3rd Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2020
“Back to the Basics”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Epistle Lesson from Romans 5.
My dear friends,
Sometimes it’s good, maybe especially during unprecedented, uncertain times, to just go back to the basics. No PowerPoint, no moving or over-sized graphics. Back to the basics: pulpit, paper, preaching. That’s what Paul is doing in Romans 5. The Apostle Paul, writing to persecuted Christians – not by virus but by sword – in uncertain times, is assuring them – and us – of a basic hope we have when he says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1). That’s as basic as it gets.
This sermon is not about what God wants us to do this week. It is not about our understanding some deep and mysterious doctrine. It is not even about how we feel today and how you can feel better. No, this sermon is about being who and what we are…right in the sight of God; we are justified by faith. Basic.
We begin by realizing that although much has changed in 1 week, some things have not. We are in the same situation that we were this time last week: broken, unworthy and undeserving sinners. We begin by admitting that God needs to save us because we cannot justify ourselves before Him. Of course, guilty, sinful, and unworthy is not how we want to see ourselves; many American churches have abandoned confession and absolution for that very reason. If anything, we want to see ourselves as just the opposite. We haven’t done anything wrong; we’ve done everything right. Sure we have.
I read about a school system in Nevada, although I could not verify where it was, that wants to change the grading system so that no one can fail. Instead of A’s or B’s you are described as “extending.” If you are more of a C student, then you are “developing.” And those who should get an F are “emerging.” In this school system, you can only succeed. There is no failure, only varying degrees of success. That’s the way we think of ourselves…everything right, and not guilty of anything.
Everything right, and not guilty of anything. Right. Could you imagine sitting in God’s courtroom and He is the judge? That is scary! The Ten Commandments are printed in huge block letters on the wall behind Him. He reads the second commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” No carelessly using the name of God. At all. Ever. Just the commandment staring you in the face, and God asking “How do you plead?” Guilty as charged.
“Or,” God says, “how about this?” “You shall not commit adultery”? No cheating on your spouse. No lustful thoughts about anyone else. No lingering glances to admire someone else’s looks or body. Just the Commandment staring you in the face saying, and God asking, “How do you plead?” Not good…guilty as charged.
Should I pick another commandment, say, “You shall not steal”? No greed. No anxiety over money. No cheating on taxes or some other financial form. No buying so much stuff that you cannot be generous in giving to those in need. Just the Commandment staring you in the face saying, and God asking, “How do you plead?” Guilty as charged. Still think you haven’t done anything wrong?
No, we do not want to be in God’s courtroom with the Ten Commandments on the wall behind Him. His justice would declare us to be – deserving of God’s punishment. You break one commandment, you’ve broken them ALL eternally. That’s basic. That’s why we confess: I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto you all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended you and justly deserve your temporal and eternal punishment. And the punishment for sin? Death!
But we are not in His courtroom. We are in His house, His church. We are in the one place where we remember that the greatest injustice of all time has saved us from God’s punishment. Here in the church we do not just stare at God’s Law and wilt under our guilt knowing all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. No, we also see Jesus’ cross and rejoice in our justification – we are right in the sight of God. That’s as basic as it gets.
Remember that dark Thursday night. Jesus has gone to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. It is quiet and His disciples fall asleep. Then a small group of soldiers and religious leaders surround Jesus. One of His disciples, Judas, steps out and betrays Jesus—with a kiss of all things. Peter wakes up and tries to stop the arrest, but Jesus wants no violence here, no rescue. He is going to trial and nothing will stop Him from being condemned as guilty.
The court is hastily convened. People come forward to make charges, but their testimonies do not agree. Jesus is innocent. Here is the only person in the room truly innocent. No charge can stick against Him except for one that is trumped up. So an injustice is perpetuated – charged with blaspheme (?) and Jesus is sentenced to die.
Yet justice is served when Jesus is nailed to that cross—God’s justice. Our sin could not go unpunished. Our weakness could not be ignored. Our breaking of the Ten Commandments could not be simply excused. No, someone had to die. Someone had to take the eternal punishment, and that someone was Jesus. Because of Christ, on Judgment Day, we will hear “not guilty.” No legal loopholes, no lawyer tricks. Just the blood of Christ. It’s as basic as it gets.
Remember when I said this sermon is not about what we do? When it comes to being justified, saved, at peace with God, we can do nothing. I read about a man named Bill who donated 100 pints of blood (12 ½ gallons). No doubt that was a good thing Bill had done, and many people owe their lives to his kindness. But this is what Bill said, “When that final whistle blows and St. Peter asks, “What did you do?” I’ll just say, “Well, I gave 100 pints of blood.” Bill says with a laugh, “That ought to get me in.” Bill was probably joking. But if he was serious, if Bill is counting on the giving of 100 pints of blood to get him to heaven, he is trusting in the wrong blood.” Our faith is in Jesus, because His blood shed on the cross justifies us. That’s basic to what we believe.
I’ve never seen events of this past week in my lifetime, although there have been similar times: Y2K, SARS, Asian flu, Swine flu, etc. I went to the Farmer’s Market this morning. Shut down. Had tickets for a spring training game yesterday. Cancelled. No NHL, NBA, March Madness. No school. I had never heard the terms “social distancing” and “self quarantine” before this week. People are running out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes. They are also running short of normalcy and hope. David wrote in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Yes…we do. Even during pandemics. Didn’t know that word before last week either. Yes, in these complex, difficult, hand-wringing, hand-washing and uncertain times, it is good to go back to the basics and that brings a peace that no mask or hand sanitizer could ever provide. It may get worse before it gets better, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God, and that brings a hope that never disappoints. Ever. Be safe out there.