”To Crucify Desires that Still Entice Me”
In the Name of Jesus.
Desire drives you. Why are you here tonight? Because you desire something.
It might be that you desire to hear Jesus. Or it might be something else. Maybe you like getting ashes smeared on your forehead. Maybe you desire to be and be known as a pillar of the congregation, so you can be praised by men. Whatever it is, you desire something that you thought you would get by coming here.
Desire drives you. It drives the whole world.
God has longing and desire too, even though He has everything.
I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. Luke 22:15
Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with me where I am, to see My glory…John 17:24
God’s desire is life for us. But God’s desire is not what drives most people. What drives most people is what the Epistle called “sinful desire,” also known as “lust.” Sinful desire, lust, is what drives human nature. Sinful desire controls human nature. It controls you as long as you are controlled by your old nature, your flesh.
The works that come from sinful desire are obvious, St. Paul says in Galatians chapter 5: “Sexual immorality…idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalry, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness…and things like these (v. 19-21).” We can see this evil fruit. You can see it in your workplace, you can see it growing up in your home. Sadly, you can see this fruit of sinful desire in the church. And you can see it in yourself—the jealousy and the anger and the lust that flares up in your heart but is put out before it can bear fruit in words or actions.
Other times you can’t see it until it has already been bearing fruit for a long time and polluting other people. The fruit of arrogant, selfish behavior that treats other people with contempt and provokes them. The fruit of stubborn refusal to listen to rebuke, even when it comes from God. The fruit of bitter words, accusations, condemnation, slander. The bitter fruit of sinful desire that is happy when another person falls, when he is laid low.
After listing these works of sinful desire, these obvious, manifest works that we see around us and even in us, Paul adds this terrifying sentence: I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:21
But we don’t always recognize what sinful desire is until after it has borne fruit. Sometimes we get sinful desire, which comes from the flesh, confused with the desire for God, which never comes from our flesh. Your flesh never desires God, only an idol it calls God.
How easily sinful desire can cause us to fall even when we think we are serving Christ!
Who knew this better than Peter? Let the person who is willing to be instructed by God listen to the apostle Peter, who says in the Epistle today, “If you practice these qualities, you will never fall, 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you (S)an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Do you think Peter ever put those two words together lightly—“never” and “fall”? Without remembering the night of Jesus’ betrayal, in the upper room?
You will all fall away from me this night, said Jesus after giving them His supper. For it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.
And Peter had said, Though they all fall away on account of you,
away. (St. Matthew 26:31, 33)
But Peter did fall away. So hear him now when he tells you, “If you practice these qualities you will never fall,” but instead will have an entrance in the eternal kingdom of Christ richly provided.
He did fall. It’s no idle admonition Peter makes: For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith (I)with virtue,[e] and virtue (J)with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control (K)with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness (L)with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection (M)with love.
Before Peter fell, it wasn’t obvious that sinful desire was at work to make him fall. Not obvious to us, although it was obvious to Jesus.
When Jesus “began to show that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Matthew 16:21),” Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. That seems godly, doesn’t it? Of course it was wrong of Peter. But his heart was in the right place, right?
It looks like that to me. And right when Peter has just finished saying something that was revealed to him by God and now tries to follow it up with another home run, Jesus says, “Get behind Me, Satan.”
It seemed like Peter was trying to honor Jesus, but in reality Satan was there using him. Right after he confessed Jesus as the Son of God, right after Jesus had given him the keys to open heaven and lock it up, right then Satan speaks. And nobody would have ever realized it except Jesus.
It turned out Peter wasn’t really trying to honor Jesus. His sinful desire was trying to do what it always does—gain the whole world, save itself without receiving it from God. That’s why Jesus said, If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me…For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Matthew 16:24-26
Deny himself and take up his cross, because your old self desires nothing good. Even when it seems good it’s not good. It pretends it wants to serve God, but your old self is lying. It just wants to see Christ glorified and the Church strengthened and people saved and society improved, it claims. But what it really wants is to gain the whole world, to slither into a hole so secure that God can’t find it and kill it.
Sinful desire wants to store up treasure on earth in the vain belief that wealth or honor or enjoyment can prevent the day from coming when we stand naked before the eyes of God who sees what is in secret. God sees now what is in secret. He sees what is hidden from men.
That is the reason for the ashes today. They really can’t do anything for you except preach what is in front of your eyes and in your nose every day.
That sinful desire has brought corruption into the world. Not just moral corruption, but literal corruption. You are going to die. Your body is going to get cold and stiff, and if it weren’t for concrete vaults and formaldehyde, it would rot and it would stink before it was eaten by worms.
Sinful desire brought this about, this corruption. Eve saw that the fruit God forbade was “desirable to make one wise.”
God’s wrath fell in sulfur and fire on Sodom and burnt it to ashes. The fire of God’s Law reduces us to ashes now, or the unquenchable fire of hell burns us forever.
