Text: Jeremiah 26:8-15
Date: Lent II + 2/21/16
If the season of Lent lays the groundwork of what it means to become a Christian saying that the important step is this attitude we call repentance, it is a wonder that anyone would ever give us a hearing. For repentance implies awareness of sin and contrition or sorrow over sin. For one to be sorry for sin they must first agree and acknowledge that they have sinned, that they are a sinner. Needless to say this is not an easy or popular idea in the world today, or any day. It is quite the opposite. It is against every sinful man’s proud nature. The Beatitudes of Jesus make that clear revealing how upside down is sinful man’s view of life and what it means to be blessed. “Blessed are the poor in spirit?” “Blessed are those who mourn?” “Blessed are the meek?” Everyone knows that if you operate with that kind of attitude you’re definitely not going to get anywhere much less be a success in this world. So it’s not surprising that the ears of all should be closed to such nonsense. What was the prophet Isaiah sent to preach? “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive” (Is 6:9). And the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21). Indeed, such is the fallen, spiritual condition of all people that the Bible says we are spiritually blind, dead and enemies of God. And such ignoring of the Church’s message you’d think would be enough. Yet what do we see?
Many not only ignore God but just cannot stand especially the accusations of God’s Law that uncovers, brings to light and reveals their sin. In fact, they feel they must retaliate. Consider all the persecutions of God’s people throughout history. Start with today and go back. Christianity and Biblical morality is under attack today like rarely before at least in our lifetime. It’s not enough that the Church disagree and criticize a government presuming to change the definition of marriage. What’s called the LGBT lobby seems to have successfully influenced (or bamboozled!) society and government to the point of legally punishing anyone who would disagree. So it is that the courts are still threatening church-related groups that refuse to provide insurance coverage including contraceptives or abortion.
Recently Matt Harrison, President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, issued a statement on the one-year anniversary of the twenty-one Coptic Christians martyred in Syria. And there are so many more horror stories there. And there are plenty of accounts of Christian martyrs throughout history. Today’s Gospel and Old Testament reading show the innate opposition to God’s hand of grace reaching to save with His call of repentance and faith.
The prophet Jeremiah narrowly escaped death for delivering God’s Word of warning about the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple due to their sin. Likewise, in today’s Gospel Jesus endures the opposition of the Pharisees, Our Lord giving voice to the deeply felt sorrow of God, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (Lk 13:34). And, of course, Jesus met the same end as the prophets before Him, death by willful execution by the powers of both Church and State acting actually on behalf of us all, all mankind since the beginning. Only the death of Jesus was the divine goal. Nevertheless, this is why Jeremiah suffered, namely, on behalf of the God who would ultimately deal with sin and death by sending His own Son to be the one and only sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world.
Ever since then the Holy Spirit of God, by the faithful preaching of the Gospel, reaches into fallen man’s ears, hearts and minds and opens them to the truth, the truth of their sin and true contrition over it. In such contrition the Word of the Gospel can finally be heard and bear fruit, the fruit of saving faith, faith in the grace and mercy of God through the glorious death and resurrection of the Son of God.
Yet, not all have heard the Gospel much less responded in repentance and faith. This is the mystery of God that only some have been appointed to eternal life, that is, we all retain the power and ability to reject God’s offer of salvation. Some tenaciously cling to their unbelief and sin and rejection of God. And it is still true that those appointed and sent to deliver God’s invitation to salvation are rejected, persecuted, even martyred.
Now we normally think only of the prophets and pastors, those who have been called specifically to the work of the ministry. But as all Christians are to bear witness to Christ so all Christians are called also to bear suffering for the sake of Christ. Yet in the face of any and all suffering for the sake of the Gospel we have the confidence, even the joy of faith in our mighty Savior who has transformed even death to be but the gate of heaven. So, “do not be afraid,” says our Savior. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). The fear of God is true repentance and faith; it is the conviction that God’s Word is true. Jesus reminds us, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16).
Our continued witness to the truth, your continued witness, may yet encounter challenges of opposition, even anger and hatred. State legislatures continue to be confused about objective divine truth on the one hand and the machinations of men and political pressures on the other. For this we have Jeremiah’s example when he said, “as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants” (Jer 26:14-15). And as St. Peter confessed before the high priest when he told the disciples, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood [the blood of Jesus] upon us,” Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:28-29).
Such obedience, such confession is not easy or always comfortable. But so has God sent you who have received Him and by your baptism become identified with the crucified and risen Lord to bear witness in the world to the love and salvation of God for the life of the world.