SERMONS - FEBRUARY 2013
3 February 2013 - Epiphany 4 - Luke 4:31-44
Does Jesus want people to know that he is the Holy One of God - the personal fulfillment of all God’s promises? Does he want people to know that he is the Son of God - the Second Person of the Holy Trinity in human flesh?
Does he want people to know that he is the Christ - the anointed one, set apart to accomplish God’s will among men? I suppose we would all say “yes” to these questions without any hesitation.
Jesus wants people to know these things. That’s the whole point of the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Some of what was said and done in today’s text from St. Luke, however, might give the impression that Jesus wants to keep all this a secret, and that he does not want people to know these things.
We read: “And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’”
Again: “And demons also came out of many, crying, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.”
What is going on here? Why does he forbid the demons to declare, among the people of Capernaum, who he is?
Well, this is the reason: Jesus does not want people simply to be aware of these objectively true things about him. He wants people to know these things, only in such a way that this knowledge would be of saving benefit to them.
Jesus is not satisfied if you simply know that he is someone who makes promises. He wants you to have a personal confidence in his promises.
Jesus is not satisfied for me to know that he exists, and that he has done certain things. He wants me to have a deep assurance that Jesus is who he is for me; and that what he has done, he has done for me.
The Augsburg Confession explains it very well:
“We are not talking here about the faith possessed by the devil and the ungodly... But we are talking about true faith, which believes that we obtain grace and forgiveness of sin through Christ. ...”
“For the devil and the ungodly do not believe this article about the forgiveness of sin. That is why they are enemies of God, cannot call upon him, and cannot hope for anything good from him. ... Hebrews 11 teaches that faith is not only a matter of historical knowledge, but a matter of having confidence in God, to receive his promise.”
Both demons and angels know exactly who Jesus is, and what he has done. As supernatural beings, they can see the supernatural aspects of Jesus life.
They can see his divine nature. This is not a matter of faith for them - in the way that St. Paul talks about faith, when he writes in Second Corinthians that Christians “walk by faith, not by sight.”
The so-called “new atheists” of our time will not believe in God, or in Jesus as the Son of God, unless they can see God in some kind of empirical, tangible way. In other words, the “new atheists” assume that the only kind of faith in God that there can legitimately be, is the kind of “faith” that demons have.
But Jesus knows that in the last analysis, this kind of faith - if it can even be called “faith” - does no one any good. Unless our knowledge of Jesus’ existence and identity is accompanied by a knowledge of Jesus’ love and forgiveness, this knowledge will not deliver us from our sins.
An accurate knowledge of God’s holiness, apart from a knowledge of God’s grace and forgiveness, will actually drive us to despair. We would not be able to escape from an awareness of our moral failures, or of our complete inability to make ourselves acceptable to him.
The point of the Christian gospel, then, is not only to make people aware of Jesus’ existence and identity. If that is all that was involved, Jesus would have welcomed the help of the demons in spreading that information.
But the Christian gospel is more than this. It is the preaching of why Jesus has come among us.
It is the preaching of the meaning of his life, death, and resurrection. And it alone has the ability to “reconnect” God and man, and to restore sinful humanity’s relationship with its holy creator, by virtue of the forgiveness of God that it bestows upon those who hear and believe it.
Demons do not preach this gospel. They hate this gospel, because it liberates people from those fears that the devil uses to keep them in bondage to his deceptions.
Indeed, one of the reasons why demons may very well want people to know that there is a God - and to know that Jesus is the Son of God - is so that people who are conscious of their transgressions will be afraid of Jesus, and will be repelled from him.
But the true gospel - the good news of divine mercy for the sake of Christ, and of divine pardon in Christ - does not repel penitent sinners. It offers them hope and life.
It gives them the righteousness that they need before God, by giving them Christ and the righteousness of Christ. And then it declares to them that God is pleased with them, and is totally accepting of them, because of Christ.
This is the essence of the gospel that Jesus himself proclaimed. We get some hints of this in today’s text: “He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.”
Again: “The people sought him and came to him, ...but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’”
In Christ, God had come among men for a reason - a reason that the demons never would never have mentioned, in their unauthorized announcements of who Jesus was.
Jesus had come not just to announce his own identity, but to announce his kingdom, and to bring people into his kingdom by forgiving their sins, by regenerating them, and by reconciling them to God - all through the power of his word.
This is also the message that the apostles proclaimed, and that all faithful Christian preachers have always proclaimed - a message through which Jesus continues to work: forgiving, regenerating, reconciling.
Denying the existence of God, and of God’s Son, is absurd. The supernatural world is real, and those beings that inhabit that world - both demons and angels - are very much aware of God and of Christ.
But when someone simply affirms a belief in the existence of God, and of God’s Son - a belief which remains at the level of what the demons and angels already know - it is as if that person has been listening to the preaching of the demons, and not to the preaching of Christ.
Jesus does not want you to listen to these demons, and to their truncated and distorted message. That’s why he forbids them to speak of who he is.
Jesus wants you to know who he is, only in the context of knowing what he has done for you, and only in the context of knowing what he is still doing for you even now.
This is also one of the factors that communicants must take into account as they prepare to receive the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. First of all, they must, of course, acknowledge the Real Presence of the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, under the form of bread and wine.
Because rationalistic denials of the Real Presence are so common in Christendom, we might think that our acceptance of this objective truth is the chief preparation we need to make, for our participation in the sacrament in a Lutheran church.
But an acknowledgment of the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood, in itself, is nothing more than what the demons and angels already know. If a demon were here in our midst during the celebration of Holy Communion, he might even tell us this - in order to scare sinners like us away from the sacrament - just as the demons in Capernaum tried to tell people who the rabbi from Nazareth really was.
Simply believing in the Real Presence, as important and necessary as that is, is not enough. In his Words of Institution for this Supper, Jesus did not limit himself to telling the original disciples what was miraculously there in the bread and wine.
He also told them why his body and blood were there, and why he was giving his body and blood to them. We recall these familiar words of the Small Catechism:
“Who, then, receives this sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are in fact a fine external discipline, but a person who has faith in these words, given for you and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, is really worthy and well prepared. However, a person who does not believe these words, or doubts them, is unworthy and unprepared, because the words for you require truly believing hearts.”
This is the gospel of God’s kingdom. This is the gospel of why God’s Son came to this world; of why he lived, died, and rose again; and of why he comes to people now.
The demons do not believe this gospel. And they will not tell you about it either. But Jesus will.
Jesus does make this known to you. And he does renew your faith and confidence in his promises, whenever his forgiveness, life, and salvation are delivered to you, and implanted in you, through sermon or Supper.
When the Word of God reveals to your heart and mind that Jesus is the Holy One of God, that he is the Son of God, and that he is the Christ, believe it. It is important and necessary to know and believe these things.
But when the Word of God also reveals to your heart and mind that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and to bring them into his kingdom, believe that too. Believe that he has come to save you, and to forgive you, and to bring you into his kingdom.
Believe that especially, because that is the gospel. Amen.
13 February 2013 - Ash Wednesday - Psalm 51:51:1-3, 10-12, 17
“Confession is good for the soul.” This is a familiar statement. It reflects the psychological truth that it is harmful for someone to keep distressful and troubling thoughts bottled-up inside.
There is a psychological benefit is releasing pent-up fears, frustrations, and personal regrets, by telling someone about them. Doing this can bring about a feeling of relief, and inner well-being.
These psychological factors may contribute toward the motivation of Christians who go to their pastor, or to a trusted friend, to unburden themselves of mistakes and misdemeanors for which they feel guilty. They don’t like that feeling of guilt, and they want to make it go away.
And so, through telling someone else what has been kept secret, they expect that the weight of guilt will be lifted. Confession is good for the soul.
But most fundamentally, this is not why Christians confess their sins. Have you noticed who and what was not yet mentioned in my descriptions of the psychological benefit of confession?
God was not mentioned. God’s forgiveness was not mentioned.
The act of confession, in itself, does not require God, or God’s forgiveness, in order to have its desired psychological benefit. But in the Christian church, as we are instructed by God’s Word concerning humanity’s sinfulness, and concerning God’s holiness, we are not interested simply in gaining a psychological benefit from the act of confessing.
We are not interested only in finding a mechanism to relieve the stress that has built up within our minds. We are concerned about our standing before God, and about our relationship with him.
As those who have disobeyed God, and who have rebelled against God, we are deeply concerned about the fact that, in ourselves, we would have no standing before God - except that of condemned men and women.
As those who are by nature sinful and unclean, we are profoundly concerned about the fact that, according to our old fleshly nature, we would have no relationship with God, except that of rebels who are under his judgment.
The most basic problem that needs to be solved, is not just the problem of the stress and turmoil that is inside of me - a realm where the principles of psychology may be able to be applied, to a certain degree, to some practical benefit. VRather, the most basic problem that needs to be solved, is the external problem that my sins against God have created - the problem of my alienation and distance from God.
St. John tells us in his First Epistle: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Notice that it is not the act of confession as such that brings relief, as far as our relationship with God is concerned. Confession prepares us, and opens us, so that the forgiveness and cleansing of God can then come in and restore the relationship with him that we, from our side, have disrupted.
The Holy Spirit convicts us and shows us our sin, and drives us to confession, not just so that we can internally feel better about ourselves, and be at peace with our own thoughts; but so that we can be at peace with God, and know the love of his embrace.
The season of Lent is a time for confession - for true Christian confession. We repent of our sins, and we confess them: before God, before each other, and perhaps - privately and confidentially - before the pastor.
During Lent in particular, we join our prayers to the prayer of the Psalmist: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”
But more than this, the season of Lent is a time to remember why God forgives those who repent and confess. It is a time to remember Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”
The Joy of which the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks here, is Christ’s joy in his victory over sin and death for you. It is his joy at the reunion with God - with him as the Son of God - that his suffering on the cross accomplished for you.
God is faithful and just to forgive you, because Jesus put himself in your place, and endured for you the justice and condemnation of God’s law as your substitute.
Because Jesus died for all human sin, and absorbed into himself the judgment of God against all human sin, God is not denying his own holiness when he forgives those sins, and removes them from us as far as the east is from the west.
The demands of his holiness have already been satisfied by his Son in human flesh. He does not have to punish you, or forsake you, in order to be and remain the holy God that he is.
If Jesus had not lived and died for you, things would be different. Things would be very different.
The gates of hell would be yawning open for all of us. But Christ did suffer “once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” and deliver us from damnation.
And this was all according to God’s loving, eternal plan. Jesus did not have to persuade his Father to forgive us. He did not have to talk him into it, contrary to his actual wishes.
God sent his Son into the world - indeed, in the person of his Son, God himself came into the world - because he wanted to forgive us. Because he wanted to forgive everyone.
This was God’s plan. And he is being faithful to this plan, and to the love for his fallen creatures that inspired this plan, when the forgiveness that Jesus did win, is now offered to all in the gospel; and when it is bestowed upon those who repent of their sins, and confess those sins, and believe that gospel.
I suppose confession is good for the soul, even in the Christian context, because Jesus Christ is good for the soul. And Jesus Christ is received by those who do, from the heart, confess their sins to God, and seek his pardon.
As you are prompted by the Holy Spirit to acknowledge your sins before God; as your heart in turned by the Holy Spirit toward God, in sorrow for your offenses; and as your spirit is opened to Christ by the Holy Spirit - you are filled with Christ.
You are covered and cleansed by Christ. You are restored to perfect fellowship and harmony with God through Christ.
I suppose a certain amount of inner peace and contentment will come from this. How could it not? But external peace with God will also come - peace with God forever.
As the Psalmist declares in prayer to his forgiving Savior: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
And in grateful devotion to the God who has come down to us, and who has saved us in Christ, we also pray:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Amen.
17 February 2013 - Lent 1 - Luke 4:1-13
“And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
There are many occasions when unique opportunities to do something desirable present themselves; and we take advantage of those opportunities before they are gone.
At certain times in the past, you may have had an opportunity to take a desirable job, or make a good investment. If you were alert to these opportunities, you took advantage of them while you could, knowing that they would not always be there.
At the present time, you may also have a desire to do a certain thing. But you know that now is not the right time. And so you are willing to wait for an opportunity - in the future - to do what you want to do.
You are waiting for something that you want to buy, to go on sale. You are waiting until the right moment comes along - when you think she will say “yes” - to ask your girlfriend to marry you.
Opportunities like this come and go. They are not always there. We know this. And the devil also knows this.
When Jesus had been in the wilderness for 40 days, “he was hungry,” as St. Luke tells us. And it was precisely at this time of our Lord’s bodily weakness, that the devil tempted him to misuse his divine powers in order to feed himself, and immediately to alleviate that hunger.
“The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone.”’”
Satan saw an opportunity, and he took it. But his effort was thwarted by Jesus, as Jesus immediately fell back onto the Scriptures to bring clarity and divine truth to the situation.
We notice a couple other things, too. The devil’s attack is oblique, and not head-on. He began by trying to plant seeds of doubt in Jesus’ mind, saying: “If you are the Son of God...”
That’s what he did in the Garden of Eden as well, with humanity’s progenitors. He did not start out by telling Eve, “God did not really say...,” but he asked, “Did God really say...?”
And we also notice in today’s text that the devil adapts. When Jesus responded to his attempt to coax him to sin, by quoting Scripture, the devil then quoted Scripture - or more precisely, misquoted Scripture.
That is often the way he tempts religiously-oriented people. He twists the Scriptures, to make them seem to condone sin and error.
The devil uses these and other techniques, in order to make the sin that he is prompting us to commit, seem like the right thing to do - in a time of weakness, or confusion, or doubt, or fear.
He never says, when he is tempting us, “This is a really stupid thing to do, and it will hurt you when you do it.” He says, “This is the smart thing to do under the circumstances, and it will benefit you.”
Satan looks for opportunities to succeed in this - opportunities that he knows he does not always have.
As far as the Lord is concerned, when the devil took advantage of the opportunity of Jesus’ hunger to temp him, it didn’t work. But he waited for other opportunities.
The temptation in the desert that Luke tells us about today, was not the only temptation that Jesus faced during his ministry. The devil tempted him also in other ways, and at other times.
Jesus did not look forward with glee to the agony of body and soul that he would need to endure on the cross - in order to atone for the sins of the human race, and to redeem the human race.
And so, those times when Jesus was thinking about this impending suffering, were seen by the devil as opportunities to try - once again - to get Jesus to abandon his mission.
One such opportunity - which the devil did exploit - is reported to us by St. Mark:
“And [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning, and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’”
This was one of those opportune times that the devil was waiting for. On this occasion, Satan used Peter, and Peter’s good intentions, as his instrument in tempting Jesus to turn away from the pathway to Calvary.
But Jesus could see through this. Jesus could see Satan in this.
And on this occasion, Jesus also looked around and saw his disciples - his closest friends. And he knew that if he were to give in to the temptation that was at that moment being brought to bear against him, those men - and all men, of all times and places - would perish in their sins.
Unless Jesus was willing to endure the cross and its shame, humanity would be damned. There was a lot at stake in that moment. For you and me, everything was at stake in that moment.
But Jesus came through for his disciples. Jesus came through for us. “Get behind me, Satan!” was his response to this temptation.
And Jesus did set his face toward Jerusalem, not distracted by this temptation or by anything else. Jesus did die for our sins. Jesus did crush Satan for us, and win eternal life for us, in spite of all attempts of the devil to head this off.
When Satan sees opportunities to temp other people, however, and when he takes advantage of those opportunities, he is usually more successful than he was with Jesus.
We are familiar with the story of King David, who was a faithful servant of God in many ways. In his younger years, when King Saul was trying to kill him, he continued to trust the Lord, and to believe the Lord’s promises.
He did not doubt God, at a time when he might have been expected to doubt him, but he remained steadfast in faith, and in the Word of the Lord. The Lord was his shepherd, and he knew it. The Lord was with him in the valley of the shadow of death, and he knew it.
But on one occasion many years later, David was at home, idle. And his next door neighbor’s wife was also at home, taking a bath.
David saw this. David watched this. David stared at this. And the devil saw an opportunity - the kind of opportunity that did not come very often in the life of this otherwise devout man of God.
Satan saw an opportunity to tempt David, and to destroy David, at a time when David was morally vulnerable. And he took that opportunity.
And David, in his lustful weakness, surrendered to the sin that Satan had placed before him. We all know the tragic consequences of this - how many lives were harmed by this act, and by the sequence of events that it set in motion.
The devil looks for such opportunities in your life, and he often finds them. When we are weak, Satan is noticing that weakness. And that is when he will make his move.
When you quarrel with your spouse, or with your brother or sister, and when bitterness and anger have come between you and the people to whom God has joined you in your family, that is an opportunity that Satan will notice, and exploit.
It is at such times that Satan will put into your mind the thought that maybe you should bring that relationship to an end. Did Jesus really say, “What God has joined together, let no man separate”?
Satan wants to destroy you, by destroying those good things in your life that remind you of God, and of God’s goodness. Satan wants to destroy you, by destroying your connection with God.
The devil is very good at disrupting the harmony of churches, and of silencing the gospel in churches, through human pride and human arrogance. He sees those kinds of opportunities all the time, and he takes advantage of them.
We give him those kinds of opportunities when we are impatient with one another, jealous of one another, or judgmental toward one another. We give him those kinds of opportunities when we allow anything other than the Word of God to govern and guide us, and when we listen to any voice other than the voice of Christ.
As he has done in the past, so he does now with us. He plants seeds of doubt. And when those seeds have sprouted and grown, he robs people of their faith, and separates them from God and from God’s church.
When you see your weakness during a time of testing, you can be assured that the devil also sees it. He sees it as “an opportune time” to cut you off from Christ, and reclaim you as his own. He sees it as “an opportune time” to tempt you.
But God also sees your weakness. And God does not abandon you in your weakness.
Indeed, it is in the midst of weakness and trials - especially the deepest and most troubling of trials - that you can know, most deeply, the closeness of Christ. He endured such trials, too - and worse ones - for you, as your substitute and Savior.
His victory over temptation becomes your hope and strength in temptation. God’s love and protection is most vividly known at these times. St. Paul writes in his First Epistle to the Corinthians:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
For those times that the devil considers to be opportune times - opportunities to attack your faith, when the circumstances give him hope that he will succeed - God gives you the weapon that Christ himself used to combat such attacks.
That is, he gives you the Holy Scriptures, in which God’s own authority dwells; and which testify unfailingly to God’s eternal truth.
And for those times - indeed for all times - God’s gives you Christ himself, his own beloved Son, who fights for you against the old evil foe. In such times of human weakness, and in such times of devilish temptation, you are comforted and strengthened also by these words of the apostle Paul, from his Second Epistle to the Corinthians:
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
As you then also recall the worst of times in your life - times of sin and failure, when the devil was not resisted as he should have been; and when God’s help was not sought as it should have been - you are still not without hope.
The forgiveness of God is not just a cliche or a worn-out slogan. It is the source of life in the midst of death.
It is the renewal of hope in the midst of despair. It is the wellspring of joy in the midst of grief and shame.
King David - whose great sin we have already recalled - knew this forgiveness. The Prophet Nathan - his pastor - came to him about this. We read in the Second Book of Samuel:
“Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you...the house of Israel and of Judah. ... Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?”’ ... David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin.’”
This was not a matter of external ritual, or of thoughtless repetitions of memorized liturgical formulas. When you confess your sins, and hear the Lord’s absolution, it had better not be that for you either.
For David, this was a matter of life and death - the eternal life, or death, of his soul.
When you acknowledge your sins, and your failures in resisting the devil’s temptations; and when the forgiveness of Christ is pronounced upon you in his name by your pastor, this, too, is a matter of life and death for you. It is God’s opening to you of the gates of heaven.
In this forgiveness, God’s word of life belies all the deceptions of Satan. God’s word of truth silences all the slanders of Satan. God’s word of justification vanquishes all the intrigues of Satan.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him. Amen.
24 February 2013 - Lent 2 - Luke 13:31-35
“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!”
Can you sense in these words the frustration that God feels, when he considers how often his love for his people has been rebuffed? Can you sense God’s exasperation, at how often his will to save them from their sins has been rejected?
These words were spoken by Jesus, as recorded by St. Luke. Some commentators suppose that Jesus is here referring to his own previous visits to Jerusalem, at earlier points in his earthly ministry.
But I think that what we have here is a much deeper and more grievous feeling of frustration and exasperation, than what would have been the result of a couple disappointing visits, over the time period of a couple years.
This statement of Jesus - together with the inner thoughts that prompted this statement - is, I believe, one of those times during the Lord’s earthly ministry when his divine nature was manifesting itself.
During the time when Jesus walked the earth, and lived his life mostly according to the limitations of his human nature, his divinity usually remained hidden. But there were times when that divine nature did show itself. In this respect we think of things like his miracles and his transfiguration.
But here, in today’s account from St. Luke’s Gospel, the divine nature of Jesus is not revealing itself in such power and glory. It is revealing itself in anguish and sadness.
Think of that for a minute. God does not reveal himself in Christ only as the almighty Lord, and as the fearsome judge of the world - although he is those things too.
But he also reveals himself as a merciful and patient Father, whose heart breaks when his love, and his gracious desire to forgive and save humanity from its sin, is ignored. Or what is worse, when his love and grace are actively opposed.
And that is what the people of Jerusalem had done so many times over the centuries, when God sent his prophets to them - such as Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament lesson - to call them to repentance, and to proclaim to them God’s desire for the restoration of their fellowship with him.
They didn’t just ignore this prophetic preaching. They persecuted, and sometimes killed, the prophets who were sent to them.
But God did not give up on them. In Christ - the Second Person of the Holy Trinity in human flesh - God himself came to them. He came, in all of his disappointment and sadness, to try one more time - in person - to call them to repentance, and to invite them to faith.
This is a side of God that we don’t often think about. But we should.
Because this is a side of God that is still very much a part of what God is thinking and feeling in his relationships with people today. This is a side of God that is still very much a part of what God is thinking and feeling in his relationship with you.
You can no doubt think of many examples of frustration and disappointment in your own human relationships. These frustrations and disappointments occur most often, and are often most painful, in the relationships we have with those who are closest to us - within our families.
Your expectations of spouse, children, parents, and siblings - which you consider to be perfectly reasonable and fair expectations - are often not met. Your desire for mutual consideration and respect among the members of your family often goes unsatisfied.
But there are probably other people who also come to mind - people with whom you have had a falling out of some kind, and with whom you now want to be reconciled. But they are not willing. They ignore or rebuff all your overtures.
Or maybe you can remember certain romantic failures of your youth - when you were trying to woo a certain person of the opposite sex, and get that person to notice you. But everything you did to make yourself appealing to your love-interest, bore no fruit.
Well, if you amplify and intensify these memories of those feelings from your own human relationships - about a thousand percent - than maybe you can begin to imagine what it is like for God, in his relationship with Israel - and with all nations, who are now also invited in the gospel to believe in him.
And there is much more at stake in regard to God’s desire to be at peace with us, and to forgive us, and to embrace us as his children. The eternal destiny of our souls is at stake.
As quoted in St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
In his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul speaks of the day “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”
God is very much aware of these things. These eternal realities - these eternal dangers - stand behind his call and invitation to Jerusalem, and to all the cities of men. But are we aware of these things?
