2nd Sunday in Lent
March 17, 2019
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson from Luke chapter 13.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
So…I’ve been asked about my weight loss and whether it’s intentional or not. I’m not sick – not that I’m aware of – and yes, I have been trying to lose weight. To date I have managed to lose about 20-25 pounds this year and in my adult life I am down to an all-time low of around 173 pounds after my heaviest weight ever of 295 back in 2001. So far I’ve been able to keep working at what I started, but I don’t always finish what I start. Chances are I’m not alone. Are there any unfinished projects under your roof or in your life? It’s one thing to start, but it is quite another thing to finish.
Finishing what we start. It sounds so easy and yet can be so difficult. In our Gospel text we see our Lord moving forward toward a goal…not a weight loss program, but the goal set before him is death, death on a cross in Jerusalem. In a short time He will reach that goal. This is the plan that has been laid out for Jesus; this is God’s plan of salvation. This is the plan to end all planning. However, in our text we see that not everyone wants Jesus to complete this glorious plan. And, regardless of any plans of men, Jesus faithfully finishes God’s salvation business.
Luke records an interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees. So what do we make of the Pharisees when they warn Jesus? On the surface, the Pharisees seem to have Jesus’ best interest in mind and they warn him to depart and continue on his journey, thinking that since Herod had killed John the Baptizer, he would want to kill Jesus also. However, we find out in Luke 23:8 that “when Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he long desired to see him.” So, it turns out that Herod did not want to kill Jesus. Were the Pharisees then lying to him? Did they just want to scare him into leaving His business unfinished and thus discredit his cause? After all, the Pharisees have consistently been portrayed as doubting and challenging Jesus, so to have them somehow NOW concerned for His welfare is totally out of character.
Ultimately, the Pharisees tried to turn Christ from bringing closure to the Father’s plan of salvation, but they are not the first. In His temptation (last week), we learn of Satan’s attempt to get Jesus to quit His mission before it even began. Peter inadvertently tried to turn Christ from his path as well. In Matthew 16, Jesus explained to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. But what is Peter’s response? “Never, Lord!” he said, “This shall never happen to you”. If Jesus heeds Peter’s advice, the plan of salvation is left unfinished. Even Pilate tried to stop the plan from being finished. In Luke chapter 23, “Pilate announced ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.’ Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Finally, a taunting voice is heard at the foot of the cross, one last attempt being raised up to persuade Jesus to leave God’s plan unfinished. “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:40).
Thankfully, none of these attempts were successful. Unfortunately, the same can be said for us. Our attempts are unsuccessful. We are not able to continue Jesus’ ministry as faithfully as He was able to. We are stuck in the rut of sin. Instead of loving focus on our Lord, we harbor thoughts of hatred and pride and selfish gain. We use our tongues to lash out against God and our neighbors when we should have offered praise instead. We lack the courage and strength to follow Jesus and following Him means following the way of the cross. Christ knew well what would happen to Him in Jerusalem but he finished God’s plan anyway through His death.
In the midst of death there is life. Jesus, handing over His life into death, won life for us all. Giving His body and shedding His blood, the Lord of life gave Himself for the life of the world. That long walk up the hill of Calvary dragging an instrument of death…that should have been us. Those nails that were driven into His hands…they were meant for us. That spear that thrust into His side…that should have been us. But it wasn’t. He took our place. He walked a mile in our shoes. “It is finished,” Jesus called out with his dying breath (John 19:30), and it was. When He died, all the power of sin and death died with him. In His death and resurrection, Jesus swallowed up death forever. That’s why the cross brings us life; it is the life of Christ, which is life from out of death, and THAT – eternal life by faith – is God’s finished business for you.
On January 1, 1994, Nebraska played Florida State for the national championship in college football. With 1:16 left in the game, Nebraska had a slim 16-15 lead. But then, FSU drove 62 yards in that final minute and kicked a field goal giving them an 18-16 win and the national championship. In the wake of their missed opportunity, Nebraska adapted a slogan that spring to inspire them for the upcoming football season – “Unfinished Business”. The scoreboard at the stadium in Nebraska read “18-16” all summer long during their workouts, and when the workout was over, they put another 1:16 on the clock and worked that much harder. That next season, the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers went undefeated and handily won the national championship themselves by defeating Miami 24-17. The slogan then changed to read “Finished Business” on all the T-shirts and merchandise that came rolling out minutes after the game was over.
Jesus had no such slogan but that didn’t matter. There were many outside forces that tried to stop Him but they were all unsuccessful. We now celebrate in that sacrifice and are strengthened by His Word and His Sacraments. Yes, we are going to face situations in which we feel too weak to finish the course set before us but we find strength in His Word and the glorious promise that it contains. We find strength in the waters of our own baptism. We find strength in His body and blood.
During this season of Lent we reflect on Jesus’ suffering as He finished God’s plan of salvation. Do you feel like you sometimes need a catchy slogan to keep going in order to finish what you start? “Unfinished Business” well, that may work but how about “He Died On A Cross For Us All” instead. And hey, if it works, I get first dibs on the T-shirt merchandising.