Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lenten Vespers - Week of Oculi (Lent 3)

Matthew 26:57-75; Isaiah 49:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To be a Christian is to die. That’s about as plain and simple as I can make it. You, O Christian, must die: You must die to your sin-corrupted passions and desires. You must die to your sin-corrupted reason and wisdom. You must die to your sin-corrupted estimation of what is glorious and good and to your sin-corrupted expectations of how God must act, appear, and save you. Pretty much, everything that you were born with – which God created and gave you as a good and perfect gift – has been corrupted by your sin, both actual and inherited. Yeah, I know that’s a pretty gloomy picture. It’s all Law, not a shred of Gospel to be found in it. Do you accept this truth? Do you agree with this sentence against you? I pray that you do. For, you must. But, do not despair. There is still hope – not hope in yourself, in your reason and wisdom, in your ability to please God or to save yourself. No! – But, there is hope, real and perfect hope, in the LORD’s Suffering Servant Jesus Christ, whom your sin-corrupted passion and desires, reason and wisdom, estimation of what is glorious and good, and of how God must act, appear and save, sadly refuses and rejects, but whom God the Holy Spirit has created faith in your hearts to trust and believe in, and whom has raised you from death to life in Holy Baptism that you may live for Him now, and with Him in eternity.
The Prophet Isaiah presents us with a dialogue between the LORD, God the Father, and His Servant Son concerning the hidden and unexpected ways, by human standards, in which He will act. The Servant says, “The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.” Truly, nothing could be more contrary to man’s conception of glory and power than an infant child. The incarnation and virgin birth of the LORD’s Servant Son Jesus is simply scandalous to human reason, wisdom, and expectations. What kind of god comes in the form of helplessness, weakness, and pitiable humility? Yet, the Servant continues, “He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away.” The power of the LORD’s Servant will be in His Word, not in weapons of iron, physical might, or brutish strength. Moreover, He will be hidden away until just the right time, when time was full.
Interestingly, perhaps in a demonstration of the full humanity of the LORD’s Servant Jesus, the Servant seems to express dismay Himself saying, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” You will recall how Jesus pleaded with His Father in Gethsemane that there might be some other way. The Servant of the LORD was fully human, and had to be for our sake and salvation. You must not discount or minimize the suffering, temptation, and weakness Jesus struggled with, even as you do, in trusting in His Father’s will and Word and obeying His commands. The Preacher to the Hebrews says of the LORD’s Servant, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” This should be comforting to you when you feel and are tempted to believe that your labor and striving is in vain, that, despite all your best efforts, what you hoped to achieve seems to have failed. Certainly, you are not alone in this, but all the children of God from Adam to the present day have at times felt this sense of futility. Yet, the LORD’s Servant Jesus did not fall into despair and unbelief, but His faith was strengthened by remembrance of the LORD and His promises in His Word, “Yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.”
The LORD did not take away the cup He ordained for His Servant to drink. Jesus still went to His cross through scourging, mockery, and intense suffering. And yet, the LORD accomplished through His Servant even greater works than He had originally promised saying, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Jesus, the LORD’s Servant, was one deeply despised and abhorred by the nations. The Jewish religious leadership, the scribes, Pharisees, and the Sanhedrin, all thought Him to be a blasphemer, claiming to be God. Though Jesus taught only from the Word of the LORD and performed miracles that both fulfilled the prophecies of old and confirmed who He claimed to be, they were deaf and blind by their sin-corrupted reason and wisdom so that they could not understand and believe: Hearing, they did not hear, and seeing, they did not see. Even Peter and Jesus’ disciples only heard and saw in part, and thus they were confused and were afraid and they doubted. When He was arrested, tried, condemned, scourged, and crucified, the disciples were dismayed and began to seriously doubt if Jesus was the promised Messiah. Could the LORD’s Christ be such a pitiable failure? What kind of god gets himself arrested and executed? Perhaps they, as Isaiah prophesied concerning the LORD’s Servant, considered Him stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God Himself. Though Jesus warned him beforehand, Peter, the chief of the disciples, denied Him three times saying, “I do not know the man.”
The LORD’s ways are not our ways. The foolishness of the LORD is wiser than man’s wisdom. Let us humble ourselves and die daily to our sin-corrupted desires and passions, reason and wisdom, our estimations of what is glorious and good, and our expectations of how God must act, appear, and save. And, let us be informed, guided, and directed by the Word of the LORD which is a light to our feet and a lamp to our path. Let us with Spirit-filled ears, eyes, and hearts see in the Stone whom the Builders rejected, the LORD’s Cornerstone, our Redeemer, and God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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