Jesus Is Used For Us (Midweek Lent 5)

Lent

Jesus Is Used For Us

Oh, one more thing. I haven’t worked in a normal office setting for many years. But I remember Fridays. I remember those few hours from noon to quitting time, waiting patiently or not so patiently till it was time to punch out and go home. But I also remember living in fear of the boss stopping by about an hour before quitting time. And he’d say those ever-fearful words, “Oh, one more thing.” And with those words we knew we were delayed from going home. Or even worse, it was one of those times when we’d have to come in over the weekend. When we would hear those words, “Oh, one more thing,” we would wonder when use became abuse. Nobody likes to be used. And yet that’s what we see in these words this evening. We see people who have power using people to keep their power and, if they possibly can, gain more power. In Luke 23, we read: 1 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.” 3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. 4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” 5 But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”” (Luke 23:1–5 NIV11-GKE)

It embarrassing to see someone being used. How much more is this true when it is our Savior being used. In these words we see Jesus as a sort of hot potato that no one wants to actually treat as he actually is. The leaders of the Jews condemn Jesus and dump him into Pilate’s lap. And Pilate has no idea what to do with Jesus. And he says to Jesus, “You are the king of the Jews.”1 And Jesus doesn’t help him very much—at least in the way Pilate wanted to be helped. So Jesus says in response, “Says you.2 Pilate has a problem with Jesus because he refuses to look at Jesus as a person. Instead, to Pilate, Jesus was just a problem. And what do you do with problems? You solve them. You only spend as much time as you need to get rid of the problem. And to give him incentive, he’s trying to figure out how to keep these angry Jews from punishing Pilate. So Pilate uses Jesus. He uses Jesus so that he can escape the anger and punishment of the Jews. But Pilate isn’t the only one. We read: 6 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.” (Luke 23:6–12 NIV11-GKE)

Herod too wanted to use Jesus. But instead of using Jesus as a way of dodging the punishment of the Jews, Herod wanted to use Jesus as if he were a side-show act at a carnival. He had heard that Jesus had performed many miracles. So he wanted to see a miracle. He didn’t want to listen to Jesus speaking about who he truly, actually was. All he wanted was to be entertained. And maybe, just maybe he would see a little of God’s glory coming out of this powerful prophet. But he didn’t want to listen to the prophet. And he didn’t want to worship Jesus as God even if he saw his glory. This is important for us to recognize. For this is not the only time that we meet Herod. In the book of Acts there was a time when Herod put on a royal robe and made a speech to a large crowd. The crowd said that this was not the voice of a man, but instead the voice of God.3 There, at that moment, the Lord sent an angel and struck Herod down and he died. The Lord took this sudden and severe action because Herod did not give glory to God.

Jesus’ enemies used Jesus. And that is shameful and embarrassing. But even worse, we are willing to use Jesus too. How often, like Pilate have we been willing to use Jesus to avoid punishment. Each of us has this sinful nature and this sinful voice inside of us that likes to be forgiven, but not so that we can run away from sin. Instead, we like to be forgiven so that we can run back to that sin. And are we really any different than Herod. How many times have there been people who have complimented us. And instead of giving glory to God, we inside of our hearts and brains pat ourselves on the shoulder and say to ourselves, “Yes, indeed, I’m pretty awesome, aren’t I?”

Jesus’ enemies aren’t the only ones who use Jesus. We do as well. But what about Jesus? How does Jesus feel about all of this using of him? First, Jesus sees the sinful ways we have used him. And in silence he carries all those sins all the way to the cross and dies for them. And with that death our sins are paid for. But there’s even more to speak of here. Not only is Jesus used for us, but he also invites us to use him. No, he does not invite us to use and abuse him by choosing, loving, and living in sin. Instead, he invites us to make use of him. Think of all the beautiful invitations Jesus speaks to you in his word to make use of him still to this day. Jesus gives to us this invitation: 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8–9 NIV11-GKE) Jesus openly and freely invites us to make us of him by confessing our sins to him and he will purify us. What about this invitation: 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6–7 NIV11-GKE) Make use of him. Don’t just throw all your sins on Jesus, also throw all your cares, concerns, and anxieties on him. For he cares for you.

Nobody wants to be used—for bad. But my dear friends in Christ, Jesus wants to be used. He wants to be used as the one and only one who can take away your sin. Jesus wants to be used as the one who can give grace to the humle and lift away our burdens. So then, take him up on that invitation. Make use of him. Amen.


1 “ⲥⲩⲉⲓⲟⲃⲁⲥⲓⲗⲉⲩⲥⲧⲱⲛⲓ̈ⲟⲩⲇⲁⲓⲱ̅” (Luke 23:3 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲥⲩⲗⲉⲅⲉⲓⲥ·” (Luke 23:3 GNT-ALEX)

3 Acts 12:21-23

I Will Praise You, Lord (Lent 4—Lætare)

Lent

I Will Praise You, Lord

You can’t take it back. As humans grow, how they act changes. When we were in Psychology class in college we learned about this concept called, “object permanence.” When a child is tiny “peek-a-boo” is a great game. The parent disappears from reality and ceases to exist. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, the parent comes back. But eventually the child thinks to himself or herself, “wait a minute. What if the person continues to exist but I just can’t see mommy or daddy.’” And when the child figures this out, “peek-a-boo” is no longer a fun game anymore. At every stage of life of a person’s growth there are these changes. At the Junior High stage, the child begins to figure out that authority figures don’t always practice what they preach. Years ago there was a young man in the eighth grade who was at this stage. And on that day his teacher told him that his habit of not paying attention was getting in the way of his grades. The teacher said this in front of everyone. And the young man, without thinking, said in front of the other students, “It could be worse. I could be a teacher.” And as soon as he said it, he realized he could not take those words back. The teacher was so angry that he took the young man outside the class into a separate room and asked him one question: “why?” Why would you say words those only purpose was to hurt and harm? The young man was silent for a while. But finally he apologized for what he said and was ashamed of what he said. The teacher accepted his apology. And in the next days, the young man discovered that the teacher was not at all angry with him at all. The teacher even went out during recess and played basketball with him and his friends. Who would have thought that words that demanded anger in response could be forgiven and finally forgotten? But it happened. That’s the picture that Isaiah paints for us this morning. In Isaiah 12, we read, “In that day you will say: “I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.” (Isaiah 12:1 NIV11-GKE)

The people of Israel had, as a people, abandoned the Lord. They had followed other gods. They had abandoned the real and true God they had, the Lord. They could not take back their actions. And the results of their actions were so real that they as a people went off into exile. But yet, these words begin with praise. The Lord invites Israel to praise the Lord. The Lord invites every one of them to use that first person pronoun, “I.” I will praise, you Lord. And what follows it two reasons why they are invited to praise the Lord. First, each of them can say, “I will praise you, Lord” because the Lord pays for their salvation. We read: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.”” (Isaiah 12:2 NIV11-GKE)

Notice how strong these words are. The Lord doesn’t just have salvation. The Lord is salvation. But my dear friends in Christ, salvation is not this empty idea and a word without meaning. They had committed real sins against their real God. How can God so suddenly go from extreme anger to real comfort and compassion? The answer to that question is the word, “context.” The Lord doesn’t want us to read Isaiah 12 by itself. We read Isaiah 12 in the full context of Isaiah 53. The Lord can say, “I am not angry anymore.” The Lord can say, “I am your salvation” for one real reason: the Lord pays for our salvation. When we read, “Surely God is my salvation;” (Isaiah 12:2 NIV11-GKE), we should understand, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4 NIV) The Israelites could know that their rebellions were paid for because blood, innocent blood was spilled. Every sacrifice pointed forward to that once sacrifice that would pay for sin forever. Salvation was not just an idea. It was also an action.

The same is true for us. Each of us, whether it’s our terrible two’s or our Junior High years, each of us has not just questioned authority, but even rebelled against it. And if this is true about our earthly authorities, how much more is it true for our God above? And yet, each of us can say “Surely God is my salvation;” (Isaiah 12:2 NIV11-GKE) because all those Old Testament sacrifices pointed ahead to Jesus who would bleed and die for me. Salvation isn’t just an idea. It’s also an action. And with that action God’s anger is taken away. And for that reason, God invites us to say, “I will praise you, Lord.” But he also gives us another reason: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3 NIV11-GKE)

