Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Salvation from ourselves. . .

Sermon for Lent 2C, preached by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich on Sunday, February 21, 2017.

Have you ever seen a young child deliberately ignoring their parents’ directions?  They look at their mother as they slowly grab that forbidden cookie.  Do you know of a teenager who’s broken the house rules?  They quietly sneak in an hour after curfew, trying not to wake mom and dad.  Or have you been with an adult who knowingly broke a law; even one may seem small?  Driving past the 35 miles an hour speed limit sign, they accelerate to 40. 

Of course, all of us can answer “yes” to these questions.  We all know of people, both young and old, who’ve ignored and rejected the words of those who’ve been set in authority above them; and when we look at ourselves, we see that we’ve done the same, in our younger years, and even today. 

We do this because we’re by nature a rejecting people.  Because of our sinful nature, we don’t like being told what to do and what we can’t do.  We reject the authoritative words of others, and in their place, we follow after our own words.  We want to decide moral right and wrong for ourselves.  We want to decide what to do and when to do it. 

There’s no authoritative word that’s rejected more than God’s Word.  Ever since that day when Adam and Eve rejected God’s Word and instead followed Satan’s word and their own desires, God’s Word has been rejected by us each and every day, over and over and over again.  The world’s history is filled with us humans, God’s creation, rejecting Him and His Word.  We hear of this rejection in our readings today. 

In the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:8-15), we hear that the priests, prophets, and all the people wanted Jeremiah killed because he proclaimed God’s Word.  God sent Jeremiah with this message, “Thus says the LORD: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth” (Jer 26:4-6).  The people of Jerusalem didn’t like this message, so they rejected it and rejected the man who brought it.  They grabbed hold of Jeremiah and said, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city: (Jer 26:11).  They wanted the messenger of God dead because he spoke God’s Word, and they didn’t like what God’s Word said.  And this is the same for us.

Now I hope none of us have ever tried to kill anyone who’s spoken God’s Word, but there are times when we reject them.  We hear a pastor speak the Law and we hate him for it.  He points out our sin and we turn on him.  We call him names and we talk about him behind his back, criticizing everything that he does.  We attack this messenger and reject the message he speaks.  We say, “Well Pastor, that’s just your opinion.”  Or we claim that God’s Word was only relevant for 1st century people because we’re more educated and knowledgeable today.  We deny that Scripture is still authoritative and still applies today.  We ditch it for other words, words that we consider more acceptable, pleasing, and right.

Jesus laments over our rejection of God’s Word, just as He lamented over Jerusalem’s.  He cried out over the city, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!  Behold, your house is forsaken” (Lk 13:34-35a).  The people of Jerusalem were notorious for rejecting God’s Word.  Over and Over again they turned their backs on it.  They rejected the prophets who spoke it, like Jeremiah, and now they were rejecting Jesus, the true Prophet, God’s Word made flesh.

Christ lamented how the people of Jerusalem refused to be gathered and brought back to God under the protection of His Word.  Repeatedly, God sent prophets to call the people back in repentance, and repeatedly they refused.  And then He sent His Son to speak, to gather His people, and they still rejected Him.

And this is the same for us.  God continually calls us back, wanting us to be gathered under the protective wings of His Word, but instead, we run away like baby chicks with our heads caught off, going this way and that.  We refuse to be gathered into His church where we are protected with His true Word and Sacraments.  Instead, we follow after false words that say we can find Christ anywhere.  We reject God’s definition of marriage and life and we accept the world’s.  We deliberately ignore His commands and do the opposite.

All this rejection isn’t without its consequences.  Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem was a lament over her sin; but it was also a lament over the destruction that awaited her for it. 
Our rejection of God and His Word leads to our destruction.  St. Paul puts it like this, “For many...walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:18-19).  When we reject Christ, when we refuse to listen to God and His Word, when we resist being gathered under Jesus’ protection, we’ll receive the destruction of hell.  When we seek instead after our own thoughts, when we listen to ourselves and make ourselves gods, we’ll eternally suffer with no hope of relief.  We’ll  receive an everlasting death, we’ll be forsaken, just as the city of Jerusalem was.
And we certainly deserve this.  We rightly should be punished for our continual rejection of God and His Word.  If someone refused you over and over again, you wouldn’t give them the time of day.  But God doesn’t do this.  Even though we repeatedly refuse Him and reject His Word, He still comes after us.  He still calls us back in repentance.  That’s why He sent His prophets over and over again.  That’s why He sent Jeremiah, so that the people would hear God’s Word and mend their ways and their deeds (Jer 26:13).  And that’s why He sent Jesus, His only Son, the Word incarnate, so that He might overcome our rejection of Him. 
God saves us from ourselves, He overcomes our rejection by rejecting His own Son.  As Jesus hung on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34).  God the Father turned His back on His Son, He rejected Jesus because Christ was carrying the sin of the whole world.  Jesus took all sin, He took your sin, all your rejection, and on the cross He suffered your destruction.  In the ultimate turn-about, God forsook Christ so that you might not be forsaken.  In love, grace, and mercy, God sentence Jesus to death on the cross in your place, so that you might be gathered under the Jesus’ protection, so that you might be saved from destruction by Jesus’ blood. 
And this sacrifice of Christ on your behalf is acceptable to God.  Instead of being rejected by Him, you’re brought into the kingdom of heaven.  You've been made a citizen of the new Jerusalem.  Paul writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:20-21a).  Right now, we live in a world filled with sin, rejection, destruction, and death.  But this earthly life is only temporary.  Our true citizenship is in heaven, paid for by Christ’s blood.  And when the time comes for us to be called home to our true city, we’ll no longer experience the sin, rejection, destruction, and death.  Instead, we’ll be under God’s protective wings and we’ll rejoice in His Word forever. 
During this Lenten season, we contemplate our rejection.  We examine ourselves and repent of all the times we’ve refused to be gathered by Christ, for all the times we’ve ignored God’s word.  During this Lenten season, we look to the cross where Jesus sacrificed Himself, where He endured the Father’s rejection, so that He might save us from ourselves and destruction.  During this Lenten season, we thank God for continuing to seek after us, for continuing to send messengers with His Word, for gathering us into His church, and for making us citizens in heaven.  In Jesus name...Amen.



Anonymous said...

“C. F. W. Walther, “Law and Gospel”
Thesis XXV.
In the twenty-first place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.” The text does not say that Lent is an exception.
Secondly: Where the sermon reads, “As Jesus hung on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34). God the Father turned His back on His Son, He rejected Jesus because Christ was carrying the sin of the whole world.” Well, “if He rejected Jesus, because Christ was carrying the sin of the world”, then our sins cannot be forgiven. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself” by rejecting His own Son? The One about Whom, just a few days earlier He said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased; listen to Him!”? This is the God “who changeth not”? I know it is the official doctrine of the LCMS, but it is time we reconsider this abomination and reject it.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Marquart,

Your remarks are very interesting and it left a few questions for me. As I understand it, God didn't change, but Christ did when He took the sins of the world on himself. If my sin isn't imputed to Christ, then how can his righteousness be imputed to me? Or maybe you don't dispute the idea of imputation? The absolute idea that God cannot tolerate sin seems to be in question here, or do I miss your point entirely? I will look for your response and thanks for your note.

In Wyoming

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anonymous from Wyoming. To me it is unquestionable that the righteousness of our Lord is imputed to us. My sins were imputed to Christ in the sense that He made a sacrifice of Himself to “take away the sins of the world.” The book of Hebrews is quite clear on that.
If Christ had been punished for our sins, we would not need forgiveness, because a just God would consider the matter over. But in Jeremiah 31, He says, “I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more.”
Where in Scripture does it say that Christ changed? If Christ became a sinner, de facto, then we are still in our sins. The fact that He did not change, even on the cross, is attested to by the writer of Hebrews, 2:10, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
I don’t know where the notion came from that God could not tolerate sins and the only way to deal with it is to punish His Son for them. Anselm had something to do with it, but both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox reject it. The argument against “penal substitution” is overwhelming. The idea that there could be a conflict between members of the Most Holy Trinity violates all of the creeds of Christendom. I think that the only reason we Lutherans still cling to it is that we are obsessed, similar to the Roman Catholics, with the idea of the infallibility of our own dogma.
If there is one thing we should all learn from the Old Testament, it is that sacrifice is ordained by God to atone for sin. Then, when it comes to the greatest sacrifice of all time, we say, “punishment.” It is an abomination to sully the greatest act of perfect love by God for His people with the idea that rage and hatred had anything to do with it.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Mr. Marquart,

I see your name surface on many Lutheran pastor's blogs (and very solid Lutheran pastors too). Usually it is to correct, rebuke, or admonish. I'm puzzled. You're not a pastor, but you seem to think you know more than most pastors do. You are not called to preach, but you continually tell those who are, what they should say. You're not a seminary professor, yet it appears you think there is much that pastors can learn from you. Those that can't do, teach...is that how the expression goes? There appears to be a complete lack of humility on your part. If you want to be a pastor so badly, perhaps you should go to seminary to become one.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous: When I see something that really moves me in a positive way, I try to respond appropriately. On the other hand, when something really strikes me as being wrong, then I address that as well. Fundamentally, it is a matter of whether or not the pure Gospel is proclaimed.
Now, whether I am right or whether I am wrong is not determined by whether I am a pastor or not, but whether I am right or wrong on the issues I raise. If you are saying that lay people should know nothing but submit in everything to an ordained pastor, I do not think you could justify that position either from Scripture or from the Confessions. But the fact also remains that some LCMS pastors do agree with me.
So, if you have any counter-arguments to what I have written in this post, I will be happy to consider them. But please do not try to legitimatize the ad hominem fallacy.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart