The Wound of Mockery
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters,[d] and they gathered the whole battalion[e] before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
Dear Friends in Christ,
· Last week, we heard Peter wounding Jesus by denying three times before the rooster crowed, denying as predicted, we see Jesus looking Peter in the eyes and Peter looking away in shame, we see a wounded Jesus Christ proceeding to the cross, as predicted, on behalf of Peter and all of us who have wounded Him by not standing up for Him under pressure, we rejoiced that by his wounds we have been healed, we looked forward to that day when He will confess us before His Father in heaven.
· Two weeks ago, we saw Peter, James, and John wounding Jesus by falling asleep instead of staying awake, watching and praying, we saw how drowsiness can turn into apathy and how apathy can go ugly in a hurry, we saw a wounded Jesus praying, crying, sweating great drops of blood, proceeding to the cross, on behalf of all who have meant well but have fallen into a lukewarm of Christianity. We rejoiced that by his wounds we are healed, we rejoiced that our God is a God who never slumbers, never sleeps, is at our side in every situation.
· Three weeks ago, we saw Judas wounding Jesus, as predicted, by betraying with a kiss, we saw how betrayal comes from friends, we saw Jesus proceeding to the cross with grace in his heart and not bitterness, we rejoiced by his wounds we are healed, that by virtue of his death and resurrection, our sins are remitted, our souls saved, our heavenly mansions on reserve.
· Four weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel cried out for God’s people in all generations to see in the mirror of God’s law how far we have strayed, to see at the cross how far our Savior has come for us, we were reminded by the sign of the cross that from dust we came and to dust we shall return, we rejoiced that although the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
· Today we see Roman soldiers having some fun at Jesus’ expense. We see them stripping Him naked, putting a purple robe on him, twisting a crown of thorns into his head, putting a floppy reed in his right hand, kneeling before him, and mocking him as a fake king. We see them insulting him in the best way they knew how, by spitting, we see them smacking him on the head and having the time of their lives, killing some time, thinking to themselves how big and how important and how funny they were. We see Jesus today. We see Him wounded, we hear Him to be silent, we watch as he goes as a lamb silent to the slaughter. We see him proceeding to the cross, as predicted, we see him with pity in his heart instead of bitterness, with love for his enemies instead of hated, with a desire for mercy instead of vengeance.
· Two truths we want to learn one more time as we stand with Jesus in the governor’s headquarters, as we see Roman soldiers taking over, as we confess the times we have made fun of Jesus by making fun of one another.
1) We see how cruel people can be, even though we’re not exactly sure what their motives are. (Advice from a presenter at a pastors’ conference – to avoid at all costs trying to figure out people’s motives)
2) We see how deep is God’s love for us, and we know exactly what His motive is. (How blessed we are as often as we fix our eyes on Jesus Christ and why He suffered what He suffered and did what He did)
· We see how cruel people can be, even though we’re not exactly sure what their motives are. Even though we say again and again that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, there were all kinds of Jews and all kinds of Gentiles with all kinds of motives who joined in on the wounding and the crucifying.
1) When Jesus was arrested, there was a great crowd of chief priests and elders of the people, crowds including all kinds of common Jewish people. Their motives? Maybe they were angry, maybe they were jealous, maybe they were afraid, maybe they were going along with the crowd, maybe they just wanted to be part of history, who knows? What we do know is why Jesus kept on proceeding, it his desire to do what his father had sent him to do, it was his desire to pay the price nobody else could pay, it was his desire to
2) At the mock trial before a Jewish council, the Jewish ruling elite joined in. Their motives? Maybe they were angry, maybe they felt threatened, maybe they were afraid for the future, maybe they were feeling guilty about the past, maybe what Jesus had said really irritated them, maybe the miracles he had performed really were upsetting their apple carts, who knows? What we do know is why Jesus Christ set his face like flint for Jerusalem, we know his motive, it was for the joy set before Him that He endured the worst kind of mockery, it was for the joy set before Him that He endured the cross, He scorned its shame, He was crucified until He was dead and buried. His desire was to be our Savior and King, His motive was mercy, His end goal was to save our sorry souls.
3) Before Pontius Pilate, there was a Gentile ruling class who joined in on the mocking, they joined in on the wounding, they joined in on the Thursday evening festivities. They thought it was hysterical – a Galilean peasant pretending to be a king.
4) So also did the Roman soldiers get in on the fun / perhaps they had some time to kill / maybe they just had a mean streak in them / maybe some of them felt guilty about it/we don’t know their motives / maybe it made them feel important / maybe it made them feel big / we don’t know / they wound Jesus with their mockery. Three aspects of their mockery we note:
a) Stripped him naked and put a scarlet robe on him / scarlet is a symbol of kingly authority / we remember the Old Testament tabernacle where God dwelt with His people and forgave their sins through the blood of sacrifices / we hear Isaiah predicting, “tho their sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow / we hear Jesus praying, Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing /we hear from Jesus silence and we watch one unblemished lamb going forth to the slaughter
b) Twisted together a crown of thorns, put it on his head and put a reed in his hand, kneeling before him and mocking him / I don’t know what it is like to be mocked / High school stories of Annette, Linda, Jane / stories of not standing up for others getting made fun of / Debi / why can teens be so cruel? / adults hearing name of God used in vain and saying nothing / society openly making fun of traditional doctrines and saying little or nothing / why can adults be so cowardly and passive and let such mockery continue? Don’t know / What we do know is that on the Last Day, Jesus will say when I was hungry….when I was thirsty…..when I needed someone to stand up for me, you did……….He won’t remember the times we humiliated others to make ourselves feel big and important, He won’t remember the times we were quiet when we should have spoken up and the times we blurted sarcasm when we should have been quiet.
c) And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him / Why spit? / I can remember a few spitting contests with my cousins – for no particular reason / Perhaps they wanted to insult / perhaps it just felt fun / perhaps it was their custom /we would look at the painting today and look at the mirror at the same time / When children make fun of teachers behind their backs, they are making fun of Jesus / when teens roll their eyes in sarcasm at their teachers, you are rolling your eyes at Jesus / when we adults make fun of others / when we make jokes at the expense of others / when we look down our noses at others for whatever reason,we are wounding Jesus / and yet Jesus proceeds to the cross/sent by His Father / helped by crying women and Simon of Cyrene / pushed and shoved by soldiers /
He is stripped, that our sinful nakedness might be clothed in the bright robe of His righteousness. He wears a crown of thorns, that we might wear a royal diadem. He is beaten and mocked, that we might be welcomed and treasured. The everlasting love of God is on this Good Friday overcoming all hatred and all mockery. Jesus goes to the cross in kingly fashion. You see, none of this mockery can take from Him His majesty, His glory, His peace. He suffers all that He suffers and He walks every step that He walks with a burning love for sinners in every generation, those of us who have relatively easy roads to travel and those whose roads are incredibly rough.
This evening, I invite you one more time to not hide your faces from his, one more time as you look into His eyes / in this Lenten season:
· Do notice the humiliation, notice the mockery, notice the spitting even as you remember the waters of Baptism that have already washed over your soul and claimed you as sons and daughters of your Father in heaven.
· Do notice the despising, notice the rejecting, notice the bleeding, even as you rejoice that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from every one of your faults/ failures/ foibles.
· Do notice the crushing, notice the striking, notice the crushing, even as the forgiveness of sins sweeps over your souls - He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. Amen.
Just Words: Light of the World
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
Dear Friends in Christ,
In these four weeks of Lent, we have fixed our thoughts on the central article of the Christian faith. That we are justified by the grace of God through faith alone in Jesus Christ. Four different metaphors for the Gospel are before us, four different metaphors out of John chapters 3,4,9, and 11. Two weeks ago, the Gospel was a new birth, one week ago, Jesus offered living water, next week Jesus will declare Himself to be the resurrection and the life, today, Jesus identifies himself as the light of the world.
West End Township Darkness…Back in the fall of 72, Debi and I met up at Concordia College in St. Paul, and it wasn’t long before I took her to the little farm where I grew up to meet up with my family and show her off to my friends. Ever since, she has told the story of how dark it was out there in the countryside. Other than a few mercury lights dotting the countryside about every half mile or so, and if the stars weren’t shining, when we turned the lights off at night, it was dark. Debi had grown up in the city of Milwaukee, where she tells me, it’s never really dark. Add to the darkness a few black angus cattle grazing nearby and a few dozen boxelder bugs flying around, and it wasn’t long before she was asking me if we had any nightlights. The answer was no.
I tell you all of that to tell you part #1 of our sermon today, which is that
There’s darkness, and then there’s (darkness.) In our Gospel lesson for today, there is the man blind from birth who experienced physical darkness, and there’s the Pharisees who kept on choosing spiritual darkness. In real life, there’s folks who travel through days of trouble with a faith that is stronger than ever, and then there’s folks who travel through days of trouble declining in their faith and even losing it.
In the first part of our sermon today, we focus on the Pharisees, and in the second part. In the first part, we see spiritual darkness deepening, and in the second part, we see the light of the world shining more brightly than ever. Darkness is a metaphor for sinfulness. Paul writes to the Ephesians that they were once darkness but now are light in the Lord. Sin flourishes in dark places. It lurks in the back streets and alleys, it hides behind closed doors, it sneaks around in the hidden places.
Even more frightening than sin and darkness which lies around the next corner is the evil that lurks in the darkness of our own hearts. Who among us wants to have our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds exposed for all to see? Who among us would like to be totally transparent before God and others when it comes time for the confession of sins? Who among us want to be told, as the Pharisees were told by Jesus, that we’re blind as bats and have no idea what we are talking about? As the Pharisees engage in conversation first with the man born blind, secondly with the parents of the man just healed, and third one more time with man, finally with Jesus Himself, we have a case study in the dangers of the blind leading the blind. Three lessons we learn from the Pharisees about what not to do as we spend our days renouncing the devil and all of his works and ways.
Lesson #1 is that Darkness deepens when we keep on asking ( bad questions) I suppose there is some truth to the old adage that there are no dumb questions, but in John 9, we see the Pharisees asking one question of unbelief after another. (Story of Pastor Schauland on vicarage in response to a Bible class participant who kept on asking hard questions and didn’t seem to be listening, “that is a question of unbelief.” It’s clear in our text that the Pharisees weren’t interested in the truth of what had just happened. They started out with the false premise that Jesus was a sinner, they pushed and they shoved and they bullied in an effort to get the answers they desired, and even though the very Light of the World was standing nearby, their darkness just kept on getting darker.
The kingdom of God is like a man caught up in the sin of pornography. A big part of him knew he was playing with fire, another part of him kept on asking, “Am I really hurting anything? Am I really hurting anybody else?
Lesson #2 is that spiritual Darkness deepens as often as we refuse (to listen) The blind man told the Pharisees exactly how Jesus had restored his sight, but they didn’t want to hear it. They asked the man who he thought Jesus was, he answered “he is a prophet,” they didn’t want to hear it. The parents told them their son was in fact born blind, they didn’t want to hear it. Again and again the blind man told them he was blind and now he could see, they didn’t want to hear it. The man told them Jesus was from God and God would listen to the prayers of anybody who would worship him, they didn’t want to hear it, they went a step further and threw him out of the synagogue. They wondered out loud to Jesus if they were also blind, and when Jesus affirmed that in fact the very teachers of the church were spiritually blind, you guessed it, they didn’t want to hear it.
The kingdom of God is like a teenager whose grandparents keep inviting her to church, but she doesn’t want to hear it. Her parents keep warning her against hanging out with the party crowd, but she doesn’t want to hear it. Her own conscience bothers her on a regular basis, but she has found a way to tune that voice out.
Lesson #3 is that spiritual Darkness deepens when we make it a habit of taking (wrong turns). In our Old Testament lesson for today, God is described as a mighty warrior who had for a long time held his peace, but his patience had run out. His people had been taking so many wrong turns for so long they thought he was indifferent to their idolatry, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul pleads with Christians to take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness and to know that sooner or later, all things shameful will be exposed by the light.
The kingdom of God is like a married couple that keeps on ignoring the signs of a troubled marriage. Less and less do they confess their faults one to another, more and more time they spend explaining, excusing, and blaming. Less and less do they forgive as they have been forgiven, more and more likely they are to hold onto their bitterness and travel the road of self righteousness.
In the first part of our sermon today, we focused on the Pharisees who thought they could see, but were in fact blind. Now we consider the blind man who thought he would always be blind, but now he sees. We rest now in the truth that for you, the baptized and believing people of God, There’s a light at the end of every one of your (tunnels)
Jesus said it this way, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” In chapter 1 of his Gospel, John wrote that in Jesus was life, and the life was the light of men.” To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, For God, who said,’Let light shine out of darkness made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Peter writes to early and suffering Christians, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Dear friends in Christ, whatever fears and foes and failures are dragging you down these days, Jesus Christ has a desire to lift you up and get you on your way again. Whatever guilt of the past or worries of the future are overwhelming your heart today, know once again of your Father’s everlasting life, know once again of your Savior’s desire to have mercy, know once again the Spirit of God who would be your teacher, your counselor, your comforter. However lonesome and long are your tunnels of darkness these days, believe there is a way through, believe there is a purpose for every bit of your suffering, believe that Jesus Christ has gone on before you and even today He walks alongside of you. Three truths in closing, three stories by way of thinking about what it means to be walking as children of light.
Truth #1 is that Light shines more brightly as often as we ask (good questions).The kingdom of God is like a young couple who one day is ecstatic about being pregnant and the next is bent low in grief over the darkness of miscarriage. Initially they are angry, they think they deserve better, they ask, “Lord, how could you be so cruel as to let our little one die?” As the days go on, the Holy Spirit teaches them to be still, they begin to look forward, they ask, “Lord, would you help us not to be bitter? would you help us to trust in you? Lord would you be so kind as to take us by the hand and lead us? For what divine purpose are we suffering?
Truth #2 is that Light shines as often as we (listen well) The kingdom of God is like a middle aged woman whose husband dies suddenly. Initially she is angry, she thinks she deserves better, she asks why God is punishing her. As the days go on, she keeps on hearing the Word of God, she believes the Word of God, she holds close the Word of God. As the days go on, she wonders what the Lord might have in store for her, she wonders how the next chapter of her life might bring God glory, she wonders for what divine purpose she might be suffering.
Truth #3 is that Light shines for others as often as we stay on the (right path) The kingdom of God is like an elderly couple who has been walking hand in hand and humbly before the Lord for sixty years now. The Word of God has been a light unto their path and a lamp unto their feet. Without really thinking about it and just be being who they are, they let their light shine so that all kinds of family and friends see their good works and give glory to their Father in heaven.
Billy giving glory to God. (Story of Bill, born with Downs Syndrome, singing Gloria in excelsis deo every Christmas Eve. He was born with Downs Syndrome not because of his sin, nor the sin of his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
The Wound of Apathy
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch[a] with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on.[b] See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Dear Friends in Christ,
On the first two Wednesdays of Lent, the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, has invited us to be gathered, to be honest, to be sorry, and to be amazed. To be gathered into the presence of a gracious God, to be honest about the ways we have wounded our Savior, to be sorry for the ways we have betrayed our best friend Jesus, and to be amazed at our God’s desire to have mercy, to be amazed at a sacred head, now wounded. Again tonight, the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, to be gathered, to be honest and to be sorry specifically with regard to the sin of apathy, and to be amazed. Amazed at the desire of our God to have mercy, to spend some time focused on Jesus praying, His best friends sleeping, and the angels watching over.
Sit here, while I go over there and pray……So, could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Truth #1 – We have a standing invitation from Jesus to watch with Him and pray. (Jesus praying, disciples sleeping, Father listening, angels preparing cross) To stand and watch with Him against the enemies of the faith. 1) Sinful nature 2)Sinful world 3)Devil himself
The Setting is the Garden of Gethsemane. A garden where a man and his friends could come in the cool of the evening to get away from it all, for discussion, for relaxation, and for prayer. This garden is likely where an oil press was located. Most likely located near the trees so they didn’t have to carry the olives too far. For Jesus and His friends, this night was as dark as darkness can be. The soul of Jesus was as lonely as loneliness can get, as painful as pain can hurt. If you’ve ever had to drink a gallon of nasty tasting solution to get yourself ready for a colonoscopy the next day, and then multiply that by a thousand and then again by a million and then again by a billion, you will begin to taste what Jesus was about to taste. Jesus was about to drink a chalice full to the brim and even running over. Running over with the wrath of a righteous God and aimed at sinners in every generation.
It was the wrath of God aimed against all of our orneriness and poured into a solitary chalice. Aimed at all of our laziness and poured into a single container. Aimed at all of our wickedness and all of our nastiness and all of our self centeredness and all of our indifference an poured into one lonely chalice. Oh how our Savior was shivering and shaking like no one else had ever shivered and shook. Trembling and troubled like nobody else had ever been trembling and troubled.
The Simple Request of our Lord was that he not have to do this alone. It was that his three closest friends in life would watch and pray with Him for one hour. He was asking that they stay awake and be interested in what He was going through. He was wondering if they could stay close, stay awake, and be alert. Just for an hour or so, could they sensitive to his pain, could they feel what He was feeling, could they cry what He was crying, could they pray what He was praying?
Truth #2 is that apathy can get ugly in a hurry. (Jesus praying, disciples sleeping, angels preparing cross) “And he came to them and found them sleeping…..And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy…..He came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on….”
