March 25, 2012

Sermon, Passion Sunday

The God Who Suffers for Us
Psalm 51, Hebrews 9:11-15, John 8:46-59
Passion Sunday
March 25, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Most people would define "passion" as strong feelings or intense desires. But in earlier times, such as the time the King James Version was translated, passion was understood in more accordance with its Greek roots. For, like so many of our English words, passion came into English from the Greek language, and the Greek word means to suffer, to experience intense and painful suffering. It is the word used in Acts 1:3, which says Jesus "shewed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs.

Today, Passion Sunday, we recall the suffering of Christ through the phony trial, the crown of thorns, the beating, the rejection, the death on the cross, and, worst of all, bearing the wrath of God for our sins. The Collect asks God to govern and preserve His people, meaning those who are forgiven and cleansed by the Passion of Christ. Hebrews 9 reminds us that Christ suffered voluntarily, offering up Himself as the only offering that can effectively cover our sin. John 8 recalls the Jewish leaders rejecting Christ, which led to their turning Christ over to the Romans to suffer crucifixion. Psalm 51 applies the Passion of Christ to the very personal needs each of us has before God. It is about the reason why Christ had to offer Himself up as our sacrifice. It is about our need for Christ's Passion.

The Psalm was written by David shortly after his sin with Bathsheba. We all know that David desired Bathsheba, and that he arranged for her husband to be placed on the front line of a fierce battle where he would almost certainly be killed. David did this to try to cover up his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, which had resulted in her pregnancy. It didn't work. His sin was found out, and many were forced to reap its bitter fruits. Psalm 51 is a song of great sorrow and penance. Finally, probably as he waited and prayed that the very sickly baby born of his sin, would live, David began to realise the depth and wickedness of his sin, the lives he had ruined and the lives he had cost. He finally began to realise the odiousness of his sin in the eyes of God. The first four verse of the Psalm express David's broken-hearted and shame-filled confession of his sin. "I acknowledge my faults," my transgressions, the many times I have intentionally broken the holy Law of God. "My sin," my rebellion, my evil, "is ever before me." David says, I can't stop thinking about it. I can't get it out of my mind. It haunts me like the gates of hell chasing after me day and night.

Our sins may be different from David's, but every honest person can see himself in Psalm 51. We recognise that we have done things that have affected the lives of many other people. We have caused unnecessary pain, worry, and sorrow as we manipulated circumstances and used, or ignored, people to get what we want instead of loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbor (mother, father, daughter, son, fellow Christian) as our selves according to the pure and righteous Law of God. Maybe you have never physically committed adultery, but you have committed it in your heart. Maybe you never physically killed another person, but you have acted hatefully and wickedly toward people. You have assassinated people's character, or you have made their lives a living death by your failure to live out your God-given responsibilities. And you know the words of Romans 3:23 express the truth about you when they say, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

One of the verses we often read in Lent is Joel 2:13, "Rend your heart and not your garments." In Biblical times people expressed intense sorrow or repentance by tearing the bodice of their robes. As you can imagine, some people tore their robes without really feeling the sorrow and without repenting. The forms have changed, but the practice continues today, for many church people continue in their old, sinful habits and patterns of life while outwardly preserving the appearance of a Godly, Christian life. In so doing they are rending their "garments" while their hearts decay within them. It is so easy to go through the outward forms of worship and prayer and say the right words of confession and repentance and faith in Christ, yet never really mean them, never really do what we say with our lips. That is rending the garment instead of the heart. It is an outward show of repentance that is not meant in the heart. God detests such shows. God tells us to rend our hearts. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. God wants hearts that are broken over sin. God wants hearts that ache over the evil that is in us. God wants hearts that are ready to be made new, whose deepest and most intense prayers are not, Lord, give me more of the toys of earth, but, Lord create in me a clean heart.

I truly hope this day, your heart is broken over your own sin. I hope it weighs you down like an elephant standing on your soul. Because when it weighs you down like that, then you are ready to let God do something about it. Then you are willing to let, even, beg God to create in you a clean heart.

I'm not just talking about forgiveness. Most people only want forgiveness from God. They only want to be released from the penalty of sin; they don't want to become new creatures. They don't want to "live a godly, righteous and sober life." They have no intention of giving up themselves to God's service or living before Him in holiness and righteousness all their days. But again, that is rending their garments instead of their hearts.

The good news is, God is the God of all grace and the Father of all mercies. He is more than willing to forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Christ "came into the world to save sinners." "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." His very dying words were, "Father, forgive them." That's why He went to the cross. He suffered the wrath of God for you, in your place. Instead of justly punishing your for your sins, He bore His wrath in Himself on the cross. He became your sacrificial Lamb, and He forgives the sins of all who call upon Him in Biblical faith.

But He does not merely forgive our sins and leave us to follow the same old self-destructive habits and patterns. He changes us. This is one of the most important teachings in all of the Bible. God changes us. We don't have to repeat the same old sins. We can be different. Life can be different. God intends it to be. David prays in verse 10, "Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. This same concept is taught throughout the Bible, and one of its clearest expressions is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if any man be in Christ," meaning to trust in Christ to forgive your sins in Biblical faith, "he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." God is about making new creatures out of us. He is about changing our values, our hope, our desires, our thoughts, and our actions. He is about changing our entire view of life. He is about making us new in the likeness of the love and peace and joy of Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment