Ash Wednesday (7 p.m.)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Joel 2:12-19, 2 Peter 1:2-9, St. Matthew 6:16-21
March 1, 2017
Repentance and Reformation
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
That is the first of the 95 Theses that sparked the Reformation. The first word of the Reformation of God’s Church was about repentance. If your life needs to be reformed, if a family needs to be reformed, if a congregation or the whole Church needs reformation, this is where it begins—with repentance.
But a Christian life not only begins with repentance. The entire life of a Christian is one of repentance—an ongoing, daily “changing of your mind.” A change in how we think, look at the world, what we love and hold dear, what we believe, with the result that we return to God.
This the reason ashes are imposed today. Ashes are a physical way of saying that our way of thinking and living must change. Ashes are what remains to people who have been destroyed.
Look at pictures of a place that has been through a war, like Germany after World War 2, its cities pulverized to dust, rubble, and ashes by the rain of bombs falling from the sky. You see people with wide eyes hiding in blackened, charcoal shells of houses, their faces dirty from the ash that is everywhere. They haven’t just been going through a hard time. Their country has been laid into the dust and destroyed. The ashes of what they once had smeared their faces black.
Do you recognize that that is how you are? A shell of what you were created to be, sitting in the ashes of the glory you once had, not knowing when fire will rain down from the sky to consume what is left of your life?
In ancient times, in the Bible, when people grieved and mourned, they sat in ashes, they sprinkled ashes on their heads. They did this to show that they had been destroyed. Frequently, along with the ashes, they stopped eating food—they fasted. People do that when they are too full of pain to fill their stomachs; they also do it when war or destruction has so ruined their worlds that there is no food to eat. When God had punished people in the Bible, or when it seemed like He was about to punish them, they would sit in ashes, they would fast, and they would cry out to God from their destruction: “You have destroyed us; please bring us back to life.”
They understood correctly who the God of the Scriptures is. He is the God who, out of a handful of dust, made man in His image, and breathed in His nostrils the breath of life. We were created with glory to bear the image of the one God. But when Adam and Eve rejected the Word of God, they lost their form, just like the palm leaves in the fire. The image of God was destroyed. They lived out the remainder of their lives under a curse until their ruined bodies returned to dust. God gives life. God also destroys life that turns away from Him.
But God is able to bring back the life He destroys. He is able to gather the ashes of the palm leaves and make them once again the green branches they once were. He is able to bring back human beings that have been destroyed by sin; to raise to life flesh and bone that have returned to dust, and to restore the lost image of the Creator to human bodies and souls.
But when He does that in a person, or a household, or a church, it always begins with repentance, with a change of mind.
If a person is a burnt wasteland, a bombed-out ruin, he hasn’t started to come back to life yet until he recognizes he has been destroyed. Until our ruins are rebuilt and no sin remains in us, a Christian cannot be comfortable and satisfied. Could a person who has lived through a war be comfortable and content while his country is burning, his home is ashes, and he is sleeping on a cot in a refugee shelter? No! He will not be content until his home is rebuilt, the fields of his nation are sprouting grain, the roads are paved, there are schools for his children. So Christians can’t be content while sin remains in them.
As we seek to renew our life of repentance this Lent, it is important to remember that repentance has two parts. The first is contrition, which is heartfelt sorrow and terror over our sins, the recognition of God’s wrath against sin revealed in the Law, together with the desire to be free from sin and its destruction. Contrition is necessary, but it is not something we can do or make ourselves feel. It is God’s work within us, and there is only one way that God has promised to work it. That is through His Word—in particular, through the preaching of His Law.
If you listen seriously to the sermons that are preached to you instead of sitting in judgment on them, as so many do; if you allow yourself to be taught God’s Word by the pastor God sent you; if you faithfully read the Scripture; and if you take up the Small Catechism, learn the ten commandments with their explanations, and look at the way you live in light of them, God will work contrition within you—not because you have done a good work by listening and reading, but because He desires that all be saved and come to repentance. His Word is the instrument He uses to create repentance within you.
He will give you a contrite and broken heart, which is the sacrifice of God, which He does not despise (Ps. 51). He will not only terrify you with the threat of His wrath, but if you believe in Christ, He will also create in you the sorrow that comes from having offended the God you love.
Ashes a biblical symbol of the destruction sin has brought upon us. But there is another kind of ashes in the Bible—ashes used not to grieve, but to purify.
In Numbers 19, God commanded that a red heifer should be sacrificed and burned and its ashes mixed with water. This water was used to purify those who were made unclean through contact with a dead body. An animal, completely consumed in the fire, reduced to ashes on God’s altar—those ashes, that residue of a destroyed life, when mixed with water, made a person clean from the impurity that came from contact with death.
God has provided another, much greater life to be consumed in the fire of His wrath for your sins—the life of His Son. In Baptism, the ashes of His sacrifice on the cross, the fullness of His death for the sins of the world, are joined to water and poured upon you to cleanse not only your body but your soul from death. Not only His death under the wrath of God, but His resurrection into life free from the condemnation of the Law. In Baptism you become a participant in both. You are joined with Him. On the cross, the burning wrath of God fell on His soul as He carried your sins as His own. You also were brought to an end with Jesus.
But God is able to raise up again and put back together what He has utterly destroyed in His wrath. And He did. He raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. And in raising Jesus, He raised you and all people up, put us all back together again as a new creation, as children of God. He raised up our ruins, brought our ashes together and re-formed them, remade us in the image of the glory of God, so that we will never taste the second death.
This is the second and most important part of repentance—not only sorrow for our sins, but faith that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus. By faith I mean certain confidence and trust that although we cannot free ourselves from spiritual destruction, God has done so. He destroyed our sins in the wrath that He poured out on His Son who bore them. Then He raised up the one who bore our sins, freeing Him from the curse. Instead of ashes He gave us a beautiful headdress, a crown of victory (Is. 61), like the Old Testament priests who wore a crown that said, “Holy to the Lord.” This crown is placed on our heads by God, because Jesus, our head, is alive again. His battle with sin is over and He has emerged in righteousness and victory. He is our crown of righteousness and sanctification. He was poured on our heads in Baptism. By faith we wear His holiness as our crown.
“The entire life of a believer should be one of repentance,” Luther wrote in the first word of the reformation. That means not only a life of sorrow over our sin, but a life of confidence and trust that God has dealt with our sin. A life in which we daily return to God, not only with sorrow over our destruction, but with firm trust that our destruction has been swallowed up by life. Then instead of transforming us to ash from outside, God, who is an unquenchable fire of love, transforms us from within into the image of His Son. He burns away our old self until Christ appears in us.
Repentance begins with the recognition of sin and ends with the certain trust that our sins are forgiven—not because we feel that they are, but because the Gospel of God declares them to be. Where the pure Gospel of God is preached, it will work this change of mind—contrition and faith. And this repentance—true repentance– always brings reformation with it. Wherever an individual, family, or congregation is given this change of mind, and clings steadfastly to the promise that their sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, that individual or family or church will begin to reorder its life according to God’s Word. It will begin to produce fruit that pleases God. May God graciously create and strengthen this repentance in us this Lent.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
February 10, 2016
“Return To Me With All Your Heart”
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Joel 2:12
“Return to Me,” God says at the beginning of Lent.
And possibly, you are thinking, “Return? But I’ve never left you, Lord. I believe in Jesus. I’m not aware of any grave sins in my life, only the normal struggles with sin that none of us can avoid.”
When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, they were too busy to stop and consider what had happened, what they had done. First they realized they were naked and set about to cover themselves up with fig leaves. Then they heard the sound of the Lord God and they were busy with trying to hide among the trees of the garden. They were busy trying to deal with their sin themselves, and that occupied their minds so that they did not have time to stop and think about what they had done.
Until God called, “Adam, where are you?”
Then they started to realize where they were. They were separated from the God who made them. They were far away from Him—not physically, but spiritually. They had taken leave of Him in their hearts.
Then He called, and they had to come out and face Him, look into His eyes and see their guilt reflected back at them, face the punishment they had brought upon themselves.
When God says “Return to Me,” He is calling to us just like He did to Adam and Eve. He calls us to stop and consider where we are, something we often don’t do because we are busy—busy, in the end, running from God. You may not have committed any conscious, willful sins against God. You may not be living in any sin you consider great. Or you may be.
Regardless, God calls you to return to Him. All our sins of thought, word, and deed alienate us from the Triune God, the giver of life. And we are always turning from God. Turning from Him to make an idol of our work or our pleasure, drawn away from loving God above all other things. Even when it is as common a thing as neglecting to pray, we are withdrawing from the living God.
God calls us, even commands us in His Law, to be wholly and completely His people. We are not supposed to be partially God’s, but wholly His own—heart, soul, and body. “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession…” (Titus 2:13-14) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” We were created to love God and to be wholly His. And after we fell, we were re-created in Baptism in order to be God’s own.
And yet no matter who you are, how holy you are, you have not been wholly the Lord’s. You have not been faithful to your God.
“Return to Me with all your heart.” During the season of Lent we are invited to take to heart just how serious a thing it is to depart from God.
The ashes we put on our heads are not decorations. They remind us of the consequences of departing from God. “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” God told Adam (Genesis 3:17). “The wages of sin is death,” says Paul in the 6th chapter of Romans. By the sin in which we were conceived, the sins we have committed unintentionally and those we have committed willfully, we have brought death on ourselves. Each one of us must one day experience the pain and agony of death because of our sins, and along with it (unless God grants us grace), we will also experience the fear and sorrow of knowing that it is the just punishment for our sin. The things we love and enjoy in this world—friends, children, loved ones, along with food and drink and every other lawful pleasure—we will have to leave to come before God. We will return to Him to be judged when we die, whether or not we willingly return to Him in this life.
The ashes also symbolize something worse than death. They symbolize the wrath of God. Just as Sodom and Gomorrah was burnt to ashes by fire that fell from heaven because of God’s wrath and indignation, so we deserve to be burnt in the eternal fire of hell for departing from the Lord.
Even more, during Lent we see our sins reflected in the suffering of Jesus. See how Jesus sweat blood in Gethsemane for fear of God’s wrath. How he was condemned and suffered the physical agony and shame of the flogging, the mockery, and the crucifixion. See above all how He cried out on the cross that He was forsaken by God.
Jesus never departed from the Lord. He always obeyed, always loved God, never turned away from God to give the love, faith, and worship of His heart to something or someone else. And if this innocent Son of God suffered so bitterly for sins that were not His own, what kind of torment will come to people who do not return to the Lord in repentance?
So what does it mean to return to the Lord with all your heart? How is it done?
It is not something we can do by our own free will. When we return to the Lord, it is because the Spirit of God turns us. Through His Word He makes us see where we are, how we have left behind the God of life and tried to find life elsewhere. And through His Word He reveals what restores us to Him—the suffering of Jesus.
To return to the Lord is first of all to listen to the Word of God, His voice calling to us “Where are you?” Like Adam, we hear God’s voice while we are hiding. To return to the Lord means to listen to that voice as it exposes our sins. We stop running and examine ourselves in the light of the ten commandments. By that light we see how we have departed from God. We learn to know ourselves; we recognize that we are not able to return to God by keeping His Law, because our sinful nature prevents us from fulfilling it.
Second, to return to the Lord means to confess our helplessness to God and seek His grace.
Third, and most importantly, we believe the Gospel that God proclaims to us. In the face of our sins, we cling to the good news that God does not count our sins to us. He has given them to His Son, who made atonement for them with His blood. By Jesus’ suffering and death God receives us as if we had never departed from Him. He has made peace with God for us so that our sins are not counted to us. Believing in Him, we return to God.
Finally, having returned to God through faith in Christ live in Christ. We devote ourselves to His Word and draw near to Him daily in prayer, asking for His help to put away our old nature and to put on the image of Christ. We devote ourselves to good works, not merely turning away from sin but practicing the good works God would have us do. We give ourselves to neighbors by serving them in the positions to which God has called us; we forgive those who sin against us; we show mercy to the poor and to those who have not heard the Gospel. We pray for and mourn over our neighbors, seeking their salvation.
But you will notice that the reading from Joel does mentions other things besides repentance and faith. “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments.” (Joel 2:12-13) “With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” What does fasting, weeping, and mourning have to do with returning to the Lord?
“Fasting, weeping, and mourning” are outward signs of the sorrow we should feel because of sin. But fasting also has another purpose. It helps to discipline the flesh, to put it to death so that we are able to give our attention to the Word of God and prayer. It is also a way of humbling the flesh. Fasting helps us to hear and to pray by disciplining our bodies so that we can give our attention to His Word and prayer.
Fasting need not be difficult. It is simply a matter of limiting or abstaining from food for a certain period of time, and then using that time to engage in self-examination, confession, meditation on the Word and prayer. A simple way to fast would be to skip one meal on Wednesdays during Lent, and then to attend Matins or Vespers to hear the Word and pray. A more difficult fast would be to abstain from food until after sundown one or two days a week
Finally, in the reading from Joel God gives promises and encouragements to those who would return to Him with all their hearts.
“Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?” (Joel 2:13-14)
Again, God says through Joel: “Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. The Lord answered and said to his people, ‘Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.” (Joel 2:18-19)
Today it is largely forgotten that God not only punishes sin eternally in hell for those who do not return to Him; He also sends earthly chastisements and punishments for sins to bring us to repentance.
Most of us have many crosses and difficulties in our personal lives. Besides this our congregation experiences many difficulties with declining attendance and an increasing budget deficit. On top of this there are the troubles we see afflicting our synod, our nation, and the Church throughout the world.
We don’t always know the reason that God allows these difficulties to come to us. But we know that He does send “temporal punishments” and chastisements for sin, and we know that we have plenty of sins for which He could rightly punish us. But in this reading from Joel God says that He is gracious and merciful and often “relents from disaster,” turning away the temporal punishments we have brought on ourselves when we return to Him with all our heart. How many of the difficulties experienced in our homes, our church, and our nation might be averted if we returned to the Lord with “fasting, mourning, and weeping”?
God encourages us about this, but does not promise that He will turn away all suffering. But though we are not promised that all our earthly suffering will be averted by returning to Him with all our hearts, we are promised that He will receive all who repent and turn to Him in grace. He will graciously forgive them their sins, turn His face toward them, and give them eternal life.
When Adam heard God call, “Where are you?” and Adam returned to God, He must have been full of grief and terror. He must have feared the punishment He deserved and grieved over the way He had squandered the honor God had given Him.
But when He returned to the Lord He did not find destruction or shame. Instead the Lord promised that He would send a man who would destroy the power of the serpent who had deceived him. Adam was promised that in the future a man would destroy the power of death. And though Adam deserved shame and had to live under a curse, God promised him that he would be relieved of his disgrace. An offspring of the woman would bear Adam’s shame, suffering death and condemnation for his sin. He would silence the devil’s accusations against Adam and his offspring by bearing their offenses.
In the same way when we return to the Lord, facing the bitterness of our sins, He shows us grace instead of punishing us. We return to the Lord in sorrow for our sins and hold fast to His promise that Christ bore them. And in Christ’s wounds God’s wrath passes over us. He receives as though we had never departed from Him. He replaces our shame with honor.
May the Lord aid us this Lent to return to Him with our whole hearts, that we may learn to know His grace, mercy, patience, and steadfast love.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
2 Peter 1:2-11
February 18, 2015
“You have Escaped from the Corruption that is in the World”
The world is corrupt because of sinful desire, Peter tells us in the Epistle for Ash Wednesday. It’s corrupted the way a car is corrupted by rust. You have to stop rust or it spreads. But there comes a point where you can’t really stop it anymore. The whole car is corroded. It will still get you around, maybe. But the day is inevitably going to come when the whole thing is going to fall apart. The world is corrupted like that. It’s ruined. It’s riddled with disease. It’s already dead and it’s on its way to final destruction. And what is the cause of the corruption?
Sinful desire, Peter says. Sinful desire was let loose upon the earth when the devil tempted Eve to desire the fruit God had forbidden. Then like a chain reaction, the explosion travelled, the contagion spread. Adam sinfully desired his fallen wife more than God. Then they were expelled from the garden and the tree of life and the presence of God to live out their lives under the curse of death.
And the world today is thoroughly filled with this corruption caused by sinful desire. People want, desire what hasn’t been given to them. Their thoughts, words, and actions reach out to take what isn’t theirs. Children sinfully desire the honor and authority God has given to their parents and teachers. People desire to bring vengeance in word and deed on others who have sinned against them. They desire to look at or lie down with men and women God hasn’t given to them in marriage. They sinfully desire the time and wealth and possessions of others. All of this desire works death and the wrath of God. And the world is full of it.
But you, Christian, have escaped from this corruption. Peter says that you have been cleansed of your old sins. You have escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. How have you escaped? Through the very great and precious promises of God.
He has promised that your sins are forgiven on account of the shed blood of the true God and man, Jesus Christ. He has promised in your baptism that you have escaped from the world and its corruption, having been crucified and buried with Christ and raised with Him from the dead. He has promised that Christ has been made sin for you who knew no sin, so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God. He has promised that you have all the fullness of God in Christ. He has promised that you are in Christ through Baptism. And since you are in him, you are a new creation.
But to our fleshly eyes it doesn’t appear true that we have escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. We still live in the world. Every time we turn on the television or start playing with our phones the corruption that is in the world through sinful desire comes pouring out. So how have we escaped?
And even if we were alone with just quiet in a bare room with no media, we’d find that the corruption in the world through evil desire comes pouring out of our hearts. It is in us too. That’s why we’re so quick to get angry and seek revenge, so quick to criticize, to resent authority. We live in the corruption and it lives in us. So how have we escaped?
The answer is, again, through the very great and precious promises of God. Because in His promises God declares that our sins are not counted to us. They have been given to His only Son and removed from us. Through faith in these precious promises we escape from our sins. They are no longer counted as ours; only Christ’s righteousness is counted as ours. And where the root of sin has been cut in this way the branches and fruits begin to shrivel up and die too.
So what should you do with this incredible gift that has been given to you in Christ, the promise of the forgiveness of sins? Use it! Use it not as an excuse for sinning but to become what you are in Christ, as Peter describes: “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
See, beloved, we have already escaped. We have escaped through the blood of Jesus which has been shed for us; we have been washed in that blood and made clean when it was poured on us in the Baptismal water. It has been sprinkled on us in the preaching of the Word and the Absolution. It has been given us as our spiritual drink to cleanse us within in the Holy Supper. We have already escaped.
Now through the promises we are to press on and daily partake of God’s nature. That is why we were redeemed by Jesus. So that we would be Christians, that is, little Christs. We would not be just students of Jesus, the way followers of Karl Marx or Hitler bought into their philosophies. We were redeemed so that we would share the very image of Christ, so that we would be human beings in Him the way we were human beings in Adam. We are to become little Christs. And in eternity we will be that way. We will be like Jesus. We will be ourselves, but in the image of Jesus.
God has promised us that what we will be, we already are in His sight by faith. So by faith in His promises we take hold of Jesus’ nature and make it our own nature, so that His characteristics begin to show in our earthly bodies.
That means that we should be zealous and joyful over the promises of God that declare our sins forgiven apart from our works, apart from our own holiness of life. But we should also be zealous to imitate Christ, to live like Him and become like Him now in this earthly life.
A very sad fact is that we have often lived in such a way as to deny that we are little Christs, that we are in Him and He in us. We have not been zealous to put on Christ and show His virtues in our lives. Peter says that when a person is not growing in the image of Christ he is “so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his past sins.”
Often we worry about our life together as a church. We see fewer people come to church and we wonder about our congregation’s future. But behind this is a different worry. We’re really worrying about whether we are bearing fruit in Christ, or whether we are being lazy and unproductive—whether we are like the seed that fell among thorns in Jesus’ parable from a few weeks ago that never bore fruit because it was choked by the pleasures and cares of this life.
