Ash Wednesday – 2022 LSB #’s 429, 436, 425
Text – Luke 22:6
So [Judas] consented & sought an opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of a crowd.
You Meant It For Evil, But God Meant It For Good
In the rhythm of the church year, here we are again – Lent. It’s a time to reflect & repent, to pray & to praise, to recall & to rejoice in our Lord Jesus as He moves humbly toward the cross. Lent leads us to Easter when Jesus rises powerfully in victory from the grave. These 40 days are a time for blessing, as we await the return of our Jesus.
Here’s another blessing. The Holy Spirit gave to us not one, but FOUR books, FOUR Gospels. Each of them is about the same Jesus. Each of them tells of His movement toward the cross & His bursting forth from the tomb. Yet, each of them is like a beautiful painting or portrait of Jesus from a slightly different angle.
They complement one another – yet each gives its own beautiful perspective for Lent & for Easter. This year, we follow the leading of the Gospel according to Luke. This evening, Ash Wednesday, as we begin our Lenten journey toward Easter – how shall you & I sum up Luke’s inspired presentation of Jesus? Before answering that, let me ask another question.
Do you recall the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis? Here’s a summary.
Joseph was the favored son of his father, Jacob. His older brothers resented him. Of course, Joseph wasn’t faultless in this, but the hatred of his brothers grew – so they abused him (evil!), sold him as a slave to traders going to Egypt (evil!), poured animal blood on his coat & told their father Jacob that Joseph has been killed by wild beasts (evil!).
In Egypt Joseph’s life was up & down, but finally through God’s blessing, he rose to prominence & God used Joseph’s planning & wisdom to save many people from starving to death – including his own father & the brothers who had done to him such evil. Then Jacob, the father, dies. Joseph’s brothers are afraid that now, Joseph will take his revenge, but instead he says something to them about their history & about the years that have gone by: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20 NASB)
Now don’t misunderstand Joseph’s words. His brothers meant evil against him & it was evil. They meant evil, & they did evil. God did not change that part – not at all. But Yahweh used the evil for a larger purpose even when no one knew what He was up to. Everyone was clueless as to what God was going to do – but God was not. The Great I Am never is.
This Lent, we’re going to ponder Luke 22, 23, & on into the victory of Luke 24. We begin by reflecting on the reading you’ve heard, & we’ll see some very important truths. The 1st is this – it’s time for a greater Passover. Luke goes out of his way to mention no less than five times that it is a particular time of year, a particular festival is about to happen: Passover.
Luke says it in verse 1, then in verses 7 & 8 along with 11 & 13. There’s a lot to be said about the Passover, but I’ll just say this. Passover was the time when Israel remembered. They remembered that they were living under the thumb, under the power of evil. In our day think Vladimir Putin.
The descendants of Abraham were slaves in Egypt, centuries before the night that St. Luke is describing. Evil had come against them; evil was done to them. Pharaoh & the gods of Egypt resisted Yahweh’s plan to set His people free.
Even though God sent plague after plague, Pharaoh’s heart was hard, & even after Pharaoh allowed Israel to leave ... he changed his mind & hunted them down, chasing them through the middle of the Red Sea. He tried to enslave them again. He meant evil – but God meant it for good, to save Israel, while Pharaoh & his army He drowned in the sea.
God’s people, they stepped out onto dry land, they passed through death & out into life
with their God. Their enemies meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. What God did at Passover long before, what God did through the Exodus from Egypt, God is going to do in a greater way in Jesus, His faithful Son.
That’s the 1st truth emerging from Luke’s Gospel. It’s Passover & this time there will be a greater salvation, a greater deliverance than ever before, a greater movement into death & out again into life.
Here’s the 2nd truth. Evil is going to come against Jesus. Evil men of every sort, & Luke emphasizes that the evil one, Satan himself, is the driving force behind the plan to destroy Jesus. Just look at the line-up of evil in these verses.
Verse 2, at the Passover, “…the chief priests & the scribes were seeking how to put Him to death, for they feared the people.” (Luke 22 ESV) The priests & the scholars who were supposed to guide & uphold the people, preparing them to receive their own Messiah, these men were looking for a way to put Messiah to death. And Luke says, “for they feared the people.”