Do we believe what Jesus says about an eternal condemnation for those who harden themselves to God’s love? Do we believe St. Paul’s warning of an everlasting separation from God that awaits those who, through an inner hatred of God, keep themselves separated him in this life - despite God’s earnest desire to be reunited with them, and to be at peace with them?
There is a mystery and a paradox in our Biblical doctrine of conversion and faith. In response to those who would, in a sense, take credit for their faith, and who would think that their natural free will, by its own powers, is able to make a decision in favor of the gospel, we would respond with the Bible’s teaching that saving faith is a gift of God, worked in us by the Holy Spirit.
As St. Paul says in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Our unregenerated old nature has no “free will” in regard to the things of God. But by the working of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, believers are given a liberated and renewed will. God in his grace supernaturally gives Christians a desire to heed his call, by means of that call.
But also, in response to those who think that the consequence of God’s offer of grace toward them is that they will be saved automatically and go to heaven - regardless of whether or not they embrace that grace, repent of their sins, trust in Christ, and desire to live in Christ - then we would respond with the Bible’s teaching that God does not coerce faith, or force people to love and serve him.
What kind of faith and love would that be anyway? We would remind people of what Jesus says in today’s text from St. Luke: “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”
Our excuses for not listening to God, for resisting God, and for defying God, are manifold. Those who are young, and who want to pursue their youthful interests and adventures, often have the idea that they don’t need to be in any rush to get right with God.
They think, “I will have plenty of time to think about these things when I’m older.” But you don’t know how much time you have. You might not even make it home from church today.
And besides, having a true relationship with God by faith, and living with a clear conscience before the Lord, are blessings that God wants people of all ages to have. God’s Word, and the promises of divine guidance and protection that God’s Word brings us, are a benefit to all people, regardless of how young or old they are.
And the excuses of older people are often just as baseless and foolish as the excuses of the young. Sometimes the consciences of adults have been wounded or numbed by a lifetime of neglect of God’s Word, or by an uncountable number of habitual sins that have accumulated over many years.
So, an older person might turn a deaf ear to God’s invitation, with the thought, “It’s too late for me. I’m too far gone.” But no one is too far gone.
Where there’s life, there’s hope. Deathbed conversions are real - or at least they can be.
But if you “plan out” a life of sin, and then, as it were, “make an appointment” with God to repent and believe only on your deathbed - after you’ve had all your “fun” - you don’t have the foggiest idea what repentance and faith are.
You don’t really know what the word “fun” means either, if you think that “fun” is the antithesis to godliness. You will be lost, if you persist in such thinking to the end. God’s desire to save you will be thwarted. And God’s heart breaks.
There is no reason to delay in taking God and his invitation seriously, whether you are young or old. If you have no faith, believe in him now, and be saved from your sins.
If your faith is weak and distracted by many things in this world, then be renewed in your commitment to his truth, and to his loving authority in your life.
“For [the Lord] says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
Whatever your circumstance may be, the Lord is calling out to you today - as he called out to Jerusalem for generation after generation.
Whether you are young or old; whether you are hardened in arrogant unbelief, or are in despair over a lifetime of failure and error; God, in his love, is reaching out to you with his Word. He is reaching out to you right now, to draw you to himself, and to change you.
God is speaking to you in his law, to crush your excuses for ignoring or rejecting him. And God is speaking to you in his gospel - in the message of his Son’s life, death, and resurrection on your behalf - in order to lift you up into a true fellowship with him, and into a living hope for an eternity in his kingdom.
In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself - not counting their trespasses against them. In the means of grace here and now, God is still in Christ, reconciling you, personally, to himself.
In the preaching of his gospel, in the remembrance of baptism that occurs in confession and absolution, and in the bestowal of his body and blood that takes place in his Holy Supper, God is in Christ, not counting your sins against you.
Do not spurn his offer. Do not close your ears to his call. Do not harden your heart to the working of his Spirit.
Do not be like the people of Jerusalem, who broke God’s heart, and who destroyed themselves in unbelief, by refusing to receive what God wanted to give.
As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” “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.”
“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!” Amen.