Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sermon -- Ash Wednesday (February 10, 2016)

ISAIAH 59:12-20

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Psalms teach us, “All men are liars.” (Psalm 116:11)  Chances are, you know some people who are worthy of the title “Liar” because of the way they do business, because of the way they treat their spouse, or because of the stories they tell—either boasting about what they have achieved or hiding what they are trying to get away with.  But we don’t want to admit that.  Likely, you are one who takes pride in your integrity and would vehemently defend yourself against the insinuation that you are a liar.
     Still, the Scriptures are not wrong.  All men are liars. (Psalm 116:11).  [The devil] is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).  We have listened to the devil’s language, and we have learned his dialect.  We all have lied to ourselves, believing that we are better than we really are.  We believe that our good intentions are equal to good deeds, even if they never go further than intentions.  We believe that whatever good deeds we do gain us credit.  We believe the lie that if someone commits sins more wicked than ours, that benefits us.  We even believe that our sins are ultimately harmless and that our pet sins can be played with.  All men are liars. (Psalm 116:11)  We lie to ourselves, and we believe our lies.  Repent.
     The prophet Isaiah teaches us to be honest before God and with ourselves and to confess our sins.  “For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities.” (Isaiah 59:12)  That last phrase can also be translated, “our iniquities are conspicuous,” or “out in the open.”  That is why we know them.  Even if we can hide our sins form co-workers and neighbors, our families know us better than that.  And even from our families we manage to keep some sins hidden.  But we know our iniquities. (Isaiah 59:12)  We know the lust and the bitterness and the selfishness and the jealousies and the greed and the vengeance that darken our hearts and influence our words and actions.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we still would rather believe the lie and confess that we are good.  All men are liars. (Psalm 116:11)  And, of course, it all lies open before God.  Our guilt is conspicuous.  Our transgressions are with us.  Our sins testify against us. (Isaiah 59:12)  Whether you have a smudge on your forehead or not, you are marked with death because you are filled with sin.  Repent!
     The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.  He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede. (Isaiah 59:15)  At first glance, it seems that the Lord was displeased that all men are liars and sinners.  And to be sure, that does displease the Lord.  He does not find delight in evil.  But then, neither does the Lord delight in the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:32), not even the wicked! (Ezekiel 33:11)  The Lord who first said, “Dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19), does not delight that we will die because of our sins.
     The Lord is displeased at this: that there was no man who could bring forth his salvation, and there was no man who could mediate on behalf of sinners.  And if there was no man to do this, then all men would be lost.  All would die in their lies and their sins.  The Lord is displeased by such things.  Therefore, the Lord's own arm worked salvation for him.
     No man can redeem the life of another (Psalm 49:7), so the Lord came to redeem us.  The Lord became man to carry out the justice that was lacking in man, to do the righteous works that are demanded of man, and to intercede as a man on behalf of mankind.  Though all men are liars, this man, Jesus Christ, dealt only in truth and righteousness.  Jesus did not go throughout the world looking for honest men or seeking recruits to go with him to establish justice, righteousness, and salvation.  His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. (Isaiah 59:16)  Jesus single-handedly went forth to do the work that no man had done or could do.  He proclaims only truth, and he carries out only just works.
     He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17)  For Jesus, our salvation was no half-hearted effort.  He dressed himself for battle, prepared to conquer the foe and to destroy his reign over us.  But his weapons were not swords, and his armor was not steel.  He armed himself with the word of God and defended himself with righteousness and truth.  Then he went out to conquer our foe and rescue us from the devil and his lies.
     His own arm worked salvation for him.  The prophet Isaiah foretold: “A Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 59:20)  If Jesus is a Redeemer, that means there is a cost to redeem us.  And the cost was Jesus himself.  His own arm worked salvation for him.  Jesus went forth to defeat Satan and to bring us release from his grip on us.  He gave himself over to pay the price for sin, which is death.  He gave himself into death on behalf of people who have been marked with death.  He died as the accursed cheat, thief, braggart, and liar for us who are truly guilty of the charge.  But he gave himself up—holy God and innocent man—for all of us.  That is the price which had to be paid to redeem us.  The Redeemer (has) come to Zion. (Isaiah 59:20)  Jesus paid the price.
     His own arm worked salvation for him, but Jesus has given you all that he worked for.  He has replaced the lies with his truth.  He enables you to be honest.  You do not have to pretend to be what you are not.  You don't have to convince yourself or anyone else that you are good or better or deserving of reward.  You don't have to invent good works to pad your resume or the find ways to credit yourself with good intentions.  Instead, you acknowledge that you are a sinner.  You can admit that you are marked for death—ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
     But you also know that you have a Redeemer who gives you credit for work that you did not do.  He has wrapped you up in his righteousness and has bestowed upon you his salvation.  It is not your work, but it is yours all the same.  It displeased the Lord that you should perish, therefore the Lord is pleased to save you.  Jesus has purified you from evil.  He has freed you from the devil's claim and has taught you to renounce the devil's lies.  He has created in you a clean heart and renewed in you a right spirit.  He has gone into death with his flesh and conquered the grave for you.  Therefore, he will deliver you out of the dust and ashes, and he will raise your body up to eternal life.
     The Redeemer has come to Zion.  Jesus has paid the price.  He has battled, and he has overcome his enemies.  His own arm has worked salvation for him, and he has done this work for you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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