2022-03-13 Lent 2
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
Last Sunday we went over the 3 chief Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving or charity. These 3 things really form the foundation of repentance and returning to God, using the spirit to control the body. This week, on the second Sunday in Lent, we see the consequences of what happens when we don’t walk the road of repentance. Both in our Gospel reading from Luke and our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah, we see the scenarios unfolding. We see prophets sent to the great city of Jerusalem with a message of repentance and we see in return a stiff-necked people who want nothing to do with God’s Word. The consequences are extremely dire for anyone not heeding this message.
If we look at Jeremiah first, we have him delivering the goods. What does he say? “‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’” (26:9). In other words, this grand city of Jerusalem will be ground into powder, utterly destroyed because of the sins of the people. This is God’s prophet! This is God’s Word to His people! Maybe they should listen. Maybe they should hear. Maybe they should put it into practice. But no. No. People are people. Sinful. Broken. Hard-hearted. They don’t hear. They refuse to listen. And it would have been one thing to blow off the message and ignore it. But they don’t do that either. The priests and the other prophets of all people - the other God guys on campus - they say to the people and the officials “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears!” (26:11).
His message is unpopular! The masses don’t want to hear it! We need to cancel Jeremiah immediately! Delete his Twitter account! Ban him from Facebook! Take his brand of Vodka off the shelves! Oh no, it’s far worse than our current day cancel-culture. They want his head. They want to watch him bleed in the street for his words. “You shall die!” (26:8) they shout. But Jeremiah the prophet is faithful even in the face of these threats of death. Things are heating up but he isn’t swayed from the truth of God’s Word. Just like an egg, the more you cook it, the harder it gets! He doubles down on truth. He proclaims it all the more. “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you. But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you” (26:12-14).
He doesn’t give a rip about what happens to himself personally. They might hang him. They might quarter him in the street. They might put is head on a pike. They might cover him in honey and feed him to wild dogs. Who knows?! But Jeremiah doesn’t care. God gave him a tough-love message and he will proclaim it no matter what. Although he does give them one final stinger to consider: “Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears” (26:15).
Jeremiah here is using God’s Word of law as a mirror, to show the people their sin. He makes them aware that what they are doing, saying and thinking is wrong. It’s contrary to God’s will. They must listen and they must change. For if they don’t they will walk the dark path of destruction. And this goes for us too. When we read the 10 commandments they tell us what we should do and they convict us of what we are doing wrong. The faithful heart will receive the message of repentance gladly and work to change. The stubborn heart will scoff and threaten to shoot the messenger! And some will brag that while they might have shot the sheriff, they didn’t shoot the deputy! I might be bad, but I’m not as bad as those people over there.
There is always this temptation to turn our back on God’s Word. To define right and wrong in our own way. Instead of the Bible being the number one source of all that is good, right and salutary, we are tempted to refer to public opinion, TV talk shows, worldly philosophies, open-mindedness, selfish ambition, fortune cookies and bumper stickers - and everything else to tell us what is true and what is right and wrong. It reminds me of the story of the King who was out hunting in the forest. He came across several large trees which had targets painted on them. And, in each of the targets, smack dab in the middle of the bullseye was an arrow. “Incredible!” the King said. “I must find this archer and add him to my palace guard.” Before long, they came across a young boy with a bow and arrow, just stepping away from another bullseye, perfectly struck. “Did you really shoot these arrows?” the King asked. “Yes, your majesty, I shot the arrows from 100 paces.” “Outstanding! Please join my palace guard!” The King said. “Tell me, how did you learn to shoot with such precision?” The boy replied “I simply look squarely at the tree, hold my breath, and let the arrow fly your majesty. … Then I walk up to the tree and paint a target around the arrow!”
This is exactly what Jeremiah was preaching against. People love to make our targets and set our own standards of what’s right or what’s wrong based on whatever the current thinking of the day is. But the hallmark of truth is that it doesn’t change. It is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) When we paint our own targets around our arrows after missing the mark that God sets in His word, then we are little scam artists in the woods with a bow! Instead, the prophet’s call is to gaze into that mirror of God’s Word and then look within ourselves and be honest. We need to embrace repentance and realize that we have strayed from God and His Word. If we are honest, we will confess our sins. Admitting to God and one another that we have sinned in thought, word and deed. We’ve been full of rot and spiritual infection. We’ve painted targets around our arrows, missing the mark God has set out for us. However, we can return to the Lord our God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. And when we do this, Christ Jesus removes our sins from us as far as the East is from the West.
For that is the whole goal of our Lenten journey to the cross. Our Lord’s innocent blood was shed for us, for Jerusalem, and indeed the whole world. It is His rich forgiveness in His cross for our failures that removes our sins. It is His grace and love that work within us to prevent us from sinning and following the path of the world. And the outcome is our sweet reconciliation to God by His grace. We too, like Jeremiah, have been entrusted with proclaiming this message of truth, regardless of how unpopular it might be at any given time. Just as God’s law certainly stings and cuts us to the heart, the Gospel of Christ soothes, heals, lifts us up and strengthens us to endure not only our Lenten journey of repentance but also the day to day struggles that we face. Thanks be to God now and forever more. Amen!