The Anointed One Does Not Abandon to Death
Easter Sunday – April 1, 2018
But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying: 8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.
15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:4,8-16
“I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” David, who wrote those words, was all too familiar with the shadow of death. It hung over him so heavy, so constantly, that he felt it could engulf him at any moment. Death seemed to be a giant, casting an all encompassing shadow over most of David’s experiences. In fact, David’s life had been filled with death.
One of the first times we hear about David is on the battlefield. He first killed another man when he was a young boy, when he defeated the giant Goliath. David then went on to be the object of Saul’s deadly jealousy and wrath. Saul threw spears at David. He hunted David down as a man marked for death. He killed the priests and townsfolk of Nob.
David had Uriah the Hittite killed to cover his sin of adultery. And at the end of it all, David counted his fighting men and once again had the blood of thousands on his hands as the Lord punished Israel.
There were also times when David had opportunity to send others to death. He could have murdered King Saul in the dark recesses of a cave. He could have snuffed out Saul’s life as he slept in a tent. Even after his own son, Absalom rebelled against him and his kingdom, David told his men not to kill him. When they did he was greatly distraught. Because of David’s adultery, the first child born to David and Bathsheba died in infancy.
David knew death better than most; and he was very aware of his own mortality. In Psalm 9 he described himself “in the gates of death.” He admitted in Psalm 13 that if God didn’t save him he would “sleep in death.” In Psalm 18 he declared “The cords of death entangled me” and “the snares of death confronted me.” He ultimately knew his body would be lain “in the dust of death.” The “Terrors of death [had] fallen on [David]” in Psalm 55.
And eventually death did find David. The physical death that seemed to stalk him all of his life, that giant shadow that hung over him, eventually washed David away. In his very matter-of-fact sermon in our second lesson, Peter stated, “I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.” David himself had become a testament to the fact that death comes to all alike: peasant and king, man and woman, believer and unbeliever.
David’s death was deserved. As great as King David was, as beautiful as his psalms sounded, as magnificent as his works had been, he still had to confess: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you [Lord], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” And because David was a sinner, part of God’s promise this morning included the fact that he would die physically. “When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors.”
How familiar are you with death? Have you been around death like David was? Have you watched someone die with your own eyes? Does that same death seem to daily stalk you like it stalked David? Do you feel the heavy weight of the shadow of death towering over you in this valley of life?
We might be aware of death, and perhaps you have even witnessed it, but we usually like to remove the thought of death from our daily lives. After all, who wants to think about the gravity of death on a daily basis? Who wants to think about their ultimate end? No wonder we relegate death to back rooms in hospitals and distant funeral homes. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, we want to keep death away from our thoughts and our sight.
Even worse than the inevitability of physical death is the frightening thought of eternal death. Like David, your sins and mine deserve death – physical death at the end of our lives, and eternal death in hell. Yet David believed that deliverance, even from death, comes from the Lord. “Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.” And in our psalm this morning David went even further: “You will not abandon me to the grave.”
How is that possible? David died! Peter told us David’s tomb could still be seen! David could write those words because of the promise the Lord gave him in our first lesson.
In response to God’s blessings of forgiveness, kingship and protection David wanted to build a house for the Lord. How fitting that would be – Israel’s greatest king would build the temple of the Lord!
This morning, we see God had something even greater in store for David. “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.” But this descendant wouldn’t be David’s son, Solomon. This promised descendant is Jesus Christ, our anointed Savior.
God the Father says, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.” We saw this past week how our wrongs and sins were thrust upon Jesus, causing him to be punished “with a rod wielded by men” and “with floggings inflicted by human hands.” We saw Jesus face our physical death and suffer the eternal death that should have been ours.
But this Easter Sunday we see David’s words come to life. While David had written the words of Psalm 16, they are Jesus’ words. “My body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave nor will you let your Holy One one see decay.” Dear Christian friends, on this Easter Sunday I can confidently tell you that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But I can also confidently tell you that “He is not [there]; he has risen, just as he said.”
