Isaiah 66 // Hebrews 12:4-24 // Luke 13:22-30
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our sermon text is from Hebrews chapter 12. Just previous to this we heard the heroic lives of faith, the stories of those who thick and thin held fast to their faith… And our reading from last week ended with those iconic words of Hebrews 12, Let us throw off sin and run the race set out for us. And so, we hear the epistle writer turn to discipline, to pain, and to hardship.
He says, Your pain is for your good. Who wants to hear that? Who wants to say that?
The overriding theme of our epistle lesson is a hard truth: that the race we run is difficult and there will be drooping hands and weak knees. The writer to the Hebrews spells it out clearly: for the Christian, all hardship, all hurt, whether we bring it on ourselves, or others bring it to us or the random world brings it our way, all hardship is used by God for our discipline. All tumult and upheaval and unrest of our souls, whether we can see it or not, God uses to yield in us the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Can that be right?
If you are sons of God, and you are, then God longs to see you holy. If you are sons of God, and you are, then God longs to see you make the correct choices.
I remember back when I was a little boy and when my brothers were not so little, and at that time, I as a younger brother was pretty into wrestling my older brothers to prove my strength. And typically, when Mom and Dad were gone for an evening, I’d march around, demanding to wrestle, and as soon as they were sick of it, my brothers would put me in timeout by locking me in the bathroom. No doubt they wanted some peace and quiet. No doubt they were tired of the little brother acting the way he was, but I tell you all that to tell you this: the point of the discipline was to make me into a little brother that loved what they loved.
Then, Paul says it like this in Romans: not conformed to the world but transformed by the renewing of your mind. It is the thought that God would break every barrier down. He would take away any success that clouds your view of Gospel truth. And more than that, he would use any experience you’ve been given, whether good or bad, to draw you closer to him, to show you how to love as he loves, to do as he does, to see his holiness in you.
So, you might be asking yourself, Pastor Muther, that’s all well and good, but what am I supposed to do? And that’s a good question. Hebrews here says to strive for peace with all. Now, this isn’t a false peace. It isn’t just living alongside others; it means deep-seated peace. It means harmony with others and restored relationships. Guard yourself against a root of bitterness – make sure that your hardships and trials do not make your heart clench up and your compassion tighten.
I remember in Cross Country as we were running, our coach would hand us little wooden sticks and tell us to hold them. You see, the best way to run was with relaxed hands, arms and shoulders, with your eyes straight ahead but most people, myself included, when the race gets long and you get tired tend to look down at the ground, tighten your shoulders and clench your hands. He gave us those sticks to show us how tight we would get and to get us to relax.
These are challenges of the middle. Challenges of the beginning of a race are going out too fast, thinking too much of yourself, biting off more than you can chew. Challenges of the end are not finishing strong, or not knowing how soon the end is coming, but these are the challenges of the middle, to endure the long hardship well.
Raise up your eyes and look toward the horizon of God’s love. See the greater purpose that everything would have, and know by faith alone that God has woven all the days of his chosen people into the tapestry of his salvation, to show you the greatness of your God in love, in his sacrifice, and in his grace.
For we do not come to what may be touched. Here the writer to the Hebrews references Mount Sinai, with the people of Israel too scared even to touch it because of the wrath of God. From that fearful mountain they received the Ten Commandments. And yet, the writer to the Hebrews says, we do not worship what can be touched. We do not worship the laws of this world. We do not worship the elemental principals of nature; instead, we worship – and get this because it is explicitly and peculiar in its Christianity – we worship a God that willingly went under the laws of creation that he created in order to bear our sin and be our savior. We worship a God who out of those broken by hardship has created a people that will dwell in the New Jerusalem. We worship a God whose sprinkled blood surpasses the blood of Abel with a better word.
What does that mean? That’s a good question. His brother Cain in the first murder spilled the blood of Abel way back in Genesis 4. Moses writes that the blood cried out for vengeance. It cried out for this wrong, it stained the ground with its sin. But the sprinkled blood – the sacrificial lamb, who takes away the sin of the world – it washes all our stains and sins away.
It is indeed a better word that Christ speaks. He says, I have seen your sin and taken it upon myself. I have seen your hardship, and know that in the end all will be paid. I have seen all that the world, the devil and your own self would throw at you, and know that I have taken it all for you.
It is Christ who first suffered the discipline of his father for our sake. It is Christ who has received all the chastisement that we should have suffered. It is Christ whose holiness we share.
And this is a message that must go out to the nations. From Isaiah 66: I will send out my survivors to the nations, so that they declare my glory. Blessed are the ones that our Lord sends, even if he sends them through hardship. Blessed are the ones who hear the word of God, and not only hear it; but also do it. Blessed are the ones who pass through the narrow door, because they have taken ahold of their salvation now.
You see, that’s Jesus’ main concern in the passage from Luke. Someone comes up to him on the road and asks “Will those who are saved be few?” And he proceeds to answer a different question. The answer he gives is rather “Grab ahold of your salvation now! The time is now, the place is here! Don’t dally when it comes to salvation; don’t think you can do it later, come along and come quickly!”
You grab ahold of your salvation every time you remember in the invocation the words that were spoken over you in baptism, sealing you with the guarantee of the holy Spirit. You grab ahold of your salvation every time you place the bread which is Christ’s body and the wine which is Christ’s blood into you mouth and know that the promises of God are strong. You grab ahold of your salvation every time you confess your sins and receive the forgiveness of Christ. You grab ahold of your salvation every time you hear, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man clenching his hands wondering at the bitterness at the bottom of his heart. He’s wondering at how his life got so hard and how many choices he got wrong in the end. But in the middle of his guilt, in the middle of his shame, he remembers the better word of the Gospel, the way that Christ has sprinkled forgiveness over him, and so his hands unclench, his heart becomes less bitter and slowly but surely, the Spirit of God works in his heart to bring him in the end of his days, home.
Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther