Sermon Notes – March 25, 2018

Now We Get It!

His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him.” - John 12:16

   I begin by quoting C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity), who was quoting Samuel Johnson: “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” A large portion of formal and informal education is simply reminding us of the most important things. Another large portion of formal and informal education is experiencing that core information. In some ways education and formation and discipleship (I remind you that “disciple” is Latin for “student”) is a dance between remembering and doing. [David McCullough’s speech on Simon Willard’s Clock, the digital watch, the muse of history and Carlo Franzoni’s The Car of History]

   In the structure of Lutheran spiritual formation there is the collection of core facts and chief teachings gathered in what we call the Small Catechism. This is the touchstone of what is important for the faithful: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, Confession and Absolution. In about 45 sessions over a period of two years Mr. Zimdahl and I, in charge of our respective students, instruct them in the questions and answers posed by the catechism. Six of our young adults have completed the course of the study. Now it is their turn to do something. That something will be making a public confession of their faith, “confirming” that they believe what is taught in the Small Catechism and the Scriptures about Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of their sins.

   The context for our text is Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. John admits, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him.” We need to be reminded!  It had been written in Zechariah 9:9 that the Messiah King would come to Jerusalem humble and mounted on a donkey. In the same chapter God promised, “As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.” (verse 11) This is an allusion to the crucifixion and the salvation Jesus’ death and resurrection brings. Isaiah 53 (which we will hear on Good Friday morning) and Psalm 22 (which we will hear at the Good Friday Tenebrae service) are other “Aha!” prophecies we will remember and from which we will benefit.

   Riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey was just part of Jesus’ humbling. Paul reminds us, “He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…humbling Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8) All of Jesus’ work was the fulfillment of the general instruction about God’s plan for our salvation given in the Old Testament. Now we remember and experience it. [1 Cor. 15:1-4, Easter Festival; 1 Cor. 11:23-26 and 1 Cor. 10:16-17, Maundy Thursday]

   The whole purpose and power of our worship is to proclaim the Gospel, to be reminded of Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins and to be actually forgiven through that proclamation in Word and Sacrament—to be reminded and to experience, to be part of the dance of remembering and doing. Through catechism instruction and through worship (both in church and, more broadly, in life) we engage with God’s Word.

   Luther reminds us, “Nothing is so powerfully effective against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy one’s self with God’s Word… God’s Word is not like some idle tale, but, as St. Paul says in Romans 1:16, it is ‘the power of God,’ indeed, the power of God that burns the devil’s house down and gives us immeasurable strength, comfort, and help.” (Large Catechism, preface) So, we occupy ourselves with the Word—we remember it and we experience Him who is, who was and who is to come.


1 Corinthians 10:13


   Our text is frequently misused to tell us that God will never give us more burdens than we can handle.  With God’s help it is certainly amazing what we are sometimes able to handle, given all of the difficulties life in a fallen world throws our ways.  If we are talking sheer physical endurance, however, there will be that one final burden, that one final assault, that one final breath signaling our mortality. 

   I don’t want to spend too much time on what this text is not about, but you remember in last month’s news the story of Anne Swaney, a local ABC news executive producer who was found murdered in Belize?  When ABC7 asked her father about his strength through this most recent family tragedy (Anne’s older brother died of a heart attack at age 39 two years ago) he answered honestly, “I don’t have it.  I’m not strong.  I’m a mess.”  The poor man died of a broken heart last Tuesday.  He had met his final burden in extraordinarily tragic circumstances.

   What Paul is talking about in our text, however, is something that is “common to man.”  Paul is talking about temptation to sin, and, as one commentator puts it, “It is the kind of temptation that humanity is commonly called on to endure.” (Gregory Lockwood, Concordia Commentary – First Corinthians, ©2000, page 331)  Paul provides examples from Old Testament events, letting us know the Israelites had received the same grace from God that we have received, “but if [we] succumb to the same sins, [we] will be punished just as Israel was punished.” (Ibid)

   Example # 1 – Simple idolatry (“desire evil”) when some people spurned the manna God had miraculously provided and coveted the meat and vegetables of Egypt (leading to the “Graves of Craving” in Numbers 11); and gross idolatry with the golden calf before which “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (Exodus 32)

   Example # 2 – Sexual immorality as Moabite women invited Israelite men to participate in their fertility rites in honor of the false god Baal of Peor.  God struck more than 23,000 of those sinners down in a single day (Numbers 25). 

   Example # 3 – Some of the people put God to the test with their unceasing complaining and grumbling, occasionally leading to acts of divine judgment: the poisonous serpents (Numbers 21), the faithlessness of the ten spies (Numbers 14), and the rebellion of Korah and company (Number 16)

   God was always faithful (as Paul announces to us in our text), but some of the people were unfaithful.  They probably said, as people say today, “I couldn’t help myself;” “the devil made me do it;” “if God wanted me to resist the temptations He should have made me stronger.” The temptations then and the temptations now are not irresistible as the Apostle testifies that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 

   Sally Hogshead is a brand consultant who helps companies increase appeal for their products or services.  In 2010 she wrote a book called Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation.  In the book she asserts there are seven universal triggers, the first of which is “lust.”  She writes, “Lust conquers the rational evaluation process, freeing us to stop thinking, and start feeling.” (page 73)  This is, in my opinion, a very true statement.  It is also among the top reasons this world of ours is sinking deeper and deeper into the cesspool of selfish sinfulness.  [NID mission director] 

   The original fascinating triggers are the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth).  Today, far from trying to escape the temptations they bring, we just use more and more tools to enhance their availability and their acceptance.  We had better start looking for the way of escape before we end up “overthrown in the wilderness.” (1 Cor 10:5)  Paul wrote in our Epistle, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (v. 12)  Jesus warned in our Gospel (Luke 13:1-9), “Do you think [those who died tragically] were worse offenders than all others…?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  God taught through the prophet Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading (33:7-20), “Your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.’”  The way of the Lord is the way of escape! 

   The way of escape is to stand firm on the overwhelming faithfulness of God, to stand firm on the redeeming power of Christ’s death and resurrection, to stand firm on the endless work of the Holy Spirit who empowers us through the Gospel.  God does not lead us into temptation; He is in the delivering from evil business.  Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are led to the way of escape.  That way may not be sexy but it is quite effective. 

   What, however, about the times that we fail and the fascinating seven deadly sins take momentary control of our lives?  There is still the way of escape.  As John wrote in his First Epistle, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (2:1)  “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)  With that sinless life He rescues us—He is the way of escape.

© 2018 St Johns Evangelical Elgin
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