Third Sunday in Lent, 2010
Readings: Deut. 6:1-25; Ps. 25; Eph. 5:1-14; Luke 11:14-28
11 March a.d. 2011
GATHER WITH ME, OR YOU SCATTER
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer. AMEN.
Our Lord Jesus is the most understanding person in the world, and the least. He is the most understanding because he has suffered every pain and temptation and every joy you as a man suffer. Yet he is the least understanding – in the sense we use that word, “Hey! Just overlook all my sins and shortcomings, don’t point them out to me, and show a little understanding!”
Rather than pandering to our weakness, Our Lord Jesus goes right to the sore spot, the boil in our lives we are trying hardest to hide – and pushes down on it. He is forever pulling back our masks and pointing out what we are hiding. After all, he is the physician of our souls, and a good physician goes behind the symptoms to uncover and cure the cause of the disease.
The cause of all our troubles, all our failures, all our shortcomings is sin. And sin is not merely any “transgression of God’s law,” it is also “any want of conformity” to God’s law.
Our duty to God contains both a forbidding and an injunction. That is, you do not fulfill God’s law against murder if you merely forbear to hit people over the head with an ax. That is good, that is praiseworthy, but it is only the forbearing, only one-half of your duty, the negative half.
The other and positive half requires you actively to conform yourself and your actions to God’s law. So Sixth Commandment contains a positive duty for you to do all in your power to promote life, to create a society and culture that preserves life, and to save those who are being dragged away to death.
And remember, Our Lord Jesus says, that when you have done everything that God commands – as if any man really ever could accomplish that – you should still say, ‘We are unprofitable servants: we have [only] done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10)
At the same time carefully notice that Our Lord never says, “Don’t even bother doing your duty. You don’t have to worry about that. Besides, you would fail at it anyway.”
No, his whole life and all his teaching is one long admonition to fulfill God’s law and will in your life and in the world, “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” stirred up and encouraged and assured of success [!] because “it is God who is working in your to will and to do his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12, 13). God’s great work of salvation in you is conforming you to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) so you can be sure that he will do that, yet mysteriously he expects us to work together with him in that conforming.
A FEROCIOUS WARNING
In today’s Gospel Our Lord Jesus delivers to us another warning to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” He warns us that if you are not advancing in Christian life and character, if you are not advancing the kingdom of Christ in this world, you are actively working against him. In the kingdom of God, you cannot stand still, because standing still is moving backwards. You either work with God, or you work against him. You build Christ’s kingdom with him, or you are tearing it down.
In today’s Gospel our Lord Jesus performs a notable and undeniable miracle: he makes a mute man able to speak. The Scriptures says that this inability to speak was not a physical problem, but spiritual. The man was possessed by a devil, and the devil manifested his presence by making the poor man unable to say a word, torturing him night and day. Jesus casts out the devil, and the dumb man spoke.
The people were all amazed, but some of them were not pleased. Instead, they objected: “He is casting out devils by Beelzebub, the chief of devils. He is demon-possessed himself.”
Who were these carpers? Who were these sour blasphemers, who could witness with their own eyes this great miracle that delivered this poor man from the devil, and still refuse to recognize the power of God acting?
They were the Pharisees and Scribes. They were the religious leaders, the people in charge of religion, the high-ranking and advanced people in the church.
What? Yes, the very people who knew the most and ought to have rejoiced the loudest and thrown their hats in the air and danced a jig for the great things Christ was doing amongst them, instead sourly and suspiciously carped and complained, “He’s working in league with the devil. We will have none of his kingdom.”
Often I hear believers and unbelievers say, “Oh, it would be so easy to believe if Jesus would only appear to us himself and speak to us! Then men would believe.”
No, they wouldn’t. Here we see that when Jesus appeared to the Church in his own day doing unimaginable miracles & destroying Satan’s kingdom, the very people who ought most to have welcomed him accused him of having a devil. Why? What were they afraid of, that Jesus would cast out their devils?
No, they were afraid (to turn John Baptist’s words upside down) that they would have to decrease if Jesus increased (John 3:30).
They were afraid of losing control. They were afraid of risking everything on Jesus.
We know this is true, because in John 11 when people who had seen Jesus and his miracles and believed on him went and reported all this to the Pharisees and chief priests, they immediately called a council. They asked each other, “What will we do about this? This man is doing many miracles. If we must let him alone, “all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.” (John 11:46-48)
Rather than trusting in the one who by his words and works was undeniably God, these religious leaders denied him for fear of losing control if they joined in his kingdom. They had too much at stake to risk it all on Jesus Christ.