No doubt the disciples meant well, but they failed Jesus in a strong way. They cared for Jesus, but drowsiness prevailed. Their mistake may have been that they laid down instead of sitting or kneeling. (Story of my brother Curtis who made the mistake of driving when he was tired, it cost him his life.)
In an article, “How God cares for those who don’t”, Paul Maxwell defines apathy as “the disposition of dismissal or reluctance toward a particular idea, person, or group, often experienced as a lack of emotion. He lists five basic components to apathy.
1) Meaningless / “apathy is the emotional middle finger to meaning.” / it is to say “thanks but no thanks” to life’s purpose / blank stare / contrast with Luther’s “What does this mean?” and “How is this done? questions
2) Easiness / it’s easy to be apathetic / it is to put a “do not disturb” sign to opportunity and people / an emotional Saturday afternoon nap / Difficulty is considered a vice and ease a virtue / Way is easy and road is wide that leads to destruction
3) Trendiness vs. holding dear what we have been taught from our mother’s knees
4) Entitlement / apathy spreads when it becomes an assumption / we end conversations with a scoff, a shoulder shrug, a rhetorical confused look / we listen to a sermon with “when will this be over?
5) Stuck – Apathy’s “battle cry is ‘whatever’. Try to rouse the apathetic, and you have a real fight on your hands. Apathy is a powerful non emotion. It shackles you to yourself. It’s a motivational straight jacket that you can’t feel or try your way out of.” Truth # 2 – Apathy can turn ugly in a hurry.
Truth #3 is that Father knows best. Three times Jesus prayed earnestly (as disciples slept, His Father listened, angels prepared cross). He prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” / My soul is sorrowful, even to death / Luke writes, “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat become like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
The primary will of God is that whoever believes and is baptized be saved. The corresponding will is that whoever believes not be damned.
The will of God for us is that 1) we do the good works ordained by God for us to do, 2) we avoid the evil the devil tempts us to do, and 3)we suffer patiently whatever afflictions we face.
The will of God is to make disciples of all nations through a faithful Word and Sacrament ministry and that God get all the glory!
Author Paul Maxwell on Redeeming the Apatheetic / God keeps on loving us, keeps on pursuing us / doesn’t give up on us / we’re under construction.
· Affirmation / God affirms the “I don’t care” attitude towards trivialities / burns away the dross / faith is like gold which gets tested by the fire and impurity is driven out
· Invites us to rest / go to a quiet place / Divine Service / create in me a clean heart
· Security – Being secure in God means saying, “Things matter, and I care.” Goal #1 is to be faithful, effectiveness is secondary.
· Community –we travel together /we stir up one another towards good works / caring about the kingdom of God is contagious
· Himself –The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town more and more amazed by their Savior’s steadfast love. Regularly they see in the mirror how with regard to the kingdom of God they have fallen into lethargy, listlessness, and lukewarm Lutheranism. Regularly, they fix their eyes on their wounded Savior and see how patient, how peculiar, and how persevering is His love for them. Regularly, their sins of apathy are forgiven, their faith is strengthened, and their desire for the mission of God to go forward is renewed. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Just Words: New Life
John 3:1-17 – v. 3 - Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we begin a four part sermon series centered on the chief article of the Christian faith –in the courtroom of the Holy and Triune God, we are justified by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ. That whoever believes in Jesus as Savior will not perish but have eternal life. In this sermon series, the Gospel, the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ would be front and center. The Gospel is the first and the final word we want you to hear. We lean in a strong way on a book written by J.A.O. Preus, who has written a book called “Just Words: Understanding the Fullness of the Gospel.” In it he writes that the Gospel is more than words, but it is still words – words about the Word made flesh for us, words that convey the Word made flesh to us….is the Gospel just words? No! Never just words. Rather words that make us just.”
Four Gospel metaphors we put before you in these four Sundays of Lent. Next Sunday, Jesus is Living Water, the following Sunday – Jesus is Light in the midst of Darkness, the Sunday after that – Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Today, the Gospel is new birth, Jesus is synonymous with new life. the coming to faith in Jesus and receiving his life giving benefits is like being born anew by the power of God We contribute as little to our spiritual birth as we do to our physical birth – nothing.
Martha’s distress. Little four year old Martha loved dolls. She carried them wherever she went. She took them to bed with her. She changed their clothes. She spent all kinds of time loving them, talking to them, and spending time with them. One day she looked up at her mom with a distressed kind of a face and cried out, “Mama, I love them and love them and love them, but they never love me back!”
