Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sermon -- 13th Sunday after Pentecost (September 8, 2019)

HEBREWS 12:1-13


In the name + of Jesus.

     The first thing we ought to recognize as we consider this reading from Hebrews is that the writer refers to God as our Father.  He is God Almighty, but he summons us to call him our Father, as we do in the Lord's Prayer.  As a father, he loves you.  The Father sent Jesus to secure our place in his family.  The Father has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in us to mark us as his children.  As St. Paul reminds us, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Galatians 3:26)  Therefore, you are sons; and he is your good and merciful Father in heaven.
     The Lord is also unchanging.  So, he is always your good and merciful Father in heaven, even when it does not seem like it.  There are many times when God's people wonder if God is paying attention to them, if he cares, or even if he is angry.  Those questions usually come up when we are enduring some kind of hardship or loss or pain.  We want to believe that God is good and merciful, but it is hard when we do not feel mercy or see good.  But even then, he remains your good and merciful Father.  It is like this: Is the sun always a bright light?  The answer is: Yes, the sun is always a bright light.  At midnight when it is pitch black, it doesn't seem like it.  But the sun is always a bright light; that is what the sun is even when we don't see it.  In the same way, your Father in heaven is good and merciful at all times.
     Since he is your Father, he does what fathers are tasked to do.  He provides.  He protects.  And he disciplines.  The writer to the Hebrews quotes the Proverbs: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5-6; Proverbs 3:11-12)  When he disciplines, he does not seem good and merciful, because discipline hurts.  No one enjoys the pains of discipline.  Whether it is following a diet or exercise regimen or having someone correct your behavior, going through discipline is hard, even painful.  But proper discipline is always for your good, and your heavenly Father always disciplines for your good. 
     The problem is that the Lord's discipline often feels like punishment.  If the Lord has us endure pain or hardship or loss, we might wonder what we've done to deserve it.  We feel like God is punishing us is because of what we confess about our sin:  We are by nature sinful.  We have done what is evil and fail to do what is good.  For this we deserve God's punishment both now and in eternity.  So, when we suffer now, we might think it is the punishment we deserve now.  But that is not how your heavenly Father deals with you or feels about you.  God is not punishing you; God is not even angry with you. 
     All the punishment that we deserve because of our sin was taken by Jesus.  Jesus suffered horribly to deliver us from divine wrath and punishment.  The writer to the Hebrews says, “for the joy that was set before him (Jesus) endured the cross, despising the shame...” (Hebrews 12:2)  Jesus despised the same that was associated with the cross.  This includes his crucifixion and everything that led up to it.  Jesus knew that he would be betrayed, slandered, and wrongly condemned.  Jesus knew that he would be beaten, mocked, and flogged.  This is why he prayed fervently and sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane,  Nevertheless, he did not shrink back from death when he was given a crown of thorns, was stripped naked, and was nailed to the cross.  But the worst of it was that Jesus endured the curse and condemnation of his Father who was neither good nor merciful to him.  Jesus endured the punishment of God on behalf of every sinner for every sin.  He was not merely put to death for sins he did not commit, he was damned for them.  We confess, “I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity.”  But Jesus has taken all of it.  God exhausted his wrath upon Jesus.  Therefore, he is not looking to get even or have revenge on you.  If you are in Christ, you are delivered from all punishment.
     “For the joy that was set before him (Jesus) endured the cross, despising the shame...” (Hebrews 12:2)  His joy in saving you far outweighed any shame or pain that came from being crucified.  And he does not save you just to tolerate you.  He saves you to make you children of God and heirs of his kingdom.  He saves you not only from guilt, but even from death.  Just as Jesus rose from the dead to live and reign forever, so will you.  The Lord Jesus who is the Lord over death and the grave will raise you up with perfected bodies to dwell in an everlasting kingdom of peace, glory, and joy.
     And since you and I are not there yet, your Father disciplines you for your good.  He works in your life to keep you focused on his mercy and on the heavenly kingdom he has prepared for you.  God disciplines those he loves, and he disciplines you for your good.  It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons.  … (Our earthly fathers) disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but (God) disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7,10-11) 
     Earthly fathers and mothers properly discipline their children to correct their behavior and to prevent them from continuing in bad behavior.  If you don't discipline your children, bad behavior will lead to worse behavior.  I remember getting a number of spankings when I was a child, and I had earned all of them.  But even when my parents disciplined me, they did not stop loving me.  Because they loved me, they wanted to curb my bad behavior so I would not suffer worse for it later in life.  It is all the more true with your Father in heaven.  Parents, as well intentioned as they might be, may also let their anger or fear influence how they discipline.  But your Father is perfect in love.  He always disciplines you for your good, and he always remains good and merciful.
     The Father's discipline is often hard.  We don't like having our blessings taken away.  It is not fun having to endure sorrow and pain.  But when these hardships come, the Father is training you to not love this world.  Everything in it is passing away, no matter how much blessing and benefit we derive from it.  So, rather than having us love and trust in things which will pass away, our Father takes them away so we can't trust in them.  We are left with nothing but his word which will never pass away.  Now, as was said earlier, and as the Bible freely acknowledges, “for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)  It may even seem like God is being cruel and merciless when he disciplines us this way.  But when such things happen, remember that God does not lie to you.  Your Father always loves you.  Your Father is always good and merciful.  And your Father always disciplines you for your good.
     As we continue in this Christian faith, we continue to struggle and strive toward our heavenly home.  The writer to the Hebrews describes it like an athletic contest.  He writes, “Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us...” (Hebrews 12:1)  Every day, we need the discipline to fight against our own sinful flesh and against our own laziness.  We need the discipline to stand firm against temptations to abandon the faith and to exchange God's truth for whatever the world says is true and good today.  The only way we can continue in this daily struggle is by “looking to Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:2)  
     The world's truth is always changing; the word of our God, however, stands firm forever.  Your Father remains faithful in his love and mercy.  He reminds us that our present struggles do not compare with the glory that will be revealed in us.  The Lord assures us that, although we may lose blessings in this world, we never lose his mercy, his forgiveness, and his salvation.  And although the world's blessings may be pleasant, they are not permanent.  Your Father, however, remains your good and merciful Father in heaven.  He is always the God who saves, who redeems, and who loves you.  He has made you his dear children, and that status is not changed by hardship, pain, or sorrow. 
     Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet. (Hebrews 12:12-13)  For your Father is doing all things for your good—whether you think they are good or not.  And even if your blessings in this world last only a moment, so do your struggles and sorrows.  The word of our Lord, however, will never pass away.  Neither does his mercy.  Nor does your glorious inheritance.  God is always on your side to strengthen and sustain you in the faith until he brings you into your everlasting home.  Though he disciplines you, it is always for your good.  For, your Father in heaven is always good, and his mercy endures forever.

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

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