Are we also (still!) blind?

Text: John 9:1-41

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The question that the Pharisees ask Jesus at the end of our Gospel reading today intrigues me. John tells us that “some of the Pharisees near him heard [what Jesus was saying] and said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’” They aren’t talking about physical blindness, these Pharisees know full well that they can see. They might not have 20:20 vision, but their eyes are not blind. But they ask Jesus, “Are we also blind?” This is one of those places where you wish you could hear the tone of their voice. They could have said these words in a kind of indignant kind of way almost laughing at what Jesus was saying or they could have said them quite sincerely in a concerned kind of way, “Are we also blind?” We don’t know how they said those words, but it is a question worth asking ourselves too, are we also blind?

Obviously we aren’t talking about actual physical blindness either. Our gospel reading was the story of a man who was born physically blind, from the day he was born he had never been able to see. But this story is about more than that, this story is about spiritually seeing who Jesus is and believing what Jesus has done for us.

Jesus opened the eyes of this blind man and then he became a bit of a local celebrity. All of a sudden everyone wants to talk to this formerly blind man, everyone wants to know how this happened. It’s just good that CNN and other news networks like we have today weren’t around then because they would have wanted a piece of him too.

First it’s the neighbours, they want to find out how this happened. They aren’t even sure if this is the same blind guy, maybe he just looks like him or maybe it is some kind of trick. Then they take him to the Pharisees. They want answers too, how did this happen? Then they call in the man’s parents. Is this your son? Was he blind? If he was blind how can he see now? The parents don’t know, ask him, they say. And finally they take him back to the Pharisees again, explain it one more time and no lying this time, how did you get your sight? Who did this?

All the way along one this stands out in all of this: almost no one believes this man’s story. Even if they did believe they aren’t about to speak up about it. Despite all the explanations that the formerly blind man gives, no one is taking what he says seriously. Everyone else is blind to what Jesus has done. They are blind, but they just don’t know it.

That is the tragedy of the question that the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Are we also blind?” because the answer is yes, they are blind, but they don’t know it. They are blind, but they think that they can see and that is a problem. Jesus says to them, “If you were blind you would have no guilt, but no that you say ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” If they understood that they were blind they would believe in Jesus and trust in Him, they would be forgiven, but as long as they think that they can see on their own they refuse to trust in Jesus and their sin and guilt remain.

What about us, are we also blind? A better question for us might be “Are we still blind?” We are Christians who believe in Jesus, our blindness is probably not the same as that of the Pharisees and other people in our reading today who refused to believe that Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man. We believe in Jesus and likely don’t doubt that He could do something like that. No, our blindness isn’t quite like that, but are we, the church going Christians that we are, still blind?

Our answer to that question is yes and no. Christ has opened our eyes and given us faith to believe in Him, but we struggle everyday with blindness. At the end of our service today we are going to sing hymn 744, Amazing Grace. I picked that hymn for today because of the line: “Was blind but now I see.” Those word make I sound so simple. I was blind, but now I see. The blindness is over now. But if we are being realistic we realize that things aren’t nearly that simple, blindness is not just in past for us. Our present and our future aren’t just full of perfect spiritual sight and vision either. We are still blind.

We are blind when, like the neighbours of the man whose had his eyes opened, we want more proof to back up our faith. The neighbours ask the man who used to be blind where Jesus is, they want to see him for themselves. They want more proof. The blindness inside of them and inside of us is the same. We want proof sometimes too. Wouldn’t that make believing easier? Our demand to see more is the result of our blindness.

We are blind when, like the Pharisees, we think that we have things figured out for ourlseves and we know what God ought to do and how God ought to work. The Pharisees say “We know that this man (that is Jesus) is a sinner.” They know that about Jesus and they know that He does not meet their expectations for what God should be doing. We have the same kinds of thoughts. We think we know what is right, what is fair, what is just, and what God ought to be doing for us. We expect God to dance to our tune. But Jesus doesn’t dance to our tune or conform to our expectations. Instead, He goes and defies our expectations about what God is and does and dies on a cross and forgiving us. We are blind.

We are blind when, like the parents of the blind man, we are afraid of what believe in Jesus will mean for us. The parents are dragged into this whole ordeal, but they insist they don’t know who did this or how it happened because they are afraid of what might happen to them. They are afraid of being ostracized and kicked out of the synagogue. We share this same fear. What will people think about us if we talk too much about Jesus or faith? This fear will cause Peter to deny Jesus and the other disciples will fall away too. This fear is blindness.

These are just a few examples of the blindness that can creep in on our faith and there are many more that we could talk about. We are blind when we speak harshly against other people because we fail to see that they are have been created in the image of God just like us. We are blind when we hold grudges because we fail to see that we have sinned just as badly if not worse. We are blind when we are not thankful for all that we have because we have failed to see that it all comes from God. We are blind when we don’t see the needs of others because we can only see our own needs and desires. We are truly blind.

But, at the same time, we are not blind. We are not blind because Jesus has opened our eyes. He hasn’t opened our eyes to see and understand how the universe works or to know the answer to every question, but He has opened our eyes to see the one thing that matters: what He has done for us. The blind man in our story today insists again and again that He doesn’t know exactly how his sight came back, he just knows what Jesus did. “He put mud on my eyes and told me to wash. I washed and now I see.” All he knows is what Jesus has done. That’s all he needs to know. Christ has opened our eyes to see what He has done for us. He has opened our eyes to see the cross where He took our blindness, our sin, upon Himself and destroyed it for us forever.

It is really important to notice how Jesus healed this man of his blindness: Jesus put mud on his eyes and sent him to wash in the pool and his eyes were opened. This has baptism written all over it. Jesus has washed us too and has opened our eyes to believe in Him. He put the Holy Spirit into our hearts when we were baptised so that we could believe in Him. He opened up our hearts that day to believe the Good News that He has taken away our blindness and our guilt so that we could live eternally with Him.

We gather here every week to have our eyes opened again. The blindness is still there inside of us because sin is still inside of us, the world is still a dark and sinful place, and the devil still loves to try to drag us back into the dark. We come here because the blindness is creeping in again. We come here because or faith grows weak and weary out in the world. We come here to have Jesus pry open our eyes and again and remind us of what He has done. We are just like the two disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus after He rose from the dead, they did not recognize Jesus at first, but when they sat down for supper with Him and He broke bread their eyes were opened. When we gather here and see Jesus break bread and feed us with His own body and blood our eyes are opened again to see the one things that matters: what He has done for us on the cross.

So, are we still blind? Yes and no. We are blind because we are sinners. Our hearts have doubts, our minds question faith, and fear makes faith seem like a bad idea. But Jesus has opened our eyes to see Him and because we see Him we know that He has taken away our guilt and our sin. We know that He is our Saviour. We know because He has given us faith to know. As we struggle with the blindness thanks be to God that He opens up our eyes and gives us faith to believe. In Jesus name. Amen.

“He told me everything I ever did…”

Text: John 4:4-42

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How many people in the world know, or have known, everything (and I mean everything) about you? Maybe it’s your spouse or a friend or maybe even a child. But do they actually know everything? Do you want them to know everything? Or would you rather keep a few things under wraps so that no one else knows about them?

I think it is fair to say that we all have some things in our lives that we aren’t too proud of and would rather not let other people know about. Maybe a thought that ran through our head that was a little beyond what we would be comfortable telling other people about or maybe a word that we said to someone in private but really regret now and hope never comes up again or maybe some actions in our past that we’d like to just forget. Whatever it is, we’ve all got some kind of skeletons (big ones or small ones) in our closet that we don’t want people to find out about.

But why? Why don’t we want other people to know these things about us? What are we hiding from? The simplest answer, I think, is that we are worried what other people will think about is if they know who we really are. If they know what we did that one time or what we said or what kinds of things go through our heads they might not look at us the same way they did before, they might not love us the same way that they did before. If they knew who we really are they might not want to be with us anymore.

These kinds of thoughts must have been in the background for the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well in our Gospel reading today. She certainly has secrets that she is hiding. She has things that she does not want the world to know. That is why she comes to the well at the “sixth hour” which means around noon at the hottest point in the day. You only come to the well then if you are trying to avoid people.

Jesus shows us here though that there is nothing that is hidden from Him. Despite whatever efforts this woman might make to keep her past deeds a secret and whatever we try to do to keep our past a secret, Jesus knows what is going on. As they talk there at the well Jesus asks this woman to go and call her husband. There really is no reason to do this, nothing in the conversation to this point would necessitate getting another person involved, but Jesus has a point to make. “Go and call your husband.”

The woman is taken aback by what Jesus says. In this one little sentence He has gone and put His finger right on the sore spot that she is trying to cover up and hide. With this one request He has put her on the defensive. She has to throw up some walls to try and protect the secrets that she does not want out in public. “I have no husband,” she replies.

It’s not a lie, but it’s not quite true either. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;” Jesus says, “For you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” She has had five husbands in her life and right now she is with a man who is not her husband. We don’t know how she ended up going through husbands like this. They could have died or they could have divorced her. Women in those days couldn’t divorce their husbands, only husbands could divorce their wives, so it might not have even been her fault. We just don’t know. But we do know that she is currently with a man who is not her husband. Jesus’ words even leave the possibility open that this man is actually someone else’s husband, but maybe not. Either way, it is not a good situation and the woman is not proud of what she has done.

How does the woman respond? At first, she tries to deflect at first and change the topic. Understandably, she doesn’t want to talk about these aspects of her past with a stranger at the well. But that is not the end of the story. After the disciples come back to the well and see Jesus talking with this woman, she runs into town, leaving her water jar behind, and tells people (the same people she was trying to avoid by coming to the well at noon!) to come and see this man who told her everything that she ever did. “Could this be the Christ? The Messiah? The Saviour?”

This woman is taken aback that Jesus knew these kinds of things about her, but what is even more remarkable is that even though He knew all of this about her and knew the kind of baggage and history that she had, Jesus had spoken to her and offered her living water that would well up inside of her to life everlasting. Before this conversation at the well Jesus already knew everything about this woman and in spite of what He knew about her He revealed to her that He is the Christ, the one who is to come, the Saviour who will take away the sin of the world. Jesus looks at this woman knowing exactly who she is and exactly what she has done and out of love, mercy, and grace offers her the forgiveness of sins and living water welling up in her to eternal life. Jesus is not downplaying her past and the mistakes that she has made (instead, He drags them out into the open and calls attention to them), but still He loves her so deeply that He would offer this life giving water to her.

Christ Jesus knows everything about you too. Nothing you have done or will do is hidden from Him. He knows the number of the hairs on your head and He knows the things that you don’t want anyone else to know. He knows the things that you especially don’t want Him to know. And yet His love for you is so deep that He would go to the cross for you, die for you, rise for you, wash you in your baptism, and feed you with His own body and blood in communion. His love for you is so deep that He would forgive you even for those things that you don’t want anyone to know.

This is what Paul was talking about in our epistle reading today. In Romans 5 he says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still sinners, while we were caught up in sin and unable to save ourselves, Christ died for us in order to forgive each and every one of our sins. This forgiveness is a wonderful and beautiful thing. It sets us free from guilt and shame. It sets us free from trying to strive to make up for the wrong that we have done. It sets us free to live in peace and joy loving and serving our neighbour.

It is important to notice from this story though that this forgiveness that Jesus offers does not ignore sin, it does not pretend that sin never happened. That is not what forgiveness means. Forgiveness does not mean sweeping things under the rug and pretending that no one saw it. Forgiveness means Jesus confronting sin face to face, staring it in the eyes, and hearing Him say, “I forgive you.”

