Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lent midweek 2 March 16, 2011

Midweek 2 Sermon
March 16, 2011
The Crucified Lamb of God
1 Corinthians 1:21–25

“Lamb of God, pure and holy”—that is our theme hymn for this season (LSB 434). Tonight, this second week of Lent, our attention shifts to the next line of the hymn: “who on the cross didst suffer.” “So what,” some would respond, “I’ve heard all that before.” And that is just the problem: we are in danger of losing sight of what St. Paul calls the very heart of the Gospel—the crucified Lamb of God.

There is a certain edge to the Gospel as the apostle describes it. “A stumbling block” and “foolishness” are the words he uses to identify the preaching of Christ crucified. And we usually don’t get it either. It’s almost as if Christians have heard this message so often that it seems perfectly logical to us that God should be nailed to a cross to die helplessly by the hands of His own creation. Just look around. There are crosses everywhere: here in the chancel, there on the windows. And many of you in the pews this evening probably have one around your neck.

I’m not preaching against crosses, and I don’t want you to quit wearing one. Instead, I’d like you to see that all too often we don’t come to grips with the full impact of the meaning of the cross for us and for our salvation. We have been lulled into a comfortable daze by the whole saga of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, His torture and execution, His redemption and atonement by which He won salvation as our stand-in. We are all too familiar with that story. And familiarity, as we all know, breeds contempt. It is so easy to shrug off the message of the cross. After a while it becomes just another soothing mantra, empty of meaning. Tonight, however, the apostle brings the cross into sharper focus so that we may unflinchingly ponder the astonishing depth of what it means that Jesus became the victim that we might win the victory.

First, it is important to understand that God’s ways are not man’s ways. The world has a wisdom of its own, and that “wisdom” flies in the face of God’s wisdom. Skeptics are always complaining that the Bible doesn’t make any sense. They can’t figure out how God created the world in six days or why bad things happen to good people. The world expects God to behave like a famous scientist at a respectable cocktail party, patiently fielding questions from admiring fans, translating highly complex mysteries of the universe into language that makes perfect sense to human logic.

But God will not be put into that box—not because He is opposed to logic (after all, He created human reason) but because God is bigger than human understanding. His judgments are unsearchable. No one can know the mind of the Lord or serve as His counselor (see Romans 11:33–34), for He is the almighty Creator of heaven and earth. Yet misguided people insist on measuring God by a yardstick.

It won’t work. God is a lot bigger than that. People keep insisting that they want things their way, but their way is not God’s way. There is a reason for that. Their way leads to death, while God’s way alone leads to life.

Just ask Eve and her husband, Adam. Satan claimed it would be better to know both good and evil rather than being stuck with only good, and Eve bought that lie. She thought the forbidden fruit looked pretty tasty, and besides it was desirable to make one wise. So she and Adam went for the wisdom that seemed to make more sense, rather than sticking with the wisdom of God, who had warned them that they would die when they ate of that fruit. But Adam and Eve ate anyway. And die they did—Adam and Eve and all their children after them. All of mankind since the fall of Adam has been in the process of dying.

But God’s wisdom is different. His route leads not to death but to life—in fact, He leads to life eternal. Not that you would know it up front. God in His wisdom was willing to make Himself foolish that He might rescue a world bent on destruction. So, God the Father set in motion a plan that would lead His Son to empty Himself of His divine glory and majesty and lower Himself all the way to become a tiny baby within the womb of His virgin mother, to be cradled and cuddled like any other newborn, fed and diapered like all the rest, completely helpless and vulnerable just like any human infant.

Foolishness—that is what it is. A crazy idea by any human standard. But that wasn’t all, as you know. Having set aside His divine power, the Lord of all life lowered Himself still farther—all the way to death, even the death of the cross. And this was not merely an agonizing death, but it was a shameful death. For when you were nailed to a cross, you were the scum of the earth. It is quite a long distance to leave behind the majesty of heaven’s glory to become the scum of the earth, but that’s how far our Lord God went to rescue us in that reckless, foolish love of His.

