Zion Lutheran Church, Harbine, Nebraska
"Repent. Turn. Live."
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost—First Sunday in St. Michael's Tide
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
September 25, 2011
IN NOMINE JESU
In playing a game, or in any kind of competition, there are winners, and there are losers. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. There's an old saying that goes, "It doesn't matter whether you win or lose; it's all about how you play the game." I hated that saying, because I hate to lose. I preferred the legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi's, view. He said. "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." To that end, when I wanted to play a game, I wanted to change the rules—to stack the deck in my favor. I wanted every advantage I could gain for myself. I wanted to give myself the best shot at winning against a better opponent, who usually defeated me anyway. I just wanted to win, but I didn't want to break the rules…just to change them, and it rarely worked.
In our text, God is changing things up a bit, changing what He wants Ezekiel to preach to the people. In those days there was a proverb, quoted in our text, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (v. 2). This was something the people would say if they wanted to claim they were being treated unfairly, supposedly having to pay for someone else's misdeeds. The children would pay for the sins of their fathers, and the children often did not repent of their own sins, making the punishment worse. They wanted to pass the buck, if they could, to let someone else bear the brunt of the punishment they richly deserved. But they were to repent of their sins…and the sins of their forefathers, which were passed down to them. In fact, when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, God said to him (and the Israelites), "I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Ex. 20:5b-6). But God in His mercy relented of that particular decree. He would no longer demand His people pay for the sins of their fathers. From now on, they were accountable for their own sins, and nobody else's. In fact, the Lord commanded two of His prophets, Ezekiel (in our text) and Jeremiah (in chapter 31 of his book), to no longer speak of this proverb. It no longer applied to God's people. They were to confess their own sins. They were to repent of their own sins. They were to turn from their sins. That's that the word repent means: to turn around.
This is God's call to us as well. God wants us to repent of our own sins, to turn our backs on them. Toward the end of our text, God gives the commands: Repent, turn, cast away, make a new heart and new spirit, turn, and live. What God asks of us is pretty simple: repent, turn, and live. God wants us to live because He does not want anyone to die in their sins and thus be eternally condemned. He does not desire in the death of the sinner. God wants us to turn from our sinful ways, so that we would live with Him in heaven forever. The blessed apostle St. Paul offers us encouragement in our Epistle: "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain" (Phil. 2:14-16).
But we live as people who lack encouragement, people who need to be lifted up from this vale of tears, this valley of sorrow, in which we live. We live in a world that is filled with sin, the sin of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. We live in a world that surrounds us in sin, and we add to that sin that surrounds us. When we confessed our sins at the beginning of Divine Service this morning, we did not confess the sins of Adam and Eve, our first parents. We did not confess the sins of our parents or grandparents. We did not confess the sins of our brothers or sisters or even our own children. We said, "WE confess that WE are by nature sinful and unclean. WE have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what WE have done and by what WE have left undone. WE have not loved You with our whole heart; WE have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. WE justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment." Our confession of sins is not to confess someone else's sins, just our own. Just as we cannot confess the faith for someone else, we cannot confess sins for someone else. We alone are responsible for what we think, say, do, and don't do. God has made this clear when He wrote His Law on our hearts. To break God's Law is to sin. To sin is to act apart from the faith His Holy Spirit has sought to work in us—to act in unbelief. When we sin, we are not turning away from our sins, but we are turning ever closer to them, and we turn farther away from God. We like to toss, turn, and wallow in our sins. We do not like to repent. We do not like to confess our sins. We do not like to turn from our sins. But, in our sinful nature, we will die eternally in our sins, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves for our own condemnation.
However, St. Paul reminds us in Romans 8: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). This means that, because we are in Christ Jesus, we need not fear death, for we will live forever in heaven with Him. Jesus has made this our new reality. It is our reality every time God forgives us our sins for Jesus' sake. You see, we can't turn our backs on our sins. We can't do anything to save ourselves. This is true of you and me, as well as of our parents going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Yet even there in the paradise Adam and Eve lost, God promised them an even greater Paradise, the same Paradise the crucified Lord gave to the criminal hanging next to Him on Good Friday. God promised Adam and Eve a Savior, their very own flesh and blood, as St. Luke notes in his genealogy of Christ. This Savior of the nations came, David's Son and David's Lord, in the Person of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, who came into this world to be crucified for the forgiveness of our sins. Because we are unable to turn our backs on our sins, Jesus turned His face toward Jerusalem, to go the way we could not go…the way of the cross.
The Lord spoke through Ezekiel, using the people's words against them. They said "The way of the Lord is not just." It is true in this one sense: True justice would mean that we would die condemned in our sins. In one of the great Lenten and Holy Week hymns we sing, the image of injustice rings true in our ears: "Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning, Was there ever grief like His? Friends through fear His cause disowning, Foes insulting His distress; Many hands were raised to wound Him, None would intervene to save; But the deepest stroke that pierced Him Was the stroke that justice gave" (LSB 451:2). Jesus received OUR justice FOR us. Because we can't turn our backs on our sins by ourselves, God the Father turned His back on His only-begotten Son so He wouldn't turn His back on us, thanks be to God! "For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). This is why, when we confessed our own sins this morning, we each asked God to forgive us. We prayed, "For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy Name." What did you then hear after that? You heard me, under orders from God, forgive you all your sins.
"Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins." Everything that happens here in the Divine Service is done for you, done for Jesus' sake, for what God gives you cost Jesus His very life. He gave His body on the cross and shed His blood from the cross, the very body and blood He gives in His Supper, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. The gifts are for you, given freely by God, that you would live with Him in heaven forever. It is only by faith that we accept these gifts, for it is faith alone that desires the gifts. Faith alone craves the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross and gives you in Baptism, Absolution, the Word, and the Lord's Supper. This faith is not of our own doing, but it is a gift from God as well, for the Father and the Son have sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to work in us saving faith in Jesus Christ, the Christ who bled and died on the cross, the Christ who rose from the dead on the third day, the same Christ who ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, the same Christ who descends to us in His Means of Grace to give you what He won on the cross for you! The Holy Spirit moves us to repent of our sins, to turn our backs on them, so that we would be renewed, restored, and forgiven. He continues this good work in us and will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit turns us away from our sins and toward the One who turned His face toward Jerusalem, so that His Father would turn His back on His Son for our sake and will, in the Benediction, turn His face toward you, look upon you with favor and give you His peace, the peace that far surpasses all understanding, that peace which the world cannot give. God the Father turns His face toward you, and the Holy Spirit turns you back toward Christ, for He leads you to repent, turn, and live. Thanks be to God! Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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