IN NOMINE JESU
The blessed apostle St. Paul had a very colorful past. He was a dual citizen; he was a Roman as well as a Jew. He had a Roman name, Paul, and a Jewish name, Saul. As a Jew, he was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, and he was one of the Pharisees. As a zealous Jew, a zealous Pharisee, he persecuted the Christian church. He gave his approval for the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr. Paul, a tentmaker by trade, enjoyed tremendous power, prestige, and success. He had it all. Who could ask for anything more? Yet, when he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi, all of his riches and power meant nothing to him, counting "all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus [his] Lord, for whom [he has] suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that [he] may gain Christ" (v. 8). He lost everything he had, but he did not care because he had Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
Recall the incident which changed Paul's life, in Acts 9, when the Lord blinded him on the road to Damascus. While in Damascus, Saul regained his sight and became baptized into the Name of Jesus Christ. He immediately went out and preached Christ crucified, whom he once persecuted. Paul himself would also be persecuted, as he wrote to the church at Corinth: "From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches" (2 Cor. 11:24-28). Paul suffered much for the cross of Christ at the hands of his own countrymen, Romans and Jews alike. Paul's witness of the Gospel, and his suffering for it, would conclude with his martyrdom, as he was reportedly beheaded at Rome. Despite all these hardships, Paul was not concerned, for he had Christ who died for him.
Paul's sins were many and great, to which he himself admitted in calling himself the chief of sinners. This title would not be reserved for him alone but for all people at all times and in all places. This title has been bestowed upon you and me as well. Rather than letting Christ be our confidence, our confidence is in the flesh—in our mortal flesh, in our own sinful flesh. We chiefs of sinners have our confidence not in Christ but in ourselves. We have become our own gods. We have fixated ourselves and our own wants, desires, and lusts. We have given ourselves over to the desires of our sinful flesh. We are so focused on our wants that we are blind to our needs. Unlike Paul whom the Lord blinded and made him His chosen vessel, we are broken jars, for we are spiritually blind in our trespasses and sins. We are blind to our need to repent. We are deaf to the Word of God. We are lame in our walk with the Lord. "For many walk," Paul writes in the verses after our text, "of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things" (vv. 18-19). Our sinful flesh has not attained to the resurrection from the dead, nor are we perfected. But our sinful flesh has attained to the condemnation into hell, and we will be perfectly judged on the Last Day.
Our sinful nature is imperfect, and we will remain imperfect in and of ourselves. Our perfection must come from without. It comes from Christ and the power of His resurrection. Our righteousness is not our own, "which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (v. 9b). As Holy Scripture clearly teaches, the righteous shall live by faith, "that [we] may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (v. 10). We are being conformed to Christ's death even now through the reading and proclamation of His Word. It is His Word that points out our sinfulness and removes our blinders that we may see our sins and confess them before our heavenly Father, who declares to us through His Word that He has forgiven us for His Son's sake. Our heavenly Father has forgiven us for the sake of Him who suffered for us, of Him who was stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted for us. Our Lord turned His face toward Jerusalem in the days leading to Holy Week, and His Father turned His face away from Him so that He would make His face shine upon us and be gracious unto us.
Our heavenly Father's face shines upon us on account of the darkness that was upon the earth on Good Friday. The sky was dark for the Son was dead, dead on the cross, for it was finished: the payment for the sins of the entire world, including your sins and mine. We do not remain in the dark, for the Son shines brightly as He is risen from the dead. He has laid hold of the gift of eternal life for us. The life that He lives we will also live. All that we are and have in this world we count as loss for the sake of Christ, who is our Life. By the Holy Spirit may we forget "those things which are behind and [reach] forward to those things which are ahead [and] press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (vv. 13b-14).
This is the last of the midweek Vespers services for this Lenten season. On Sunday, Palm Sunday, we will remember our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We will then look toward the Passion of the Christ, as we will hear of His Passion as recorded by St. Luke. As we leave here tonight we will look forward to the events of Palm Sunday. As we leave here on Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion, we will look toward the events of our Lord's Passion. As we leave here on Good Friday, we look forward with eager expectation to celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord. Each time we are here, and every day of our lives, we eagerly look forward to attaining what was begun in us at our Baptism: the promise of eternal life in heaven, where we will be perfected, for "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (1:6b). In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.