The preaching of the cross has never gone over very well among those who do not have the Spirit of God. The Greeks called it—idiotic. The Jews considered it—humiliating. What weak kind of God would allow Himself to be manhandled and defiled in that way? They just couldn’t stomach it, this foolishness and weakness of God. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Many people today still don’t get it, just like the Greeks and Jews before them. The cross still doesn’t have much curb appeal. That Lamb of God “who on the cross didst suffer” doesn’t sell too well among today’s seekers. “Our God is an awesome God,” people insist. He will give you a happy, fulfilling life if you just turn things over to Him. The very notion of a crucified God doesn’t fit in a “can-do” world. For that reason, there’s been backpedaling going on for some time now on the central message of Christ crucified. Jesus as hero, Jesus as example, Jesus as example for living seems much more attractive to practically minded folks like us with inquiring minds. We all want to know what we can do to improve our own lot, and the cross doesn’t seem to make much sense when it comes to self-improvement.

It is precisely on that point of Gospel that we can learn a lot. “Because Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, therefore we deliberately preach Christ crucified,” writes St. Paul (1 Corinthians 1:22). We need to intentionally preaching a crucified Christ, especially when we are dealing with people who are looking for everything but a crucified Christ. Why? Because through what those people think is foolishness and a stumbling block, God is at work to rescue and to save. Precisely in the foolish, offensive message of Christ crucified, God calls sinners out of death and into life.

So the crucified Lamb of God may not be trendy, but that is all right. We Christians don’t mind being labeled outdated and out of step with the world when the world is marching to a different beat. We don’t care if others reject as foolishness and weakness the Gospel we have heard and believe, because “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). In the weakness of His incarnation, the Son of God has shouldered our humanity that He might ransom us from the tyranny of sin and death. In the foolishness of His lowly, degrading death by crucifixion, Jesus Himself became the ransom price.

Lent may seem like a downer, but that is okay. Actually, we all need to be taken down a few notches. We need to repent of our sin, not learn to live with it. If you are tempted to think that sin is no big deal, look at Calvary. If you begin to feel that God doesn’t care about sin, look at the cross. And not just a bare and empty cross, but the cross upon which hangs the body of our Redeemer, who is God in human flesh. There the vastness of sin comes into focus. There the pure and holy Lamb of God was made to be sin for us; and as the sin-bearer He bore the just penalty of our sin. Jesus’ sacred body and most precious blood were placed in the balance scales of God’s eternal justice, and as the full weight of the guilt of all the world came down on Jesus, He died that we might live. At the cross Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice, exchanging His righteousness for our guilt, His holiness for our shame, His purity for our filth. He became sin for us, dying our death on that cross at that place called Calvary.

It looked for all the world like a tragedy that day they nailed God’s Son to the cross. But it was not tragedy, it was triumph! It was the express will and purpose of God the Father that His own Son, the pure and holy Lamb of God, would suffer death upon a cross. That cross was the intersection of God’s love and His justice, the meeting place of His mercy and our sin. Jesus swapped His purity for the filth of our sin and exchanged His holiness for our shame. By God’s express decree we all receive life for death, purity to erase our filth, and holiness to cover up our shame. It is the purity and holiness of the pure and holy Lamb of God, “who on the cross didst suffer.”

Because Jesus suffered, you need not fear any suffering that may come your way. No matter how grievous the sorrow or heavy the load, no suffering of yours will ever be able to drive a wedge between you and the gracious love of God. Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And this is true precisely because Christ is the Lamb of God, “who on the cross didst suffer.” Nothing can touch you because you belong to Him.

So what if some people reject the Gospel because they consider it offensive and foolish? So what if some people consider the preaching of the cross to be weak and ineffective? “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). The cross is not just the emblem of your salvation, but it is the sign and seal of God’s redemption, the stamp of His approval. The cross is the permanent mark that your sins are gone and the power of Satan is broken, that the tyranny of death and the grave is over and done. Come what may, therefore, we preach Christ crucified. For this crucified Christ is our only hope in this world and the next. Since the pure and holy Lamb of God suffered once for you on His cross, now all His purity and holiness are yours as well. Take heart this night and live in Him who died yet lives forevermore. Amen.