Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sermon -- Mid-Week Lent 2 (April 5, 2017)

This sermon was preached at St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church in Plymouth, Michigan.

LUKE 23:35-42

REPENT AND TURN TO JESUS...
...He Holds The Key To Heaven.

In the name + of Jesus.

     He was a dead man, and he knew it.  And he knew that he deserved it.
     He remembered God's Commandments, which he had memorized as a youth, and he recognized that he was guilty of breaking them.  He remembered that God said it was his place to avenge.  He remembered that God would be his judge, and he recognized that God had him dead to rights, that soon he would be dead, and that soon he would be facing the God whose Law he had broken.  Caesar's court could only sentence him to the grave.  God's court could banish him to hell.  He remembered the Law.  He recognized his guilt.  He repented and turned to Jesus.
     That criminal confessed his sin.  In his rebuke to his fellow criminal, he acknowledged  his crimes and the justice of his punishment: “We indeed (are being punished) justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” (Luke 23:40)  He did not pretend to be anything he was not.  He was a dead man.  He was a condemned man.  So, a vile sinner acknowledged that he was a vile sinner.  But he was not a hopeless sinner.  He repented and turned to Jesus.
     This dying man turned his attention to the man dying next to him.  He had heard every word of mockery and derision which the crowd hurled at Jesus, but he also recognized that everything the people had said about Jesus was true.  The penitent criminal not only knew Jesus had done all that they had said, he also believed that Jesus would do all that his mockers said he would.  The penitent criminal saw in Jesus the one who had saved others but would not save himself.  He saw in Jesus the one who was the Son of the living God, but would not come down from the cross until his lifeless body was taken down.  He saw the Christ who was anointed to save sinners—sinners who deserve to die, sinners like him.  And so the dead man repented and turned to Jesus.  “Jesus, remember me....” (Luke 23:41)  For Jesus holds the key to heaven.
     “Jesus, remember me....” (Luke 23:41)  When God remembers, God saves.  God remembers his mercy, and so he does not treat sinners as their sins deserve.  God remembers his compassion, and so he delivers us by consuming God's wrath for us.  God remembers his promises, and so he crushes the serpent's head and destroys his power.  God remembers his grace, and so he brings back into Paradise the ones who had been cast out of it.  When God remembers, God saves.  The penitent criminal confessed that Jesus is the King of an everlasting kingdom.  He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  (Luke 23:41)  If Jesus is the King of Israel, then he holds the throne of David.  If Jesus enters a kingdom, then he must live if he is going to reign.  If Jesus lives, it is because he will overcome the death he is dying.  And if Jesus overcomes death, then he holds the key to heaven.
     Repent and turn to Jesus.  He holds the key to heaven.  He is the one who sets you free from sin and death.  If you treat these lightly, it is because your sin and death are not always apparent to you.  Because of this, it is easy to fool ourselves that everything is fine.  Our lives do not have a clear, specific deadline like a work day, a project, or the New Year's Eve ball drop.  Just as no one knows the day and hour of Judgment Day, neither do we know the day and hour of our death, our personal judgment day.  And so, we fool ourselves into thinking that we have no reason to fear our God.
     We are pretty pleased with our lives, and we don't feel bad about our sins.  We are not like the criminal who was pierced to a cross where the charges against him were posted over his head.  We can keep most sins hidden.  Grudges can be disguised by phony smiles.  Slander is whispered behind someone's back.  We share our prejudices with like-minded people so that we can commend each other's wicked and hateful thoughts.  As long as no one exposes us, we are pleased and convinced that all is well.  But this is what the Lord says: “Death and Destruction lie open before the LORD—how much more the hearts of men!” (Proverbs 15:11, NIV (c) 1984)  Though your sins are not posted above your head for the world to see, they are known by the Lord.  There is no point in pretending to be what you are not.  We are all dying, condemned men.  We all deserve it.  We are sinners who are right to confess that we are sinners.
     Repent, and turn to Jesus.  For, he holds the key to heaven.  Therefore, our penitential prayer is the same as the penitent criminal at Jesus' side: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:41)  For, when God remembers, he saves.
     Lord, remember.  Remember your mercy and love – that you came to deliver sinners.  Lord, remember.  Remember that we have no excuses, no justification, no answers.  And without you, we have no hope.  Remember that you did not deny any charge filed against you, but accepted all guilt for all sins.  You suffered the consequences for our sins.  You were publicly put to shame for the sins we have tried to hide, and your death was on full display in order to declare that you have paid the price for all sinners.
     Repent and turn to Jesus, for he holds the key to heaven.  Repent and plead, “Jesus, remember me.” (Luke 23:41)  Jesus, remember your promises, your payment, and your peace.  And he does.  Jesus became flesh and blood to ransom all of us who are flesh and blood.  Jesus came because mankind was expelled from Eden because of sin.  Therefore, Jesus atoned for this by being forsaken by the Father for us.  Jesus has taken away the sin that separates us from the Father and banishes us from Eden.  Jesus is the way back to the Father and to the bliss of Eden.  He holds the key to heaven.
     Therefore, Jesus makes his promise: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42)  Paradise comes from a Persian word which refers to a garden.  If we are with Jesus in Paradise, it means that Eden has been restored.  It means that sin and death are done away with.  It means that man is reconciled to God.  It means that Jesus enters his kingdom.  He lives and reigns forever, and he makes all things new.  What's more, he remembers you.  He remembers your baptism and the covenant which marked you as his.  He remembers his covenant when he summons you to feast on his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  He remembers his mercy and love.  And when God remembers, he saves.
     Repent and turn to Jesus, for he holds the key to heaven.  Paradise is open.  Eden is restored.  Sin and death are done.  The Lord Jesus remembers.  He saves.  And he delivers dead men to everlasting life.

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

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