Jesus does not ignore the sinful life that the woman He meets at well is caught up in. He doesn’t say to her, “You’ve gone through a few husbands, that’s ok, divorce and adultery are no big deal.” He doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, who knows what’s right or wrong in the world these days anyway.” He doesn’t say, “The world has changed it’s not as big a deal as it used to be.” Jesus simply lays out the facts, “You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.” Sin is sin.

Just like the woman at the well, Jesus doesn’t hid the fact that you have sinned. We might like to try to hide those kinds of things, but Jesus doesn’t hide them. Jesus also doesn’t make excuses for us or downplay what we have done to make us feel better. Instead, like it or not, Jesus brings your sin, your past, out into the light of day. He points out our sin so that we see it for what it is. We may not have had five husband or wives, but we are just as guilty as the woman at the well was. But nothing about that sin and nothing about that past changes His love for you. Into the brokenness, into the sinfulness, Jesus pours out His blood shed for you on the cross that covers all of your sins and leaves you clean and holy with His righteousness and holiness.

“Come see the man who told me everything I ever did (especially the bad stuff!)” the woman said to the people in town, “Though I am a poor miserable sinner He spoke the most gracious, loving words that I have ever heard! Could He be the Christ?!” Yes, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God and He has taken away the sin of the world. Repent, believe the Good News, Jesus Christ has died for you and taken away your sin and guilt. Believe in Him and rejoice, your guilt is taken away your sin is covered. In Jesus name. Amen.

Lifted Up For All to See

Text: John 3:1-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Look where you want to go!” That is what the driver instructor kept saying to me when I was learning to drive. At the time I wondered what she was talking about, it seems pretty straightforward to look where you want the car to go when you are driving. You want to go straight, look straight. You want to turn left, look left. But I learned one day a little while later what she really meant. I was driving with my dad in rural Alberta in the middle of January and, while trying to make a left turn, put the car into the deep, snow-filled ditch. I realized as the car was getting pulled out of the ditch that I had stared right at the ditch once I realized that I might hit it. Sure enough, the car went right where I was looking.

If you watch the show “Canada’s Worst Driver” you can see how this works too. They teach people to “look where they want to go,” but most of the drivers on the show don’t get it. They end up driving right into the obstacles that they are trying to avoid because their eyes become fixated on them.

Looking where you want to go is great advice for driving, it could save your life, but when it comes to our Christians faith Jesus has a very different idea about where we should be looking. Earlier in the service we spoke/sang the gradual: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, let us allow our eyes to become fixated on Him not looking anywhere else. Especially, let us fix our eyes on Jesus as He hangs dying on the cross because that is where we see our salvation.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus is talking with a man named Nicodemus who is a Pharisee. This whole conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus in John 3 is really quite fascinating, but I’d like us to focus on something else that Jesus said while talking with Nicodemus. Just before the John 3:16 part Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life.”

In the Old Testament book of Numbers in chapter 21 we find the story that Jesus is talking about here where Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness. The people of Israel were on their way to the Promised Land that God was giving to them, but it was not a straight forward trip. Because the people were scared to enter the Promised Land and did not trust God, God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years. As they wandered around in the wilderness the people often got frustrated with God because they did not have things the way that they wanted them. On this occasion, like many other occasions, the people complained that they did not have any food or water. The people complained against Moses, their leader, and against God. “Why had God brought them out here to die in the wilderness?” they wondered to themselves. Well, God had something in mind for these complaining and rebellious people. He sent snakes, poisonous ones, “fiery” ones, deadly ones, and whenever anyone got bit with one of these snakes they died. A lot of people died. Finally, after many snake bites and deaths the people realized that they had sinned by complaining against God like this and not trusting Him to provide for them so they asked Moses to pray for them and ask God to take the snakes away. But, kind of surprisingly I think, God did not take the snakes away. Instead, God gave Moses some instructions. Moses was to make a snake out of bronze and set it up high on a pole, whenever one the of the people of Israel was bitten by one of the snakes they could look at the snake on the pole and they would live.