Salvation isn’t just an idea. It’s also an action. Good Friday is all about action. There, on that cross, we see the tears in Jesus’ body. And we see the tears that stain his face. That’s where salvation is paid. But how is it provided? In other words, what good is Jesus’ salvation if it stays there on the cross? The tool, the vehicle that the Lord uses to deliver this forgiveness to us is his word. And there’s this beautiful picture in these words. It’s the picture of a well. How often do we need water? The answer is: “a number of times each day.” And to have a well right next to you in the Old Testament where there is no indoor plumbing—that’s an amazing picture. But my dear friends in Christ, the Lord is not speaking about water here. He’s talking about salvation. He’s talking about the Holy Spirit working through God’s word.1 He’s talking about the fact that when you were two years old or twelve years old was not the only time you have rebelled against the Lord. We continue to do this. And as we sin, see our sin, and repent, there is God’s word, like a well. And we go to it again and again to receive forgiveness and salvation.

And now we see how real this invitation is. The Lord invites us to say, “I will praise you, Lord.” For the Lord pays for my salvation. And the Lord also provides my salvation every day in his word. But how these words end is very beautiful: 4 In that day you will say: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. 5 Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. 6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”” (Isaiah 12:4–6 NIV11-GKE)

This chapter starts out with the word, “I.” The words end with the words, “us” and “You” (plural). I remember years ago I was on vacation and went to a busy church. And there was a mom with her little boy. And the boy had this book that he loved. And in the middle of the service he would walk around and turn around, letting everyone know how amazing this book was. The mom tried to calm him down, especially during the sermon. But this book was just that awesome, he had to share it with all those around him.

We find the same picture in these words in Isaiah. The Lord invites us to share this with the world. He invites us to invite others to praise the Lord. But the why is the real issue. We invite all those around us to say, “I will praise the Lord” because he pays for my salvation on the cross and because he provides my salvation in his word. Amen.


1 John 7:37-39

Jesus Is Disowned For Me (Midweek Lent 4)

Lent

Jesus Is Disowned For Me

There once was a group of guys who went camping. And, since it was cold outside they wanted to start a fire. So each of them went out into the darkness in the forest to find wood. There were for guys who went to find wood. And three came back. And the three were wondering what happened to the one gut who was not there with them. Well, the fourth guy had stumbled through a bunch of bushes in the darkness. The bushes scraped up his clothing and his face. But finally he gathered enough sticks and came back to the campsite. When he got there there was already a fire blazing. So he got close to the fire and set down his branches. And when he came into the light the three guys began to laugh at him. They asked him if the reason he was so late was because he was putting make up on his face. He didn’t know what they were talking about until he put his hand up to his face and realize that he must have walked through some berries as he was making his way through the bushes. And his cheeks were extra red. There is a risk in coming into the light. If you come into the light the people see the stains on your skin. Tonight in this part of God’s word, we see Peter come into the light. But what is exposed is not the stains on his skin, but instead, the stains on his soul. In Luke 22, we read: 54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” ” (Luke 22:54–60 NIV11-GKE)

In these words Peter wants, needs to follow Jesus. And so he follows from a distance. But he’s not close enough to see what is going on. So he gets closer and closer. And he would have been safe if only he stayed in the darkness. But he was cold. So he wanted to warm up. So he made the choice to get close to the fire. But where there is a fire there isn’t just heat. There’s also light. And when he came into the light, people could see him. And even worse, they could see the stain on his soul. And what follows is an interrogation. There’s a small group of people there gathered around the fire. And after a little while, there’s a servant girl, probably a teenager there. She accuses Peter of being one of the ones who was with Jesus. Peter is afraid of what she says because he wants to find out what it going on with Jesus. But he doesn’t want to be put on trial and then be put to death like Jesus is. So, the fear inside of him is replaced by anger. He lashes out against the girl and says, “no!” He denies knowing Jesus. He, with his words, disowns Jesus. And, sadly, this same event happens three times in a row. One man repeats what the servant girl said. Then another man asserts the same accusation with even more severity. And, if the accusations against Peter were more and more severe, Peters denials were more and more severe.

As we look at what Peter did, so many hundreds of years later, we are ashamed of what Peter did. Not once, but three times he denied even knowing Jesus, let alone following him. But, my dear friends in Christ, these words are not written just for Peter. These words are written for us too. For Peter isn’t the only one who has denied Jesus’ name and disowned him. We too have done the same—even thousands of times in our lives. Sure, the ways we denied Jesus are more subtle. But they are real sins. Martin Luther in his description of the second commandments writes these words:

THE SECOND COMMANDMENT

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God that we do not use his name to curse, swear, lie or deceive, or use witchcraft, but call upon God’s name in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.

