The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Mere minutes before departing to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He will be betrayed and arrested; mere hours before He will be nailed to a cross and suffering all of God’s holy wrath for all the sins for all mankind for all time, Jesus very plainly tells His apostles that they, too, will be persecuted and slandered and hunted down—even killed—by people who firmly believe they are serving God by committing such heinous and barbaric atrocities against their fellow man. Now, having the benefit of 20/20 hindsight like we do, we look back and it all makes perfect sense. These faithful apostles, as well as many faithful Christians down through the centuries, all suffered martyrdom at the hands of those who thought they were on God’s side, suffering on account of their faithfulness to Christ and His holy Gospel.
Truth be told: We don’t even have to look back that far (or at all) to see these words of Christ continuing to play out before our very eyes. Lots of barbaric atrocities and persecutions continue to be committed against Christians in our own present day by people who really, truly believe they’re serving God (whom they refer to as “Allah” or “Political Correctness” or “Equality”). “They will do these things because they have not known the Father or Me.” Yup. We get it. It all makes perfect sense.
But what about the words of our Lord in our Old Testament text for today? “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.” Keep in mind that our Lord is speaking these words to a bunch of numb-skull Israelites who’ve just spent the last fifty years in Babylonian captivity as a direct result of their own hard-hearted and self-centered sin. It was their fault they were in Babylon. They were the only ones to blame.
I say this only because it would be utterly foolish and wrong to say that Israel was being persecuted by mean old Babylon on account of their faithfulness to the Lord. That wasn’t the case at all! They were not martyrs! After hundreds of years of calling these thick-necked donkeys to repentance, God using guys like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos to make His Word known and heard, these folks continued to plug their ears and do their own thing, never turning back to God in repentance; never turning away from their sin and back to Him. You would think that they would have learned from their own history, four hundred years of Egyptian bondage and forty years of desert wandering and all…but they didn’t.
After all that family history; after all that prophetic exhortation and admonition; after all that failure to listen, their heavenly Father, out of love, disciplined them. He sent Babylon to overthrow them and take them captive. It was only after their homeland was laid waste and they woke up in a foreign land that they finally “woke up” and called upon their Lord to deliver them and save them. It’s sad what it sometimes takes to get our attention, isn’t it? A few decades later and God raises up the prophet Ezekiel to speak His Word to these captives, speaking to them in the very midst of this foreign captivity. Ezekiel is sent, as we hear today, to proclaim the new life and freedom that is theirs in the Lord. They will be set free. They will be returned to the land their God and Lord had promised them; the land of milk and honey that their God and Lord had given to their forefathers. They would return from death to life.
But…here’s the kicker for us to consider: Why? Why would this great reversal take place? We can answer this by coming at it a different way. We can certainly say why this great reversal did NOT take place. These Israelites were not set free from the bonds of death because of anything they did to deserve it. They weren’t delivered because of anything good about them or in them. “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.”
Think about what God is saying here. It wasn’t because of them that God was acting to save them. In fact, they utterly profaned His holy name. They not only didn’t deserve His gracious intervention; they deserved only His wrath and punishment. “For the sake of My holy name.” This is why God acts. It’s who/what He is—righteous, holy, long-suffering, mercy, grace…love. And that’s what our focus for today is really all about. The focus is on God!
I direct your focus to God Himself in action. Look to this cross. Here is almighty God Himself in the flesh! Here is the Maker of heaven and earth allowing Himself to suffer such degradation and depravity, not because He deserved any of it, but precisely because you deserve it. That’s how great His love for you is! He suffers in your place. He dies in your place. He pays your justly-deserved wage of sin for you with His own body and blood. He does all this, not because you deserve it, but precisely because you do deserve every bit of this wrath and punishment, and there’s NOTHING you can do about it.
He acts in this way because that’s just who He is. He made a Gospel promise in the Garden of Eden to deliver Adam and his offspring from their justly-deserved bonds of sin, death, and the devil. He made that promise, and He continues to keep it. He bears the marks of that kept-promise in His flesh, standing before the throne of the heavenly Father for the rest of all eternity bearing His wounds, ever-reminding His Father that the wage of sin has been paid in full by Him. It is finished!
He continues to keep this promise as comes to you today, not because you deserve it, but because you need it, coming to you to feed you and nourish you with His Word and Sacrament. He comes to you today to comfort you and protect you and guide you in the path of His righteousness; His justification. “He leads me in the path of His righteousness for His name’s sake.” Folks: It’s just as true now as when David penned those words three thousand years ago, and it will remain true into all eternity. That’s just who God is.
You know…I look around; I look in the mirror; I look and I listen, and I think of all that our heavenly Father has done and continues to do for us children of Adam, and in particular, us children of faith; us children of promise—the true Israel (discipline included); and I can’t help but look around and think: “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”
May God grant that this blessed, repentant, faithful reality is witnessed in all that you say, think, and do. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: If you ever think you need a reason to repent; if you ever think need a reason to be thankful, even in the midst of sorrow, look no further than right here [the font]. Look no further than God Himself in action for you. Look and remember that you bear His holy cruciform name upon your head and your heart. “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”
May this peace of Christ, which surpasses all human understanding, guard and keep your hearts and minds in Him, now and into all eternity.
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