Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sermon for 10/3/10--Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

"What do you think about the Christ?"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s easy sometimes to think of Jesus as a softie. By observing Jesus we notice that He has a special place in His heart for children, taking them in His arms and blessing them. Apparently He doesn’t like sickness and suffering, for He spends a lot of His time healing the blind, the cripple, the leper, and everyone else who comes to Him for healing. He also has a soft spot for widows, fishermen, tax collectors, and those who society tends to overlook. These things and numerous others that we observe in Scripture might lead us to believe that Jesus is one of those “bleeding heart” types, someone who is merely interested in social justice. But then we encounter Him when He is dealing with the Pharisees and Sadducees. In His conversations with them, we observe Jesus as a man of doctrine. He knows His Scripture, and He’s not afraid to use it. He’s compassionate—He desperately wants these men to understand and cling to the truth which He teaches them, even though He knows they’re out to test and trick Him—but at the same time, He’s steadfast. He won’t give in to them for the sake of unity or peace or even safety.

After Jesus passed the test of the Pharisees, He asked a question in response. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” The question is an important one, and the Pharisees gave the correct answer: “The Son of David.” But Jesus took it one step further. First He quoted Psalm 110: “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.'" When he asked them, “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” That was the question the Pharisees could not answer. But of the questions Jesus asked them, this was the more important one. The correct answer to first question revealed Jesus to be the Son of David, for Jesus was David’s direct genealogical descendant through His mother, Mary. But the correct answer to the second question reveals Jesus to be the promised Messiah, the Son of God. As true God, begotten of the Father, He is David’s Lord. He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord because He is both true God and true man. This is an answer the Pharisees would never give. What’s more, Jesus was asked at His trial if He was the Son of God; and when He answered in the affirmative, the High Priest called it “blasphemy”, and He was sentenced to death.

That answer receives no better welcome today. The truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is offensive to the world. You can talk about God all you want, as long as you speak in generic language. But try praying in the name of Jesus. Walk into the halls of Congress and pray in the name of Jesus. Go to a public high school graduation service and invoke the name of Jesus. Speak to a Jew or a Muslim or even many who call themselves Christians and say that Jesus is the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. They will be offended. The world can accept Jesus as a rabbi, a prophet, a bodhisattva, a holy man; but to say that Jesus is God would mean that the Jew is waiting for a Messiah that has already come. It would mean that Allah is not the true God, and Mohammed would not be a prophet of the true God. It would mean that not all gods are equal. And none of those things are acceptable to the world.

So . . . what do you think of the Christ? Before you answer, remember, the eyes of the world are on you. Remember how unpopular the truth is. Remember the consequences of speaking the truth. Remember that people have been exiled, stabbed, shot, maimed, tortured, burned, crucified and killed for saying that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Remember all of that as you confess the Apostles’ Creed next week. But we are called to faithful confession. In our text, Jesus says that, along with loving God with all your heart and soul and mind, loving your neighbor as yourself is the greatest of the commandments. That means you’re supposed to love your neighbor so much that you’ll speak the truth about Jesus to him, even if he’s going to have a violent response. In the rite of Confirmation you vowed to continue steadfast and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from such a confession. Even if the only consequence is that you are mocked or ignored, it’s so much easier, so much safer, to just mumble something generic about God and faith. And we like safe. We like easy. And if the truth were told, we like the idea of the easygoing Jesus, the one with a soft spot for troublemakers and the outcasts. Faithful confession is neither easy nor safe, and it’s certainly not popular.

It is in that difficult and dangerous and unpopular struggle that our Lord steps on our behalf. The love we are to show to God and to our neighbor, this is the love which Jesus first showed us—for He is our Lord as true God, and He is our neighbor as true man. Jesus knew full well that saying that He was the Son of God would lead to His crucifixion and death. He confessed freely, loving God with all His heart and all His soul and all His mind; and He went to His cross and death willingly, loving His neighbor as Himself, so that His confession and death would be our confession and death, so that, when He rose from the dead, we too would rise with Him in the waters of Holy Baptism. Like a mother who writes her child’s name on his shirt so that no one else can claim that shirt, in Holy Baptism, the name of “the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is indelibly written upon us by our good and gracious Lord. Because of that mark, He alone can claim us. That mark allows us to confess before the world, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the Son of David, true God and true man.” Not only does He mark us as His own, but He strengthens us for faithful confession, the kind of confession that demonstrates the love of Jesus for us and the love we are to show to our neighbor, no matter the consequences. Jesus feeds us His own body and blood, strengthening us through that holy sacrament in our faith in Him and our love for each other. And when, like Peter, we deny that we know Him, He is gracious to speak the word of Holy Absolution, restoring us just as He restored Peter.

The world is going to ask you the same question Jesus asked: “What do you say about the Christ?” It’s an important question—probably the most important question anyone will ever ask you. But don’t worry that you don’t know the answer, for the answer is written upon your heart and soul and mind. Do not be silent like the Pharisees, and do not be afraid to answer; but through the Holy Spirit, speak boldly: “Jesus Christ is the Son of David and the Son of God, true God and true Man.” Whatever the earthly consequences may be, the Lord will strengthen you and grant you grace to bear them faithfully. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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