How many times have we used God’s name to curse, to swear, to lie, and deceive others? Each of those times we denied Jesus. How many times should we have called on God’s name in whatever trouble we were in, but instead calling on God’s name to ask for help is what we did when every other plot and plan inside of us fell apart. Peter had three massive betrayals. But we have had thousands of betrayals where we misused God’s name or didn’t use his name at all when we should have. Peter denies Jesus three times. But what happens next: 60 Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:60–62 NIV11-GKE)

Martin Luther once said that most amazing display of the gospel is found in the garden of Eden after Adam and Eve disown the Lord. In Genesis 3, does what is shocking and astounding. It’s amazing that the Lord appears in the garden at all. He could have destroyed Adam and Eve and started over. He had every right to. We see the same care and compassion here in Jesus. Jesus has his hands full when he is on trial. But, out of love for Peter, he looks over to him across the courtyard precisely when the rooster is crowing.

But these words are even more amazing than that. For Jesus doesn’t just look at Peter. Jesus also look into Peter.1 When Jesus looked at Peter his gaze bored and borrowed deep into his heart and soul. His gaze asked one question, “I have only been kind to you. So why did you deny me and disown me?” That’s what drove Peter to leave and weep bitterly.

And my friends, doesn’t Jesus do the same with us? Jesus approaches us with his word. And that word seizes our consciences. It shows us where we should have trusted in God’s name and used God’s name for good and not for bad. But we did the opposite. And that same word creates inside us true hatred of our sin and true repentance in us.

But my friends, Jesus did not leave Peter there weeping in the darkness of the night. And does not abandon us either. Jesus was disowned by us. But if we look ahead just a few hours we see just the opposite. The rooster crows and a new day begins. Good Friday arrived. And that was the day on which, instead of Jesus being disowned by us, Jesus was disowned for us. On the cross Jesus said those amazing words, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).” (Matthew 27:46 NIV11-GKE) Jesus was disowned by us. But Jesus was disowned by his Father above. And he was disowned for us. Because of this we can know and trust that all the thousands of times we used, abused, and abandoned God’s name are forgiven. Because Jesus was disowned for us, instead of hiding in the dark, we can step into the light and confess our sins. Because he was disowned for us, we know our sins are forgiven. Amen.


1 “ⲉⲛⲉⲃⲗⲉⲯⲉⲛⲧⲱⲡⲉⲧⲣⲱ·” (Luke 22:61 GNT-ALEX)

Who Repents? (Lent 3)

Lent

Who Repents?

Beware of “Gapers Block.” About a decade ago I heard a phrase I had never heard before. The phrase was “gapers block.” Gaper’s block is when you see an accident on the side of the road. And what is your reaction? You slow down. Well, on an interstate where people are used to going 70 or 80 mph, when people slow down to 40, the traffic can back up. And when that happens, we tell ourselves that we’re slowing down to be safe. But let’s face it, there’s also that curious part of us that wants to know what’s going on. The problem with gaper’s block, of course, is that if you’re looking off to the side of the road, where are you supposed to be looking? As they told us in driver’s ed. class: “keep your eyes on the road.” These words this morning start out with a sort of gaper’s block. They start out with a distraction from the main point that Jesus wants them to focus on. In Luke 13, we read: 1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”” (Luke 13:1–5 NIV11-GKE)

So there were people who came to Jesus with this odd and cruel story. Pontus Pilate, the governor of that area had done something shocking and stunning. There were people bringing animals up to the altar to sacrifice them. In some way that we aren’t told human blood got mixed in with the animal blood. Did Pilate’s soldiers cut down someone else and then that blood spattered onto the animals? Did Pilate’s soldiers cut down people as they were offering up their animals so that, there on the altar, was animal blood and the blood of those who were offering up those animals? We aren’t told those details. But we do know that is was bloody and it was wrong. And isn’t the same true today? If you buy a newspaper today or turn on the news, do you hear headlines like this: “Woman comes home after hard day of work” or “Dad finally learns how to change diaper?” No, instead you hear about that which is bloody and wrong. And when we hear about it, we can obsess over it.

