Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lent 5 Midweek Sermon -- Psalm 43 (LSB Lent 5H)

April 1, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“Vindicate me, O God, and judge my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!”

Those words of the 43rd Psalm fit the mouth of Jesus. Though spoken centuries before His birth, they can be said by Jesus with good reason. The Psalmist writes of a judicial plea that is made to the Lord God: “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause!” He wants the Lord God to take up his case. He says: “Judge what I have done and see if it is lacking in any way. Rule and act in my favor, for I have done nothing wrong.”

The reading from John’s Gospel shows why Jesus could make such a plea. You heard how Jesus was teaching in the Temple, but was rejected by the Jews there. Jesus asks about the rationale of their opposition: “Which of you convicts Me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God.”

What had Jesus done to receive such opposition? He had claimed to be from heaven: “I came from God and I am here. I came not of My own accord, but He sent Me.” But this origin was rejected by the Jews, especially on that day in Jerusalem’s Temple. Not only was it rejected, but their opposition was severe—calling Jesus as liar and a blasphemer. The Jews even said that Jesus was of Satan, not God: “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and have a demon? . . . Are You greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do You make Yourself out to be?” You heard what was going to happen: “They picked up stones to throw at Him.”

The events in the Temple were reason for Jesus to pray the words of the psalm: “Vindicate me, O God, and judge my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!” Such a plea would be right if what Jesus said about Himself were true. For then the Jews who reject Him in the Temple are an ungodly, deceitful, and unjust people. If Jesus’ words stand true, then His opponents stand convicted.

As the Lenten Season draws to a close, the opposition to the truth of Jesus becomes clearer in the Scripture readings. What we have here is more than just a failure to communicate. The causes of truth and lie stand in eternal opposition to one another. It will always be so, just as it was in the Garden. The enmity that exists between Eve’s offspring and Satan’s offspring is not without warrant. Jesus identifies it: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Satan and his offspring lie, cheat, steal, and murder. That’s their character; that’s what they know to do. In fact, that is their great cause, their great motivation in life. Satan wants to kill and to kill eternally. Whatever leads to that end is pleasing to him, even when it involves leading people to doubt, slander, and blaspheme the Lord God.

But Jesus is sent to counter such things, to bring divine truth to people, a truth that saves. He delivers what the Psalmist prays for: “Send out Your light and Your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling!” In the midst of lies, the truth of God must come to convince hearts, minds, and souls about divine righteousness and how condemned sinners under Satan’s tyranny can obtain it. The grace of God must be put on display for the fallen world to see and to hope in.

That is what Jesus brings, just as John testified at the beginning of his Gospel: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This is what Jesus brings, as He came from God, sent from His Father. Into the darkness of lies and death, the righteousness of Christ shines. But it does so to bring people a new origin, to make them born again from above. The work of Jesus makes these sinners children of God instead of spawn of Satan. As He declares what is good and right and leads people to believe it, then they see the light and the truth of which the Psalmist writes.

The reaction of those who know divine truth is completely opposite of the Jews’ reaction in the Temple. Those who have heard the words of Jesus—the words of grace and truth—and believe them do not pick up stones to hurl at Him. No, they come to the Lord’s presence, as the Psalmist writes: “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise You with the lyre, O God, my God.” The believer turns his back on Satan the Liar, and instead uses the lyre and other instruments to praise the Author of Truth.

As those who know the truth live in this age, there is no escaping the lies of this world. The opponents of Jesus are all around. The Deceiver keeps speaking his falsehood to lead people astray. But there is no lack of hope. Even when Satan’s lies seem to be true, when your own hearts and minds cannot seem to believe what the Lord God says about you, His truth is still present. Jesus never stops speaking what His Father has given Him to say. And the statements He makes about you are always repeatable: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. And I have made God your Father, so that you can hear and believe the truth of salvation.”

So you can react as the Psalmist did. He was given to know the truth about himself, even in the midst of deceitful and unjust men. And so he says among the lies and liars of this world: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” This you can do also, because the Lord God has sent His out His light and truth to you. That same light and truth will bring you to His holy hill and to His dwelling. For Jesus will bring His people out of this age of lies and deceit to the restored Paradise, where only grace and truth are known. This is what the Son was sent to do and what He will achieve for you, whose cause has been vindicated by His Father.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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