One of the remarkable things about that story is that God uses the very thing that was terrifying the people and even killing them as the source of their salvation. Snakes were biting the people and killing them so God told Moses to put a snake on a pole for the people to look at and be saved. They didn’t need to look where they wanted to go or look away from the danger, but instead God had them look right into the eyes of the very thing that they wanted to be saved from and see their salvation.

And now, in our Gospel reading today, we are called to do the same. As He talks with Nicodemus, Jesus says that just as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness “so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Like the serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness to provide salvation to those who had been bitten and were dying, Jesus must be lifted up on the cross to provide salvation for us from sin and death. Jesus calls us to fix our eyes on Him, to look at Him lifted up on the cross, and see our salvation.

If we try to understand Jesus without the cross, if we try to ignore the ugliness of what happened there we will miss the point and understand Jesus entirely. The cross is everything. Looking where we want to go, fixing our gaze and our attention on something else, can’t save us. Positive thoughts can’t save us, generic faith that things will get better can’t save us, and distractions can’t save us. On Jesus dying on the cross can.

Nicodemus has seen many things from Jesus. He starts of his conversation with Jesus by saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God because no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Nicodemus and his friends have seen the things that Jesus can do. They have seen the miracles of Jesus, the healings, and they are impressed. Surely only someone with God on his side could do the kinds of things that they have seen Jesus do. But Nicodemus does not understand the cross, he just sees the “signs,” the miracles. He looks at Jesus and sees a teacher from God, not a Saviour, because he hasn’t seen the cross yet. But he will. Nicodemus will see Jesus lifted up. In fact, he will be one of the ones to care for the lifeless body of Jesus when they take Him down from the cross. Nicodemus will help bury Jesus. Then, and only then, will Nicodemus truly understand Jesus. Only when we look at the cross when Jesus suffers and see the lifeless body of Jesus laid in the tomb do we see who Jesus really is. Only when we look at Jesus hanging there and dying do we see our salvation.

Like the people of Israel in the wilderness we have been bitten by the serpent. Satan, the crafty serpent who led Adam and Eve into sin in the Garden of Eden, has bitten us too with his deadly poison of sin. We sin daily in thought, word, and deed. We do not love our neighbour as ourselves and we do not love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We don’t obey God’s commandments. Just like the people of Israel out there in the wilderness we grumble and complain against God when things don’t go our way. Like them we don’t trust God to provide the things that we need and we worry that our daily needs won’t be met. Because of this we are dying. That is a fact that no one can deny, we are all dying. People might argue about the sinful part and suggest that we are all generally good people who try our best, but no one can deny death. That is a reality for all of us. We can try to run from it, but we will never escape. We are born, we live, we die. That is the undeniable pattern for human life. But Jesus has interrupted this pattern.

Jesus invites us to look at Him suspended up high from a cross, bleeding, and dying and see our salvation. Like the serpent in the wilderness He invites us to look at the very thing that terrifies us, the very thing that we are trying at all costs to avoid, death itself, and be saved. Jesus invites us to stare death in the face on the cross and know that through His death we are set free from death. He invites us to look as His death and see our own death happening right there. He has taken our death for us so that our own death becomes nothing to fear, we fall asleep to this world and wake up in the glorious, life giving, out-stretched, nail marked hands of Jesus who is risen from the dead.

So let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, as He hangs on the cross dying. Because right there in His death we see our salvation. And when death comes around and rears its ugly head, whether it is our death or someone else’s, let’s fix our eyes on that cross and know that our Saviour bled and died for us so that we could live. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” and allowed Him to be lifted upon the cross and die for us so “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Amen.

The Devil Defeated for You

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

It doesn’t take an expert or a trained eye to see the difference between our Old Testament reading and our Gospel reading today. The difference between the two readings is pretty stark. First we have Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden being tempted by the devil who appears to them in the form of a serpent. He pokes and prods them into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the one tree God said they could not eat from. “Did God really say that you couldn’t eat from that one? You know He is just trying to stop you from being smart, happy, and self-sufficient, right?” Of course, Adam and Eve fall for it, they eat the fruit, and, as they say, the rest is history. Here we are in a broken world of sin as a result.

Our Gospel, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Some of the characters are the same, or at least one of them is the same. The devil is back again, but not disguised as a serpent this time. He’s out there in the wilderness with Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh. Adam and Eve are long gone, they have died and rest in eternity waiting for the resurrection of the dead, but Jesus is there. The devil comes to Jesus with the same intentions that he had for Adam and Eve back in the day. He wants to trick, lie, and deceive and lead Jesus off the course that has been laid out for Him by the Father in Heaven. The devil tries and tries, three times to be precise, to deceive and tempt Jesus, but nothing works. Jesus will not be so easily deceived. After the third failed temptation Jesus commands the devil to “Be gone” and that devil has no choice but to flee with his tail between his legs.

If nothing else, these two readings side by side ought to show us that when it comes to dealing with temptations that we dare not trust ourselves. Instead we ought to trust only in Jesus. If we trust ourselves and try to deal with it ourselves we end up no better than Adam and Eve. Because they were deceived by the serpent and sinned we have inherited their inclination to sin. We are easily tempted and deceived. Instead we trust in Jesus, our Saviour, the conqueror, who battled in the wilderness with our enemy the devil and won. He gives us the victory over sin and death.

As we look deeper at this story of Jesus out in the wilderness struggling with the devil it would be tempting to think that the temptations that He faced out there have nothing to do with us. These temptations might seem to be kind of Jesus specific: turn this stone into bread, jump of the temple so angels catch you, bow down and worship the devil. But the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us that “in every way [Jesus] has been tempted just as we are, yet remained without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus’ temptations are our temptations. There is no temptation that we face that Jesus has not faced and there is no temptation that Jesus faces which does not relate to us. He has been tempted just as we are tempted.

We might be tempted in less miraculous ways, but our temptations are the same. We aren’t tempted to turn stones into bread because we are not able to do that, but we are daily tempted to not trust in God to provide daily bread and instead worry about how we will provide bread and other necessities for ourselves. We might not be tempted to throw ourselves off of tall buildings so that God sends angels to catch us, but we are tempted to not trust God’s promises and maybe want to see some proof from God form time to time. And, we might not be tempted to bow down and worship the devil specifically, but we are constantly tempted to worship so many other things in the place of God. These temptations are our temptations and in the face of temptations like this we need the constant assurance that comes through faith in Jesus that He has defeated our enemy the devil for us.

But there is also something much deeper, much more sinister going on here in this gospel reading and in our own lives. This story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness happens immediately after Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River by John. You might be familiar with what happened there. Jesus comes up out of the water and the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven in the form of a dove and God the Father’s voice booms from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, my chosen one.”

Now look at the first two temptations in our Gospel reading today. In both of the first two the devil starts out by saying, “If you are the Son of God…” The devil heard God’s voice that day out at the Jordan River and now he is going to put Jesus to the test by calling his identity as the Son of God into question. It’s like he said to Jesus, “Are you really the Son of God? Did God really say that? Are you sure you heard Him right? If you are the Son of God turn these rocks into bread because that is something the Son of God should be able to do? If you are the Son of God jump off this temple because surely God would rescue the He beloved Son. Are you sure you are the Son of God?”

Like the other temptations, this is also a temptation that we face. We are tempted constantly by the devil to questions whether or not we are really God’s children. Just like Jesus, we were baptised and when we were baptised God called us His beloved children. We are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. But the devil goes to work on us and tries to make us doubt and question our identity as children of God. We might think of the devil most of the time as just trying to make us do bad stuff or break God’s commandments like the little red guy on our shoulder in a cartoon or something, but if we think that is all the devil does we are not giving him enough credit. What he really wants is to make us question who we are as the children of God and God’s love for us.

It starts out really simply, the devil tempts us into some kind of small simple sin. Something that doesn’t seem like such a big deal. It happens again and again and again every day. But then one day, out of nowhere, when we’ve done something that starts to make our conscience feel uncomfortable, he turns on us and says to us, “Did you really just do that? Christians don’t do stuff like that you know! God commanded you not to do that! He won’t love you anymore, He can’t forgive you for that! What have you done?!” You can bet that the devil did this to Adam and Eve after they sinned in the garden (why else do you think that they hid from God?), and he does it to us too.

If we try to fight this temptation to doubt God’s love for us and our identity as His children ourselves one of two things happens, either we decide that we don’t care anymore and we harden our hearts so that we don’t feel guilt anymore or we get lost in despair and lose hope altogether because we have fallen for the lies of the devil. Either way, the devil wins.

But the whole point of our gospel reading today is to show us that the devil does not win. He is a liar and a murder and he has been since the beginning, but this lying murdering devil is defeated. Out there in the wilderness we see Jesus defeat the devil for us, not simply showing us how to defeat him, but actually defeating Him for us. Jesus presents a third option for us, an option that is much better than hardening our hearts or giving up in despair: trust in Christ. He has won the victory.

The devil’s attacks on Jesus questioning His identity as the Son of God don’t stop after Jesus leaves the wilderness. These attacks will plague Him throughout His earthly ministry. The devil is relentless. Even as He hangs on the cross people will shout at Him, “If you are the Son of God come down from there, save yourself!” But in the face of these final temptations and accusations Jesus calls out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” He breathes His last and dies. And with His death He wins the victory over the devil, over temptation, over sin, and over death itself for us.

We have no reason to doubt God’s love for us or doubt our identity as God’s children because Jesus gave His life for us to make us God’s children and to break and hinder every temptation the devil can throw at us. We were baptised into Christ, we are God’s children now, and nothing, nothing not even the very worst that we can do, can take that away from us.

So when the devil comes poking around, when He throws your guilt and sin in your face and wants you to question whether or not God could love you, remember Jesus Christ crucified for you. Jesus Christ was victorious out there in the wilderness, was victorious on the cross, and rose victoriously from the dead for you. He baptised you and made you a child of God. The devil has no claim on you anymore. Don’t listen to him, listen to Jesus. In Jesus name. Amen.

Repentance

Text: Psalm 51:17

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I had the opportunity one time to visit a prison. It was a women’s correctional facility in Edmonton. It was an eye opening experience. Talking to the women in that prison I very quickly began to realize that at least to a certain degree almost all of them realized that they had done something wrong, they were guilty. Really, this should not have been surprising. Every aspect of these women’s lives was a reminder of their guilt. When they woke up in the morning and were not in their own beds and homes it was a reminder. When they went and did their jobs in the prison rather than their regular jobs it was a reminder. When they ate supper with fellow inmates rather than their families it was a reminder. Everything around them pointed to their guilt. That guilt was everywhere.

You and I could learn something from those women in the prison, I think. You see we are often experts at blinding ourselves to our own guilt. We are well trained in the art of ignoring and not noticing the things that we do wrong. Like Adam and Eve we are very capable of passing blame to someone else (“It was the woman!” “It was the serpent!” etc.). We try very hard to make sure that guilt doesn’t stick to us.

There are times in our lives, however, when our façade of innocence starts to break down. There are times when, like those women in the prison, we can no longer deny that we have messed up big time. It could be hindsight that makes guilt a reality for us as we look back on what we did in the past and realize that it was not good or right or it might be something that we are doing in our lives right now, day by day, that we know should not be happening. Whatever it is, guilt catches up with us. Our consciences start to work overtime sometimes and we can’t run anymore from the fact that we are sinners.

The question then becomes, how do we deal with this guilt? How do we move past the guilt and shame that wear us down? How do we calm our troubled consciences?

When I visited the prison that day there was one woman who I remember very clearly. She was asked by the prison chaplain to talk to us about her time in prison and how it had impacted her spiritually. She had become a Christian during her stay there in prison and wanted to share with us how she was working through the guilt that she lived with because of what she had done. She started talking to us about repentance. I don’t remember everything that she said, but one thing that she said a few times was, “God loves us so much that He has given us repentance, something for us to do so that we can be His children again.”

It was heart breaking to listen to this poor woman talk to us about repentance because for her repentance was all about what she could do to make up for the wrong that she had done. She just kept saying, “I can do repentance… I can do repentance…” Here she was loaded down with guilt, staring that guilt in the face every day as she lived there in the prison, and the only way she knew how to deal with that guilt was by doing something. For her repentance was a task that needed to be completed, it was more work to do. Her pastor had let her down big time.

Repentance is not something for you to do. If it was you would never be finished doing it and you would never do it well enough. It is not a task for you to accomplish. It is not a checklist for you to follow. Repentance is nothing more and nothing less than contrition (guilt and sorrow over our sinfulness) and faith which clings to Jesus. That’s it, that’s all. Repentance is not something for you to do, repentance is all about Jesus.

Look at the very first line of the introit printed in your bulletin. These words are from Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken spirit and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” When David wrote these words he was in one of those situations where guilt catches up with us and consciences run wild. David coveted another man’s wife, had an affair with her, lied about it, and killed that man to cover it up. After all that David still didn’t really feel guilty (sinners like us are really good at dodging guilt!). But then the prophet Nathan came and confronted him with the Word of God which plainly calls all of these actions sin. In fact, David had directly violated 4 out of the 10 Commandments (coveting, adultery, lying, and murder). When David realized the extent of his sin he was distraught. He had fooled himself and convinced himself that he had done nothing wrong. He had fallen for his own lies. Now it was all catching up to him though. He had sinned, big time.

When this kind of guilt strikes it feels like the time to do something to make it better, but those words from our introit tell us everything we need to know: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken spirit and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The sacrifice, the thing that God desires, is not our best efforts or our most generous gifts. What God desires are broken spirit and contrite hearts. Hearts that cling to Jesus.

When we come face to face with our guilt and with our sin. When we feel the crushing weight of the wrong that we have done and come to the terrible realization that there is nothing we can do about it we are in the midst of repentance already. This is contrition. This is sorrow over sin. All that remains is to trust in Christ and cling to Him for the forgiveness of our sins. There is nothing else that we need to do.

Christ has taken away all of your sins and put on you His perfect righteousness. He has died and risen again for all of your sins. The sins that plague you with guilt, the sins that lock you up in prison held captive by your conscience, the sins that make us feel totally unworthy to be called children of God, all of them have been taken away by Christ. There is nothing for you to do other than believe this good news. That’s it, that’s all.

That all seems so simple, but when guilt comes around and rears its ugly head we need all the reminders that we can get. This year during Lent we are going to review Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, the very basics of the Christian faith, because in the words of the catechism we find this reminder again and again. Luther makes it clear time and time again that it is not about what we do, but what Christ has done for us. Next week we will start with the Ten Commandments and then we’ll talk about the Apostles’ Creed after that and carry on through the rest of the catechism. In all of it we’ll have our eyes turned away from what we do and focused on Jesus.

As I wrote out this sermon this afternoon I prayed for that woman in the prison. I pray that she comes to know Jesus even better and realizes that He has already taken away all of her sin, there is nothing for her to do. This is also my prayer for all of us. When guilt and sin pile up and smack us in the face may we know Jesus, the Son of God, who died and rose again to save us. When sin and guilt overwhelm let us trust in Him, not in our works of repentance, because He is our rock and our salvation. In Jesus name, Amen.