Did they think the people would defend Jesus, would stop them from doing evil to Him? If so, they overestimated the faith & the courage of the people. But it’s not just these twisted religious leaders. Luke rushes on; verse 3: “Then Satan entered Judas called Iscariot.” Satan has been the evil “strong man” who hates God & who makes people his captives.
In Luke 13 Jesus healed a woman whom Satan had bound with illness for 18 years. In Luke 10 Jesus sent out 72 disciples. They cast out demons, & Jesus said that He saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Satan is the strong man, but Jesus is the stronger man who has come to bind Satan. Now the evil one engages in the battle to destroy the Son of God.
And Satan uses ... Judas! We may be so accustomed to the story that we don’t even feel the shock & the tragedy of that. He was one of the twelve ... Judas! We don’t know & we must not guess how it happened ... but Judas! He approaches the chief priests & together they make a plan. They think they need to avoid a crowd – but the crowd will turn on Jesus too, & cry out for Him to be crucified. At the 1st Passover in Egypt, the evil was bad enough. As Judas gives Jesus a kiss, it is worse. Evil is coming – against the very Son of God.
Now, a beautiful 3rd truth from this reading. This truth is made all the more wonderful because of the 2nd truth we just highlighted – the evil in verses 2-6. That evil is like the darkness that grows all around you when thunderstorms are building & rushing toward you.
Human enemies. A human traitor. The great supernatural enemy. These are all allied, joined together – whether they know it or not – against Jesus. As we know, their plan is going to work even better than they hoped & probably prayed for. The people will not defend Jesus; the crowd too, will cry out for His death, His destruction.
Verses 2 – 6 of the reading are filled with evil that is going to happen, but the 3rd truth emerges when Luke emphasizes something at verse 7 & four times thereafter. Five different times, Luke tells us that everything is ready; things are prepared.
“Prepare the Passover ... Where shall we prepare? ... A large upper room furnished ... prepare there ... & they prepared the Passover.” Prepared. Ready. The Lord Jesus has made arrangements. He has made sure that things are ready, that everything is prepared.
All that is because Jesus is ready; Jesus is prepared. He knows about the evil, He knows what is coming. He knows that all He will have left is to trust ... & to know ... that the Father’s plan is coming true. His plan is bearing fruit. That’s why in Luke, & only in Luke, the last thing Jesus says from the cross is, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Evil is coming, & God’s plan – GOD’S PLAN – is for evil to do its worst, for sin & Satan to rule. Jesus says this, only in Luke when He is arrested, “This is your hour, & the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:53b ESV) But Jesus is ready, & He knows that in this greater rescue than Joseph accomplished for his brothers, in this greater exodus than Moses performed, Jesus knows that His enemies meant everything for evil, & that they would do the ultimate evil. But Jesus’ Father meant it for good, so that the greatest salvation of all will come.
Peter thinks he is ready to die with Jesus, but he is not. The women don’t believe that Jesus will rise from the dead, so they get spices ready & on that 1st Easter, they go to anoint the corpse of Jesus. They were wrong.
Jesus is ready to face the evil & take it into Himself. He knows that God the Father will raise Him from the dead & give a victory over sin & evil that will never, ever pass away. Everything is ready.
What parts will you & I be tempted to play in the evil that comes against Jesus? We will explore that this Lenten season, & by God’s grace, once again we will repent & turn away from that evil, whatever form it takes in our daily living.
What doubts plague you, as you see the power of evil in our world? How often does fear cripple us, & deceive us into thinking that maybe God can be caught off guard, that He was not ready for the evil this time? There are people in Ukraine struggling with that doubt this very moment.
This Lenten season we will open up our fears & our doubts, in order to give them to Jesus because He has undone the evil, & He lives forever. Because He lives, nothing – not death or life, Satan or struggle nor anything else – nothing can separate us from God’s love in His crucified, risen, ascended & returning Son. Our Jesus. Our Savior!
When the Lenten journey is finished, how will our faith be different? Well, in the most important way of thinking, Christian faith is never different – it is always the same, holding on to God’s promises & relying utterly on Jesus. But this Lent we can pray that our faith will grow, & our grip will tighten as we hold on to Jesus. We can pray that our mouths will be opened, & we will say to Satan, & to every enemy, & strangely even to ourselves:
“You cannot take God by surprise. Jesus is ever ready, ever ready to save & to redeem. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” In the name of the Father, & of the Son, & 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. LSB 436:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet