been waiting – that opportune time – has come. Satan is behind the plot to arrest Jesus. And then there is this, from last week’s reading, verse 31: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you all, that he might sift you all like wheat.”
Next comes Jesus’ promise of Peter’s turning back again after it’s all said & done. But the fact remains – Satan is going to separate, sift, winnow, shake the apostles to see who is “wheat,” & who is “chaff,” blown away by the wind.
So, yes, in this reading tonight, there is Judas, & there are the chief priests & their allies.
There’re the apostles, but Satan is directing, influencing, attacking all of them. He’s behind every bit of the evil. In a way, there are really only two figures, two “persons” who matter. Satan ... & Jesus. And Jesus knows that. He knows it. He is the one who warns the apostles in the garden that night, He warns them: “Pray.”
“Pray,” He says. “Temptation is coming against you; the tempter is coming after you; Satan is coming against you. Pray so that you won’t enter into it. Because if you do, you won’t be able to stand. You’re not solid enough, you’re not strong enough; you’ll blow away like chaff.” Jesus knows that Satan is behind it all & under it all.
The chief priests & their group think it’s their clever, secret plan that made it all work. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss, & they bring force against Him. It looks like it was all their plan, & that their plan worked. But Jesus knows better.
He says, “I used to be in the temple courtyards every day, & if you wanted to arrest me as if I were a robber, you could have done it then. But it’s happening now because this is your hour & even more ... this is the power of darkness.” The power of Satan.
When the disciples ignore Jesus’s warning for them to pray, how do they fare when Satan attacks? They scatter like chaff. While Jesus is praying in an agony that none of us can come close to imagining ... the apostles fall asleep. And then one of the twelve betrays Jesus with a kiss, while Jesus has to undo the violence of another one.
Then Peter – who promised that he was ready to go with Jesus to prison & to death, is following ... from a distance. Speaking through a servant girl & two others, Satan comes at Peter, & Satan sifts him. Peter comes undone. Jesus said it would happen, & on His way to stand before the Sanhedrin Jesus looks straight at Peter ... & Peter remembers.
But Luke tells us that Peter only remembers the bad news. He didn’t remember Jesus’
promise that Peter would turn back again. By not remembering, Peter is undone. He goes outside & weeps bitterly. Not until the 1st Easter morning will Peter be restored ... as Jesus promised he would be. In a way, every other human figure in this reading gets thinner & thinner, less & less substantial – until they almost disappear.
Of course, the religious authorities still have Jesus under arrest – but the power behind their evil is the evil one. And so, this reading shows Jesus vs. Satan, with Satan out to destroy Jesus. And if it doesn’t sound too dramatic to say it, on one level Satan will win. The devil will succeed & the truly amazing thing about that – Jesus knows that too, & He willingly accepts it.
While the apostles were sleeping, Jesus was praying & praying, in an agony that no one else has ever known. He knew what was coming, & despite the mystery of His struggle & agony, His prayer & His choice were clear: “Father, your will be done. I will drink the cup.”
This cup is full to the brim. It is full of God’s response to evil & sin. It is full of God’s rightful & righteous judgment. It’s a cup prepared for people who are guilty, people who are evil. The OT prophets spoke fairly often of this cup – it’s for God’s enemies to drink. But Jesus will drink it, though He’s the only person ever to live who deserves not one drop from that cup.
The path to drinking that cup runs through arrest & trial, unjust & unfair accusations, spitting & beating & suffering & death – all the while carrying on His shoulders the weight of evil, Satan’s hatred & the cowardice & the failure of His disciples. That’s enough to destroy anyone. It’s enough to destroy everyone. And Satan, & his allies, are out to destroy Jesus.
In a way they succeed. The perfectly innocent Jesus will be numbered among the transgressors, & He will die, commending His spirit to the Father. The wages of sin is death & Jesus will die.
Friends, this much is crystal clear: Satan hates God, & he hates Jesus. Without a doubt
we say that that night, Satan meant all of this for evil – evil against Judas, against the other apostles, against everyone. And Satan meant this for evil against Jesus. But here is the glory & here is the wonder, & here is the praise – God meant it for good. He meant it all for good.
Pause with me over one small piece of this reading, something that goes by so quickly we might overlook it, we might miss what it means. Verse 61: “And the Lord turned & looked at Peter.” Jesus is bound. He is arrested. He is on His way to death, yet Jesus makes the effort to look at Peter.
In the cramped quarters of ancient Jerusalem, Peter in the courtyard of the high priest’s house, as they lead Jesus out of that house. Jesus can turn & see the man who has just denied that he even knows Jesus. And at that moment, Luke tells us, all that Peter can remember is the prediction that Peter would deny His Lord; that is what Peter remembers.
What Simon Peter does not remember yet is that Jesus prayed for him. What Simon does not remember is that the time will come when Simon the traitor, the turncoat, will turn again, as Jesus said. Jesus said it, & Simon’s faith will return, he will strengthen the others who, like him, have been sifted like wheat.
Simon doesn’t seem to remember the promise, but Jesus does because He made the promise. Jesus knew that God meant all of this for good. For Simon’s good, for your good, & for mine, but for now Simon cannot see that.
All the evil, & all the authority of the evil one, came against the innocent Son of God. Every sin, every accusation, every temptation came against Jesus like a storm. And like a storm, it had an end; the evil spent itself, expended itself, & Jesus died.
But then, because God is the God of life & reversal, the God who takes evil & uses it for good, God the Father raised His Son from the dead – never to die again. Even death itself has no power any more in the case of Jesus the Lord, God’s Son. And if death has no power, that means that sin has no power either. And if death & sin have no power, that means that Satan is defeated. God wins in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
The Gospel of Luke moves us toward that seeming defeat & destruction, that perfect victory. We see Jesus & Satan & we know how the contest was finished. God wins on Easter & all God’s children win on Easter, too.
Friends, Satan is still working for evil in our lives, in our world as the war in Ukraine makes so very clear. Yet, even in the reading tonight, you have to look carefully to see Satan at work; he’s behind the scenes, but he is there.
In our day, we have amazing technology & science – godly gifts of human reason. But all of that, I suspect, can influence our thinking & partially blind us so that we go for long stretches without taking seriously Satan’s power or his attacks. How can we remember, & be more vigilant? How can we respond when we see Satan’s power coming against us?
To help you remember that Satan is still at work, slow down when you get to the 7th & last petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil,” we pray. In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther correctly reminds us that this really says, “Deliver us from the Evil One,” that is, from Satan. So, every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer, let that be a good reminder.
Two more helps also come from Luther. They are the “little prayers” in the Small Catechism that we can pray at morning & at evening. Both prayers end the same way: “Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.” Be aware. The question of how Satan’s attacks come against us is a huge topic. No time to explore that fully.
For tonight, just two words will be enough: Temptation & Accusation. Satan wants to turn us from God’s will, God’s ways; he wants to turn us to his ways, to sin. And he wants even more to take our sins – after he has succeeded in tempting us – & condemn us with them, to discouraged us, & if he can, to make us despair over ourselves & over our entire life. Those are big topics. What to say about them tonight?
Remember in the reading how Peter was following Jesus ... but from a distance? Well, when you realize that Satan is tempting you to sin, by faith claim the promise that you are not at a distance from Jesus. No, you are right up there, right up close, right behind Jesus, & say:
“In the power of the new life that I have with my Lord – no to your temptation! I am baptized & I am grafted together with Jesus. So ... No. I’m not going to get even, I’m not going to be selfish, I’m not going to murder someone else with gossip. No. I am right up here, right behind Jesus. I am baptized into Him & I will follow Him.”
As Christians we do, of course, still sin – you may have noticed. When Satan takes the sins you’ve committed – & he seems to remember them all – & throws them in your face, then you do the same thing as before. You claim your place right there behind Jesus, you grab hold of your baptism, & you hide there.
That way, all of Satan’s accusations strike Jesus ... but they fall to the ground, they disappear, because they strike the risen, living Jesus who took your sins into the tomb & left them there. Satan’s evil came against Jesus, & it killed him, but God His Father raised Him from the dead.
Jesus chose that path, knowing that Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. As for you & I – we stay right there today & forever, right there behind Jesus. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s power; your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour; turn not from His griefs away; learn from Jesus Christ to pray. Amen. Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay; all is solitude & gloom. Who has taken Him away? Christ is risen! He meets our eyes. Savior, teach us so to rise. LSB 436:1 & 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet