IN NOMINE JESU
During this holy, penitential, and preparatory season of Lent we are going on a journey, following our Lord on His way to the cross, where He would suffer, bleed, and die for you, for me, and for the life of the world. This journey took Him to the cross, but we need not go that far. Why? Because the cross is NOT where your Lord gives you His gifts of the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation—He WON those gifts for you there, but He doesn’t give them to you there; He gives you His gifts through His Word and Sacraments. And where does this giving—this Word-and-Sacramenting—take place? In the Divine Service—in the liturgy of the Church. In the pages of our hymnal you will find God’s plan for your salvation all laid out for you, as you read, speak, sing, and pray the words God has given you. This is not to say that the Liturgy is divinely inspired or that there’s a hidden “Eleventh Commandment” somewhere that states “Thou shalt have a liturgy.” But over the course of nearly 2,000 years the Church has in her wisdom handed down to us this treasure we call Divine Service—Gottesdienst. In it we repeat the words God has first given to us in Holy Scripture. Saying back to Him what He has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is His Name, which He put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are His. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where His Name is, there is He. Before Him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim Him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words He has used to make Himself known to us. [Lutheran Worship, p. 6]
On Ash Wednesday we began our Lenten journey by way of the Liturgy. Gathered in the Name of Jesus around His Word and Sacraments, we began this journey in the confession of our sins, joining our voices with King David in the 51st Psalm. This is one of the reasons we observe Lent: to focus more intentionally and intensely upon our own sinfulness and our need for the Savior, Jesus, to have died for us. We confess our sins at the beginning of Divine Service, praying for God’s forgiveness, that He would unburden our consciences through His Holy Absolution and that we would with joyful hearts receive His gifts.
We are always in need of God’s forgiveness and His mercy. We need God to have mercy on us poor, miserable sinners. In other words, we need Him to take pity on us, as we have ever offended Him and justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment. We pray for His mercy throughout Divine Service. In the Prayer of the Church, our petitions conclude with either “Lord, in Your MERCY, hear our prayer” or “Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have MERCY.” In the Kyrie, we pray of the entire Trinity: “Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.” Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison. In other words, we are imploring God to take pity on us and hear our prayers in Jesus’ Name and for His sake.
Mercy. This is something Adam and Eve should have sought from God. They brought sin into the world. They ate the forbidden fruit. They ate from the tree which God forbade them. Eve listened to the serpent—the devil—over against God. She believed the devil’s lies over God’s commandment. She ate. Then Adam ate. They recognized the shame of their nakedness—the nakedness of their sin before God, and they hid from Him. God called them out. He gave Adam and Eve the opportunity to confess their sins, for He desires to forgive His people and have mercy on them. There they were, Adam and Eve, the only two people on the planet, with the chance to do what is right by confessing their sins, so that God would have mercy on them and forgive them. Did they confess their sins? Did they “man up” or “woman up,” as the case may be? No! Not only did they not own up to their sins before God, but they had the nerve to pass the buck and blame someone else. Eve blamed the serpent. Adam was even bolder in his brazenness…not only did he not protect his bride from the devil’s lies, he blamed his bride, AND he pointed his finger back at God, blaming Him for placing her there to cause him to sin. Martin Luther says of Adam’s sin:
See how superbly the vicious nature of sin is pictured here. Adam can in no wise be forced into a confession of his sin, but he denies his sin or excuses it as long as he sees that he has any hope or any kind of an excuse left. It is not amazing that in the beginning he hoped to be able to cover his sin and that he accuses God rather than acknowledge that he has sinned. But this is amazing, that he still persists in his excuse after his conscience has convicted him and he himself has also heard his sin from God. He does not say: “Lord, I have sinned; forgive me my debt; be merciful”; but he passes on the guilt to the woman. It is the nature of sin not to permit the soul to flee back to God but rather to force it into a flight away from God. There is a well-known teaching in the schools of the rhetoricians that if one has been charged with a crime, he should either deny it or defend it as having been committed