Could it be that our God in heaven above has had similar thoughts all the way through Old Testament days, “I have loved all of them with an everlasting kind of love, but so many of them do not love me back.” No doubt Jesus had similar thoughts one day when He looked out over Jerusalem and wept, “I love all of them and yet so many of them do not love me back.” Two lessons we want to put forward today about the love of God that came down from heaven above so that we you and I could be born again, so that you and I might have new life.
Lesson #1 is that New life comes from above for everyone but is received by (just a few). Or as Matthew records Jesus saying, “ For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. And again at the end of the parable of the great wedding banquet, perhaps with tears in his eyes, teaches “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
And in our text for today, Jesus wonders out loud how Nicodemus can a teacher of Israel and yet not understand that a man would have to be born again to be saved. Jesus had been doing all kinds of signs and wonders, but the religious leaders of that day would not believe that He was the Son of God. He had been bearing witness to truth, but Nicodemus and so many Pharisees would not receive his testimony. Jesus is that great light who has come into the world, but in so many ways people prefer darkness. That’s another way of saying that new life has come into this world, but in so many ways, people prefer the old and comfortable life.
Two simple truths we want to learn again about the new life that comes from above for everyone but is received by just a few. First, it’s at the same time free and (expensive). Salvation is free for us, but expensive for our Father in heaven – it cost Him His only Son. The forgiveness of sins is free for us, but so very costly for the Son of God, it cost Him His life. There’s no charge in this place to get your babies baptized, but if that water is going to be anything more than simple water, it has to be connected to Jesus Christ crucified, dead, buried, and risen again. Holy Communion is pure Gospel in this place, the forgiveness of sins is given freely and without condition, come just as you are, but as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we do proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.
A second truth about the new life coming from above is that it’s at the same time predictable and (surprising). When I say that the grace of God is predictable, I’m referring to what Lutherans call the means of grace. The means of grace are the ways by which the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts. They include the Word, Baptism, and our Lord’s Supper. In Baptism, babies are born again into the family of God, they are claimed as sons and daughters by the Triune God. That is predictable. When sinners hear the Word of God and believe it, they get new hearts. That’s predictable. As often as broken and contrite sinners eat and drink at their Lord’s Supper, their sins are forgiven, their faith is strengthened, the mercy of God sweeps over their souls and spills out into the lives of others. That’s predictable.
When I say that the new life coming from above can be surprising, I think of how it comes in all the seasons of life, at all times of the day or night, often when you least expect it. New life came into Abram and Sarah’s family, long after it was humanly possible for her to have a baby. New life came to Nicodemus at night time, as he wrestled with the idea that a grown up Pharisee would have to be born again if he wanted to see the kingdom of God. New life often comes to people in days of crisis.
The kingdom of God is like a middle aged man who hasn’t come to church for years, but now that he is recovering from a heart attack, he asks his pastor whether he would still be welcome at the Lord’s Table. The kingdom of God is like a young married man whose wife has left him for greener pastures, he cries out in prayer to His God why life has to be so hard. The kingdom of God is like parents whose teenager has committed suicide and they ask a thousand questions of themselves, to nobody in particular, and to God.
In all three stories just told, new life came from above, as they asked good questions, as they listened like they had never listened before, as the Holy Spirit taught them. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
One observation we can make about Nicodemus in John chapter 3. He asked good questions of Jesus. He put himself in a position where the Spirit of God could work on him. In a position where new life could come into his heart and mind. The next time we hear of Nicodemus is at the trial of Jesus,where he reminds his colleagues in the Sanhedrin that the law requires that a person be heard before being judged. The final time we hear of him, Nicodemus is assisting Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial.
Are you asking good questions these days? Are you asking the kinds of questions which put you in a position where the Spirit of God might teach you? The kinds of questions that could lead to new understandings, new insights, new directions in life?
Lesson #2 is to learn both from the stories of Abraham and Nicodemus that to believe in the promises of God means that life will never be the same again. New life takes us from the familiar towards the (unfamiliar). Our text says it this way, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” As often as we drown the old sinful adam inside of us with all of its crabbiness and orneriness by daily contrition and repentance, that often a new man, a new woman rises up on the inside of us with a spirit of kindness and patience. The old has passed away, surprisingly, the new has come! As often as the Spirit of God is ruling inside of us, that often we see the old sinful nature in the rear view mirror. As often as an infant is delivered into this world, that family has to look in their rear view mirror to see the old days of pregnancy and the pains of child birth. The familiar has given way to the unfamiliar.
