The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
“What do you think about the Christ?” That’s a good question that Jesus asks the Pharisees. “You’re the learned ones. You’re the ones who claim to speak for God. What do you think about the Christ? How do you read/understand God’s Word concerning the Christ?” It’s a good question, but…why does Jesus ask it? On the surface this may seem like Jesus is simply rebuffing the Pharisees’ authority, putting them in their place and giving them a taste of their own snotty medicine, setting them up by asking them the question so that He can pull the trigger and humiliate them when they inevitably give the wrong answer. That may sound good, but it’s not right. Jesus doesn’t behave like we do. Contrary to popular opinion, God isn’t constantly on the lookout, just sitting around with an itchy trigger finger, just waiting for somebody to mess up so He can drop the hammer and show them who is boss. That’s how we behave. That’s not Jesus though.
Jesus asks this question precisely because He loves these fools, and He loves the ignorant little lambs that these proud fools with the very best intentions are leading astray in their ignorant and pride-filled error. Jesus asks this question because the answer they give, no matter what it is, will provide the opportunity to speak the Truth regarding who the Messiah really is. Jesus asks this question because He wants to set the record straight; He wants the Truth to be known.
And that’s the beauty of this question. The “truth” of what these Pharisees thought and believed about the Christ—the Messiah, who was the hope and blessed repose of all the faithful in the Old Testament, beginning with Adam and Eve—was wrong, and it was now being made known. The Light of God’s Truth was shining on the darkness of their ignorance and wrong belief. Now, I know that some of you are quick to point out the fact that technically these guys didn’t give a wrong answer. Technically-speaking, Jesus is a son of David. Jesus is a physical, fleshly, biological descendant of King David. They didn’t give the wrong answer. They just didn’t give the entire right answer.
This is true. But…that’s the problem. They only believed and held fast to what they wanted to believe; to what they were willing to accept as “truth.” Whatever didn’t match up with them and their ideas and notions—their version of “truth”—was automatically rejected as false or wrong. Case in point: The Messiah, as they understood it, was going to be this great and powerful man; a man of the lineage of David who would make Israel great again. Their Messiah would make Israel the economic, spiritual, and social epicenter of all humanity. All the world would be Israel! Such a great man would never do something as foul or “unholy” as eat with prostitutes and tax collectors or hang out with lepers and Samaritans and other trash that God clearly despised and was punishing. Such a great man wouldn’t be such a lowly schmuck! Such a great man would obviously recognize and praise all the good that the Pharisees did and represented. More than that, such a great man would obviously be easily recognized by such good and wonderful pillars of the Church like the Pharisees. They, of all people, would surely be able to pick the Messiah out of a lineup....and Jesus clearly wasn’t this guy! Case closed!
Now, at this point we really don’t need to go any further in regards to the Pharisees’ self-centered blindness and deafness to God’s Truth. We don’t need to go on and on about the self-righteous foolishness these guys put on full display like proud peacocks. We get it. They didn’t understand the Truth of Jesus, nor did they understand the Truth of God’s plan for salvation for all mankind (a plan that necessarily included pain, suffering, and death on a cross), nor did they understand the Truth of the deadliness of sin—all sin, which infected all people…even good Pharisees full of good intentions—or the Truth of God’s unconditional grace and mercy for all sinners…even lepers and prostitutes and Samaritans and Gentiles.
Believe it or not, but we’re not here to run them down and talk about them. Yes, they were sinful in their pride and unbelief and ignorance…just like all of us. That’s why our Lord comes to us today...for us and our sakes! He doesn’t come to us to gossip about the Pharisees and give us a false sense of pride or accomplishment. “Thank God you’re not like them!” No. He comes to us today out of love, asking us the same question He asked them, precisely because we are no different than them or any other sinful child of Adam in need of the life and peace and love that only the Christ of Almighty God Himself can give.
What do you think about Jesus? What do you think about the Christ of God? You see, what you truly think does tend to show itself in the fruits you bear. What you think in the deep, dark recesses of your heart, mind, and soul may very well stand in stark contrast to what you say. I know we can all say the right things. None of us here are stupid. We know the right things to say, especially in this particular setting on Sunday morning. We can all offer up very convincing and sincere lip service, fooling everyone in the room, including ourselves. But…what do you really think about Jesus? What do you really think about the Christ of God? I know these seem like questions that are beneath us. “Of course we think the right things, pastor! We’re Lutherans! We’re not perfect, by any means, but we’re saved through faith alone in God’s grace alone because of Christ alone. We think and say the right things about Jesus.”
Okay…so you’ve never looked up to heaven and questioned the wisdom of God, as if you know better than He does? You’ve never questioned His timing or His methods? Not once have you ever thought that you deserve to be treated better than God is permitting? Not once have you ever tallied up your good deeds and presented them to God like a bill of sale, as if He’s somehow shorting you or not keeping up with His end of the deal? “God, look at all this! Doesn’t it count for something? I try to do the right things and stay clear of the wrong things, and all I get is pain and sorrow, while the schmuck who doesn’t care; that piece of work who has dropped the reins on morality and faith and good works, is getting ahead and prospering. God, it’s not fair! Don’t you care? Don’t you see?”
And this leads back to the question: What do you think about the Christ of God; the promise of God in the flesh? Understand: I’m not asking right now about what you believe. What do you think about all this? What’s your take on all this? What do you think about the way God handles things? Just look at all the unrest and tribulation in our world right now. Why doesn’t God just pull the mask off and make Himself clearly known to everyone? Why doesn’t God just strike down enemies like ISIS and Atheism? Why does He permit them to even exist? Why does God continue to keep Himself veiled and hidden as this world crumbles all around us? Why doesn’t He do something?! I’ll confess that sometimes I get to looking around at all the sin and injustice and pain and sorrow in the world, in my community, in my family life, and in my own life, and I don’t know what to think. I confess that there are times that I don’t think too highly of God, or at least I don’t think too highly of the way He handles things. His ways are not my ways.
But…maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe that’s the whole problem. My ways are not His ways. Here I am trying to rationalize sin and evil and God and salvation; I’m trying to make sense of it all. Folks: This doesn’t make sense! None of it makes sense! “The good I want to do, I don’t do, and yet the evil I don’t want to do, I keep on doing.” Why?! I know better! And yet…my sinful human nature so often wins out. “Wretched, sinful man that I am…who will save me from this bondage of death?”
The answer to that question, which we all know, makes no sense at all! The one and only answer; the One and only who can deliver us and save us from the bonds of sin, death, and damnation is the One and only-begotten Son of God; the very Word and Promise of God, in the flesh. Think about that! The wage of sin is death—physical and eternal—and yet our Lord loves us sinners—all of us—so much that He willingly took on our flesh and suffered and died in order to pay that deadly, bloody wage and ransom for us; a wage and ransom we simply can’t pay, not even for one single sin, let alone a lifetime worth of ‘em. This makes no sense at all! As St. Paul says in Romans 5, “One will scarcely die for a righteous person; that is, for a believer, although one may perhaps die for a good person, but God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners—still dead in our sins and trespasses and deserving only death and damnation—the Christ—God’s Gospel promise in the flesh—died for us.”
What do you think about that? What can you think about that? If you try and make sense of it all by means of your fallen reason and logic, you will only arrive at one of two conclusions, both of which are deadly wrong. Either you will conclude that (A) your sins weren’t really that deadly and deserving of death, and that some of your good nature and good works contributed along with the death of Christ to bring about your salvation, or (B) you will conclude that your sins are too great and deadly and damning, and that Christ’s sacrifice for sin doesn’t extend to you and cover over your sins. These are the two places the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh inevitably lead us when confronted with God’s Word on sin and salvation.
This is why God doesn’t ask you for a theorem or a proof or a dissertation. He only asks you to trust Him; to believe Him; believe Him when He says, “It is finished, once and for all!” This is why our Lord calls us to have the repentant, thankful faith of a little child. They don’t question like we “wise” adults do. They don’t automatically look for the catch or assume that it’s too good to be true. We get old. We mature. We get jaded. We let the ways and wisdom of the world influence us, inform us, guide us,…corrupt and kill us. There has to be a catch, right? There’s ALWAYS a catch. There has to be something in the fine print that we’re missing.
Nope. It’s all there, plain and simple, black and white. The wage of sin is death, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And yet…God so loved the world—everyone—that He gave His only-begotten Son to die for it, so that whoever believes in Him and His all-redeeming sacrifice will not perish, but have everlasting life in Him and with Him. What do you think about that? What do you think about this [the crucifix]? Here is exactly what God has been saying throughout Scripture! Here is the full wrath of God against sin, and here, at the same time, is the unconditional grace, mercy, peace, and love He has for you. Here is what God thinks about sin, and here is what God does for the sinner!
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Don’t over-think it! It’s so easy. It’s so simple. It’s so tragically beautiful. Don’t over-think it. Repent and humble yourself and thank God for it! You are forgiven. You are baptized and redeemed. You are a child of God and a royal heir of His eternal heavenly household. What do you think of that?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit….AMEN
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