Sunday, March 13, 2016

Your Lord Is Merciful to You

Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 13, 2016
Imagine you are on trial. The charge against you is that you have not done enough to please God. And the prosecuting attorney says that even what you have done is not what God has expected of you.

How will you stand up? Will the judge be convinced of this perversion being promoted by this outrageous attorney?

Or will he see you for what you are, a Bible-believing, God-fearing Christian. You know you’re not perfect, of course. If your defense rested on that, the judge would see right through it. No, you have a much better defense. And who knows better than you do about how you stand up against the charges brought against you? You do, and that is why you are your own defense attorney.

You will present your case to the judge so that he will see the lies of the prosecuting attorney. The judge will even see that he is the one who should be brought up on charges.

Now that you have imagined this, consider that what has just been described; what you were just asked to imagine, is actually true. You are on trial. You do think the charges are outrageous. You do appeal to the judge on your own merit. You do think that you will be vindicated. And that is why you are so ready to defend yourself.

One thing we haven’t done, though, is identify the judge and the prosecuting attorney. The judge is God Himself. The prosecuting attorney is Jesus Himself. He has brought these charges against you and the holy God, His Father, agrees and finds you guilty.

Do not imagine this. It is what is the case with you. You are in fact on trial before God and unfortunately you have chosen to defend yourself. You don’t have a chance. God the holy judge finds you guilty as charged. If you dispute it or think you still will be able to vindicate yourself, you will only further condemn yourself.

One of the imaginations we like to dream up is that things really aren’t this way. Living this life seems anything but being on trial. It seems anything but God being against you in the courtroom. It seems anything but your entire defense floating away like a mist.

Life just doesn’t seem that way, does it? We go along with our daily lives and there doesn’t seem to be imminent danger. It’s not like God has handed down a verdict and we’re hauled off to prison, let alone eternal condemnation. So we think that the courtroom scene that really is is really much more of an imaginary exercise.

This is one of the great challenges for us as Christians. How do we see what we so want the world to see? What do we wish that people saw? That they are born in sin and that in thought and action they sin. We want them to see their need, don’t we? We want them to wake up and see that they need to be saved from their sin and the guilt they have before God. Our heart goes out to them that they do not see that God in His holiness and justice condemns sinners. This is the great evangelistic task of the Church. We are to make known to people that there is salvation in one way and one way alone. And that one way is not through themselves.

Why is it so hard, then, for us to see that in ourselves? Why do we rest in the comfort of our own goodness? Why do we think that since we’re in, we are in good with God and He’s good with us as we are? Why do we see our sin as mistakes we make and not what separates us from Him? Why do we think of grace as excusing a host of thoughts and actions that aren’t so bad as to merit hell? Why do we become impatient with God? Why are we impatient with others, even those we love the most? Why do we say things about others that we would never say to their face? Why do we not hunger and thirst for the Word of God but eat up our time with entertainment or work or laziness?

You have the opportunity now to stand in this courtroom with a defense attorney who will actually defend you, rather than depending on yourself to excuse yourself. There is time for you to repent of your sin and amend what you have done wrong. Once you die the verdict will be handed down and the gavel struck. You must see yourself as you wish those who do not know Christ to see themselves.

Those people in the Gospel reading look like the bad guys, don’t they. We look at them and think, They just don’t get it. They are refusing to see that Jesus is not just a man, He is God in the flesh. They rejected Him and put their trust in their heritage, in their own works, in themselves. Instead of seeing that God had come to save them in Jesus, they wanted to take comfort in their own worthiness.

But don’t we see? This is written for us. This is written to show us that we are them. We reject Jesus by sinning and thinking that we’re not all that bad. We do not completely trust in Him when we think to any degree that we are not deserving of hell. This is why Jesus was so insistent on judging them, it was the only way to open their eyes. Don’t do as they did and defend yourself. Throw yourself at the mercy of the court.

In other words, repent. Don’t just see your sin as stuff you really shouldn’t be doing. See it for what it is. It is what condemns you to hell, and God the judge will do just that. But if you hear Jesus’ word, as He says in the Gospel reading, and keep it, then you are of God. An amazing thing happens as you are on trial. The prosecuting attorney steps into your place and stands guilty as charged. The judge who was standing in judgment against you instead grants you mercy.

You are vindicated, but it is by the very opposite means in which you were hoping for vindication. You stand before God not on trial but as the son or daughter of your Heavenly Father who loves you. You stand before Him not as one who is trying to convince Him of what He ought to do for you but as one who offers only your sin, your guilt, and your unworthiness. You face Him with your head held high, however, because you ask not for anything but simply mercy. You ask Him to forgive your sin. To remove your guilt. To wipe out your condemnation.

The prayer of the Psalmist in the Introit today is, Vindicate me, O God. It is crucial we see this as the plea for mercy. We are vindicated, not because of ourselves, but because of Christ. We are given mercy because of God Himself, in the flesh, receiving our punishment, our guilt. The Epistle reading makes it abundantly clear, that our standing before God has absolutely nothing to do with us, but only one thing: Jesus saving us “by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

Even before Jesus was born, God planned how He would bring about His mercy. When Abraham was commanded by God in the Old Testament reading to sacrifice His own son Isaac, he obeyed him. Isaac was puzzled as they walked toward the altar with everything needed for the sacrifice except the animal itself for the sacrifice. Abraham spoke of the same work of God as the author of Hebrews in the Epistle reading: “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

We know He has. It was His only Son. It was Jesus. It was the one who said of Abraham that he would rejoice to see His day; and he did see it and he was glad. It was the one who said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” It was the one who has had mercy on you, not bringing charges against you, but suffering in your place what you ought to suffer. You are vindicated. You will not taste death. You will live forever. And even now you will be forgiven, for in bread and wine you will be given the very sacrificed body and shed blood of Christ for your nourishment. Amen.


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