In his rear view mirror, Abraham saw (idolatry). God was calling Abram to leave his surroundings of paganism an false beliefs and go to a land he would be shown when he arrived. He would be leaving a lifestyle where there was nothing but condemnation and death and to go to a place where he would live by faith in the promises of God’s grace. The familiar would give way to the unfamiliar.
In his rear view mirror, Nicodemus saw (self-righteousness). Jesus was calling Nicodemus to leave the teachings of the Pharisees and to be born again of water and the spirit. He would be leaving a lifestyle where men were still living according to the flesh and go to a place where he would live by faith in the Son of God. The familiar would give way to the unfamiliar.
What is it you need to be leaving behind these days? The Law of God is like a mirror, it can only show you where you are, what you look like, and what is wrong. The Gospel on the other hand shows you where Jesus has gone on your behalf, it gives you new life, it takes you in a whole new direction. The Law will always accuse you of being in the wrong place, the Gospel will take you to new places. The Law will always distress you, the Gospel will grant relief.
Delilah’s relief. The kingdom of God is like an elderly lady named Delilah we used to visit in the Waterville Nursing Home. She couldn’t remember much about life, but she trusted in Jesus as her Savior. Every month, I would ask her if she was sorry for her sins, if she believed in Jesus as her Savior, and if she wanted to amend her sinful life. She would answer yes. Every month I would tell her that Jesus loved her and that Jesus had died for her…..at which point every month Delilah would be very distressed. She would look me in the eyes and ask, “Jesus is dead? To which I would reply, “yes, Delilah, but He rose up again. He is alive.” At which point she would be visibly relieved. And say something like “thank goodness He’s not still dead.”
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where the folks are more and more understanding the fullness of the Gospel. More and more the Spirit of God is taking them from the familiar to the unfamiliar. More and more new life is coming from above and their God is getting all the glory. Amen.
The Answer Man
Dear Friends in Christ,
Temptation arrives (early and often)
The kingdom of God is like a school aged child who wakes up on a stormy school day hoping for a snow day but finds out there will be classes that day. Worse yet, they don’t even have a late start. First thing in the morning, a bad attitude sweeps over her soul, she doesn’t want to get up, she doesn’t want to brush her teeth, she doesn’t want to make her bed, she doesn’t want to cheerful. Temptation has arrived.
The kingdom of God is like a mother of young children who wants to sleep in late on a Saturday morning. Two of her kids have different ideas altogether. They are up, they are hungry, they have no desire to go back to their bedrooms and be quiet. First thing in the morning, a less than loving feeling sweeps over that mother’s soul, she doesn’t want to be cheerful, she doesn’t want to be up and at it, she is as far away from wanting to rise and shine as she can be. Temptation has arrived.
The kingdom of God is like a man who wants to take his family to church, he wants to lead his wife and children in a strong way to know the Lord, but over the years he has gotten out of the habit. Other habits have risen up and more days than not, they win the day. This Sunday morning is one of those days. A small still voice tells him to roust everybody out of bed and get them on the way to God’s house, but a louder voice has a different message. It sweeps over his soul and assures him that today is a good day to let people sleep, next Sunday will be a new beginning. Temptation has arrived.
In today’s Gospel lesson, the Spirit of God leads Jesus out into the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted. The Father has recently declared Jesus to be the very Son of God, and now was His appointed time to be tempted in every way that all of humanity will be tempted. In three ways, the devil tests the Son of God. He tempts Him first of all with regard to a basic need – food. Secondly with regard to fame, and third with regard to power. Food, fame, and power.
First he tempts Jesus to doubt God’s Word, secondly to twist God’s Word, and third to disobey God’s Word. In all three cases, Jesus quotes Holy Scripture as a way of resisting temptation. In all three cases, Jesus stays on track to follow His Father’s plan to save the world. In all three cases, Jesus had the perfect answer. Today’s sermon would fix our eyes on Jesus as the one with all the answers. Not only does He have all the answers to every question that matters in life, He is the answer to all that questions that matter in life. And so our sermon theme is “The Answer Man.
First of all, Jesus was Tempted to (doubt) God’s Word. Although Matthew tells us that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, it is also clear that Jesus went willingly. The temptations Jesus faced were serious efforts by the devil to rob the world of its Redeemer. Satan had been successful in leading the first Adam into sin so that a Redeemer would be necessary. The Greek word used for the devil is diabolos, from which we get the word diabolical. The meaning of this word is slanderer or liar; he is a constant liar. He is the father of lies. He invented the very idea of lying and told the very first lie.
