Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lenten Vespers In the Week of Laetare (Lent 4)

Matthew 27:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Prophet contrasts the faithfulness and obedience of the LORD’s Servant with the rebellion and unbelief of Israel. Though the LORD figuratively sold Israel into exile in Babylon as punishment for their transgressions and iniquities, they should not consider this to be like a certificate of divorce. The LORD has not divorced and abandoned His people, but He has chastened them because He loves them and, in time, He will redeem them. Though there sins be as scarlet, the LORD will wash them and make them as white as snow. With the LORD, there is always hope.
The LORD’s Servant is obedient where Israel was disobedient, faithful where Israel failed to listen and believe. Jesus became as one taught and disciplined so that He might comfort and sustain you who are under the Law. Jesus’ ears were opened to the LORD’s Word and will, and He was strengthened by it to persevere through temptation and suffering. When the same came upon Israel, the people grumbled and fell away into apostasy, but the LORD’s Servant gave His back to those who struck Him, His cheeks to those who would pull out His beard. He was not rebellious. He turned not from disgrace and spitting.
The LORD’s Servant could remain steadfast in the face of temptation and suffering, mocking, spitting, striking, and piercing knowing that the LORD God was His help, His strength, and His vindication. “Who will contend with me?” He asks. “Who is my adversary?” “The LORD God helps me; who will declare me guilty?” The LORD’s Servant expresses the same sentiment as does St. Paul, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? […] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Israel considered it easier, even wise, to blend in with the pagan nations and their cultures than to stand out like a backward, ignorant, and superstitious sore thumb, and so they capitulated and they shrugged off their holiness and hid their light under a basket so that they might blend in with the darkness and find an easier way. We face the same temptation and challenge today. It’s easier to say that we all worship the same god, just in different ways, than to stand firm on God’s Word, “I am the LORD your God, and there is no other,” “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” It’s easier to redefine and broaden the definition of marriage and family than to stand firm upon God’s Word, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” It’s easier to speak of the rights of individuals and to determine for ourselves when human life begins and ends instead of standing firm upon God’s Word, “Thou shalt not murder.” And, it’s easier to accommodate and acquiesce to our culture that thinks that co-habitation is wise and good, that homosexuality should be celebrated, and that promiscuity is a right, instead of standing firm upon God’s Word, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
Because of his fear, rebellion, and unbelief, Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. He gave into the temptation of his flesh and the devil, of his fallen wisdom and the pressures of his culture. Yet, once he committed the betrayal and succumbed to the devil, was he rewarded? No, but the devil began to accuse him and drive him into despair. Satan, your flesh, and the world do not truly want you to prosper, but they want to destroy you. When Judas attempted to return the money, the chief priests would not accept it, but they accused Judas of betraying his friend, his master, and his God for money. Oh, Satan, your flesh, and the world make the betrayal of your Lord and His Word seem so attractive, so wise, and so very good, but once you have succumbed, they stab you in the back and leave you hopeless and despairing.
For Judas, and for you, the LORD’s Servant endured mockery, spitting, disgrace, scourging, crucifixion, and death. Though they meant it for evil, Jesus trusted that the LORD meant it for good, to bring it about that many might be saved and live. When the tempters tempted, Jesus gave them no answer. He would not entertain their poisonous words, temptation, and provocations, but He set His face like flint and would not be put to shame, knowing that His vindication would come in the LORD’s way and time. Jesus endured this for you that He might sustain you in your temptation, trial, and tribulation with a Word – with His Word. When temptation, trial, and tribulation befall you at the hands of Satan, the world, and your own sinful flesh, you must pray, “Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me! Let them be put to shame and confusion who seek my life! Let them be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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