Quinquagesima Sunday, February 7th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”” [Isaiah 35:3, 4]
This morning, I declare a message of hope for you who see a need for that hope, which comes by way of a suffering and bloody Savior; for those who see the cross as not only an emblem of suffering and shame but also as a means of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. But I also come proclaiming a warning for those who do not see the bloody and violent cross and death as enough to assure sinners of eternal life; for those who down play the bitter suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, and feel that through their own actions they must add something to the passion of Christ in order to be assured that they will be forgiven and receive eternal life. Those who will not receive all that this Cross of Christ brings are refusing the very means of salvation that God is offering them.
The truth is that people, all people, really do not understand the power of the cross. They will not receive it on their own because to them, it just does not make sense; it seems too easy.
Instinctively, each of us knows that we have a real issue with sin; sins that we wrestle with that if others knew just how ugly those sins within us were, the sins we keep hidden so well with a veneer of self-righteousness; if they knew, they would be repulsed and turn away from us, or at least never look at us the same. Now, you may not want to admit that to me or anyone else, you may want to deny that truth publicly, but remember this sin issue isn’t about anyone else; it’s about where you stand before God. It is God who speaks to your heart right now; and it is His Holy Spirit that is confirming to you this very moment that on your own, you are nothing but a rag-a-muffin; a broken misfit that has become an expert at pretending.
Because of this truth about each of us, we are tempted to hear only the harsh words of our text this morning and then be filled with worry and fear that the cross of Christ may not be enough for us. Listen: Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with His recompense, the punishment of sin.
And there is the problem with a sinner who under-values the cross of Christ; there is the problem with a bloodless cross. We have concentrated so much on the sins that separate us from a loving God that we loose sight of the power of God unto salvation. We forget that throughout His Word, God has assured us that He doesn’t want to terrify or threaten any one. We forget that He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. This morning, God reminds us that He is much more interested in bringing you forgiveness, hope, and life. So hear the gospel and the gift of faith that will allow you to see God rightly, in love and mercy.
This morning, Jesus Christ, your Savior prepares you for your Lenten journey that is about to begin this Ash Wednesday. He says to you, “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 Gentiles 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.” [Luke 18:31-33]
All of this and so much more is Christ’s passion for sinners, rag-a-muffins like us. Our great sins have to be dealt with; God has no choice. The punishment we deserve is great, so great in fact if it is enacted upon us we will perish with no hope of ever being right with God. Flogging, humiliation, and death are just the beginning of the things our sins deserve and demand.
But listen to our Saviors Words again; He said that “everything written about the Son of Man (that is the Messiah) by the prophets will be accomplished.” What things? Well, the chastisement or punishment of God for the sins of the whole world. But pay attention to that little word “accomplished”, because it is the same verb Jesus shouted from the cross just before He died. “It is accomplished, it’s finished, (their debt, your debt, our debts) are paid in full!”
But the best news comes in the last sentence he spoke, listen: “And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” You see friends, the passion of Christ, His suffering and shame, the bloody cross, was God’s way of taking away the sins of the world, even your many sins so that you could once again have the hope of being right with God the Father, your Creator. But you must continue to follow Christ from the bloody cross to the tomb, which for us is an empty tomb because, “He has risen, indeed.” Alleluia, Christ is risen.
And it is this gift of the empty tomb that He gives to each of us by way of the bloody cross, within the waters of our own baptism.
But was it really necessary for Christ to die on the Cross? Well, His own disciples wondered about that too. His death seemed like a ridiculous proposition to them; in fact, it was a real stumbling block for them as they saw Him dying on the cross and then dead in the tomb. So, the first thing that Jesus had to do was open their blind spiritual eyes and give them eyes of faith so that God’s truth would become their truth. After His resurrection and as He traveled with some of His disciples on the way to Emmaus, Jesus began to do this very thing by asking them this question. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” [Luke 24:26]
Well, wasn’t it necessary, so that you too, could follow Him into glory as well?
Yes, but why did you have to suffer and die Lord?
And to that question, Holy Scripture gives us God’s own answer: “Jesus should die… to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” [John 11:51] The family of man, which God had created, had become lost to the Father. All of them, all of us had sinned and had lost the image and likeness of God. Man could not win it back by himself. You see friends, the nature of God contains both holiness and love. This holy love is like a burning and all consuming fire on all that is sinful and unclean. This holy love reaches out its arms to sinful mankind and seeks to embrace and gather them. And our natural response as sinners to this love is to say: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…!” [Isaiah 6:5] “Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire of God?” [Isaiah 33:14]
So here, for sinners such as us, is the conundrum of sin: God can’t change His nature. If He did, He would then no longer be God, because God never changes. And God can’t overlook our sin. He can’t even tolerate the slightest hint of it in His kingdom.
But God can redeem it. And this means that its guilt and penalty must be paid for and taken away. Through God’s act of redemption, His righteousness remains intact. His holiness and love can once again surround men and women that He created in His image. The sinner can become one with God once again.
But that kind of atonement could never be completed by sinners like us, because even our best of sin stained works are like filthy rags before God. On our own, we have nothing but filth to offer up to God. So…
It was for this reason that God sent His Son to be the sacrifice and payment for our sins. Friends, that is the ultimate evidence of the love of God. Jesus says: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus had to be lifted up on the cross, so that He could draw all men to Himself. He suffered death for our sins.
Think about this: The righteous man suffered for the unrighteous ungodly sinners in order that He might lead them back to His Father. Upon Him, our chastisement was laid, which would make us whole again. By His stripes we are healed.
The talk of a crucified Savior and a bloody cross, was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. And it’s still considered ridiculous by all kinds of religious sinners today. Their faith is centered in their attempts to be good and not in the bloody cross of Christ. But to God, this bloody cross, the agonizing death of His Son, is the only way He offers to us to be saved; it’s a way that we can play no part in. And so, this bloody cross, this tree of death, this precious Gospel remains for us still, the power of God unto salvation, for all who will believe.
Kyrie. Lord, Son of David, have mercy.
Go now with eyes to see, your faith in this Jesus, this bloody cross of His has saved you. AMEN!