Notice where Jesus takes the conversation. They had already decided that they knew the answer to the why question. Why did they suffer like this? They had done something worthy of dying this way. So, to them, Jesus says, “Unless all of you repent, you all will perish.”1 And just to make sure that they understood him correctly, he makes the same point with a different example. There was a tower people were building. And the tower fell on them. And the people concluded that it fell on them because they had done something worthy of being punished. And again, Jesus told them that unless they all repent, they will perish.

Now, my friends in Christ, there are two points to take home and ponder here. The first is that tragedies happen. And when they do, God and God alone is the only one who knows all the reasons why it happened and what he is going to do with the situation. And the second is this: Tragedies out there do not give me the right to ignore what is happening here in my heart. For each one of us has this real temptation to conclude that I have the right to not repent. We can say in our hearts that there are those people out there. Those tragedies happened to them because they are so bad. And we say this to avoid the bad that is in our own hearts. Or a little closer to home, we can say to ourselves that we do not need to repent because what that other person did to me is so much worse than what I did to them. To all of these made-up-rights Jesus says, “repent or perish.”

But my dear friends, see where Jesus goes from here: 6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”” (Luke 13:6–9 NIV11-GKE)

Who is the one who repents? I am the one who repents. And in these words, if we ask the question, “why do I repent,” we find the answer. Jesus tells a parable. And here is where, whether you know it or not, each of us automatically chooses which character we are in the story. So who are you in this story? Are you the owner that hates waste and yearns for justice and fairness? Are you the gardener who loves his plants? No, my dear friends, each of us is the fruitless fig tree. What we see in these words is the heart of God and the struggle in his own heart over each one of us. He sees our sin and out of justice and fairness wants to cut it out like it’s a cancer. But he also, out of mercy for us, loves us and cares for us. And so what does he do for each of us? He is patient with us. He cuts digs away the excuses and made-up-reasons why we do not need to repent. He gives us the nourishing promise of forgiveness that Jesus died for our sins. And then a miracle happens: we repent. And Jesus tells us this parable so that we could go back into our memories and find examples where we were stubborn sticks in the mud and God still gave us repentance. God still forgave us. And that memory of the past gives us every reason to repent now.

And so, my dear friends in Christ, the main point in these words is not that we are supposed to pry open God’s hidden will with a crow bar to find out how God deals with tragedies. No, instead, the real issue he wants us to focus on is the answer to the question: “who repents?” He urges each one of us to say to our Triune God above, “I repent.” And, my good friends, here is where it is good to remember what repentance is. In the words of our catechisms we memorize these words:

First: What is Confession?

Confession has two parts. The one is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution or forgiveness from the pastor as from God himself, not doubting but firmly believing that our sins are thus forgiven before God in heaven.

We focus in on the fact that repentance is seeing and admitting our sins. And this is important. But there is that other part to repentance. That other part of forgiveness is rejoicing that our sins are forgiven. There is such joy in knowing that when we confess our sins, God really, truly, and actually forgives them. He forgives them and forgets them. He gives us peace and joy, where before there was anger and bitterness. And so, my dear friends in Christ, in your own soul whenever you ask the question, “who repents,” knowing the promises of forgiveness Jesus speaks here, let your answer always be, “I repent.” Amen.


1 “ⲉⲁⲛ ⲙⲏ ⲙⲉⲧⲁⲛⲟⲏⲥⲏⲧⲉ ⲡⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥ ⲟⲙⲟⲓⲱⲥ ⲁⲡⲟⲗⲉⲓⲥⲑⲉ” (Luke 13:5 GNT-ALEX)

Jesus Prays For Me (Midweek Lent 3)

Lent

Jesus Prays For Me

Prayer is powerful When I was a child we had catechism class at 8 AM on Saturday mornings. And let’s just say, that at that time of the day, I wasn’t always at my best. So there weren’t too many thought-provoking questions I asked our pastor. But others did. I remember a fellow student ask this question once, “If God knows everything we are going to say and has it all planned out, then why should we pray?” And I thought to myself, “oooh, good question.” The pastor said that it was true that God knows every word you are going to say even before you open your mouth to say it. But he promises that he will hear your words. He promises that he will listen. He promises that he will answer your prayer according to his good and kind will. He told us that it ends up being a mystery. On the one hand, God has all events all planned out. On the other hand, in prayer, out of kindness to us, God bends his own will to meet our own. On that day, maybe for the first time, we began to see how powerful prayer actually is. This evening we see how powerful prayer is too. Only in these words the emphasis is not as much our prayers. The emphasis is Jesus’ prayers. In Luke 22, we read: 39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”” (Luke 22:39–42 NIV11-GKE)

These words take place on Holy Thursday night. They have had a large feast. They have had wine. It’s really late at night. And they have already had a long day. The only item on Jesus’ disciples is to get some sleep. But Jesus give them this invitation: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation” (Luke 22:40 NIV11-GKE) Then, in what follows we see a very clear and specific way that they and we too today can fall into temptation. Jesus offers up a prayer. He has a two part prayer. First, he says, “take this cup away from me.” Often in the bible, the phrase “drinking a cup,” simply means “to finish what you start.” Jesus knows that in a short amount of time he will be betrayed. And when that begins he needs to faithfully follow that path all the way to the end—all the way to crucifixion on Calvary. But isn’t what he asks for strange? He’s been telling his disciples that that is what he came here for, to suffer and die for them. It almost seems as if it’s a sinful prayer, against his Father’s plan and Jesus’ own purpose. But that is precisely why this prayer is so amazing. He prays and pours out his thoughts to his Father even though they are messy. Here Jesus is being tempted in every way as we are. But where we sin, Jesus did not. And that is shown by the words in the second part of this prayer. He says, “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NIV11-GKE). Jesus put his Father’s will and work above his own.

And this is where we pause and compare Jesus’ prayers with our own. How often could we say of our prayers that instead of saying, “thy will be done, “ we say, “My will, not thy will be done?” For example, when the Lord chooses to bring suffering into our lives in all its various forms. We pray that God would take it away, and he doesn’t. We get frustrated and angry and say, even if it’s in our own heart and never reaches our lips, “My will, not thy will.” Or we could say the same when it comes to silence. We pray and it seems like nobody up there is listening. If only God would do what we want, right?

That’s where the prayer that Jesus offers up tonight is so powerful and precious. For Jesus’ prayers cover up all those prayers I prayed when I said or meant “my will, not thy will be done.” But these words continue: 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” 47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”” (Luke 22:45–48 NIV11-GKE)

Notice how these words continue. Again Jesus begins with an invitation. Jesus invites his disciples to not fall into temptation. In the first part the temptation was to fall into the temptation of not letting God’s will be his will. Here the temptation is to not pray at all. And isn’t this such a temptation for us? Think in your life of all the opportunities you had to pray but didn’t. You were too busy. You had other priorities. You forgot. You thought you could do with your own hands only what God could do with his own will. I had a professor once who invited us to go to our church council and say, “I want 10 hours a week off to do nothing but pray so that our church would grow.” And when the church council says, “You need to get out there, do more visits, fill out more reports and attend more meetings,” then remind them of the book of Acts, where the apostles appointed deacons so that the disciples could devote themselves to prayer. That is our great sin sometimes, isn’t it? Sometimes we don’t pray because we overlook and forget it. Other times we don’t pray because we conclude that it might not really work.

And that’s why what Jesus does here is so important. Jesus prays for me not just when I do pray. Jesus also prays for me for all those times when I don’t pray. For all those times when I concluded that prayer was something I could forget or something that didn’t actually do a whole lot—those sins are forgiven by Christ and covered up by his own prayer.

The last detail to add here is to mention here at the end of the sermon the promise that the Holy Spirit gives to us in prayer. Jesus prays for us. And that means that all our sins of either mis-praying or not praying at all are forgiven. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t just deliver that forgiveness to us through his word. No, he also teaches us to pray properly. He teaches us to continually pray that his will would be done. He teaches us to take advantage of prayer, trusting that it is powerful. And so, my dear friends in Christ, Jesus prays for us. Jesus prays for us when we do pray. And Jesus prays for us when we do not pray. Amen.