legally. Adam does both. In the first place, he denies his offense and says that he is frightened by the voice of the Lord, not by his sin. But when he is convicted, so that he cannot deny the deed, he tries to defend himself with the claim that his action is lawful. “If,” he says, “Thou hadst not joined this woman to me, I would not have eaten.” Thus he again traces the sin he himself had committed back to God and accuses God of his own sin. There just is no end to sinning once one has turned away from the Word… He had sinned through disobedience and unbelief; now he doubles his great disgrace and blasphemy when he says: “I did not listen to the serpent; I felt no pleasure in looking at that tree; I did not stretch out my hand to pluck the forbidden fruit. All this the woman did whom Thou didst give to me.” In short, Adam does not want to acknowledge his sin; he wants to be regarded as pure and innocent. [LW 1:177]
This may come as a shock to you, but it really shouldn’t: We are no better than Adam and Eve were. After all, we inherited their sin. When we are confronted with our own sin, we would rather justify it than confess it. We look to make excuses for our sins. We try to regard ourselves as pure and innocent in the faces of others and in the face of God. Do we mean the words we pray in the confessional rite? Or are we paying lip service to the words just to placate the pastor because the words are printed in the hymnal? All too often we try to be our own public relations agents, our own spin doctors, or our own lawyers—defending our sinful acts and calling ourselves blameless. There’s an old adage that states that whoever has himself for a lawyer has a fool for a client. We lie. We lie to ourselves. We lie to others. We lie to God. We don’t blame ourselves. We blame others. We blame God. We like to say, “The devil made me do it!”, but we don’t resist him very much or very well. We don’t seek God’s forgiveness because we don’t want to confess our sins. We don’t want to confess our sins because we don’t want to acknowledge them; we would rather keep our sins in the dark and not have them exposed to the light of God’s Law. We don’t want to be like King David, who confessed his sins; we would rather be like Adam and Eve who refused to seek God’s mercy. All the while the devil laughs because he does to us what he couldn’t do to Jesus: to cause Him to fall into sin.
There is good news for you this day, fellow redeemed! Although Satan tempted Jesus three times, the Lord refused to give in to temptation all three times. Jesus withstood the temptations of the devil and remains without sin. This is good news because Jesus, the sinless and spotless Lamb of God, has had mercy on you and died for your sins, for your giving in to the allures of the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature. The death of Jesus—and His resurrection—has given Satan the ultimate defeat because the devil knows that, though the battles still rage for people’s souls, the war is over. Jesus is the Victor! Satan is the loser—the biggest loser! You see, Jesus took your sins—every time you gave in to temptation—with Him to the cross, paying the price you can never pay. This is your God having mercy upon you, taking your sins with Him to the cross, bleeding and dying in your place, and rising from the dead so that you would have life with Him forever!
This, my friends, was God’s promise to Adam and Eve of a Savior, a Second Adam. He cursed the devil in the presence of Adam and Eve and promised that this Seed would grow to destroy the devil forever: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (v. 15). The devil would bruise the heel of that Seed, Jesus, that Second Adam, on Good Friday, when that Seed, the Savior, was stricken, smitten, and afflicted, beaten, bloodied, and crucified—dead!—to take away your sins. But the Seed of Eve would on the third day bruise the dead of the serpent by rising from the dead, rendering the old evil foe powerless over you. Jesus has victoriously defended us—and continues to defend you—from the devil’s wiles because Jesus has not only defeated him but also resisted him in the face of temptation. The writer of Hebrews reminds you: Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [Heb. 4:14-16]
Jesus, our great High Priest, invites you to come before your heavenly Father to ask for His mercy for Jesus’ sake. Your heavenly Father looks upon you through the blood of His Son, has mercy—pity—on you, and forgives you for Jesus’ sake. Your gracious Lord invites you to come to the Father’s throne of grace; He also invites you to come to His Table, where He showers you with His mercy: Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, has mercy upon you, and grants you His peace, giving you His very body given and blood shed on the cross, that you would receive God’s forgiveness and mercy. You see, God has no sympathy for the devil, but He has grace, peace, mercy, and love for you for the sake of His Son, Jesus, your second Adam, thanks be to God! Amen!
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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