Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Scandal of Particularity

Fifth Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Luke 20:9-20

They say you’re not supposed to use theological jargon in sermons. But it’s too much fun to say “scandal of particularity” to never use it. So let’s break it down. Everybody knows about scandal. We hear about scandals all the time. So and so had an affair. So and so embezzled funds. And we distinguish between particular things and general or broad things all the time.

So the scandal of particularity is something specific and offensive. We’re not talking about any old thing and it’s not just a notion that doesn’t affect us one way or the other. It’s a scandal and it’s particular.

Some people don’t like to hear this about God. They want to hear about a loving God that’s going to smile down on everyone. They don’t want to hear Jesus saying words like “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” They don’t want to hear about how Jesus is the rock upon which men will stumble and be shattered.

But that’s why it’s called the scandal of particularity. Jesus isn’t about sappy love. He’s scandalous. He doesn’t fill everybody up with good feelings, He scandalizes them. This is seen in the religious leaders’ response to Jesus. They didn’t want to hear it. They set out to kill Him.

Everyone who heard Jesus’ parable was surprised, in fact. And what do we do in response to God? We ignore Him. Or sin against Him. Or disobey His commandments. Or rationalize our way out of this messy problem of Jesus having hard things to say to us that we don’t want to hear.

But there is no getting around the scandal of particularity. People try to avoid it in this life and they fool themselves into thinking they’re successful. But that’s because avoiding it in this life can be done—but this life is a brief part of our eternal existence. When we die and face the Judgment we will see that the scandal of particularity means that those who believe that Jesus is their Savior will enter heaven and those who do not will eternally suffer in hell.

The scandal of particularity cannot be avoided. It begins with the very Word of God itself. Some people do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that’s because they are scandalized by it. We can see this kind of thing going on with the whole tomb of Jesus farce. Some people believe that every person who has been born had a physical father and physical mother so the belief that Jesus is God—born of a virgin—is simply that, a belief and has no basis in truth.

But we’re not scandalized by God’s Word. We believe it’s true—yes we do. We take the Bible to be the Word of God—no being scandalized by it for us. We believe that Jesus was born of a virgin and He is God. But what about when we hear something in the Bible we don’t like? Fudging on your taxes is stealing. The gift of sex is reserved for the bonds of marriage. We sometimes let our expressions of anger get the best of us, even when it’s directed against something that’s not right.

We don’t want to hear this kind of stuff. But that’s God, for you—His Word is offensive to us. We are, after all, sinful human beings. It makes sense that our sinful nature rebels against God’s holy Law. But God doesn’t just stop there. He doesn’t just tell us what to do and not to do and we’re left to be scandalized by it. No, God sends His Son. God creates the ultimate scandal in the Rock of offense that is His Son. Does this sound like a happy clappy God sending a Savior?: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

So here He is to save the world from sin but they’re either shattered or crushed. If you fall on the stone that is Christ you’re in pieces and if it falls on you you’re crushed. The rabbis had a saying: “If a stone falls on a pot, woe to the pot! If the pot falls on the stone, woe to the pot! Either way, woe to the pot!” We’re the pot. Christ is the stone. The Rock of offense. He came to scandalize. The Bible says that it’s the Gospel that is the stumbling block.

So how is there hope in Him? Well, Jesus told us this parable for a reason. Intelligent as they were, the religious leaders figured out He was speaking it against them. As a warning. As a call to repentance. And also as an example for all the ordinary Christians. And you know who else He spoke this parable for? You and me.

You know why it’s offensive that Jesus says there is salvation only Him? Because that removes anything we can put on the table. We can’t offer a thing to God that He’ll accept. And all those pet sins we have? Especially those ones we’ve rationalized away, successfully convincing ourselves that they’re not really sins, or at least not really that bad… Those stand in the way. This is what we do not see. That we are the ones who offend God by our sin.

So how is this Good News of Jesus’ suffering and death for the sins of the world a good thing when it’s the scandal of particularity? How is it a comforting thing when it means we will be shattered or crushed? Because we must be offended; otherwise we’d be placing our hope in ourselves. And because we must crushed; otherwise our sinful nature would have the winning hand.

Think if there were no way to know for sure where salvation is to be found? How would there be hope in that? But salvation is very particular—it’s found in one Person. Think about if we were allowed to hang on to our notions of being good people. How could we be saved since we are utterly corrupt in our hearts?

It’s hard to hear. It’s never easy. But Jesus is here telling you where salvation is to be found. He’s making it startlingly clear that it’s so specific that there is nowhere else you can look in order to find salvation.

It’s in Him. And Him alone. It’s in His suffering and death. In His being crushed by the weight of our sin. It’s in the sealing of the deal of His resurrection. Yes, we are crushed. Our sinful nature is crucified with Christ and stamped out. But we are raised to new life in Baptism. And the eternal love of God? It’s very particular: Christ died on the cross to save you for eternity. Amen.


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