4th Sunday of Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, We like to do things on our own, the little toddler says, “NO! I can do it myself!” We pride ourselves on being able to do things. Self-help books abound, if you don’t know something you google it to find out. We say, “The sky is the limit for human ingenuity and invention and intelligence,” “Where there is a will there is a way!” It’s almost as if there is no problem that we run into that we’ll be able to figure out and master. But there is one thing in life, indeed the most important thing in life that we could never do on our own, could never figure out.
Do the words of our text this morning surprise you? They really should. There are several words in this text that sort of jump off the page at us. I know many of us have heard these words for many years, perhaps our whole lives, but let us not let redundancy dull our senses to the breath-taking words before us.
To be honest with you, the first word from this text that we are going to look at is one that I don’t really like. It’s not pretty. It’s not fun. It’s not one that brings a smile to your face. It’s that little four-letter word “dead.” In the beginning of Ephesians 2 Paul has said that word twice. Dead. I really wish it meant something else, I wish it meant “badly injured” or “less than perfect” or “slightly below average.” I’d like to dress it up a little bit, maybe put some whipped cream on it, make it a little more palatable. But the word “dead” as every dictionary is going to describe it is dead, lifeless, breathless, deceased, a corpse. And the one word God uses to describe human beings born into this world is…dead. Where the world sees the great goodness of people, human ingenuity, God sees dead things, lifeless corpses fit only for rotting and decaying. Human beings are born into this world spiritually dead. We inherited this spiritual death from the very same parents from whom we inherited our physical life. This is called original sin. And it is from this original sin, this sinful human nature we were born with that oozes out all kinds of rotten, filthy, disgusting sins: Greed, envy, anger, jealousy, impure thoughts, hatred, cruelty, unkindness, selfishness, etc. It is vitally important that we get this straight.
Why? Because how much power does a dead corpse have in helping itself? Let’s say you and I were going for a drive. And as I’ve been told, you can’t live in Northern Minnesota for more than a couple of years without hitting a deer with your car. Well, let’s say we’re driving and here in the middle of the road is a piece of road kill. I pull the car over and get out and walk up to the dead deer. And I say, “Mr. Deer, you are a terrible road hazard, please move off the road, please roll over a couple of times and get out of the way, just crawl several feet.” And…nothing, no movement, no twitching, no sound, not even a little kick of the leg to show me that he’s looking for a little help…he’s dead. And you would be thinking I’m crazy!
Well, that’s a picture of what we were by nature. We were born dead in sins. We were born, that was enough, we didn’t even have to sin once. We were born “dead in our transgressions.” God ought to use His great power to run us over like road kill! Why? Because complete opposites want nothing to do with each other. Think about it: the living stay far away from the dead, light and darkness want absolutely nothing to do with each other, the north pole is never going to get any closer to the south pole. God is almighty and holy and the Living One. We are by nature dead and disgusting and rotting in our sins. God should be disgusted with us, He should turn His holy and perfect eyes away from our filth, our corruption, our death, He should be eternally disgusted with us. But is He?
Look at God’s answer in our text this morning! Does this not surprise you! Do God’s words this morning not leave your mouth left hanging wide open?! “God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ.” What is mercy? In our experience mercy might mean something like having your heart go out for someone. To see on T.V. one of those impoverished children from a 3rd world country famished and begging for food. Mercy might lead us to say, “Oh, what a pity, oh, how sad, oh, that’s too bad.” Mercy might even lead us to do to something about it. But God’s mercy is so much greater. He’s rich in it! God’s mercy looks at us and sees us helpless, stuck in our sins, dead in our transgressions, pitiful and deserving only God’s eternal wrath and not only does His heart go out for us but He swings into action, in the most glorious action. Jesus comes and in Lent we see it so clearly, he comes and bears upon Himself every one of our sins, our misdeeds, our transgressions, and suffers hell itself in our place! He did this so that He might turn us from being lifeless dead objects into His living children who will live forever in the heavenly realms!
But that’s not it! He also says, “It is by grace you have been saved.” There’s another word to describe God and another word we see so clearly in Lent. Grace is the undeserved love of God which can never be deserved. Grace describes the kind of love that God has for the person who completely and totally doesn’t deserve the least shred of it. It’s so special a thing that it gets its own word: grace. Grace in order that it can be grace by necessity means that no one can possibly deserve it. Not you, not me, not the world’s greatest benefactor. And that’s a good thing. If it wasn’t grace and we had to deserve even the smallest particle of God’s love than all of us would have to be left to wonder if we did enough or if we were deserving of it. But that’s not God’s grace, God’s grace means that NO ONE can deserve it and God made sure of that. Think about what we’ve been hearing in Lent. Did anyone help Jesus out? Yes there were some that followed Jesus, his mother and some other women, his disciples followed him- at least for a time. But then in the garden even all of Jesus’ close disciples fled and forsook him. No single soul rushed to his aid as he was ridiculed and beaten and scourged. Not one human being, not even an angel, came to say, “Here, let me take the scourge for you, let me help you; let me soothe your pain; let me die in your place.” No one. Why? So that grace could be pure grace, undeserved love. You see, God made sure that no one followed too close to Jesus so as to perhaps help him out a bit. Not you, not I, not anyone.
And that’s a wonderful thing! If it relied on you or me even in the least tiny bit, we would have to fall into despair because we would never know if we did our part, or did it enough, or did it well enough. So Jesus did it all from start to finish. He ruled over all things in such a way that no one was allowed to get in the way of grace being just that: grace.
And there’s one final word in our text that we haven’t explored yet: love. “Because of his great love for us.” No, this is not some shallow sentimentality that will say one thing and do something completely different, this isn’t the kind of love that we experience on a day to day basis when someone says they love chocolate or the rock star says he loves his fans. It’s not even the love between a husband and wife, the deepest love we can picture in our lives, which because of sin often falls far short. God’s love is totally different. You may think you know what love is but then you look again in Lent. You look again to the love of God just for you. Imagine homeless person, completely destitute, in rags, hasn’t showered in months, smells, is dirty, looking just about as pathetic as possible, probably made many bad decisions in life. You may help him out, give him some money, give him some clean clothes or a place to shower, perhaps help him find a job, but would give your own son to die for him? To give him everything you have and promise to take care of him for the rest of his life and devote your entire life to his best interests? We would never dream of doing such a thing! But God did! That’s exactly what God did for us. That’s the kind of love God tells us about in our Gospel: God so loved the world that He GAVE His one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but HAVE eternal life!
God took His own son and piled up on him the sin and death and hell that we deserved so that he might suffer and we might live! This isn’t just love, but great love! God’s love cannot be compared with any other love at all. I as a parent love my children and I might do many things for them at great cost or inconvenience to me. But there’s some things my love can’t do: I can’t guide the future and future events to guarantee a good outcome for them, I can’t do that. But God can and God promises to do so for His children.
God worked all of history so that nothing would prevent Him from going to that cross to suffer and die there, God worked in your personal history so that nothing could prevent you from hearing again and again about God’s great love for you in His Word, God worked in your personal history so that nothing could prevent you from receiving the great forgiveness God has for you in your baptism, God’s worked again in history this morning so that nothing could prevent you from being here once again to receive in the Sacrament of the Supper His true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins!
You see, God works in all of history in great mercy, grace, and love for you! He proved it when He went to the cross for you while you were still dead in sins, He proved it by going to the cross and winning forgiveness all alone so grace could be grace, and he proved it by having such a great love for you that you might be with Him in heaven forever! There is only one thing to do today, in the middle of Lent, and always: Rejoice! Rejoice in God’s great mercy, grace and love for you!