Thursday, April 14, 2011

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

April 13, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

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

“Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!” The psalmist’s words fit well into Jesus’ mouth, especially during His time in the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus was teaching during the Festival of Booths, revealing Himself as the Promised Messiah. But that teaching was rejected. The people would not receive it. Instead, they began to accuse Him of lying and worse.

You heard part of the dialogue that Jesus had with the people in the Temple. As the situation ramps up toward great confrontation, Jesus says: “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of My own accord, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word. 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. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.” Jesus’ words do not hold back any punches. It is a throw down challenge against the lies that the people believed concerning Him.

And so Jesus ratchets up the confrontation: “Which one 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. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” Here Jesus brings in the matter of judging and vindication: the people will not hear, they will not receive the truth, they will do nothing but accuse Jesus of lies. That is seen in their response: “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Against this, Jesus rightly can pray: “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!”

Can Jesus be convicted of sin? Not if He speaks the truth. Not if what He says actually is so. But conviction is what they want. They cry out for it, especially when Jesus makes the great claim about His identity and their lack of faith: “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known Him. I know Him. If I were to say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and I keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.” Their response is of unbelief: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” And when Jesus reveals His eternal nature—“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”—they will not receive it: “So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.”

The Jews had reached their verdict. They had judged Jesus to be a fraud, a liar, a blasphemer. Now they have moved from judge and jury into executioner. Their hands are raised against Jesus. The stones are ready to be hurled. They will be done with this Man from Nazareth who has made Himself out to be God, to be greater than Abraham. No more trickery and lies for them to hear from this blasphemer. And yet, what they intend to do is actually full of deceit and injustice. They are the ungodly people who do not hear the words of God spoken directly to them. Rightly Jesus can say: “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!”

That vindication and deliverance does come for Jesus. But not before suffering even more indignities and injustices. For Jesus will pray the other verses of the Psalm: “For You are the God in whom I take refuge; why have You rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” It is what Jesus will say when He receives the full brunt of the ungodly opposition, suspended from the crossbeam on Calvary. The mocking will continue. Justice will be denied. Suffering will be endured. Humiliation will come. And yet, it will be done while trusting the Vindicator: “Yet I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge.” For Jesus is like Isaac, the only Son whom the Father does not withhold. “God will provide for Himself the lamb. . . . On the mount of the Lord it will be provided.” That is Jesus’ fate.

And yet, what will be given to Him as He endures this? The vindication that He seeks. For He does not remain dead, but is raised again. His cause is defended. It is proven to be right. His resurrection is the evidence of the pleasing nature of His work. He is humbled in crucifixion, yet Jesus is correct: “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’” His Father exalts Him by bestowing the Name above all names, so that whenever “Jesus” is spoken, heads and hearts must bow.

Jesus’ cause is just. And as much as He suffers in death, He also rejoices in the restoration of life. The psalm’s words are His own prayer: “Send out Your light and Your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling! 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.” That light will shine on Easter day. The truth of Jesus’ words will be seen. His fate is not the grave only, but also to be seated in the heavens at His Father’s right hand, to take His place as the true High Priest in the celestial sanctuary.

But all this is done not for His own self-achievement. It is done, so that you also may be delivered. Jesus suffers the indignities and injustices, even from you, so that you may be changed from being the ungodly to God’s own children. Humanity’s deceit and delusion are removed for you, so that you may have Jesus’ words apply to yourselves: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” Such a fate is given to you because of what Jesus endures and what His Father does to vindicate Him.

Now you are no longer children of the devil. Now you are children of God. The change is given because you also have suffered with Jesus and have been raised with Him. That is what your baptism has granted to you. Jesus’ vindication was a matter of right; yours is a matter of mercy. It is bestowed upon you. But it truly is yours. You will endure the same fate as Jesus in this world; indignities and injustices will come because of your being His disciples. But what has been given to Him also awaits you.

So you may say with Him: “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.” The same trust in the Father is found in you. You know what is true: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” You are God’s people, born from above, so you hear His words that are most certainly true. You are no longer only to be victims of the deceits and lies of the devil and this world. Instead, you have the Lord’s words of promise, pledge, and guarantee spoken to you. You hear and believe them. You await the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. As you wait, you pray with faith and confidence that the Lord will hear: “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!” And so it shall be given, as the Lord who gives His Son for your salvation provides for you.

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

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