For 40 days Jesus had neither food nor drink. For 40 days in a row, the Father had sustained him. It is interesting to note how frequently the number 40 occurs in the Bible. The great flood began with 40 days and nights of rain. Israel spent 40 days in the wilderness. Jonah had threatened the city of Ninevah they would be destroyed in 40 days if they did not repent. Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after Easter. This past week, the church worldwide kicked off 40 days of Lent, a season of living at the foot of the cross, admitting the messes we have made in our lives, crying out for forgiveness, a season of hearing and holding onto and treasuring the written Word of God.
In the Garden of Eden, the devil tempted Eve and Adam to doubt whether God had really meant what he said, and so also in the wilderness, he tempted Jesus to doubt that Father would do what He had already been doing. He tempted Jesus to take care of himself instead of trusting His Father to do what He had promised.
Instead of commanding stones to become bread, Jesus followed the plan to be the (Bread of Life). Instead of letting seeds of doubt grow, He answered with what the Spirit of God had already caused to be written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” For Jesus, life wasn’t about Him, it was about you and it was about me and it was about sinners in every generation. Our Epistle lesson for today reminds us that sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” That’s another way of saying (listen carefully now), we are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. E sin because we are born sinners. The proof of that is death. Jesus isn’t just the man with great answers today, He is the answer to every important temptation that may be arriving in your heart in this hour.
The kingdom of God is like a man who has just returned from a mission trip and is tempted to wonder why a loving and good God would permit millions of people to live in abject poverty, he is tempted to wonder why a loving and good God would allow so many children and teenagers to grow up with such hopelessness, tempted to wonder why a loving and good God would let it be true that brutality and criminality are in so many places on the uprise. The answer comes to him in this very hour, he is still, he knows that God is his refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. He remembers, greater love hath no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friends.
First Jesus was tempted to doubt God’s Word. Next, He is Tempted to (twist) God’s Word. The first temptation was intended to cause distrust, the second meant to engender a false trust. The devil quoted a promise of God to protect people by sending angels and suggested that if Jesus would not throw himself down, he would be showing a lack of trust in His Father. Luther commented, “If the devil does not succeed in robbing us of our confidence in God, he will go to the other extreme and try to make us cocksure and much too daring.”
Instead of throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus followed the plan that required Him to be (lifted up high). At a place called Massah, the people had put God to the test by demanding a miracle that he had not promised them. All of God’s previous miracles back in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness should have convinced the people that God could and would always provide for their needs.
Jesus knew in perfect fashion His Father could be trusted, He knew that the written Word of God was without error, he knew His Father’s plan was for him to be lifted high on across, He knew that His one act of righteousness would lead to justification and life for all men.
The kingdom of God is like a young couple caught up in a lifestyle they know to be wrong. On the one hand, they feel guilty, and on the other hand, they have their reasons. On the one hand, they want Jesus to be close, and on the other hand, they want him to be at a distance. In this very hour, they wonder if in fact they are twisting God’s Word to suit their own purposes. The answer comes as they sit still, they know that God is in fact their refuge and strength in every trouble, they hear one more time, Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
First Jesus was tempted to doubt God’s word, secondly to twist it, and finally Tempted to (disobey) God’s Word. After failing to trip Jesus up the first two times, the devil puts on his Monte Hall “let’s make a deal” hat and takes Jesus to a very high mountain, he shows him all the kingdoms of the world, he offers a way easier than the way of the cross. He offers a plan where Jesus would not have to suffer, He would not have to die, He would just have to bow down and worship, just this one time, nobody else would even be aware. Yet one more lie, yet one more promise Satan could not have delivered, yet one more shortcut that would in reality be a dead end. In this temptation, the tempter offered what he loves to offer – an earthly pleasure in exchange for heavenly joy.
Instead of gaining earthly glory for Himself, Jesus followed the plan that acts (for the sake of others). One of the more amazing passages in the Bible, at least for me, is the one where the writer to the Hebrews declares we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize / empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Jesus tempted in every way that I am tempted? Really?
The kingdom of God is like a man who is tempted early and he is tempted often to live for himself instead of another. Day after day he has one foot firmly planted in the world and one in the church. He wants the best of both worlds, even though he knows better. The good that he would he so often fails to do, and the bad habits he is trying to break, more often than not, he fails. Again and again he is tempted to take the path of least resistance, again and again he hears the Spirit whisper, “Greater love hath no man than this, than he lay down his life for his friends”, now he hears himself speaking up, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.”
Worship Sermons & Letters