Death, that ancient, awful enemy has been swallowed up in victory. And while physical death still comes at the end of our lives, it no longer leads to eternal death in hell. Jesus declared for you: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Great David knew what that meant. And in one of his most beautiful and memorable psalms, he wrote what Jesus’ resurrection means for all who believe in him: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Rejoice! Great David’s greater Son, Jesus, is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
The Anointed One Feeds You Eternally
Maundy Thursday – March 29, 2018
David went to Nob, to Ahimelek the priest. Ahimelek trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” 2 David answered Ahimelek the priest, “The king sent me on a mission and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. 3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.”
4 But the priest answered David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here—provided the men have kept themselves from women.” 5 David replied, “Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!” 6 So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.
7 Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd. 8 David asked Ahimelek, “Don’t you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.”
9 The priest replied, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.”
David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.” (1 Samuel 21:1-9)
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?” David asks that question of the Lord this evening. “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” For David, the Lord seemed nowhere to be found. David’s king, King Saul, had just tried to kill him…again. David’s own king, his own commander, his own father-in-law, Saul, had thrown spears at him. He had sent his guards to kill David.
Now, enough was enough. David had to run away. “In his arrogance,” David writes, “the wicked man hunts down the weak.” Saul was now on the hunt for David. The Kingdom of Israel would soon be divided between her current king and her future king. Lives would hang in the balance.
But where could David go? He couldn’t run home to Bethlehem. That would be the first place Saul would look! And David would just be putting his family in harm’s way. David could flee the kingdom altogether – but he didn’t even have a weapon. He also didn’t have any food.
So David looked for sanctuary at a place where countless others have gone over the ages. He went to the house of the Lord. Now in those days, the house of the Lord was in a small town called Nob. David ran as fast as he could to the town. A Levite by the name of Ahimelek was the priest on duty when David showed up. And while David must have been relieved to see the priest, Ahimelek trembled with fear when he saw David running toward him.
“Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” a frightened Ahimelek asked. It was a good question. As Saul’s servant, David never traveled alone. Something was wrong. David’s answer didn’t help clarify the situation. “The king sent me on a mission and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place.”
A mission from the king – and no sword or food? Everything about this sounded fishy. And David probably knew it, because he quickly asked, “Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.” And that might have been it. David could have been on his way and no one would have been the wiser.
But a new problem arose. “The priest answered David, ‘I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here.’” Taking the consecrated bread from the house of the Lord was no small thing.
That bread was laid out in the sanctuary. It was reserved for the Lord himself. The bread was to be left on the table for a week, only to be replaced on the Sabbath. And even then, only the priests were allowed to eat it once it had gone stale after a week.
Everything in the house of the Lord was like that. The candles were lit for the Lord – and used only for him. The wash basin was meant to cleanse the priests so they could stand in God’s presence. And the Ark of the Covenant was not even to be seen, except by the High Priest once a year. And now David was taking the bread that was in the presence of the Lord?! We never hear anything like this in Scripture. Even the most wicked kings left God’s bread alone.
Our reading for this evening seems to point out just how serious this was. “So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord.” David had just taken God’s bread. Now he needed a weapon.
“Don’t you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.” More fishy excuses. What servant of the king leaves on a mission without a weapon? David was woefully unprepared. But the priest wasn’t. “The priest replied, ‘The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.’” How fitting, the very sword David used to kill Goliath was given to him to use against his next enemy. “David said, ‘There is none like it; give it to me.’”
This is a David we are not used to seeing. He is running for his life. He is lying to a priest. And he is taking things that had been offered for the Lord only. Is this really Israel’s greatest king? He seems more like Israel’s greatest mooch! He is taking everything from the Lord and offering nothing in return. And miraculously, David was allowed to escape with his life!
