Saturday, February 2, 2008

Tomorrow's sermon

February 3rd – Matthew 18:31-43 – Quiquagesima Sunday

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

And so, the disciples are walking with Jesus – and Jesus is approaching Jerusalem, approaching His own crucifixion – and Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “See”. See. Be aware, pay attention, look – see what is going to happen, for I am going to tell you what will happen. See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the gentles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise. Seems pretty straightforward. Clear cut. Not only does Jesus tell them what is about to occur, but He even points out, hey, this is what Scripture prophesies – that whole suffering servant, that whole crush Satan’s head but getting a bruised heel thing. It’s all pointing to this – Crucifixion and resurrection.

And then comes what seems to be a completely confusing verse. But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. What do you mean they didn’t grasp what was said? Didn’t Jesus just spell it out for them all nice and blunt? How more clear could it be? How more plain and blunt could Christ’s Words be? We can’t even ask Him to spell it out for them because He just did. And yet, we are told that the disciples didn’t get it – went right over their heads.

Why? We hear this verse, and we are shocked and perplexed – we don’t get how the disciples could have not gotten it. Let’s look at why they don’t get it. Let’s figure out where they were, what they were thinking – and that might give us a clue to why they are so clueless. Now, who are these disciples? They are people who have dedicated their lives to following Jesus – they are with Him all the time, they are learning at His feet. They have seen His miracles, His might, His power. They have seen the crowds become angry at His teaching, pick up stones to stone Him – and yet He walks through unscathed. They have seen Him halt an angry mob about ready to stone an adultress. They have seen all that Jesus can do – His power, His Might, His Strength.

For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. Delivered? Handed over like a captive? Not our Jesus! Who is going to bind Him? And will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. What? You mean Jesus, who with ease turns aside every taunting, mocking question asked Him by the Pharisees and Scribes, He’s going to be mocked and spit upon? What are you talking about? And after flogging Him, they will kill Him. No, no, not this Jesus, He isn’t the type to be captured, to be put to death. He’ll be able to escape – no earthly power can stop Him! That part about that third day rising – eh, who cares about that – it’s not even going to get to that because there’s no way Jesus would be so soundly defeated like that!

The disciples had their eyes fixed solely upon Christ’s power and might – they love their own idea of whom Jesus was supposed to be. They liked Him as a Superhero – as someone who could leap tall buildings in a single bound. And they didn’t like anything that said otherwise. Okay, that’s all very well and nice pastor, but Jesus told them these things were going to happen – why didn’t they believe Him?

Let me ask you a question. How often have you refused to believe something was true? How often have you gone into denial? How often when someone has spoken the hard, harsh truth to you, have you stopped up your ears and not listened? How many of you know how to run so quickly and easily to dreams of better days, and ignore the cold hard reality – ignore the writing on the wall? I’m sure if we sat down, had a group discussion, every one of us could give dozens of examples where we were just sure that something was going to happen – although with distance and hindsight, we know we were just fooling our selves. That’s what the disciples were doing here. But note something very, very important. This text is not a warning about false hopes concerning elections or sporting events or work or romance – what were the disciples’ false hopes on?

The disciples had false hopes of earthly glory, glory spilling out into public view – where all would see and say, “Wow, these guys are following the right Guy, look at all they have.” In reality, they sought their own glory – they saw Christ primarily as the person who would make their lives great and wonderful – and so they miss the point. Now, oh member of Zion – what of you? Does this desire for earthly glory sometimes impact you? Is it a way Satan seeks to move your eyes off of Christ? Yes it is, isn’t it? We can be more worried that we have a good reputation so that people will think we are great – more than we worry about a poor reputation driving people away. And this is no new thing, this is nothing uncommon to the Church. Hear now the Words of Martin Luther from his commentary on Galatians, which is apt to this whole discussion. “No one is so firm in repelling the most deadly vice of vainglory that he does not need constant prayer in order to be able to do so. For who, even when he is pious [that is good, decent], does not delight in the praise people accord him? The Holy Spirit alone is able to keep us from being infected with this pest.” This is why every Sunday before I step in this pulpit, I myself pray a prayer Luther writes, which asks God that I myself not seek glory or praise for my preaching – but rather that it point solely to Christ and that I too would learn. The sinful human heart loves nothing more than receiving glory and praise – and this takes our eyes off of Christ – indeed, turns Christ into nothing but tool, a source of glory for us.

All too often, just like the disciples, we too don’t see, we too don’t understand. And so it is fitting for us that right after the disciples are unable to see – they come across a man who is blind. And what does this blind man do once he hears that Jesus of Nazareth is coming? He cries out – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He calls out rightly – not give me glory, not give me stuff – have mercy on me. I am afflicted, relieve my afflictions. Have mercy on me – the very same cry we utter over and over here in our worship – if in our vain glory we don’t decide to cut that out, decide that it’s too much of a downer. It is also interesting to note, dear friends, what people’s reaction to this is. And those who were in front of him rebuked him, telling him to be silent. Be quiet with this mercy thing! You are annoying. You aren’t what we want – we want glory, we want power! Away with you, you blind beggar – shut up and suffer in silence – we want nothing to do with you. And the one in need is scorned. Yet the same thing could easily happen here, couldn’t it? Someone dirty and crusty walks through those doors – shock and horror, what is he doing here? The sinner seeking mercy shunned.

The blind man, though, is persistent. He continues to cry out – have mercy on me. And Jesus stopped, and commanded him to be brought to Him. Bring him to me – don’t let this person grope darkly – bring him. And when he came near, He asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight, your faith has made you well.” The man is healed – and he gives thanks to God, gives praise and glorifies, not himself, but God. The blind man, though He couldn’t see physically – he saw rightly, he understood who Jesus was – not the giver of glory – but the one who has mercy, the one who has compassion, the one who shows love and care, no matter what the cost – even at the cost of His own suffering and death.

Dear friends – this Wednesday we begin another Lenten season. Services on Wednesday at 7. What we do in Lent is we pause, we focus, we stop behaving like the clueless, glory seeking disciples here – and we see Christ for who He is – the One who gives mercy. We see ourselves for who we are – the ones in need of mercy, always in need of mercy, always having sin to struggle against, always having sins in need of forgiveness. We need Lent, for we, especially we in America, have been filled with vain hopes and glory – we view God through our pocketbooks and our stomachs and from our nice comfy chairs. The old German word for Lent – what this season was referred to right here in this place not a century ago – is “fastenzeit” – Fasting time. The time where we fast to remember that God isn’t about our stomach, our wants, our passions, our glory. Rather, we remember that He is the God who suffers and dies for us – who lives not to have a rich life Himself, a God who doesn’t seek His best life now – but a God who willingly endures the shame of the Cross, who allows His Body to be beaten and broken and given to death, that we might have life.

Dear friends, be not blind – but see that God is merciful – that He desires, that His greatest joy is to give you mercy and forgiveness. Take and Eat, take and drink – do this often. God desires you to be forgiven, to receive His forgiveness – He delights in giving you mercy whenever you cry for it. For the next seven weeks as we progress towards Good Friday – let our eyes no longer be focused on the vain pleasures of the world, but rather let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith – that faith by which we receive and hold onto forgiveness and life everlasting. This is my constant prayer for you – that you would more and more seek God’s mercy and delight in His forgiveness – and I would that it be your prayer for me and for each other in this Lenten season as well. The Lord be with you in the weeks to come. Amen.

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