Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sermon - Lent 5 - Luke 20:9-20

Luke 20:9-20
Lent 5
March 21st, 2010
“Get Rid of Jesus?”

“Let's get rid of Jesus,” they said. The Pharisees were out to get him, and he knew it. To them, he was a threat.. To their people, their way of life, their religion.

Sometimes the Pharisees are cast as having petty motives. As if Jesus was winning the high school popularity contest, and they didn't like losing. But there was more to it than that. Jesus preached a message – that was the real scandal to them. It was a different religion. They were true believers in their religion, and so they saw Jesus as a liar, blasphemer, and a dangerous agent of Satan.

Their was a religion of good works. Where a man could please God by his actions. It's actually a pretty common religion, going by many different names, and sometimes no name at all.

It's all religion of the law. Sometimes the window-dressing changes, but the point rarely changes – you have to earn God's favor.

Oh, maybe you can do it by following rabbinical law like the Pharisees did. Or maybe you can do it by meditation and good karma. Or maybe you can do it by saving the environment and going green. Or maybe you can do it by being nice and tolerant and non-judgmental. Maybe you can be “spiritual but not religious”. Or maybe you can do it by just keeping your nose clean – no major commandment breaking. Or maybe you can do it by one big moral or spiritual achievement – “look what I've done for you, God”.

Or, maybe not. No, let's say definitely not. Not according to Scripture anyway. God's demand of perfection takes all of these off the table. His just law reminds us there is no one that is righteous, not one. Religion of the law, the religion of good works, is a man-made religion, oh and Satan's got his thumb in the pie too. It is a self-deception, a foolish and dangerous approach to God that gets it absolutely backward. We see man-made, religion of works for what it is: a fraud. No matter how much we tell ourselves our goodness measures up, it always falls short. No matter how hard we try, we always fail and fall. We sin, and sin, and sin some more. Man-made religion can't stop it. Man-made religion won't do.

What about God-made religion? What about that other religion that Jesus was preaching? Simple. Repent and believe. Repent of your sins, and believe in Jesus for your salvation.

Is it really that simple? That I can admit and confess my sins before God, simply ask to be forgiven, and he grants it? No strings attached? No fuss, no muss? It seems too easy. It seems so simple. Shouldn't it be harder than that? A little effort involved? Does God really give away his riches like a fool on a spending spree?

Think on this, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also give us all good things?”

The religion of God is the Gospel. It's the good news of Jesus – that by his death on the cross and his rising from the tomb, yes, your sins are forgiven. Yes, your eternal life is secure. Yes, you are pleasing in God's sight, and yes, you live by his Holy Spirit – growing in faith and righteousness. It's all about God's work, not yours. It's all about his promises, not your pipe dreams of self-sufficiency.

But it doesn't happen without Jesus. And that's why people who want to have the religion of the law have to get rid of Jesus.

In the parable, the tenants of the vineyard had this idiotic idea, “if we kill the son, the vineyard will be ours!” Clearly Jesus knew what the Pharisees were up to, and what they would eventually do. His parable shows just how twisted their reasoning was. They really thought they could kill the author of life. They really thought this would solve the problem, and everyone could go back to their nice happy little self-deceptions. Another heretic swept into the dust-bin.

Except - getting rid of Jesus, by seeing him condemned and crucified – it didn't work at all. Death cannot contain him. He rose victorious, and paves the way for the resurrection of his faithful people. The cross only fulfilled his plan. Unwittingly, they had taken part. They truly knew not what they did.

They had rejected the stone, that is, Jesus, but instead of landing on the pile of refuse, he becomes the cornerstone. And a whole church is built upon him. He, Jesus, builds his church. He establishes his people, and the gates of hell will not even prevail against us. Connected to him, built on him, we are solid and sure and strong.

And with this chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ, one of two things happens. Either you fall on him, or he falls on you.

If you fall on him – you are broken to pieces. That is, you are brought to repentance and forgiveness. “a broken and contrite heart” is bound up and healed in him. It's not always the cake-walk some think it to be. And it means the pain of giving up the old ways, breaking the old life, burying the old sins. But it means life. It means blessings. Behind the suffering there is great joy and unspeakable peace. The Christian is quite content to be broken and rebuilt by the architect of our faith, Jesus Christ.

And it's far better than the alternative. For if the stone falls on you, you are crushed – pulverized, even. And this is what awaited the tenants who killed the Son. This is what awaited the Pharisees who killed the Christ. And this is what happens to all who reject the one who came as Savior but will come again as king and judge. He will judge. His justice and wrath will be poured out on the wicked. He will separate sheep from goats, believer from unbeliever. And woe to those who seek to fall back on their own good works, rather than Christ's good work for them. On that day, the religion of man will be exposed as a sham. On that day, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, as the wicked are rejected by God for eternity.

But you and I – we fall - by faith - on Jesus. We trust in him for salvation. We repent of our sins, and turn to him for mercy. And he grants it.

May we never, ever, “get rid of Jesus”. By rejecting him outright or by pushing him to the side. By neglecting his word or doubting his promises. May we never trust in our own works, our own religion, or our own false righteousness. May we always rest strong and secure on the Church's One Foundation, Jesus Christ our Lord. For he is the only sure place to stand. And in him, the inheritance is ours forever! Amen.

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