I Must Press On (Lent 2)

Lent

I Must Press On

Take this cup away. It’s the season of Lent. And as a boy, year after year, during our midweek lent services we would hear about Jesus praying alone in the garden of Gethsemane. And one of the strangest expressions Jesus used was when he told his Father, “take this cup away.” I always thought it was weird, since from everything I could tell, he wasn’t even holding any cup. It was only years later, when I had grown up, that I realized that the expression of “drinking a cup” basically meant, You finish what you start. There are some tasks or projects that you take on and there’s no looking back. There is no pit stop. There is no pull off lane. You have to press on. And that’s precisely the point that God’s word makes to us this morning. In Luke 13, we read: “At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”” (Luke 13:31 NIV11-GKE)

Notice here in these words how Jesus is opposed. He is opposed sneakily and yet forcefully. The Pharisees do not say that they want to put Jesus to death. Instead, they say that Herod wants to put Jesus to death. It reminds me of when I was a child in 7th grade science class. My public school science teacher knew that I was a Christian. So he aske me once, “Steve, how do you know? How do you know that when it says that God created the world in 6 days a day wasn’t longer than 24 hours? We all know that one day is a rotation of the earth on its axis. What if it took millions of years for the world to rotate. That could be one day, right?’” At that time I didn’t know what to say in response. But I knew two things. First, it was sneaky. Second, it was very forceful. The same is going on with Jesus in these words. How then does Jesus respond to these words? 32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! 34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”” (Luke 13:32–35 NIV11-GKE)

Notice how Jesus responds. Jesus presses on. Jesus does not give into fear. He does not lash out. Also, he does not give out. Instead, he patiently presses on. And that makes us ask the vital question: Do we press on? When each of us faces attacks either from the outside of the church or even from within those that call themselves, Christian, do we press on? Do we patiently, pleasantly, and persistently answer them, speaking the truth in love as the bible asks us to? Sadly, if your Christian life is anything like mine, you face the temptation to stop. Instead of pressing on, you stop. First of all, you stop to lash out. Many years ago there was a vicar—a pastor in training. And as part of his vicar duties he would visit the hospital to see if any of his members where there. When he got there the lady at the front desk introduced him to the pastor from the other Lutheran church in town. The pastor was a lady and definitely held to views of the bible that were different than that vicar’s. So what did he do? He panicked. He lashed out against her, accusing her of being a false teacher. And many of the words that the vicar said were true. But what was the problem? He didn’t speak the truth in love. Or to put it in the context of these words, instead of pressing on, he stopped to lash out.

But the opposite can also happen. Instead of pressing on, we are tempted to stop and give out. For a year, I was a resident assistant at our WELS campus ministry house at Mankato State. And there I had the great privilege of getting to know many WELS students from around the US. But, as part of my work, I had to call the students on campus, letting them know what opportunities to grow in God’s word were there for them at the campus ministry center. On any given week there were about a dozen students who came to the campus house. But there were over 200 people on my calling list. And it makes you wonder how many of them grew up in good strong Christian families and churches. And then they went to classes at MSU and for the first time had their faith challenged so that it might be crushed. And it makes you wonder how many of them gave in. Instead of pressing on, staying in God’s word, they gave out.

Each of us faces the same sorts of temptations, don’t we? We face the temptation to lash out and the temptation to give out. And that’s why these words here are so meaningful to us. Jesus doesn’t fall into either trap. Jesus presses on. For all the times we lashed out and gave out, Jesus spoke the truth in love. Jesus presses on. And notice where pressing on led to. Jesus says, “surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (Luke 13:33 NIV11-GKE) Jesus knew what lay at the end of this trail. His own death was what lay at the end. And he did this all for us, to pay for the sins of the entire world. Jesus presses on.

But my dear friends, Jesus isn’t the only one who presses on. He invites us too to press on. For, as the bible says in our second reading from this morning, “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (Philippians 3:18 NIV11-GKE) And since there are many who live as enemies of Christ, we face opposition throughout our lives. And with that fact firmly set in our minds, Jesus invites us to press on. But he invites us to press on with the following facts in our minds too:

  1. Jesus promises to us that our sins are forgiven. There is this fear that comes from failure. When we face opposition, we can lash out or give out. And that demoralizes us when we face the same opposition again. Know that your are forgiven. Jesus perfectly pressed on in your place.
  2. But my dear friends, also know what happens when you do press on. God gives unity, true unity. How wonderful it is to know that any one of us can go down to the road to one of our neighboring sister congregations and there receive the Lord’s Supper, knowing that you confess the same faith as your brothers and sisters in Christ down the road. That’s why we press on. For that is a unity to hold onto.

So my dear friends in Christ, continue to press on. When you face obstacles and opposition, press on. Jesus forgives the times we lash out and give out. And he gives us every reason to continue to press on. Amen.