Monday, March 25, 2013

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion (Deuteronomy 32:36-39)

“See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the thirty-second chapter of Deuteronomy. Dear friends in Christ, God gives us all things. Every good gift comes only from above, from our Creator, our sustainer, the only true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of you and me. He created all things, and He has not abandoned His creation. He still provides for us; nothing comes to us except through Him. Martin Luther teaches us to confess in the Small Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” Our God is a giver God, the giver of everything we need for this body and life. He delights to give, He rejoices to shower His abundance upon us. That is why He made us, so that He could give us every good thing, so that His hand could be open toward us.

We receive this abundant bounty from our Creator and immediately set to work forming it into idols. Not idols of wood or stone, but idols of everything else. This is a fundamental violation of the First Commandment, the foundation of the other nine: “You shall have no other Gods.” We learned the explanation from the Small Catechism: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” We don’t bow down before statues, but we bow down before our money, our reputation, our car, our home, our family. We bow down before ourselves. We worship the gift rather than the giver; we worship the things of this earth rather than the One who created them. We make them our gods. Martin Luther says in the Large Catechism, “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart.”

We depend on our idols to bring us good; we trust in them to provide for us, to protect us. We seek our good from them. Satan has made quite a career of convincing people to make the good gifts of God into idols, to worship the gift in place of the giver. The Lord gives us work, an income, money in our pocket; we form our checkbook into an idol, the place in which we put our trust, where we expect all good, our work becomes our life. The Lord gives the gift of family; we make families into idols, looking for them to satisfy our own needs and not receiving them as gift, loving them more than the God who gave them to us. The Lord gives us a body, physical abilities that allow us to work and to play; we think that this strength and ability is our own, and we derive our identity and self-worth from what we are able to do with our bodies. The Lord gives us government and medicine; we think that they can even conquer sin’s effects in society and in us. And we do the same with every other gift that God gives, from the air we breathe to the house we live in. All gods require sacrifices, and we are ready to give whatever they demand, for we believe that they will help us, that they can provide all that we need.

Idols promise great things; they promise to help us through this life, they promise to protect us, to be a rock of refuge in any storm. If we give the right worship, if we offer the right sacrifices, they will respond, and we will never live in want. They promise us the world. But they are liars. When we are faced with adversity, it is the idols that fall. A fire consumes a home, an accident destroys a car. Death attacks a family, disease assaults your body, joints and ligaments wear out and break. Suffering reveals that your idols have no power. They cannot even protect themselves, much less you. And no idol can reach beyond the grave. They may have some limited power in this life to care for you and protect you, but when death comes, there is nothing they can do. I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer; our idols crumble when confronted with the tomb.

Every obituary, every accident report, every diagnosis of cancer is a declaration that our idols are worthless. God mocks our idols, saying in our text: “Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge, who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection!” It is in suffering, and especially in death, that idols are shown for what they are: empty, worthless, promising the world but giving nothing. They cannot rise up and help us, they cannot be our protection. They have no power, and we, who have trusted in them, who took refuge in them, are left with nothing. Worshipping idols leaves you powerless, empty, without any means to save yourself.

But it is precisely at that moment, when you are at your weakest, abandoned by your idols, that God takes action. “For the Lord will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.” Idols cannot save; God does! He sees that our strength is gone, that our idols have failed us, that we are in desperate need of salvation, and He comes down to save. He enters this world in humility, as Saint Paul says, “[Jesus] made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” He enters Jerusalem in triumph, as the crowd waves palm branches, acclaiming their arriving King. “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” ‘Hosanna!’ they cried, ‘Save us, please!’ Our idols have left us naked, unprotected, unable to deal with sin and death on our own. Save us, please!

Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph to response to our cries. He comes in compassion; He has seen our miserable condition and he has felt great sorrow for us. He looks on us with love, He seeks to comfort us. This compassion led Him to take our flesh; it led Him to heal the sick, to drive out demons, to feed the multitudes. Now this same compassion leads Him to sit upon a donkey and enter the Holy City. Compassion never stands alone, as simply a nice feeling on the part of Jesus; it always leads to action. Jesus will act to vindicate His people. Only He can bring judgment on their enemies; only He can defeat sin, death, and hell. No idol can do that; only Jesus, Jesus alone. Jesus comes to be the advocate of His suffering people, to judge their foes and set them free. But He can only do this by standing in their place, even unto death itself.

This week begins in triumph; it will end in death. God has entered Jerusalem to shouts of acclamation; by Friday the mob will lead Him to Pilate with shouts of anger. Today we hear “Hosanna!” On Friday we will hear “Crucify!” Only Jesus can vindicate us, and only by being given into death in our place. For He is the sinless Son of God, and He bears our sin as the perfect atoning sacrifice; living the life we couldn’t and dying the death we deserved. Only Jesus can do away with sin and death by bearing the sin of the world to the cross. As God Himself says in our text: “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no God beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” Idols cannot save; God does! He put His Son to death upon the cross; He wounded Him with the scourge, the nails, and the spear of the Roman soldiers. God kills and makes alive, He wounds and He heals. He put Christ to death, but He made Him alive again; beyond Good Friday stands Easter. He wounded Christ, but He healed Him; Jesus would walk this earth again before taking His seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Isaiah says: “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” God kills and makes alive, He wounds and He heals. He puts Christ to death to make you alive, to remove the curse of death from you. He wounds His only begotten Son to bring you healing, to restore you to perfect health from the ravages of sin. But first He must put you to death. “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal, and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” He kills you, He wounds you, through the stern proclamation of His holy Law, which points out and condemns your sins. He puts your sinful nature to death in repentance. He drowns the old evil Adam in the font. He sweeps away the idols that you have surrounded yourself with, leaving you powerless, with nowhere else to turn. But God only puts to death with His Law in order to make alive with His Gospel. The sweet proclamation of Christ’s death for your sake, the ‘for you’ of the Gospel that will ring in your ears on this most holy of weeks, creates faith within you that makes you alive, eternally alive. Your sinful nature was drowned in the font, crucified with Christ; God raises up a new man with Christ, to live before Him in righteousness and purity forever.

God kills and makes alive; He wounds and He heals. He is doing this work constantly, each and every day, as He points out your sin and destroys your idols, then speaks the life-giving words of the Gospel to forgive that sin. Christ enters this day in triumph to die in humiliation for you. God made Him alive as the seal and guarantee that death will have no hold upon you, that you will receive perfect healing in the halls of the New Jerusalem. He entered the old Jerusalem in triumph to the waving of palm branches; one day you will enter the New Jerusalem celebrating the same victory. Christ’s death means your resurrection; Christ’s wounds mean your healing; God intends to make you alive, now and forevermore. No idol can defeat death; Christ already has, and His victory is for you, for your forgiveness, for your life, for your salvation. In the name of Jesus, who entered Jerusalem this day with shouts of ‘Hosanna!’ to depart on Friday with shouts of ‘Crucify!’ showing compassion to you, me, and all people. Amen.

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