This word of God from Peter does not tell us to measure our Christianity, our fruitfulness, by how many people come to our church. It tells us that if we strive to participate in the nature of God through His great and precious promises, it will keep us from being unproductive or unfruitful in our knowledge of Christ.
No, if you are growing in the image of Christ, you will be making your calling and election sure, and Peter says you will never fall.
So how do you grow in the image of Christ? You first of all listen to the Gospel and receive the Sacrament of the Altar and holy Absolution. These will strengthen your faith in Christ that you have been set free from sin’s guilt and power through Jesus’ suffering and death.
Then you, as Peter says, ‘Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”
These are the characteristics of Jesus. Peter is saying, “Not only have faith that Jesus died for you, but make every effort to grow up into the image of Christ.”
That means that in addition to your faith, you strive to add moral excellence to your character.
And in addition to moral excellence, you strive to grow in knowledge—that is, knowledge of God and His Word.
And in addition to knowledge of God and His Word, you strive for self control—to be driven not by your impulses, emotions, and desires, but by Christ’s will.
In addition to self-control you strive for steadfastness—the ability to persevere in doing God’s Will despite suffering.
In addition to steadfastness, strive for godliness. That means that in everything you do, you do it not according to your own will and desires but out of fear and love of God.
In addition to godliness, strive for brotherly affection, that is, love and kindness particularly for other Christians for no other reason than that they are Christians.
And finally love. Strive for love, the kind of love God has. Love that sacrifices self only for the good of the person loved. Love that seeks nothing in return.
You may already be a moral person, a dependable person, a self-controlled person, at least compared to others. Peter doesn’t tell us to aim at being more moral than others, more self-controlled than others. He tells us to aim at perfection, to be like Jesus. That is what we have been promised that we are in God’s sight. That is what every Christian will be in heaven. That is the standard we are to aim at, because it is what we are becoming. It is what we will be when the Lord is finished with His work in us.
If we aim to be like Jesus—to be virtuous like Jesus, to be self-controlled and steadfast like Jesus, to love like Jesus—we will find that we do not at all measure up to what we should be. There will be no place for pride and complacency among us. There will be great need and desire for the forgiveness God gives in Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar.
To be like Jesus is actually what God requires of us in the law and what we have been called to be in Baptism. It’s not just an impossible ideal, a nice thing to aim at. It’s what God requires for righteousness.
We will spend Lent fruitfully with this standard before our eyes. God calls us to be conformed to the image of Christ. Anything less is sin. Even if we have great virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, so as to move mountains, to be like Jesus we would also need to forget about all that and love our sinful neighbors more passionately than ourselves, putting all our righteousness to work for them.
That’s what God requires of us. That’s why today is a day of repentance. We have fallen short of God’s law and fallen short of the image of Christ. We put ashes on our head not as a pretty religious gesture but because we are so far from meeting God’s requirements that we should be burned to ashes in His wrath.
But we have been set free from God’s wrath. We have escaped from corruption and death. That is what we meditate on this Lenten season too. We have been lifted out of the ash heap and seated with Christ in His glory at God’s right hand. This is because Jesus, the virtuous, all-knowing, self-controlled, steadfast, godly one who loved His brothers and even His enemies—He gave Himself to be burned to ashes by God’s wrath for us. He took our guilt before God and was punished for it. Now, due to His love alone, we are forgiven our trespasses and given the right to share in the divine nature by the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We have been given the right to become little Christs, little sons of God.
Now as we meditate on Christ’s passion this Lent, we are seeing the assurance of God that we will not be damned or lost. We are also seeing a picture of what our lives will look like as we are being transformed into the glorious image of Christ. We will be dying to the corrupt old self—painfully dying, so that Christ’s image can be put on. But we need not despair or be frightened at this. The proof that we will wear Christ’s glorious image is not found in our success at dying to the old and putting on the new. It’s found in His success. Jesus successfully was plunged into the depths of God’s wrath for us and He was successfully raised from the dead. Because He has completed this work we have God’s great and precious promises to assure us that He has already made us in the image of Christ, and He will also complete this work of transforming us, so that we participate in the divine nature forever.
Soli Deo Gloria
”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