The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
“It’s all about Jesus.” We know that this is true all the time, but it takes on special meaning during the Lenten season, doesn’t it? Salvation, redemption, forgiveness, grace, mercy, peace… it is all about Jesus. And yet… what about all those times that it’s not? I know we could easily cast stones at those “other” Christians who boldly profess how “it’s all about Jesus,” but then in the same breath tell you all the things you need to do in order to merit God’s grace, earn your forgiveness, or at the very least, be assured that God is not angry with you. Just this past week I read of how the archbishop of Canterbury (Church of England) is encouraging his parishioners to practice a “green Lent” this year. Their “penance/sacrifice” is to use the forty days of Lent to calculate the carbon footprint of the meal they just ate, switch to renewable power, plant a tree, etc. Rather than focus on Christ and His Passion sacrifice for us, Christians should focus on how we can save the world and make God, ourselves, and most importantly—the self-righteous mob—happy by drinking soy milk and eating grass clippings. Ahh yes… the peace that surpasses all understanding: knowing that I did my part and “sacrificed.” But… it’s all about Jesus! We could EASILY cast stones at that… and rightly so.
We could easily cast those stones closer to home. “It’s all about Jesus, but here’s what you need to do on your part. Are you SURE you’re saved? Have you done enough? Are you dancing, drinking beer, or using something other than the KJV? Does your denim skirt not go all the way to your ankles? I don’t know…. I guess the thief on the cross got into heaven too, so maybe there’s hope for you too.” But… it’s all about Jesus, right? What about the fool in the mirror? Are you willing to cast stones at that direction? It’s all about Jesus… until it’s not.
Look to this cross. Consider your sins, not just the “really big ones” that you can’t handle yourself. (How often we confuse “feeling guilty” with actually being guilty. Just because you may not feel guilty doesn’t mean you’re not guilty.) Consider your sins… ALL OF THEM, even the “little ones” that the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh deem “not a big deal.” See those sins through the lens of Christ’s cross. God died for those sins. It IS all about Jesus. It’s all about what God does for us. He does for us because we don’t do and can’t do for ourselves.
The Gospel account of the three temptations exemplify this. The devil doesn’t come at Jesus with crazy, off-the-wall temptations that nobody else has ever had to endure. He comes at Jesus with the most fundamental desires—hunger, pride, arrogance, control, and greed. Jesus does for us what we don’t do and can’t do for ourselves. He doesn’t give in to temptation. He trusts in His God and Father perfectly, above all things… even His own desires. He does all this, not as an example for us to follow, because if we could do these things, then Jesus didn’t need to die. No! He does all these things for us so that we don’t die; so that we may have the gift of eternal life. “God so loved the world….” It’s all about Jesus; what God does for us.
Look to the Old Testament lessons. Just look at how things have been for us children of Adam since that first terrible day when humanity plunged itself into the death sentence of sin. After their fall into sin and death, our first parents don’t console each other with the grace of God. No! The best plan they can come up with is to hastily weave together some leaves and then flee and hide. They don’t speak Gospel. They don’t even listen to the Word of God when tempted. They looked and they saw that the forbidden fruit was pleasing to their eye, so they took and ate. Faith comes through hearing. They trusted what they saw (or wanted to see) rather than what God had already told them. Already then, it wasn’t about God. It was about themselves; what they wanted. Be honest: Have things changed for you? Is it any really different in your case?
Consider what your God and Lord does for these undeserving sinners. He comes to them, not in wrath, but in gentleness and mercy, in the cool evening breeze. The fact that He comes to them at all is amazing! He doesn’t wait for them to come crawling back to Him. He comes to them. He comes to them and bespeaks His life-giving, life-saving Gospel. He comes to them and provides the only clothing that will adequately cover His beloved. Fig leaves won’t cut it. They still don’t. Man’s own designs and coverings and excuses and justifications will never adequately cover over the shame and guilt of their sin. God sheds the first blood… for them. He covers them with the hide of the animal He Himself put to death… for them.
We don’t know what that first animal was. Scripture never tells us. Our faithful forefathers (dating back well into the Old Testament) have long-believed that God shed the blood of a lamb for His beloved children. It certainly makes sense. God covered His beloved children over in the hide of the lamb. I know that the Chistological “Passover Lamb of God” imagery isn’t lost on you here. But even in a more crass sense (which tends to be my wheelhouse), God uses a lamb. He doesn’t work the way I would. If it were up to me, those disobedient sinners would be sentenced to wear pelts of porcupine quills, maybe the sandpaper-like skin of a shark… something quite painful and miserable. And even then, that would still require the bloodshed of an innocent porcupine or a shark. They didn’t do anything deserving of death! I’d replace those fig leaves with poison ivy. I’d weave together some skivvies made out of burdock stickers or thistles or thorns.
Folks: Look to this cross. God doesn’t work the way we do (and thank God He doesn’t!) God shed the blood of this holy, perfect sacrificial Lamb for you, for me, and for all of us children of Adam. Here is where God Himself took on a crown of thorns for us in our place. Jesus endured all this suffering for us and our sin. The innocent One became the curse in our place. He accomplished (and completed) all that we cannot do. “It is finished!” By the shedding of this blood God gives us what we do not and can never earn or merit: His mercy, His grace, His peace, His gift of eternal life.
Look to the font/rail. Our God and Lord still comes to us, not in fiery wrath, but in the lowly, humble “breezes” that are His means of grace. The water and blood that flowed forth from the holy Lamb’s side still flows to us. Look to this font. Here is where our thorn-encircled Lamb of God brings His free and unmerited gifts of grace, mercy, and peace to us. He comes to us and covers us over with the all-availing righteousness of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Only His righteousness will do. Nothing else works. Look to this rail. Here is where God Himself comes to us, nourishing us with the one and only source of eternal life—His own body and blood. Here at this meager font and rail is the gate/door to the new Eden; to heavenly paradise. “I am the gate. I am the door. If anyone enters by/through Me, he will be saved….” What was once closed off by God with fiery sword (the Tree of Life) is now open to all because this Lamb of God willingly endured the fiery sword of His Father’s wrath for us. This blood-stained tree of life (the crucifix) is open to all. His blood has forever quenched the fire of His Father’s just and righteous wrath. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
My friends: Here is your salvation. Here is your peace and assurance. Here is God’s mercy and grace, lifted up and exalted for you and for all the world to see…and to turn and flee to and hold fast to in the joy of repentant thanksgiving. This is what Adam and Eve didn’t know in those terrifying moments as God drew near to them. Here is the fulfillment of that first Gospel promise. By God’s grace, through faith, we do know what this means, not just for us, but for all children borne of Adam.
You know…when you understand all this, how can you not want to flee here? When you understand all that God Himself gave up for you; when you understand how God didn’t flee from you and your sin, but instead willingly came down into this fallen veil of tears in order to take on your flesh and crush the head of the serpent, sin, and death for you, how can you not want to flee here? Knowing all that Christ has done and still does for you, how can you not want to flee from sin, and instead flee in repentant faith and thanksgiving into the outstretched arms of Him who died for that sin?
Dear friends: It really is all about Jesus. Here is God with you and for you. May this peace and joy be your peace and joy, now and into all eternity. AMEN
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
Send Pastor Jason Zirbel an email.