Sermons, Uncategorized

Holy Destruction: Holy God & His Holy Things

jeremiah-preaching-to-his-followers
“Jeremiah Preaching to His Followers” by Gustave Dore

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“The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that He has pronounced against you” (Jeremiah 26:12-13).

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Last week we continued our series, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” by remembering that God has set us Christians apart as His holy nation. Now, it would be nice to believe that we are immune to every danger, protected from every threat. Too bad. It’s not so. In fact, in our text today, we discover that God’s holy things, including His holy people, may face not only danger, but total destruction.

Set apart for destruction? What’s holy about that? Well, as always, God, who sets apart for holy purposes, has a holy purpose. That’s true even of “holy destruction,” because God’s destruction of holy things is always for salvation.

It was early in the reign of Jehoiakim, around 609 or 608 B.C. At the Lord’s command, Jeremiah was to repeat a message he had first delivered during the reign of Josiah. The message contained both a threat and a promise. The threat: If the people of Judah did not repent, the Lord’s house and city would end up like Shiloh.

Shiloh was one of the original places of Israel’s worship, where the ark of the covenant had been enshrined. But when the sacred chest has been degraded into a good-luck charm, it was captured by the Philistines, and the city was destroyed. Jeremiah warns that Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem is not immune either. It will suffer the same fate if the people persist in worshiping false gods. God’s holy things—even His holy city and His holy temple—are subject to destruction when His people repeatedly ignore His Word.

But it was not all bad news. God also made a solemn promise: If the people repented, God would not carry out His judgment. The Lord again displayed His great love and patience. He offered Judah and all its people another chance.

Jeremiah told the people exactly what God had commanded, for the message was not his, but the Lord’s. Duty to his calling, fear of the Lord, and love compelled him to deliver the whole message even though he feared it would be met with unwelcoming ears, minds, and hearts.

In his last words to the Ephesian elders, the apostle Paul confesses that this is the solemn duty of a man of God: “[You know] how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house… Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:20, 26–27). The only hope for Jeremiah’s listeners lay in knowing their true situation. And Jeremiah laid it all on the line.

The response of Jeremiah’s listeners, unfortunately, was predictable. Out of their hearts they spoke and acted. The Lord had rightly evaluated their hearts. They were wholly impenitent from top to bottom, from the priests and prophets to all the people. Without hesitation they arrested Jeremiah and declared: “You must die!”

The uproar reached the palace, the court of the king himself. The chief officers hurried from the palace and assembled to hear the case against Jeremiah. The priests and prophets and others sympathetic to them leveled the charge: “He has prophesied against this city” (v 11). They accused Jeremiah not of false doctrine or of being a false prophet, but of treason—a crime against the state.

Jeremiah tried to make it clear: Their problem was not really with him, but with the Lord: he was only the Lord’s messenger. They were furious with Jeremiah because he had convicted them of their sin. In their minds, it had to be Jeremiah who is in the wrong not they, so he should be silenced.

Many an impenitent sinner has acted in the same way toward one sent to call him to account for his sin. It is as Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:22). The unbelieving world conspires to silence the call to repentance any way it can, for it will not face up to its sin.

Jeremiah did not flinch in the face of opposition. He answered his accusers directly, “Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears” (Jeremiah 26:14-15).

God’s holy things—even His holy city and His holy temple—are subject to destruction when His people repeatedly ignore or rebel against His Word.

In today’s Epistle, Paul speaks of the holy destruction of people, rather than places: “Many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19). In saying, “their god is their belly,” Paul means they are serving the appetites of their sinful human nature. It is shameful to do anything that contradicts God’s design for human life, but human arrogance reaches a point where it actually prides itself on such behavior and flaunts this attitude as though it were something of which to be proud.

Those who refuse to admit their guilt under the Law and therefore refuse to accept Jesus’ accursed death as the propitiation for their sins will meet destruction. Their bodies will certainly perish in time. Their souls are even now perishing under their contradiction of God’s salvation. If unchanged, they will suffer being cut off eternally from God in the lake of fire.

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of the destruction of those who persistently resist the Lord: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken” (Luke 13:34-35).

Israel’s status as God’s holy nation would not keep her from being overthrown. Jerusalem’s status as God’s holy city would not keep it from destruction. The temple’s status as the holy house of the Lord would not keep it from being torn down. As a result of their resistance to God’s love, their house will be left desolate. God’s holy things—even His holy city and His holy temple—are subject to destruction when His people repeatedly resist His Word.

Today’s lessons are each a warning to us that even we, God’s chosen people, His holy nation, are also subject to destruction if we resist His Word. Whole church bodies can be (and have been) left desolate by the Lord if they abandon His pure doctrine and practice. Congregations can be left to their own self-destruction if they fall into squabbles and infighting.

Each individual Christian can be destroyed by giving himself or herself over to sin. Even God’s holy people will struggle constantly against sin. (In fact, only God’s holy people struggle against sin, because the unbeliever is totally given over to sin, while the believer is both new person and old.) Sins like Judah’s pride, Paul’s examples of lusts for sex, pleasure, and earthly things, and the Jews’ self-messiahship can be especially entangling. If we refuse to heed God’s warning against these sins, we can forfeit our holy status and be destroyed eternally.

But even out of the wreckage, God can rebuild wondrous things. Out of the disaster, God brings something good.

Jeremiah’s call, even when it required prophesying destruction, was always ultimately to restore: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that He has pronounced against you” (Jeremiah 26:12-13).

Less than 40 years after Jesus spoke the words of our Gospel, Jerusalem was destroyed and its temple was leveled by the Romans—an act of God’s judgment upon the rebellious nation. Its people were scattered around the ancient world. Yet from Israel’s general rejection of Christ, God brought forth the New Testament holy nation, the new Israel, the Church, which includes both Jews and Gentiles.

When the visible church, the church of Rome, abandoned God’s pure doctrine and practice, God left it to its own desolate teachings, but raised up a new visible church on earth through the Reformation.

Even the “destruction” of the individual Christian, when the Church exercises discipline and removes him or her from its membership, is intended to—and indeed can—result in the soul’s salvation (1 Corinthians 5:5).

All of these “holy destructions” are able to bring blessings and restoration because of the destruction of God’s Holy One, Jesus Christ.

When Jesus cleansed the temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers, His opponents asked Him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” He was speaking about His body.

Jesus’ death on the cross was a painful experience. Adding to the physical pain was the fact He had done nothing wrong. He had done nothing but help people all His life. Surely of all people, Jesus deserved to be destroyed least of all. But by the scheming of wicked men He was destroyed, and, amazingly, this was according to God’s holy plan.

Out of this destruction God brought the highest good. Three days after Jesus’ death, God raised Him from the dead. Because of His resurrection, we know that any destruction God works in our lives is only to bring us also eternal resurrection. The Lord “will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21).

Jeremiah showed his faith in the life to come as he warned his captors, “Behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears” (Jeremiah 26:14-15).

Jeremiah’s caution elicits no response in our text. But in the Passion-story the frenzied, fanatical crowd cries out, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). They, of course, meant, “We’ll take the consequences for killing Jesus—gladly. And for all we care, if there are any consequences left over, our children can experience them, too.”

The Gospel, of course, lay not in the curse the Jews of Christ’s day wished upon themselves but rather in the unintended and ironic blessing their words foreshadowed. Christ’s blood was on them and on their children—not in the damning sense they meant but in the saving sense God had in mind from eternity. As St. Paul reminds us, “We have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). The blessings (not the consequences) of Christ’s blood are on all people, including Jeremiah’s enemies in our text as well as the frenzied, fanatical mob which had something quite different in mind when it voiced the blasphemous cry, “His blood be on us, and on our children.”

Because of Jesus’ holy destruction and resurrection, we can always cling to the same faith. Our sins are forgiven. The words of absolution are certain. Our Baptism remains. We can always repent with the absolute confidence that we will be welcomed back, restored to the status of God’s holy nation. We will not be destroyed eternally.

Jesus redeemed us, lost and condemned persons, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, live and reigns to all eternity.

On the Last Day, Christ will return, not for our judgment, but He will raise us and all believers to everlasting life. He will gather all God’s children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and we will live with the Lord in His kingdom forever. This is most certainly true.

For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Holy Nation: Holy God & His Holy Things

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“And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which You, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 26:5-10).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Tonight, we continue our series, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” based upon our Old Testament readings during Lent. To be “holy” means to be set apart for a unique purpose. The One who is Himself “holy, holy, holy” is set apart from us as infinitely as heaven is above the earth. Yet, surprisingly our holy God wishes to be with us, to be close to us, and to that end He has set us apart as a people for Himself.

Moses gave instructions to the Israelites for the day when they settled in the Promised Land. At a place that the Lord would choose, the people were to bring the firstfruits of the land and give it to the priests. Right up front, the Lord wanted His people to give back to Him the first and best of what He’d given them, in anticipation of further providence and blessing down the road. Although Moses described them as “some of the firstfruits,” it was to be a widely distributed sample, some of the firstfruits “of all that you produce”—not just of fruits and vegetables, but also of sheep and cattle.

The Israelites will not have acquired this land by accident, nor by their own genius or military muscle. The covenant-Lord had spoken an oath to their fathers that He would give them this land, and He would do what He promised. This new land was an inheritance, something that belonged to them as His gift. It didn’t matter to God that there were still many other nations living in the land who didn’t wish to give it up. In the Lord’s eyes, and in the eyes of Moses, the land was already Israel’s inheritance, they were His holy nation.

It may seem out of place to have this reading during Lent. Lent is a time when we think of the dangers and perils to which we are exposed on our journey to the “promised land.” This text tells what the people of God are to do after they are safely settled in the Promised Land. But it’s always good when you’re on the journey to be reminded of the blessings ahead, what it will take to get you there, and the appropriate response when you finally arrive there.

The brief recital of Israelite history in verses 5 through 10 is similar to a creed or liturgy. As the Israelites offer the firstfruits of the land, they are to remember their ancestors, who had been landless and suffered countless hardships in Egypt before the Lord finally delivered them.

The men and women and children of each new generation could adopt these verses as their own confession of faith. Even though they hadn’t yet been born when the Lord had rescued His people from Egypt, they could identify with their fathers and grandfathers who’d seen the Lord’s mighty miracles and received the gift of the land.

God set had apart Israel as a holy nation from the time of Abram. “From [that] one man, and him as good as dead,” (Hebrews 11:12) God had built His people. They came from humble beginnings among the nations. They were few in number, homeless, and oppressed. It was only by God’s grace that they survived and became strong and numerous.

“A wandering Aramean was my father” refers to the patriarch Jacob who had lived for a while in the region of Aram (or Syria). He left Canaan because he had to flee for his life from his brother Esau (Genesis 27:41-45), lived in Aram until his uncle Laban came after him (Genesis 31:17-30), and finally relocated to Egypt to escape the famine (Genesis 46:1-7). Jacob’s extended family numbered only 70 sons and grandsons when they left Canaan (Genesis 46:27), but the Lord multiplied them into a people so large and powerful that the Egyptian pharaoh enslaved them because he feared they might join Egypt’s enemies (Exodus 1:6-14).

The Egyptians mistreated them and made them suffer with hard labor. It wasn’t only physical pain, but also humiliation that made their lives miserable. In their suffering they cried out to the God of their fathers.

When they cried to God for help, He brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, and with miraculous signs and wonders. The miraculous signs and wonder included all the plagues the Lord inflicted on Egypt. Throughout the plagues, He made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians (Exodus 8:23), spearing the Israelites from the plagues of flies (Exodus 8:22), death of livestock (Exodus 9:4), hail (Exodus 9:26), and darkness (Exodus 10:23).

In the tenth and final plague, the Lord dealt differently with Israel in the most dramatic way. While He struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, “from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock” (Exodus 12:29), the Lord rescued all firstborn of Israel through the blood of the Passover lamb. “For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians,” Moses told Israel’s elders, “and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you” (Exodus 12:23).

This last plague caused such a great terror among the Egyptians that they “were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, ‘We shall all be dead’” (Exodus 12:33). The Lord carried out these miraculous signs and wonders to bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12), so the Egyptians would know that He was the Lord (Exodus 7:5), and so His name would be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:16).

The Lord would bring the people of Israel into their own land flowing with milk and honey. He would make them into His holy nation, not because of their merit or worthiness, but because of His mercy and grace. As Moses explained earlier in Deuteronomy:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6–8).

The Lord would bring His people out of the misery and oppression of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into His Promised Land, a land filled with good cities they did not build, a houses filled with things they did not work for, cisterns they did not dig, vineyards they did not plant, a land flowing with milk and honey. And the people are encouraged to believe this, even as they wander in the wilderness. And they are cautioned, that when they do receive all these things, not to forget this. In response to their deliverance, they are to bow before the Lord and bring Him the firstfruits of the land.

Ultimately, the greatest gift the land will provide is the Messiah. The prophets of the Lord are clear. The Messiah must be born in the Promised Land. Thus, we see how important this small piece of property becomes. Its true value is in the gift of Jesus, who will provide His blood and very life to endow all people with forgiveness and everlasting life for His children.

St. Peter reminds us that, like Israel, God has set apart us Christians as a holy nation as well: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Like the Israelites, we are also of unremarkable origin among the nations of the world. Paul tells the Corinthians:

“Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

This has been true throughout history. There is nothing special in us that caught God’s eye or earned His favor. He saved us solely out of His goodness and mercy without any merit worthiness on our part. He called us to be His people, His holy nation. He did it all! The Lord’s outstretched arm, signs, and wonders set us apart from the sinful world as holy.

We are set apart as holy by the forgiveness Jesus earned when He literally stretched out His arms on the cross to save us. In His resurrection, Christ gives us the greatest of His miraculous signs, proof that He is the Son of God, that His Word is true, that the Father has accepted His sacrifice for our sins, and that we, too, shall rise.

God’s mighty acts continue through His ministers and means of grace: The Gospel proclaimed and carried out is powerful beyond any earthly might. In Holy Baptism, God gives us His Holy Spirit, He delivers us from the bondage of sin, promises us an inheritance in God’s heavenly land, and declares us saints even now. The Lord sustains us in holiness as He gives us His very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith.

As the people of God, we do not live with amnesia about the past. The remembrance of God’s saving acts gives us our identity. Because this identity is a gift, we live lives of gratitude expressed in acts of worship and obedience. Our thankful recollections for God’s saving acts compel us to bring gifts to Him. These gifts will also be of benefit to the Church and to the needy.

In response to God’s deliverance, we bring Him gifts and worship Him. Truth be told, we give Him what was always His in the first place. We are simply stewards of His creation and gifts. The worship we bring is simply receiving His Word and speaking it back to Him. The good works that we do for our neighbors were prepared by Him beforehand.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.