Yet there is escape from the eternal fire, and deliverance from the corruption that is in the world through lust.
First comes the terror of God’s punishment and the hatred of the sinful nature and its desires.
I will renounce whate’er doth vex or grieve Thee
And quench with thoughts of Thee and prayers most lowly
All fires unholy.
Then comes deliverance and escape from the corruption sinful desire causes.
Peter says…he has given us his great and precious promises. Which ones?
Promise of justification and the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s blood.
The promise that you have died with Him and been set free from the sinful lust through your Baptism.
The promise of the Holy Spirit, who keeps us in faith in Christ, and who also renews us and puts to death our old nature
The promise of prayer, where Jesus says “The Father will give whatever you ask in my name.”
Through His promises we participate in the divine nature. We are justified by His blood and forgiven. And we are given His promises to bury the old nature controlled by sinful desire and to bring forth the new man in Christ who abounds in the qualities Peter listed.
We ask Him for His Spirit and to bring these virtues to pass in us, and we strive to fulfill His calling, and HE makes us participants in the divine nature.
Just think of this. What is God’s desire?
Your salvation. So much so that He gave His Son. To sweat blood, to suffer.
Yes, Father, Yes, most willingly, I’ll bear what you command me.
My will conforms to your decree: I’ll do what you have asked me.
O Wondrous love, what have you done? The Father offers up His Son
DESIRING our salvation! (LSB 438 stanza 3)
That you participate in His nature.
That you become rich in heavenly treasure.
But whoever does not have these qualities is nearsighted and blind and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
We are so sluggish. God eagerly desires to make us participants in His nature so that we store up treasures in heaven.
His desire is for us to be rich. So passionately He desires this that He gave His Son.
We were not set free from sin so that we could live in it; not forgiven so that we could stay in bondage to death
So we spend Lent rightly when we meditate on Christ’s passion
There we see what sinful desire has done, what it does
If God poured such punishment on His innocent, beloved Son, what will happen to those who do not repent and do not escape the corruption in the world because of sinful desire?
O wondrous love, whose depth no heart hath sounded
That brought thee here by foes and thieves surrounded
All worldly pleasures, heedless, I was trying
While thou wert dying.
There we see how God has desired us so as to give His Son for our forgiveness.
There we begin to desire Christ, and God fulfills our desire.
Yet unrequited, Lord I would not leave Thee
I will renounce whate’er doth vex or grieve Thee
And quench with thoughts of Thee and prayers most lowly
All fires unholy.
But since my strength will nevermore suffice me
To crucify desires that still entice me
To all good deeds O let Thy Spirit win me
And reign within me! (LSB 439 stanzas 7, 10, 11)
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
Rust und Schatzkammer (Spiritual Armory and Treasury)
Passages of Holy Scripture
Fear God and give Him the glory, because the time of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth and the sea and the springs of water. Rev. 14.
He who serves God with gladness is acceptable to Him. His prayer reaches up to the clouds; the prayer of the wretched pierces through the clouds, and does not desist until it enters [God’s ears], and does not cease until the Most High sees.
Let the book of this law not leave your mouth, instead, meditate on it day and night, that you may keep and do according to what is written in it. Then you will be successful in all that you do and will be able to handle things wisely.
O Jesus Christ, my Lord and God, You know—yes, You have taught us Yourself how great is the weakness and foolishness of man, yes, how he can do absolutely nothing without Your help and assistance. Where he trusts and believes in himself, he is bound to fall into a thousand disasters.
Have mercy on me, dear Lord, on account of this works-righteousness of Your child. Graciously assist me, that through Your enlightenment I may see what is righteous, through Your admonition desire it, and through Your power finally also might obtain it. Now I surrender myself, yes, commend myself wholly and completely, in body and soul, to You alone, who with God the Father and God the Holy Ghost are praised, one true and Almighty God forever and ever.
Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the music above for this coming Sunday in the Church Year–in the one year lectionary. This is one of the benefits of using the old lectionary; there are hundreds of years of treasures to draw from when you are meditating on the meaning of the readings.
Below is an English translation of the first two parts of the cantata. In the second part, part of the music will be familiar, because it is a hymn many of us have sung many times during Lent: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”
If you listen and can follow the German words and read the translation, you can see how Bach is drawing us to meditate on the reading. One voice, representing Jesus, repeats Christ’s words from the Gospel (Luke 18:31 and following): See, we go up to Jerusalem. The other voice, representing the believer’s soul, responds to Jesus’ words.
In the second part, the voice representing the Christian talking to Jesus expresses her intent to follow Jesus to the cross. Interwoven through the soul’s meditation is the words of the hymn that would be extremely familiar to the churchgoers in Bach’s day. As the soul meditates on going with Jesus to Jerusalem, the old words of the hymn resound, the words that the people listening have sung many times. It is the Church’s voice, and they are reminded that they have sung this before, and in singing it they are joining with the bride of Christ of ages past in her resolution to follow Jesus and remain with Him at the cross of shame.
That is, of course, just what we don’t want to do when Jesus puts the cross in front of us today. It was the same in Bach’s time. As the church listens to the cantata (Bach wrote this for use in the church in Leipzig, Germany, in the 1720s) as Lent begins, the church in Leipzig sees themselves confronted with the journey to the cross just as the disciples were. The only difference is that we, together with Bach, know how the story ends–in the Resurrection.
And yet it’s one thing to know how the story went for Jesus in the Gospel, and it’s another thing to believe that the story is going to turn out the same way for you when you are journeying to Jerusalem with Jesus!
Cantata for Estomihi
|1. Arioso und Recitativ B A
Komm, schaue doch, mein Sinn,
Wo geht dein Jesus hin?
Wir gehn hinauf
O harter Gang! Hinauf?
O ungeheurer Berg, den meine Sünden zeigen!
Wie sauer wirst du müssen steigen!
Ach, gehe nicht!
Dein Kreuz ist dir schon zugericht’,
Wo du dich sollst zu Tode bluten;
Hier sucht man Geißeln vor, dort bindt man Ruten,
Die Bande warten dein;
Ach, gehe selber nicht hinein!
Doch bliebest du zurücke stehen,
So müßt ich selbst nicht nach Jerusalem,
Ach,, leider in die Hölle gehen.
|1. Arioso and Recitative B A
Come, look yet, o my mind,
Where does your Jesus go?
Let us go up
O hard way! Go up?
O monstrous mountain, indicated by my sins!
How bitter that You must climb it!
Ah, don’t go!
Your Cross is already prepared for You,
where You will bleed to death;
here scourges are sought, there reeds are bound,
Your bonds await You;
Ah, don’t go there Yourself!
Yet, were You to remain behind,
then I myself could not go to Jerusalem,
alas, rather to Hell must go.
|2. Arie und Choral A S
Ich folge dir nach
Ich will hier bei dir stehen,
Durch Speichel und Schmach,
Verachte mich doch nicht!
Am Kreuz will ich dich noch umfangen,
Von dir will ich nicht gehen,
Bis dir dein Herze bricht.
Dich laß ich nicht aus meiner Brust,
Wenn dein Haupt wird erblassen
Im letzten Todesstoß,
Und wenn du endlich scheiden mußt,
Alsdenn will ich dich fassen,
Sollst du dein Grab in mir erlangen.
In meinen Arm und Schoß.
(“O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,” verse 6)
|2. Aria and Chorale A S
I follow after You
I will stay here with You,
through spitting and shame,
do not scorn me!
I will still embrace You on the Cross,
I will not leave You,
even as Your heart breaks.
I will not release You from my breast,
When Your head grows pale
at the last stroke of death,
And if You must depart at last,
Then I will hold You fast
You shall find Your grave in me.
In my arm and bosom.
A reader asked me who this “Johannes Eichhorn” is who wrote all the prayers for the Sundays of the historic lectionary. There is another more famous Johannes Eichorn who lived in the 18th or 19th century, but our Eichorn doesn’t appear to have a biography in English.
I’m flattered to have someone read this blog, and it makes me happy to see other people getting a taste of the old Lutheran piety that is hidden away from most of us in German. So I’m looking into it.
But right now I only have sketchy information. This is exacerbated by the fact that there are other Eichhorns who did stuff in Germany around the time of the reformation.
Anyway, I got those prayers out of Evangelische Lutherischer Gebets-Schatz published in 1881 by Concordia in St. Louis. My version is a free download from Google Books.
On p. 17 in the adobe numbering of my version there is a list of sources. The information it gives about the author is (translated from German):
Joh. Eichorn (died 1564). Armory and Treasury (1715).
If you search for a Joh. Eichorn d. 1564, you’ll probably eventually find this Wikipedia page: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Sciurus
which is where I got the picture. In addition to having some information in German that I don’t have time to translate now, it also links to a biographical blurb on another site (also in German). I’ll try to translate it soon, but in the meantime you can probably cut and paste it into Google translate and get some idea what it says.
auch: Eichorn, Aichorn
Geburtsdatum unbekannt, geb. in Nürnberg, gest. 3.11.1564 in Königsberg
S. stammte aus Nürnberg und kam 1546 als Professor nach Königsberg, wo er anfangs Griechisch und auch Mathematik lehrte. Ab 1550 übernahm er zusätzlich die Professur für Ethik. Als Anhänger Andreas Osianders trug er zur Verschärfung des Konflikts zwischen Joachim Mörlin und Osiander bei. In einer handschriftlichen Stellungnahme, die an Matthias Flacius gerichtet ist, vertrat auch S. die osiandrische Gotteslehre und den Satz „In Deum non cadit accidens.“ Auf die Verdächtigung, nestorianische Lehren zu vertreten, die bei einer Disputation „De fortitudine“ am 28.5.1552 gegen ihn erhoben wurde, veröffentlichte er eine „Apologia gegen Bartholomäus Wagner und Johann Hoppe“. Darin vertritt er ebenfalls die osiandrische Gotteslehre. Osiander trat S. mit einer Flugschrift zur Seite, in der er die Vorwürfe Wagners in sieben Thesen zurückwies. Nach dem Tod Osianders wurde S. einer der Bevollmächtigten, die sich um Osianders Nachlass kümmern sollten. 1554 wechselte er die Lehrfächer, unterrichtete nun Hebräisch und von 1554 bis 1558 auch Theologie. Gleichzeitig war er Hofprediger Herzog Albrechts.
Deutsches Biographisches Archiv (DBA): I 1166,68-71;II 1208,351
In Nomine Iesu
Sexagesima means “60”; we’re about 60 days from Easter. The church since ancient times has counted the days for Easter; waited eagerly for it. The readings for Sexagesima Sunday, kind of like last week’s readings, call us to prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.
Of course it isn’t the celebration of Easter on April 20th, 2014 that is most important. It’s how—whether—we will be able to celebrate the Resurrection on the day when the trumpet sounds and we are raised. When we rise either to rejoice forever in Christ who was raised for us, or to weep and gnash our teeth for eternity and wish we had never been born.
The readings tell us what we need in order to be prepared for the resurrection. It’s one thing—not hard to remember. It’s the Word of God.
“The seed is the Word of God.” Jesus doesn’t talk about anything else. The kingdom of God is like a sower who goes out and casts seed around his field. Jesus has nothing to say about the sower and his skill at sowing. He only talks about the seed, which is the word of God. That seed doesn’t malfunction. It always grows and produces fruit. The only other thing Jesus mentions is the soil the seed falls on. The only time the seed doesn’t grow and produce fruit is when it doesn’t fall on good soil.
So there are only two questions for you and me to answer this morning. The first is, Am I hearing the Word of God? Am I receiving the seed?
The second is, What kind of hearing does God’s Word get from me? Am I like the path, or the rocky soil, or the soil with weeds, or am I good soil?
Not that those are easy questions!
But let’s begin with the first question. “Am I receiving the Word of God?” This is the question Paul was discussing with the Corinthians in the Epistle.
The church in Corinth had first received the Word of God from Paul when he came on his missionary journey through Greece. But since Paul had left the Corinthians had gotten some new teachers. Paul calls them the “super-apostles.” Many of the Corinthians had come to the conclusion that because these preachers were so much more impressive than Paul they must actually have the true word of God, or at least a more full word of God, than Paul brought them.
These preachers apparently boasted about their qualifications as preachers or apostles. They were apparently eloquent, powerful speakers. They boasted about their labor in Christ and the visions, revelations, and superior knowledge they had received from Christ.
The Corinthians thought that because these men were so impressive they could be sure that now they had the true word of God. So Paul is writing to the Corinthians saying—No, these men are not superior to me, and the message I brought to you is God’s Word.
I have the same qualifications as them. I am an Israelite, Abraham’s seed. And I am more a servant of Christ than they are. And I too have had visions from God.
But when it comes time to brag, as the super-apostles had done, Paul brags about strange things. He doesn’t brag about his visions, his knowledge, his successes in winning converts. He brags about his weaknesses, his infirmities.
I was given the 40 lashes minus one 5 times. Beaten with rods by the Romans 3 times. Stoned once.
I was caught up into heaven and saw and heard things that we are not allowed to say on earth. But that doesn’t prove I am an apostle. Instead I was given a thorn, a spike in the flesh, to buffet me (that is, beat me, hit me in the face). He calls it a “messenger” or “angel” of Satan. Does God allow his apostles to be tormented by the devil and made weak? Is that what you should expect from a real apostle or preacher?
And the Lord did not take it away because, “My grace is enough for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.”
So Paul says, “I delight in infirmities” and in persecutions, distresses, being weak and hungry, being abused and treated scornfully, so that “the power of Christ may rest on me.”
The power of Christ, the grace of Christ. It is the Gospel. It comes to us in the Gospel. (Romans 1:16-17…I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for salvation for all who believe.)
The Gospel of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins.
We despise the word because it appears weak and brings cross, weakness, infirmity to us.
Note the way Jesus describes the Gospel: “The seed is the Word of God.” An unimpressive delivery system.
The only question is, are we getting the Word of God? That is not proven by the greatness of the minister or the church.
That is why most of the types of soil Jesus describes do not receive the seed in a fruit-bearing, saving way. Human beings are not able to receive God’s Word apart from a miracle.
Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay
Death brooded darkly o’er me
Sin was my torment night and day…
My own good works all came to naught, no grace or merit gaining.
Free will against God’s judgment fought…
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to be my share
The pangs of hell I suffered.