This evening, we stay in the presence of the Lord but travel one thousands years after David. Great David’s Greater Son, Jesus, has gathered his disciples to celebrate the Passover for the last time.
Like David in the house of the Lord, these disciples of Jesus were woefully unworthy of taking anything from the Lord. Peter still defiantly thought he would die for the Lord. The rest of the disciples refused to believe they would ever abandon Jesus. And Judas was about to leave early to round up a mob to capture his Lord!
And in the midst of those unworthy followers, those “takers,” those sinners, Jesus gives one of his greatest gifts. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”
This evening we will hear these “words of institution” too. And are we any more worthy to receive the Lord’s Supper than these men? Of course not. We dare to come into the Lord’s presence, sinners as we are, asking for his bread and wine, which is his body and blood. We might as well be on the run like David from the consequences of sin.
In the midst of this dangerous situation, the Lord doesn’t smite us. He doesn’t banish us to eternal destruction. Instead, he gives us his dearest treasure. He gives us forgiveness of sins. He comes to each of us personally. And he unites us as believers. That is why Paul writes in our second lesson: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”
This is grace. The love of God we do not deserve sends his Son in his Supper to wash away our sins. And like David, like Jesus’ disciples, we also get to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Amen.
Jerusalem’s Anointed One Enters
Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018
David and all the Israelites marched to Jerusalem (that is, Jebus). The Jebusites who lived there 5 said to David, “You will not get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David. 6 David had said, “Whoever leads the attack on the Jebusites will become commander-in-chief.” Joab son of Zeruiah went up first, and so he received the command. 7 David then took up residence in the fortress, and so it was called the City of David. 8 He built up the city around it, from the terraces to the surrounding wall, while Joab restored the rest of the city. 9 And David became more and more powerful, because the Lord Almighty was with him. (1 Chronicles 11:4-9)
“Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” By the time of our first lesson, that would be easier said than done. David now reigned as Israel’s sole ruler. Saul had killed himself after losing the battle with the Philistines. David’s closest friend, Jonathan, had died too.
Enemies still surrounded Israel. The Philistines were raiding Israel unchecked while enemies still threatened Israel in the south, east and north as well. But one rebellious group still stood firm within Israel. They lived in the high impenetrable fortress town named Jebus. Jebus was the last remnant of the Canaanite peoples left to be conquered from the days of Joshua. Hundreds of years had passed, but no Israelite had been able to take the city.
Now David and his men were looking up at those imposing walls. “Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” The Jebusites were not the least bit afraid of David. They said to him, “You will not get in here.” It looked like they were right.
Throughout the ages this city would repel countless attacks from armies numbering hundreds of thousands. It would outlast year-long sieges. How in the world would David and his hundreds of men be able to conquer this unconquerable fortress?
As always, David and his men trusted in the true King of glory. “Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty — he is the King of glory.” No wall is strong enough to keep the Almighty Lord out. No army is so strong that they can stand against the Lord. And so despite going against every logical and tactical inclination, David and his men attacked.
In what sounds like an understatement, the book of 1 Chronicles tells us, “Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.” On that day the city of Jebus became the city of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel to this very day. More importantly, the king had arrived. “David then took up residence in the fortress, and so it was called the City of David.” As impressive as the city had been before, David would infinitely improve it. “He built up the city around it, from the terraces to the surrounding wall, while Joab restored the rest of the city.”
Throughout the next thousand years Jerusalem would continue to be the center of life for God’s people. David’s son, Solomon would build the temple of the Lord in it. Hezekiah would improve the walls and reroute its springs. And men like Zerubbabel and Nehemiah and Ezra would help rebuild it after its destruction.
The city of Jerusalem had seen quite a bit over the years. So had her people. By the end of the Old Testament, after seeing sieges and wars and destruction, many of the people had had enough of kings. Can you blame them? So many conquering kings had abused them and destroyed their city. And their current king, Herod, wasn’t even a Jew! Jerusalem’s golden days of kingly glory seemed to have come to an end.
It can be very difficult to wait years for something. It is far more difficult to show patience in the midst of suffering. Have you given up waiting for the return of the King? It is easy to fall into the temptation of giving up. The world we live in has no time for the arrival of a king, either from heaven or from earth. The devil tries every day to fix our attention on temporary, earthy worries. Our sinful nature wants to be king, and will fight against anyone who claims to be one. After daily fighting against these temptations and struggling with sin, we feel as tired as Jerusalem. Fatalism soon sets in as we wait for the next disaster to wreck our lives. “Who is this King of glory?” turns in to “Where is this King of glory?”
On Palm Sunday the King had finally arrived. Great David’s greater Son road in to the City of David itself. Jesus’ entrance could not have been more different from David’s. In place of enemy soldiers shouting there were crowds singing “Hosanna!” Instead of rushing up battlements by foot, Jesus road in on a colt. Instead of having to break down doors, the gates of Jerusalem were wide open. And in place of a conquering king riding a warhorse, we see our loving Savior humbly riding a peaceful donkey.
Yet the conclusion of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem could not have been more different from David’s. David finished the battle as the victorious conquering king, ushering in a new era for God’s people. He and his men stayed alive and won the city. It was exactly the opposite for Jesus. The gracious cries of “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday would soon give way to the angry shouts of “crucify him!” on Good Friday.
Knowing all this, Jesus willing rode in to Jerusalem anyway. While the crowds placed palm branches and cloaks on the ground for Jesus, the people said perhaps more than they realized. ”Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” The people may have been hoping for the return of David’s physical kingdom. But great David’s greater Son came to win for them, and us, a better kingdom – a heavenly kingdom.
Jesus’ death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday became the eternal fulfillment of David’s words: “Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” Those open gates and ancient doors of Jerusalem pale in comparison to the eternal home Jesus has won for you.
Pay attention to the details of this new, heavenly Jerusalem Jesus has won for you. In the book of Revelation tells us there will be no temple or sun or moon. The streets will be paved with gold, pure as glass. There will be twelve gates, and they will be wide open. And greatest of all was the detail King David looked forward to the most: “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”
Do not give up waiting for the second coming of your King. Continue to faithfully pray to you Father in heaven “Thy kingdom come.” And continue to say with patient faith: “Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors” and look forward to the day when “the King of glory” brings you in to heaven forever. Amen.
Life from Death
5th Sunday in Lent – March 18, 2018
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27”Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:20-33)
We’re coming to the end of winter. Finally. As the weather gets warmer, as the wind picks up, the ground will become softer. Out in the fields an army of planters will soon be dusted off and marched out into the fields. That’s when the funerals will start. Thousands, millions of them. No, not the funerals of persons who have died. The funerals of countless seeds.
I know we don’t usually talk that way about planting seeds in the ground, but this morning Jesus does. He looks out into the field and he sees a mass burial. Millions of funerals simultaneously, methodically taking place as farmers place each seed into the ground. Covering each one with dirt the seed is laid to rest – never to be seen again.
We don’t normally treat planting season like a funeral. No ceremonies take place for the seeds we bury into the ground – nor should there be. After all, we know what comes next. So does Jesus. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
Don’t get too attached to that seed you plant. The seed itself has to die. But as Jesus says, that kernel of wheat needs to fall to the ground and die so that it can produce many seeds. This entire natural process God set up of seeds dying and being buried to produce a new plant gives us a most important spiritual truth: Life can actually come from death.
That probably wasn’t the message the Greek people expected when they came to Jesus in our Gospel reading for this morning. How could it be? They had traveled so far to Jerusalem for the Feast. One great bonus would be that they would finally get to see this Jesus that everyone was talking about. They might get to see a miracle – or watch the teacher give one of his astounding sermons! So they approached Philip, the disciple with the Greek name, and made a beautiful request: “Sir…we would like to see Jesus.”
If we could travel back in time to Jerusalem on that day, we might have made the same request. “Can you just show us Jesus? That’s all we need.” But if these Greeks were expecting some astonishing miracle, they were going to be disappointed. Instead of showing them his great power, instead of towering over them, Jesus talks to them about one of the smallest things in creation. He talks about seeds. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
So let’s ask the question those Greek believers were probably thinking at this point: “Why seeds?” To answer that question we have to look at the calendar.
It was springtime. It was Passover week. In fact, it was Holy Week. No one knew it yet, but this week that already began with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, would end with his death on Good Friday.
Jesus has death on his mind. And he wants us to have it in mind as well. “The man who loves his life will lose it.” In other words, if you care more about preserving your own life than Jesus, if you care more about serving yourself than others, then you run the risk of losing your eternal life. It is like a single seed clinging desperately to its own life. If that seed doesn’t want to go through the process of being buried – of dying – then nothing will grow from it.
“The man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The seed that is willing to be buried and die is the seed that produces life. The person that is willing to give up his life, the person that is willing to serve will also inherit eternal life.
So which seed are you? Are you the seed that wants to save its life here on earth, or are you the seed willing to give up selfishly looking to yourself first? Do you want to be planted in the ground and die or stay above ground a live for a little while? Selfishly, we have that desire to look inward and save ourselves. I want to avoid any semblance of death. I want to live for myself.
Long ago, Adam and Eve gave into a selfish sin. They ate the tree, thinking that they could improve their own life rather than look to God. After they had sinned the Lord came and told them that the wages of that sin would be death. But then, in love, he promised salvation. Speaking to the devil, the Lord literally promised: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
That Seed of the woman, Jesus, was now walking toward that fulfillment. His heel was about to be struck by the cross. The Seed was about to be lifted up on that cross. That is why Jesus ended by saying: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” John explains what he meant: “[Jesus] said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”
There is a moment when you plant a seed when doubt creeps in. Will the seed actually grow? Will anything come out of that seed buried in the dirt? The few believers left who watched Jesus die on the cross to take away the sins of the entire world wondered that very thing. The Seed looked dead forever.
Seeds are a mysterious bunch. For as simple as they look, there are still some surprising details we don’t yet know. For some reason, seeds always know which way is up – so they grow the right way. Seeds are some of the most impervious things on earth – they can survive for thousands of years. And most of all, we don’t know what sparks a seed to grow. We know the conditions it needs to grow – but we still don’t know what sparks it.
With Jesus, the promised Seed, we know. He who once was dead came alive again on Easter Sunday. As a Seed, Jesus died so that he would produce many seeds. He died that we might live.
And we do live…like seeds. We die to sin. We bury our sinful nature. And we rise anew to live for our Savior, Jesus. And now we get to grow where the Lord plants us. We grow through his Word. We grow through the sacraments. And we live for him – here on earth and forever in heaven.
And that is the most marvelous part of all. Only Jesus can give you life…even through death. Amen.
In A Mirror Darkly
4th Sunday in Lent – March 11, 2018
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)
The Apostle Paul once looked out into this world – blackened by sin – and wrote: “For now we see in a mirror, darkly.” The haze of sin clouds this world, the thick blackness of evil shrouds everything we see. Paul understood that.
To a certain extent, so did an Italian psychologist named Giovanni Caputo. In a psychological study straight out of a horror film, Giovanni decided to find the place where scientific study and wide-awake nightmare collide. He may have used the Apostle Paul’s words as a guide, because the place Giovanni discovered for his experiment, the great source of his scientific illusion, just so happened to be “in a mirror…darkly.”
You see, Giovanni, as a psychologist, was researching how our mind affects what we see. So he set up a cavernous room that was lit only by a dim light. Then, one at a time, he would call in an individual to sit down in front of the dim light and look into a mirror. And there the person would sit, staring into a mirror with a faint light behind him – studying the reflection. It seemed harmless enough. But then something happened that even Giovanni wasn’t ready for.
After about a minute, the person sitting in that faintly-lit room, staring into the mirror soon began to see a change. His own reflection morphed. For many, the scene became appalling. Some claimed they saw the reflection of own face become deformed. Others watched the reflection of their face change into the likeness of their parent’s face. Some watched the mirror change the image completely – and they saw an image of someone they had never seen before. Some saw the face of an animal come into view.
And then there were some poor souls who watched in that dimly lit room as the faint reflection of their face changed into a reflection of a monstrous being. Throughout the tests, Giovanni assured the participants that it was harmless study. But the people weren’t so sure. When the participants watched the reflection in the mirror change, some became frightened. Others felt as though another presence was there with them in the room. Some even thought that the specter in the mirror was actually someone else (or something else) looking right back at them. It was all some of the participants could do to keep themselves from running out of the room screaming.
Giovanni’s harmless psychological study had become a wide-awake nightmare for the participants. They had looked into a mirror darkly, and they were horrified by what they saw.
This morning, I can’t say for certain what these men and women saw in the mirror. Was it their mind twisting what they saw? Or was it something darker at work?
What I can tell you this morning, is that you are looking in a mirror darkly every day. And what you see might look frighteningly similar to what Giovanni’s poor participants witnessed. Paul himself understood that as he looked at our sin-darkened world. All of us, every day, look out into this world and see it to be like looking “in a mirror darkly.”
Jesus saw the very same thing. He had come as the Light of the world, and nobody recognized him. That is why our Gospel reading says, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” While darkness can be a frightful feeling, we sometimes welcome it. After all, thick darkness can cloak us in invisibility. Within that blackness our sinful nature runs wild. “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
So there we sit, struggling with sin in the dimly lit room of this world. Our sinful nature eggs us on – encouraging us, pulling us further into the darkness. “No one will see!” it cries out. “No one will know!” And further in we go – until darkness is all around and no light can be found.
That is when the Lord holds the mirror of his law up to us. He shows us for who we are, sin and all. And when we look at our sinful selves, it is like looking into Giovanni’s dimly-lit mirror. We see someone we don’t even recognize – twisted, monstrous, sinful.
“Men loved darkness instead of light.” That seemed especially true during the Passion history of our Lord. While Jesus prayed during the night in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, arrived with a mob. Soldiers and Jewish leaders were about to apprehend Jesus under the cover of night. No one would see what they were doing. Darkness would make the perfect cover.
Jesus understood the entire situation – and he called them out on their actions: “Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.” Imagine how difficult it was for the Lord of light to let darkness reign! The darkness of his own people, the darkness of the Romans all led to the darkness of the cross.
The Gospel writers even tell us that while Jesus suffered on the cross a thick darkness covered the sky and the sun stopped shining. And at the end of it all, Jesus, the Light of the world, allowed himself to stop shining.
Three days later the Light of the world shone ever brightly. Jesus rose again. And the ancient words of Isaiah were instantly fulfilled: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Now with that light of Christ, with the light of his word, we can begin to see things clearly. “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
There is an old Jewish custom that when a member of a family dies, every mirror in the house is covered for several days. The reasons are superstitious. They believe the soul of the deceased could get trapped in an uncovered mirror.
We know the truth. The dimly-lit mirrors of this world might look frightening. Darkness will continue to cover this world. But in the thick blackness of this world, look to your light. Look to Christ. “For now we see in a mirror, darkly.” But when Christ returns, we shall see him face to face in the perfect light of heaven. In the meantime, let us always confess: “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” Amen.
The Foolishness of God
3rd Sunday in Lent – March 4, 2018
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
When the Apostle Paul first wrote to the Christian church in the big city of Corinth, he asked a couple rhetorical questions. “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?” Well actually, they were everywhere. It seemed like wherever Paul walked, every city he preached the gospel in, everywhere he sailed he found people claiming to be “wise” scholars and philosophers.
Some cried out that Paul’s God isn’t powerful enough – and they demanded God proved himself with signs. And that’s true – that happened. The philosopher Epicurus once wrote, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is God able to prevent evil, but not willing? Then he is evil.” Does that sound familiar? It is the same argument people make today against Christianity. “If God is so good, then why do bad things happen?”
Paul ran in to others who demanded a sign of power from God. One anonymous quotation audaciously commanded: “If god doesn’t like the way I live, Let him tell me, not you.” I suppose the person who originally said that meant that a booming voice from the clouds could be the only thing that could stop him. And as far as we no, that man never heard a booming voice.
But that wasn’t all. Paul also ran in to people who called themselves scholars. They laughed at God’s wisdom. And men have been attempting to look down on God ever since. A man considered to be one of the greatest writers in American history, Ernest Hemingway, once wrote: “All thinking men are atheists.” What condescension! To think that the only way a person can be intelligent is to not believe in God! The famous historian Edward Gibbon agreed with Hemingway. He stated: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” Quite a cynical approach to religion.
To make matters worse, not only were these objections waiting for Paul in every city he traveled to, but Paul’s message sounded like the least logical of all. I’ll let him tell you why: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.” And you can imagine how that went over among the “scholars” of Paul’s age.
Here’s one example. On one occasion, Paul found himself among the most revered philosophers on earth. He was in Athens. And they actually invited him to come and speak. Paul certainly would not refuse the opportunity. So he went and preached law and gospel. Now hear what happens at the end of that sermon: “‘[God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’ When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered.”
Paul had preached about Jesus’ death and resurrection – and no intelligent philosopher could accept it. It offended every sense. It stood against every known law of logic. Paul understands that.
This morning he summarizes the situation: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
And I bet you already knew that. In our hyper-charged, politically correct culture, the more you talk about Christ, the more you get yelled at. Try bringing up Bible verses in a college classroom and you are laughed out of the building. Speak with some of the most intelligent people of our age, and pretty soon you realize that they have no time for God, no time for faith, and no time for Christ crucified.
“These are not the musings of modern-day philosophers. These are the stories of Sunday school teachers!” Isn’t it frustrating? Maybe “frustrating” isn’t a strong enough word. Isn’t it maddening? The world calls what you believe, “foolishness” and refuses to listen to any explanation you have to give to the contrary.
But there is an even greater danger lurking in the shadows. This wisdom of the world can sometimes be so very enticing. When we find ourselves sharing God’s Word, we have to admit there are teachings that can be difficult to defend to our present culture. God’s roles for men and women don’t sound like they agree with 21st century America – and sometimes I’m tempted to wonder if God got it right. God’s laws against homosexuality are clear as day in Scripture, but they are considered hateful by our world.
These and all the other teachings of God continue to be “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” And that was most apparent when God himself stood among those Jews and Gentiles. After he was captured and brought before the Jewish rulers, men considered to be the wisest in Israel, they asked him for truth: “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” And Jesus responded, “Yes, it is as you say.”
So they whisked Jesus away to the Gentile governor, Pontius Pilate. He too questioned Jesus, looking for truth in wisdom. Finally, Jesus stated, “For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Pilate responded like every scholar, like every wise man, like every doubter ever responded: “What is truth?”
It looked so foolish of God to send his Son into a world that hated him. It looked ridiculous for Christ to hand himself over to Judas, then the Jews, and then the Gentiles. What person, especially our omniscient God, would allow such a thing to happen to himself? To suffer? To die? It offends all reason! It stands against logic itself!
“Christ crucified [is] a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” There is no getting around it. “But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Let the world have their “wisdom.” It is no wisdom at all. The haughty philosophers and the wisest scholars can look down on Christian children and Sunday School teachers all they want. The truth remains, those little ones are some of the wisest souls on earth – in God’s eyes. And here’s why: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
Share that wisdom of God. Live those wise words. “Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!” Amen.