The very idea of denying Christ to preserve your own place takes away our breath. Worse yet, the high priest Caiaphas counseled them that they had to get rid of him, or the whole nation would perish. But of course he didn’t really mean that the “whole nation would perish,” but rather that their own rule and control would perish if Christ’s rule began.
The high priest boiled it all down to this choice: it’s our way, or Christ’s way, and better him dead than ruling over us.
CHRIST’S RESPONSE & WARNING
Now listen to Christ’s solemn warning, a warning that every one of you must drink down deep into his own soul.
First he disproves the Pharisees’ charges. “If I am casting out devils by Beelzebub, then Satan’s kingdom is fighting against itself. That can’t be true. Furthermore, if I am casting out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?
“No, he says, you are reading this all wrong. If I cast out devils by the finger of God, then I am God, and no doubt the kingdom of God has come on you.
“Think about it! When a man strong and well armed keeps his house, his stuff is safe. But when a stronger man comes at him and wrestles him down, the stronger man takes away all his weapons, ties him up, and steals everything he has.
“That is exactly what you have just seen me do to the devil, so know this: the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Finally he gives them two terrible warnings. The first warning has two sides.
1. It is your duty to advance, to go forward accepting and building the kingdom of God, and
2. If you are not going forward, you are going backward. There is no standing still in the kingdom of God. There is no neutrality toward Christ and his kingdom.
Christ himself says, “He that is not with me is against me. He that gathereth not with me scattereth!”
Where did the Pharisees sin? Their sin was two-fold.
They had a duty to build on what God had given them and to advance in the love and knowledge of God. God had given them the covenant, and Word, and now Christ himself, and their duty was to advance his kingdom, to gather with Christ when he so plainly made himself known, yet they refused to do that.
Second, and worse still, they wickedly hindered Christ’s kingdom and fought against it.
If we don’t apply all the means in our power to build Christ’s kingdom in ourselves and in the world, then our indolence retards and ruins his kingdom.
And don’t conclude from that that you are all right as long as you are not actively opposing Christ, for Christ plainly says, “If you don’t gather with me, you are scattering.”
Don’t think this means, “Well, if I just don’t sin outrageously, if I just keep my nose clean & keep on living the way I am, that’s okay and I don’t need to worry about doing any more.”
Wrong! Christ warns us in Revelation 3:14 that if we are lukewarm, he will “spew” us out of his mouth.
If you are not straining every nerve to grow spiritually, to improve the knowledge and grace and God has already given you, you are going backward.
And what applies to individuals applies equally to every Church and Christ’s whole Church in the world: If the Church is not going forward, it is going backward.
Here is the second warning, more terrifying than the first. Jesus says, “When an evil spirit is cast out of a man, that spirit goes and wanders in dry places, looking for someplace to rest. When he finds none, he says to himself, I will go back to the house I came out of.
“When he gets there, and finds it all swept and decorated, then he goes and finds seven other spirits wickeder than he is, and brings them along and they all possess the man, and his last state is worse than his first.”
His last state is worse than his first.
His last state is worse than his first.
In Christ’s kingdom, if you are not advancing, you are going backward, and your last state will be worse than your first.
I said earlier that Christ admonishes us “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” and that he stirs us up to that work and encourages us in it because he assures us of success.
What else can it mean when God says in his word that “it is God who is working in your to will and to do his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12, 13). Does God ever fail to work his good pleasure? NO!
Does Jesus hold out to us, “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy-laden, and I will refresh you” and then when we do go to him, he pulls back that refreshment and laughs at us and say, “Ha! I fooled you!” No, the very thought that Christ would not keep his promise is impossible, blasphemous.
Beloved, listen to me: Christ has promised, and Christ will fulfill.
Christ says to us today, “Come to me! Risk everything on me, and I will make you living wells of water, springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14) Come to me, and I will make you build up waste places, and found many generations, and men will call you the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in! (Isaiah 58:12) Come to me, every one of you thirsty ones, and buy and eat without money, and you will eat what is good, and delight your soul in fatness. (Is. 50:1-2)
“Do you doubt me still? Call unto me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you don’t know yet (Jeremiah 33:3), above all you can think or ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)
“Risk it all,” Jesus says, “throw those dice, & bet everything on me!”
Glory be to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be,
World without end, Amen.
Collect for Third Sunday in Lent
WE beseech thee, Almighty God,
look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants,
and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty,
to be our defence against all our enemies;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Collect for Ash Wednesday
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God,
who hatest nothing that thou hast made,
and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent;
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.