Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sermon: Judica (Lent 5)

9 March 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA Text: John 8:42-59 (Gen 22:1-14, Heb 9:11-15)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

When people act under the influence of Satan, they do strange things. They act in a way that is irrational – even contrary to the natural instinct God has given every living being for self-preservation. A person who is under delusions from the devil will cut his own lifeline out of pride rather than humbly submit to being rescued. For the devil is the father of death. And sons of the devil will not even allow the Son of God to offer them a way out of the death that Satan has saddled them with.

This kind of pride, this rejection of salvation is sometimes called “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.” It is twisted and diabolical. The devil so deludes people that they would rather die on their own terms than live under God’s terms. They would rather repent from life and accept damnation than repent of their sins and receive salvation.

People who are under the devil’s influence have surrendered their will to their Satanic father, and they even refuse to see what is clearly in front of them, opting for death and decay, instead of praying “Thy will be done” to their heavenly Father to sanctify them, that they may see with eyes of faith and uplifted hope borne of the cross and the resurrection.

This is the essence of our Blessed Lord’s preaching to the “sons of the devil” who, though their eyes, their ears, and the Scriptures themselves declare to them – even shout out to them – that the Son of God is standing before them, offering them the kingdom of God. Though He is right there, handing out eternal life as a free gift, their corrupted senses are deluded into seeing what they believe to be a manifestation of evil, of demons.

They have become like people strung out on psychedelic drugs, whose eyes and ears can no longer be trusted, since their brains are filled with hallucinations. They see the Christ, but call him a demon. They see miracles of mercy, but call them manifestations of evil. They hear the very words of God, but describe them as oracles of the devil. And when they, just like Moses, hear the voice of God Himself proclaiming, “I AM,” instead of falling on their knees in worship, they rise up in indignation. Instead of submitting to Him who, out of mercy, permits them to live, they gather stones to try to bring the Author of life Himself into submission to death.

For unlike their father Abraham who “rejoiced to see [His] day,” these adopted sons of Satan writhe and spit like serpents at the very mention of the name of God spoken in their midst. And so great is their delusion that they seek to strike the heel of the Him who has taken on flesh to save them.

These descendants of Abraham have no faith. They are so laden with pride that they refuse to “let God be God.” Instead, they seek religion on their own terms rather than submitting in faith to Him.

Abraham could easily have “cut off his nose to spite his face.” For the Lord was asking him not only to believe in the impossible, but to do something that seems to contradict every law of decency and love. Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his own son, his beloved son, his only son. He was commanded to place wood on his back, bring him to the top of a hill, and there slay him. This was a test of Abraham’s faith. Would Abraham call God “evil”? Would Abraham choose his own sense of justice and pride above the righteous demands of God? Abraham was indeed prepared to sacrifice His son, clinging above all hope to the promise that “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”

Abraham had no idea how God would raise his son to life again to keep his promise that through this son, Abraham would have many descendants. Abraham submitted to this somber duty, and raised the knife over his boy’s head – only to be intercepted by the Angel of the Lord.

For Abraham was no “son of the devil.” Abraham was an obedient child of God, who would not even withhold his obedient child from God. And on this day, there was to be no son sacrificed on the altar – save the ram that appeared miraculously, his head entangled in thorns. Indeed, the Lord Himself provided the sacrifice.

How easy it would have been for Abraham to dismiss the Word of God as “evil”? Who among us would have faulted Abraham for a moment had he said “no” to God, decried this command as the word of a demon, and simply refused to carry out the Lord’s will?

Abraham was a great man, but One even greater than Abraham is here. He is the One who was truly the Lamb provided by God, the one who would take Isaac’s place on the altar as the only begotten and beloved Son, the Ram whose head was to be entangled in thorns, whose body would be consumed as a sacrifice to God to atone for the sin of the world.

This sacrificial Victim is no son of the devil, dear Christians, but rather the “only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds.” He is the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” He is the One who crushes the serpent’s head and casts out demons by the authority He receives from His Father, God the Father Almighty. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the one with the birthright to utter “I AM” – the One who was, is, and is to come – whose “kingdom will have no end.”

He is our “High Priest of the good things to come.” For even as he slipped away from sinful men by dissipating into the crowd, departing the temple, it is He who has come to us sinful men “with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.”

For we “who are called,” who “receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” know the truth: “Not with all the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”

Unlike the unbelievers of the old covenant who decried Jesus as a demoniac, we baptized children of God know who He is: “the Mediator of the new covenant.”

And far be it for us to “cut off our noses to spite our faces”! Pride will not save us from our transgressions. Neither will an appeal to the Law of Moses, nor descent from Abraham, nor the sacrifices of our own works and claims of righteousness. We have been rescued, and we must never be so proud as to deny it. We have been saved by a sacrificial act of mercy. We must never be so haughty as to refuse to submit to Him who has promised: “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”

“For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord will provide! He invites you to partake in the one all-availing sacrifice. He offers Himself for you to eat and to drink. Let Satan be the one to cut off his nose to spite his face, even as our Lord crushes his serpentine head. It is our prayer that all of Satan’s followers repent. And may all of us, like Abraham and with Abraham, rejoice in this His day, the Lord’s day, a day of salvation and victory – now and unto eternity. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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