Yet the Gospel of Christ is the power of God for salvation to all who believe…it rests upon us even in our weakness and infirmity. Jesus says its “power is made perfect in weakness.”
But God had seen my wretched state
Before the world’s foundation,
And mindful of His mercies great
He planned for my salvation…
Though he will shed my precious blood
Me of my life bereaving,
All this I suffer for your good
Be steadfast and believing.
Life will from death the victry win
My innocence will bear your sin
And you are blessed forever.
So if you have the Word of God, then you hear it, and you go on hearing it, and you daily die to the rocks of pride and the weeds of lust…and you put on the new man. You come to Him who destroyed our old nature in His flesh and who has been raised and hide in Him.
The desire to be good soil is the Spirit’s work. The good soil are sinners who flee to Christ.
His power rests on us in our infirmity. Preachers and hearers. He bears good fruit in us who by nature can’t do anything good. It is a miracle. We die and he lives in us, but solely through the Gospel word that declares that He has already done it.
The peace of God…
“How much work do I have to do to get to heaven?”
How much work do we have to do to go to heaven?
Everyone knows the answer to this question, right? What does God say?
Do I have to give my life for Christ, die as a martyr to get into heaven? Or can I get by with less than that? That’s pretty hard. Do you know for sure if you’d be able to die rather than deny Jesus?
How much money do I have to give for the sake of the Gospel and to the poor to get into heaven? Is it enough if I give what I think I can afford? Or do I have to give more? 10 percent? All my money?
How often do I have to go to church to get into heaven? I’m not talking about how often we should go. I’m talking about, bare minimum, how often do I have to go in order to avoid hell? Can I still get into heaven if I never go to church? Is 3 times a year enough? Once a month? Does it have to be every Sunday? Do I have to go on Wednesdays during Lent too? And how often do we have to go to Bible class?
Jesus told the parable of the workers in the vineyard after someone had asked him a question like these. It was a young man who had “great possessions”; he asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus said, “If you want eternal life, keep God’s commandments.”
And the young man responded, “I’ve kept the ten commandments. What else do I need to do?”
Oh foolish young man, we say. You haven’t kept the ten commandments! No one can keep the ten commandments! That’s why you need to believe in Jesus. Then you will be saved even though you haven’t kept the ten commandments.
Jesus doesn’t say that, though. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you would be perfect, believe in Me.” He says, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” And the rich young man goes away sorrowful, because he is unwilling to part with his great possessions.
If Jesus had said, “Believe in Me, and you don’t have to do any works at all. You can have eternal life and your possessions,” the young man wouldn’t have had to go away sad.
Why didn’t Jesus say that? Isn’t that the answer? You don’t get to heaven by going to church every Sunday, or giving ten percent, but by faith in Jesus alone?
That is the answer. And yet Jesus didn’t say that. He said, “Sell everything you have.” And then after the rich man left he told the disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And his disciples said, “Then who can be saved?”
What does this mean?
It means that when we say that you are saved by faith in Jesus alone, apart from any works, that doesn’t mean that salvation is easy. The reformation wasn’t Martin Luther telling people salvation was easy when the pope had made it hard.
Humanly speaking, salvation is impossible. The disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
How much work do I have to do to get into heaven? No amount of work is enough. Sell everything and give your body to be burned. It’s still not enough.
But what is impossible with man is possible with God.
We are not able to do enough to get into heaven. Apart from God’s grace, we are no different than the rich young man. We may think we want eternal life, but there is always something we aren’t willing to give up. A thing we love more than eternal life.
But then God’s grace comes. What is impossible for us is possible for Him. He calls us like He called the rich young man, like He called the 12 disciples, “Come, follow me.” That call does include leaving something, but leaving it in exchange for something better. For the rich young man it was, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” For Peter it was “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” For Abraham it was, “Leave your father’s house and country, and go to the land I will show you, and I will make you a great nation.”
God hires us and puts us to work in His vineyard. He tells us our wages—eternal life. Not that our work will earn eternal life. We are called to eternal life, and eternal life comes to us with the call to work in His vineyard.
Peter was called to eternal life, and he was also called to be a fisher of men, an apostle. Being an apostle is a lot of work. There was a lot of preaching and prayer, study of the Scriptures, and suffering.
Yet He left everything and followed Jesus.
You were called to eternal life. When you were baptized, you were placed into His vineyard. He promised you eternal life, and He put you to work. And every time the call to repentance goes out, He brings people into His vineyard to work.
What kind of work? No longer the work of the old Adam, where you go do your job because you have to or because you want to get something for yourself. It’s work that’s given to you to do where the LORD places you. It’s His work. You’re working at bringing forth the fruit of His vineyard that He planted.
If you are a husband or a wife, that calling is His creation, and there in that calling His work is love. The husband is to give up his life for his wife, die that she may live. The wife is to submit to her husband, to give up her will and entrust herself to her husband. Parents give up their lives for their children. Children obey their parents. Employees serve their employers and not themselves; employers serve their employees and customers instead of looking out for their own interests.
The work we are called to is usually not different from what people do who are not in the Lord’s vineyard. What makes the work different is that Christians have been called to eternal life. That is the wage we have been promised—not a raise from our boss or affection from our spouse or kids.
And since we have been promised eternal life not because of what we do but by grace, we can cast ourselves into the work. Not because the work earns eternal life if we do it well enough, but because He has promised us eternal life and told us to go work in His vineyard until the day is over and the time for our wages has come.
Lent begins in a few weeks. Lent is a season of labor. First and foremost we look at Christ’s labor during Lent—His labor of love, His passion. Jesus goes to work in His Father’s vineyard. By the sweat of His face He labors—for what? To redeem us from the curse and bring us to the banquet, the party, the rest of heaven.
And how hard does Jesus work? Jesus labors with all His strength. He gives all He has. He gives His happiness, His honor, His prayers, His righteous life, His favor with the Father, His sweat, His tears. His body to be torn, pierced, put to shame. His blood to pour out upon the earth until His life is drained from Him. His soul to be tormented and endure the just anger of God against all human beings’ rebellion, laziness, self-serving.
And when Jesus does this, He doesn’t have a whip driving Him along. The whip that drives Him is love. He serves willingly because of love for sinners, for us.
Such love does not drive us to serve selflessly, does it? Not even for the people we love most. That is the kind of love we owe God and our neighbor. Love that drives us to serve God willingly, and to serve every human being willingly. But that kind of love we don’t have. It begins in us when we see the love with which Christ has loved us. But it is never complete in us in this world.
That’s why we’re in trouble whenever we start looking at other people and comparing our life and our work to theirs. Even if you had done what Jesus did—were born without sin and loved and served God completely your entire life, you would only be doing your duty. You would only be doing what you should do. That’s what the Small Catechism teaches us in the explanation of the 1st article of the creed: I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, my eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children…He daily and richly provides me with all that I need to support this body and life…All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
We ought to love God with all our heart and all our strength and all our life and serve Him with everything we have. We owe Him that, yet we don’t do it, and we can’t.
But He freely gives us eternal life. He freely gives us a place in His vineyard to work. And then He blesses us and honors that work. Peter gave up his nets and left everything to follow Jesus. But what was that compared to what Jesus left for Peter?
So if we labor and sweat our whole lives as Christians, what is that? Have we earned something? No. We owed God far more.
And what we owed was paid by the labor and sweat and tears of Jesus. He fulfilled the law for us. He received the wrath of God against your sins.
As Lent comes, it is good to seek renewal. To discipline our bodies, perhaps—although this isn’t something limited to Lent. We always need that—to keep our body in obedience so that we don’t fall into sin and turn away from Christ and begin to think that God owes us. So that we don’t pursue our lusts and quit working in the vineyard. It’s especially good to hear God’s Word more often, because it’s God’s Word alone that gives us the true knowledge of our sins and faith in our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
But having done everything, having worked and suffered and studied Scripture and disciplined our flesh, having attended church and worked diligently in our callings, the wage of eternal life is not earned. It is a gift, won by the labor of Jesus Christ out of great love for you. This labor and this love is like a great ocean compared to our labor and our love. Looking on it, we don’t even remember the little raindrop of our love, our suffering, our work. But the more we see and throw ourselves into the vast expanse of His love and work, which our our salvation, the more His love and labor will come from us.
Let all who have not been working in the Lord’s vineyard but serving themselves take heart and come to Him, seeing how freely He wants to give the wage of eternal life, even to those who come an hour before quitting time. And let those who have served Him long and faithfully rejoice that they got to bear something of the day’s heat in service
to Him who took away all of the heat of God’s anger and all of the shame of sin by His labor for us.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 17:1-9
February 9, 2014
“We Rejoice in the Hope of the Glory of God”
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God writes St. Paul in the third chapter of Romans. It’s a passage of Scripture that is commonly taught to children because it teaches a basic truth that is necessary for salvation. There is no one righteous, no, not one. Since we are all sinners before God we are all in need of God’s grace to forgive our sins. What we have deserved from God is not grace or forgiveness but condemnation and punishment.
But the verse says something more than that all have sinned; it says that all fall short of the glory of God. That part of the verse tends to go overlooked. I don’t know very many people who, if you ask them what they’re aiming at with their lives, would say, “The glory of God.” They would probably say, “I want to be happy,” or, “I want my kids to have a good life,” or, “I want to be a good person.”
But God did not create human beings simply so that we could be happy or be good. He created us to see His glory. And without seeing His glory we can’t be happy or good.
Because of sin we fall short of the glory of God. Our lives are like arrows shot from a bow. They are aimed at a target—the eternal glory of God. But not one reaches the target. They fall in the mud. Our lives fail to reach the destination for which they were created—the glory of God.
