“O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” 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 Holy Tuesday comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the eleventh chapter of the prophet Jeremiah. Dear friends in Christ: Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? We scheme, we conspire, we plan. We set out to arrange things to our own advantage, we connive to get what we want. We think we’re so clever. We think we can make our plans apart from God, out of His sight. We actually believe that the schemes of the darkness, hidden from prying eyes, are hidden from God as well. “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray Him.” Men plot against other men, they plot against God; hiding their thoughts in darkness, hoping to operate behind their Creator’s back. Fools! God knows the hearts of men; He knows their plans. Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? God knows the conspiracies that form in the darkness, the plots that arrange themselves against His throne and His people, as the prophet confesses: “The Lord made it known to me and I knew; then you showed me their deeds.”
God knows that the plans of men are evil; He sees and knows all. He sees and knows that brother betrays brother, and a mother her daughter, that all betray all. He knows that in this sinful world, friendship and the bonds of family are no barriers to the schemes of darkness. “Here comes this dreamer,” the brothers of Joseph said. “Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” We cannot be betrayed unless there is first trust. We cannot betray others unless we have some intimate connection with them. “I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter,” Jeremiah laments, a domesticated lamb, a trusting lamb. He trusted, and he was betrayed. We trust, and we are betrayed. Others trust us, and we betray them. Confidences are broken, rumors are started, money is taken, affairs spring up, marriages shatter, friendships are destroyed. Those we trusted the deepest hurt us the most. On those closest to us we inflict the greatest pain. “And when [Judas] came, he went up to Him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ And he kissed Him. And they laid hands on Him and seized Him.” The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, enlisting His most intimate companions against Him.
They seek His destruction; their plotting, their scheming has as its goal the silencing of Jesus, once and for all. Jeremiah laments, “I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.’” They seek to cut off the fruitful tree, to take their axes to its roots. Their goal is death, to permanently put an end to God’s Word going forth from his lips. They even intend to erase his memory from the minds of men. Total destruction is planned for God’s prophet; slaughtered like an animal, cut down like a tree. Jeremiah did not know the plots that formed against Him, but God did, and Jesus, God in the flesh, knew His betrayer and tried to call him to repentance at the Supper. “One of you will betray me,” is an accusation but also a plea. Judas thought that he could hide, that his plots and schemes were shrouded in darkness, but Jesus knew. We cannot escape the light of God’s Law; He knows the deeds you do in darkness, He knows your hidden plots, He knows how you have betrayed those closest to you in thought, word, and deed. God knows the hearts of men, and at the Supper, God in the flesh pulled back the veil on Judas’ evil scheming, shining the light of God’s Law on his sinful heart, desperately calling him to repentance. It is no good for Judas to hide, no good for you or me. God knows the hearts and minds of men, and He calls on us to repent.
Joseph’s brothers were driven to repentance; the harshness of his treatment showed the severity of God’s Law. But when they repented, Joseph said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” The evil plots of men were used in the hands of almighty God to bring about salvation for many. God does not only know the plans of men, He has His own plans. Men think they can plan apart from Him, but He will use their evil for His own purposes. Judas plotted to hand Jesus over into death; the Sanhedrin conspired to condemn an innocent man, but God will use their violence against His Son for the salvation of the world. He will vindicate His Son, and He will vindicate His sinful people, those who betray and those who are betrayed. Jeremiah cries out to the Lord, “O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” The prophet hands His cause over to the Lord; He calls on His God to vindicate him. In the Garden, Jesus does the same: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
God’s will, His plan will be done despite the evil plans of men, indeed through their evil He will accomplish His purposes. For He will vindicate His Son, His obedient Son who has committed His cause into the hands of His Father. Like a gentle lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Jesus will go to His death trusting in His Father’s will and the promised vindication to come. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” The plots of men will run their course; Jesus will be betrayed, falsely accused, and handed over to death, but God will use the evil of men for the good of mankind. The schemes of men take place in the darkness, but the dawn in coming, when the light of God’s glory will shine forth from an empty tomb. God knows the plots of men, He knows what they intend. They want to blot the memory of Jesus from the earth; but in putting Him to death, they are ensuring that His Name will never be forgotten, that at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
For Jesus will be put to death; He will suffer the humiliation of the cross, but on the third day God raised His Son up in triumph over all of His enemies. Jesus lives, even though He died; the plots of men came to nothing—even death itself could not conquer the Son of God. He committed His cause to His Father, and when the Father vindicated Him, He vindicated, He justified the entire world, declaring sinners righteous. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the trusting, gentle Lamb of God who was lead to slaughter in the place of Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, you and me. God does not slay you because He slaughtered the Lamb; His blood marks your door and death passes over. Jesus takes up your cause in the courtroom of God’s justice, and it is His shed blood that pleads on your behalf. When Saint John peers into heaven, He sees the Lamb of God, slaughtered for the sin of the world, seated on the throne, interceding for you and for me with His shed blood.
God knows the hearts of men; He knows your heart. He knows your sin, your betrayals; He knows the pain inflicted upon you by the betrayal of others. The harsh light of God’s Law has shown on your sinful heart; repent and commit your cause to Christ! Men meant evil against Him, but God meant it for good; His blood atones for all of your sin—you are forgiven! And as the Father vindicated Jesus by raising Him from the grave, so you too will be vindicated. Even though you die, even though your enemies seem to triumph over you, you are marked with the shed blood of the Lamb, and you will live even though you die, you will be vindicated at your resurrection as He was at His. He pleads for you before the very throne of God, holding His sacrifice before His Father, and God will hear His Son, the Lamb of God, your Savior. God knows all, and He knows that you are marked with blood of the Lamb, now and for eternity. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.