Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Sermon -- Lenten Vespers (March 11, 2020)

This sermon was preached at St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belleville, MI on March 4, 2020 and at St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Plymouth, MI on March 11, 2020.

MATTHEW 26:69-75

The King Denied.

In the name + of Jesus.

     It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Lord Jesus urged Peter, James, and John, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)  The spirit indeed was willing only a few hours prior to Jesus' prayers in Gethsemane.  In the upper room, Peter had boasted, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”  “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:33,35)  I am sure that they meant it.  In the safety of a private room with Jesus present, it was easy to boast of their faithfulness.  The spirit indeed was willing.
     It is the same with every confirmation vow.  The spirit, indeed, was willing when we were asked: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”  And we swore before God and the Church: “I do so intend, with the help of God.”  That answer was given with sincere intent.  It is the same with Bible class, too.  We all know the answers we are supposed to give, and we truly do mean them.  In the safety of the church and surrounded by fellow disciples, it is easy to confess the truth.
     The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Peter learned that the hard way.  Jesus had warned him that he would sin against his Lord.  Instead of responding with humility and fear, Peter made great boasts.  Jesus had urged him to watch and pray.  Instead, Peter fell asleep.  Jesus had told the disciples that they would abandon him.  In the safety of the upper room, they all vowed they would not.  When they saw the danger—soldiers and swords and torches—the flesh proved weak and they all fled.
     To his credit, Peter returned, followed Jesus to his trial, and settled in Caiaphas' courtyard.  To his shame, Peter would not confess Jesus Lord when he was asked.  It was not a burly soldier with a sword drawn who confronted Peter.  It was a servant maiden.  It seemed only to be a question of identity, but it was received as an accusation, or even a condemnation.  “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” (Matthew 26:69)  Can you imagine all the heads turning slowly to await Peter's answer?  Peter felt it.  So, he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” (Mathew 26:70)  Three times, Peter was given a chance to confess Christ as King.  Three times, Peter disowned his King—even on oath and with curses.  The flesh was weak, and a different spirit revealed itself.
     You have almost certainly not faced imprisonment, much less death, for confessing your faith.  That is not how such things work in America today.  Satan works much more subtly than that.  Satan works through our society which goads you into abandoning portions of God's word.  A panel of scientists will not force you to deny Jesus, but they may belittle you until you deny that Genesis 1-2 is a true account of history.  Slowly, you move off the foundation on which your faith is built, as you dismiss one portion of Scripture after another.  The result is the King denied.
     Satan also works through your own sinful flesh which wants the world to love you.  The world asserts: “All religion is the same.”  It seems too much of a bother to disagree and defend the Christian faith, so we meekly agree.  We fail to confess the faith.  But since confessing all religions are the same makes no one feel bad, that makes us feel good.  It is not soldiers or courts who cause us to cast off God's word; it is family and friends.  When someone asks you, “What do you think about people living together apart from marriage?  Do you think that “love is love” and that all relationships should be celebrated?” you may feel all the faces turn toward you, as if to say, “You had better give the answer we expect.”  Then we want to deny the truth because we don't want to face the scorn of those who love the lies and celebrate immorality.  But to disown any part of God's word is to call God a liar.  This is what the Lord says: “Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar” (1 John 5:10) and if “we make him a liar, his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)  This is to deny the King, and even if you should blame it on the weakness of your flesh, it is still sin, and you are still accountable.  Repent.
     After Peter denied Jesus, St. Luke recorded that the Lord turned and looked at Peter. (Luke 22:61)  He does not describe the look.  Was it was anger or sorrow or disappointment?  It did not matter.  The King's glance and the King's word convicted Peter.  Whether Peter had succumbed to a cowardly spirit or a weak flesh, it did not matter.  He had denied his King.  It was rebellion, and Peter knew it.  He went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75) 
     And so it is with you.  It does not matter if you meant to sin or not; you and I are guilty.  And who could blame Jesus if he looked upon us with disappointment or anger?  And who could fault Jesus if he disowned and damned us?  We make for poor disciples if we don't follow Jesus when it gets hard.  Repent, and weep bitterly.
     What does the King do to disciples who turn from him and deny his word?  He saves them.  He stands on trial in place of you.  He puts himself in the cross-hairs of God's anger for you.  He bears the guilt for every accusation which should have been laid upon you.  He is judged and is found unfaithful, unreliable, and inexcusable—for you.  He stood in silence as the charges were leveled.  He did not fight it.  There was no rebuttal.  Jesus has taken up every sin and went forth to suffer on behalf of sinners.  God the Father denied his own Son who stood in your place under his curse.  In the weakness of human flesh, Jesus bled and died—for you.
     Although the King was denied, he did not deny who he was.  St. Paul wrote, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)  Jesus acts for his name's sake.  His name means “the Lord who saves.”  It is who he is, and it is what he does.  So, for his own name's sake, Jesus stands in as the substitute for you.  He stands in for you as one who is perfectly faithful to God's word.  When he faced temptation, he did not fall.  When he was threatened, he did not flinch.  When there was a cost to standing firm, he did not fail.  All this he has done because he loves you, because he wants to save you, and because he cannot deny himself.
     He is your substitute under God's judgment as well.  He was punched in the mouth for our careless words.  He was stretched out and flogged for the things we selfishly reached out for.  His hands and feet were pierced for the works we should have done but didn't and for the places we have gone but shouldn't have.  His holy flesh paid the price because our flesh is weak.  All this he has done because he loves you, because he wants to save you, and because he cannot deny himself.
     After Jesus rose from the dead, he made a special appearance to Peter.  I am sure that the look from Jesus this time was filled with compassion, mercy, and love.  And so also with you.  He makes his face shine upon you and is gracious to you.  Your King has decreed your sins forgiven because he paid for them.  He gives you the sentence of eternal life because he conquered death.  And your King continues to come to you.  He does not deny you because you are weak or disown you despite your sins.  Rather, he is pleased to confess you as his redeemed, and he feeds you with his body and blood in order to make you partakers of forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.  All this he has done because he loves you, because he wants to save you, and because he cannot deny himself.
     If you are asked to confess your faith or even if you are threatened for confessing your King, fear not.  Your King, Jesus, lives and reigns.  His word is the final authority over all things.  No one can snatch you from his mercy or grace, and no one can take away the life he gives.  He is pleased to confess that you are his.  Therefore, deny yourselves and confess Christ.  For with him alone do you have a life sentence.

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

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