Sermon for Lent VIB, preached on Sunday, March 11, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich
Zombies have become very popular in our culture in the recent years. TV shows and movies, videogames, even zombie toys for young children are top sellers. For some reason we’re fascinated with the idea of the ½ dead walking around trying to eat our brains. Sadly though, what we think of only as gory fantasy is actually reality. The walking dead are real. We’re the walking dead. We’re dead in our sin and trespasses, and not just ½ dead, we’re completely dead.
St. Paul is very clear about the state of our non-life. “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:1-3).
When we look into the mirror, we appear to be alive. We breathe and think. We walk and eat and go to work. We feel our hearts beating in our chest. All of this suggests that we’re alive, but we’re not. God’s Word tells us what we are...we’re sinners, walking dead.
We’re dead in our sin for the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). All of the things we do that make us appear to be alive, they’re infected with sin. Our original sin, that sin we were born with, that sin we inherited from our first parents, it’s like a virus that’s made its way into our DNA. It kills our bodies and souls. It drives us to follow after Satan and his lies; listening to him instead of listening to God. It drives us to follow the ways of this world; to follow its definition right and wrong. It drives us to satisfy the evil desires of our flesh, the evil that comes from within our hearts. This is all we can do.
I think one of the reasons why we as a people are fascinated with zombies is because it gives us a false sense of being able to overcome death. All of the zombie movies and TV shows revolve around a group of people who defeat the undead. These stories appeal to our desire to defeat death. We want to be able to kill that which kills, and we often convince ourselves that we can.
There are many ways we try to get rid of the sin that kills us. We try to clean up our lives, to resist the temptations of the world. We try to keep our words and actions clean of sin, to live a perfect life. We try to make up for our sin by doing good. But none of this works. Sin isn’t just what we say and do, it’s also what we think. Sin is a condition in which were turned inward on ourselves. It puts us first. Even the desire to stop our sin so that we might live is turned inward. Our sin ultimately makes us our own god. We put ourselves in God’s place.
We can’t stop our sin, because we’re sinners...that’s what we do. There’s nothing we can do of our own power to save ourselves. You can’t kill what’s already dead. Dead in our trespasses we can’t overcome death. Dead men can do nothing. We’re like the Israelites who were bitten by the fiery serpents.
The people of Israel once again grew impatient with God. They complained saying they had no food and water, and yet the bread of heaven, the manna the Lord provided for them they loathed. In answer to this sin, God sent serpents that bit the people. There was no cure, no anti-venom to save them. Every bite was fatal. Once a person was bit, they were the walking dead.
Soon, the people realized the condition of death that plagued them. They recognized their sin and repented. The said to Moses, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord….Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us” (Nu 21:7). The people realized they couldn’t save themselves, only God could do this; and in His great mercy He did. He didn’t take the snakes away, but He provided the people with salvation. He gave them a bronze serpent on a pole, so that whenever a person was bit, they could look at it and live.
We’re just like these Israelites. We’re helpless in the fight against our sin that turns us into the walking dead. Nothing we do can save us from death. Only God can give us salvation. Only God can defeat death, and He does this not by taking it away, but by bringing us to life through the One who was lifted up on the cross.
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-16). The only way to overcome death is to bring the dead to life in Christ.
“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). God sent His only Son to die the death of sin, to die your death, so that He might raise you to life. You’re God’s creation, and with Fatherly love, He couldn’t leave you dead in your sin. He won’t let you be the walking dead. This isn’t what He planned for you. God’s plan is life, everlasting life, and the only way to this life is Christ on the cross.
Christ died for your sin, so that you might live. His blood shed on the cross heals the infection of sin. It’s the medicine of immortality that cures death. Looking to Him who died on the cross, looking to Him who rose from the dead, trusting in God’s gift of life, you’re brought to life. In the waters of Baptism, you were joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. God took you from being the walking dead and He made you a living saint. At His altar, He feeds you the bread of heaven, the very flesh of your Savior. Through this feast you receive forgiveness of sins and the nourishment of everlasting life.
We can’t kill what’s already dead. The only way to cure the walking dead is for God to bring us to life in Christ. Jesus, lifted high on the cross does that He died so that you might be raised to life. Trusting in God’s promises, we look to our Savior on the cross so that we might be made alive with everlasting life. In Jesus’ name...Amen.
“When we look into the mirror, we appear to be alive. We breathe and think. We walk and eat and go to work. We feel our hearts beating in our chest. All of this suggests that we’re alive, but we’re not. God’s Word tells us what we are...we’re sinners, walking dead.”
Presumably this sermon was preached to a group containing only unbelievers. Otherwise it is doing Satan’s work. It is Satan who wants to cast doubt into the heart of the believer.
Toward the end of the sermon, we read, “in the waters of Baptism, you were joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. God took you from being the walking dead and He made you a living saint.”
So which is it? The present tense is used in both cases. For a Christian sermon, should it not begin with the fact that we were “joined to Christ’s death and resurrection”? Or, if you cannot bear to give the Gospel predominance, at least use the past tense when referring to our former state.
And NO, we are not “just like those Israelites.” We live under a different covenant. Under this covenant, we have been “buried with Him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” I know it is Lent, and you are supposed to make people feel bad. But Christ is not crucified every year, nor are we made to be His children over and over again.
George A. Marquart
Doesn't Luther have a lot to say about us being saint and sinner at the same time? (“Simul iustus et peccator”)
Yes, Anonymous. Luther says a great deal on the subject. However, what Luther knew, and what our Lord and Scripture teach, is that the person who rises out of the waters of Baptism is a new man, not like the old man who was dead in his trespasses. Romans 6:17, “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” Before we were baptized, we were just “peccator.” After Baptism, we become “simul iustus et peccator.” The difference between the two is the difference between hell and eternity with our Lord. Hallelujah!
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
People are funny, as Art Linkletter would say. I once spoke with a young lady who told me she had visited a Lutheran church and noticed an odd pattern of sinning and asking for forgiveness every week. You see, she thought that once a person became a Christian, a born again Christian, sin was no longer a part of daily life. She thought it was rather hypocritical of the church and was put off by it. Many Christians think and feel the same way: “I’m a new creation and yet I can’t stop sinning. In fact sometimes I feel like I am the chief of sinners and don’t do what I want but the very thing I hate.” Sound familiar?
Anonymous, I am not sure that I understand what you are saying. Are you saying that what St. Paul wrote in Romans 6 is not true? Are you saying that St. Paul did not end his description of the dilemma you mentioned with the words, Romans 7:25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” And he goes on in Chapter 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This follows what is probably St. Paul’s greatest “therefore”, Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through Whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we boast of our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
Tell me where in Scripture it says we will ever stop sinning in this world. (1 John 3:9 requires a special explanation). The problem is that even regenerate man yearns for the Law, just as the people of Israel yearned for the fleshpots of Egypt. The Gospel is not natural to us. It takes faith to believe that God actually loves sinners who continue to sin, because the natural Law, which still has a grip on us, tells us that the unlovable cannot be loved. Remember that when our Lord gave us a New Commandment on the night He was betrayed, He did not say, “that you become less and less sinful.” No, he said, “That you love one another as I have loved you.” If we concentrate all of our energies on becoming “better”, we will miss out on what our Lord’s will is for us.
Yes, we are sinners, we will continue to sin until we die, but neither sinning more or sinning less will affect the salvation that is by grace, through faith. God does not abandon us when we sin; on the contrary, the Good Shepherd actively looks for, and rescues His lost sheep. Even during Lent. Hallelujah.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
“Anonymous, I am not sure that I understand what you are saying. Are you saying that what St. Paul wrote in Romans 6 is not true?”
Nope, far be it from me to disagree with St. Paul.
My dear fellow, anyone can see that you are a devout Christian and live by John 13:34-35 but you seem not to fully appreciate the duality of the Christian life before the Resurrection. You must come to terms with these passages as well:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 7:1
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
Remember your Baptism! Live a life of repentance and God will take care of the rest.
Thank you, Anonymous. I have no difficulty coming to terms with Philippians 1:6, inasmuch as it requires nothing of me, but God does all the work. With regard to 2 Corinthians 7:1, I am working on it. At the same time, I know, that on this earth, even while I continue to sin, God gives me and all believers undeserved perfection as a gift, as He promised in Jeremiah 31:34, “…for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sins no more.” All this because of Him Who takes away the sin of the world.
It is a good, in fact, excellent thing to remember ones Baptism, because through it, God gives us the sure promise of eternal life, even while we continue to languish as sinners on this earth. However, my Baptism calls me to joy more than it does to repentance. Romans 14:17, “For the Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” What an opportunity St. Paul missed to add “repentance"
Moreover, on the night He was betrayed, before St. Peter had denied Him, and before all of the Apostles had abandoned Him, when according to our tradition all is sorrow and darkness, He gave them this message, which should be the chief message of Lent, John 16:22, “So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” This He said just before, Hebrews 12:2, “…for the joy that was set before Him (He) endured the cross, disregarding its shame.” So don’t underrate joy, even during Lent.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
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