Well, what do you do if you miss a target with your arrow? You go get it out of the mud and try again. If you miss a shot in a basketball game you go practice until you can make that shot in your sleep.
But it doesn’t work that way with our lives. There are no do-overs. Either we hit the target—fly straight and true and live a life that is worthy of God’s glory. Or we miss and fall short of the target, the glory of God. And we fall forever. Eternally we are those who were created to see God’s glory but went astray from the purpose for which our Creator made us. Since He made us and He is good and has all glory forever and ever, whose fault is it that we went astray? His? God forbid. We turned aside.
And because of sin we are off course before we even leave the bow.
On the mountain of transfiguration Peter, James, and John saw the glory of God. It was shining from a man—a human being, a son of Adam. This is already a strange thing. Every human being, every son of Adam, every single one, has been flying off-course, falling short of the glory of God. Not that there were no human beings with whom God was pleased before Jesus, but the Scripture says that they were not arrows that flew straight and true but that God “counted” them as though they were. Abram believed God, and [God] imputed [or counted] it to [Abram] for righteousness. (Gen. 15:6)
There was at least one human being before Jesus who had seen the glory of God—Moses. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, the “skin of his face shone” because he had been talking with God. It was like radioactivity. Moses’ face shone with the “fallout” of God’s glory. And Aaron his brother and the Israelites ran away when they saw him.
But Moses’ face never shone like Jesus’ does here. It radiated and reflected God’s glory. But Jesus’ face shines like the sun. A piece of glass can catch some of the light of the sun and reflect it, but those reflections do not compare to the sun’s light. Out of Jesus’ face the light of God’s glory radiates like the light from the sun. The sun’s light doesn’t come from another star. It generates light because it is so hot, the scientists say, that hydrogen atoms collide to form a new element, helium, and the energy that is released sends light streaming to earth—light that plants use to make sugar which then feeds the lives God created on earth.
The sun is like a well of energy and light. And Jesus is the well or the factory or the fire from which God’s glory streams and shines. Except, like the bush Moses saw which burned but the fire did not go out, the well of God’s glory in the face of Christ is eternal, never diminishing, never running out.
What Peter and James and John saw on the mountain is what Moses and Elijah and all the prophets and the law had been prophesying throughout the Old Testament. They were seeing the glory of God in a human being. They were seeing what human beings were aimed at, but what they had fallen short of since Adam’s sin.
But now what human beings were aimed at is a reality in front of their eyes. There is a human being—their master, Jesus—who not only reflects the glory of God, but participates in the glory of God.
In the previous chapter Jesus had just had a discussion with His disciples about who He was (and who He is). You quite possibly remember it. Who do people say I am? The apostles said, “They say you’re a prophet. Or Elijah.” And Jesus says, “But what about you—who do you say I am?” Peter said, “The Christ, the Son of the living God.” To which Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon, for this was not revealed to you by men but by my Father in heaven.”
But immediately afterward Jesus began to teach them that He had to go to Jerusalem, be rejected by the priests, handed over to the Gentiles, be abused, rejected, and killed, and that God would raise Him up on the third day. This is not new information for us, but for the disciples it was unthinkable. So Peter said, “Jesus, what you are saying is blasphemous. God will never let that happen to His Son. Stop saying that!” And Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” And Jesus went on to tell them that anyone who wants to be His disciple must deny himself, take up the cross, and follow him; that it will do us no good to gain the whole world if we lose our soul. If we embrace Him we also embrace His suffering and death. We embrace those and then, when He appears in glory with His father He will also glorify us.
Then He told His disciples, “There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
And that is what they see here. The Son of Man coming in His kingdom. A glimpse of the glory of God in the body of a human being. This is what Jesus will look like when He comes again, except probably He will be even more glorious.
And when He appears, those who are His will share this same glory. We too will not only see the glory of God, but participate in it like Jesus does. The difference is this—that Jesus is the eternal Son of God in human flesh. In eternity the saints will be His brothers. We will not be God, but we will share His glory.
That is why God the Son became a man and appeared on earth. You were created for the glory of God, but in Adam you traded what God made you for for the empty dream of being a god apart from God. And what do we have? We are not gods. We no longer even dream consciously of being like God. We aim much lower than God had aimed us. He aimed us at seeing His glory and sharing it. We aim at being happy with food and drink and tvs and maybe, if we’re ambitious, power and prestige and money in this short life of a few decades.
Jesus appeared so that we would share the glory shining from His face and be kings together with Him. That’s why He came and it’s why He suffered. And it’s why you were baptized—so that you might become like Jesus in the glory we see on the mountain.
But do you live as if that is true? No.
No, we come into the presence of this Jesus, Sunday after Sunday. But we forget the vision these three saw on the mountain. Because Jesus doesn’t show His splendor and power we act as if He doesn’t have it, and we come into His house with worldly thoughts and worldly manners. Peter was rebuked because He offered to build three tents for Jesus, Moses, Elijah. That seems like a well-intentioned mistake. The well-intentioned mistake of Peter met with such a rebuke that the three men were left on their faces in terror, fearing death, fearing judgment. But we come into the presence of Christ much more irreverently. Ill-prepared, not ready to listen. Showing by our actions that we fail to understand whose presence we have come into and why He is here. [We show disrespect and a lack of fear in the way we talk, the way we conduct ourselves here, our lack of preparedness…]
No one can draw near to Jesus without drawing away from sin, hating it. God does not call us to become good American citizens. We are to be those, but He calls us to more—to be participants in His glory. And participants in His glory must first hate sin—not only gross sins, but also the uncleanness of the heart which is always with us. Peter wasn’t rebuked for committing adultery or murder. He was rebuked for speaking foolishly and proposing to serve Christ according to the wisdom of his flesh. He thought, “The way for us to share in the glory we see in Jesus here is to stay here a little longer. So let me offer to build tents.”
He meant well, but instead of listening to Jesus he was talking and proposing his own plans.
Jesus had already told them the way that He was going to bring them to the glory of God. That was, He was going to Jerusalem to be put to death. Then He would be raised from the dead for them, ascend into heaven, and sit at the right hand of the Father for them.
And the disciples would share in the glory of God through Jesus—through suffering and dying with Him, being raised from the dead with Him.
That is also how we share in the glory of God. We do not stay the arrows that have gone off course from the moment we were put on the string of the bow. We must become different. And that is impossible for us.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. That is what is happening on the mountain of transfiguration. Moses, the law giver, and Elijah, the prophet, are talking with Jesus and bearing witness to Him who is the righteousness of God.
He is the righteousness of God. Jesus. He was with the Father from the beginning and shared His glory.
He laid it aside so that He might merit the glory of God for the sons of Adam who had gone astray.
He, Jesus, is the man who flies straight and true and is righteous according to His works and merits the glory of God.
That holy and spotless life, in which God and man are one person, He is going to offer up in Jerusalem.
He will suffer and die for our shame and sin and then be raised from the dead for our justification. He alone is going to destroy and cancel the sin that lives in us from the womb in His own body.
We don’t come to God through trying to imitate Him, although we do try to imitate Him. We come to God through being joined to Him, to His flesh.
We come to God through believing the Gospel, that in Him and His suffering God has cancelled our sins and declared us righteous. The righteousness of God has been manifested…even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a [sacrifice of atonement] in His blood….
That is why the Father says “Listen to Him!” to Peter. Peter’s thoughts are not going to bring about the righteousness of God. Neither are yours or mine. Our thoughts according to our wisdom and reason, what we see and feel in the flesh—even when we think we mean well—oppose God and His salvation.
So He thunders. “Listen to Him!” He condemns our unbelief, our refusal to hear Christ’s word, our desire for earthly glory, our love of earthly things.
Then Jesus comes in His church. He does not show His glory and His shining face. But He speaks to us without visible glory and says, Rise and have no fear.
He absolves our sins.
He baptizes us with water with the hand of a man and the mouth of a man.
He gives us bread and wine which He says is His body and blood.
Those words are the words of the glorious Lord in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. They are not man’s words but God’s.
They tell us that the glory that appeared on the mountain is ours by faith.
He tells us, “Rise.” On the last day we will rise. And these mortal bodies will put on immortality. These earthly tents will be put off and the body that Jesus wore at His resurrection will be given to us.
So we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. We have this hope not because we have flown straight and true to the glory of God. Anything but that is the case.
But Jesus has. And He is given to us in His Word. What Jesus is, He is for you, He is for me, even while we feel ourselves to still be sinners.
We listen to Him. He builds us an eternal house, a risen body that shares in the glory of God as a brother of the only-begotten Son. He built it in His resurrection and poured it on us in Baptism.
We go with Him in the way of the cross and experience that we are being torn down. But He says, “That is because I have to take off the old tent you wear and put the new on you. Flesh and blood does not inherit the kingdom of God, but you shall all be changed, transfigured. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and you who died with me in Baptism will be raised imperishable and you will be transfigured so that your lowly bodies will become like my glorious body, even as my glory was laid aside in the dust when I was put to death and condemned to die as a curse on the cross.”
We are dying because we were baptized. Let us not try to build our own tents and stay away from the cross. That is to stay away from Jesus.
He doesn’t want to live in a tent so we can simply look at His glory. He died so that we could also share in the glory of the Father in our bodies.
So He puts us to death and daily strips off this old man so that we can put on the body of His resurrection.
Let us rejoice in this hope as we receive His body and blood which were given for us and which have made us holy. Let us eat and drink and rejoice as our earthly glory is stripped away so that, together with Moses and Elijah, and our loved ones, we may rejoice when we rise from the dead and see Jesus in His glory and our bodies are made like unto His glorious body.
The peace of God which passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria