Not to Condemn, but to Save

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on John 3:14-21

Dear people for whom the Son of Man was lifted up: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. He didn’t come as Judge, but as Saviour. He came to be lifted up on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and thus save us from our sin.

He came in love, but the world hates Him. We heard the familiar verse that starts, “For God so loved the world,” but the love is not reciprocated. God loves the world, but the world hates God. The world loves darkness instead of the light. The world loves sin instead of loving God.

Why does the world hate Jesus so much? Why do they reject Him? Why do they refuse His forgiveness? It is because they do wicked things and they don’t want to come to the light, lest their wicked deeds should be exposed. Jesus is the light of the world, but the world does not want to come to Jesus who exposes their sin.

We must confess that our sinful inclination is the same. None of us enjoys hearing God’s Law which convicts us of the sins that we have committed. None of us likes God’s Law exposing our sin. Our sinful flesh does not want to hear about God’s rules or commandments, or about how we have failed to keep them. Our sinful flesh says, “If God really loved us, He wouldn’t give us all these rules and commandments to follow. If God really loved us, He would let us do what we want.”

Our sinful flesh is wrong on this matter as it is wrong on every matter.

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. He exposes our sins not so that He can condemn us for them, but so that He can forgive our sin.

We can hide our sins from each other. We can lie about them to each other. We can lie about them to ourselves.

God, however, sees all our sins and knows all our sins. He doesn’t expose our sins for His sake, but for our sake. He shines light onto our sins so that we would see how dark and evil they are and hate them as much as God hates them. He shines light onto our sins so that we would flee the darkness and seek the light. He shines light onto our sins so that we would flee to Christ for refuge.

Christ is our only refuge. He is the light of the world. In Him there was no darkness, but He took our darkness from us onto Himself. He took every single one of our sins onto Himself and died for them.

How do you know that He took your sins? Because He took the sins of the whole world. Every sin of thought, word, and deed was put on Jesus. Every selfish thought, every lustful word, every greedy deed was put on Jesus. Your every sin of anger and doubt, your every sin of jealousy and discontentment was charged to Jesus. He was charged with all the sin of the whole world and was punished for it all. He took your punishment in order to give you eternal life, because He loves you.

It sounds so simple, and it is. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally.

The simplicity of it is what sometimes gets us tripped up. Consider the Israelites in the wilderness from our Old Testament lesson. They had again sinned against God in speaking against Him and complaining about the food God was giving them, so God sent fiery serpents among them. They bit the people and many of them died. This led to the Israelites repenting of their sin. The light of God revealed their darkness, and they repented and asked for the serpents to be taken away.

God provided a solution. He had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it onto a pole. If a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Sounds so simple, and it was. Look and live. It sounds too simple. It kind of even sounds silly. That is the foolishness of the cross.

It would sound better to our reason if God would have told the Israelites to offer Him extra sacrifices and to do all kinds of acts of contrition in order to get forgiveness. It would make more sense to us if God had given them steps for overcoming their difficulties and guidelines for living better lives to save themselves. It would be more reasonable to us if the Israelites would have had to do work to pay off their sin. But God says simply, “Look and live.”

Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Jesus was lifted up onto the cross to save us from the poison of our sin. It’s as simple as that.

Our reason tells us that we should have to offer extra sacrifices and do all kinds of acts of contrition in order to get forgiveness. Maybe if we had to suffer a little bit and work harder to overcome and live better, then we could work off our sins. But none of our sacrifices or acts of contrition or good works can pay for our sins.

The answer is far simpler. Jesus has done it all for you. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally. That’s why Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “It is finished.” Your salvation was accomplished then and there. Your sins were paid for then and there. Eternal life was purchased for you then and there. There’s nothing left to pay. There’s nothing left to do. It is finished.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. He didn’t come as Judge, but as Saviour. He came to be lifted up on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and thus save us from our sin.

When Jesus returns, He will return as Judge, but our judgment has already been pronounced. Jesus was judged in our place, so we are already declared innocent.

Jesus says that those who reject His forgiveness are also already judged. He says, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Whoever thinks that they can earn their own salvation; whoever things they can save themselves and see no need for Jesus; whoever rejects the free forgiveness Christ offers is condemned already.

We, however, look to Christ lifted up on the cross. He is the light of the world and He has exposed the darkness of our sins so that we would trust in Him for forgiveness.

We look to the cross, but we cannot go to the cross for forgiveness. Rather, the forgiveness earned on the cross comes to us. Forgiveness comes to us in Baptism, [as it did for Emma this morning. Forgiveness comes to us in] Absolution, and Holy Communion. Once again, it’s so simple. God forgives our sins through water, through the Word, and through bread and wine. It doesn’t require anything from us. Jesus has done it all and He gives us forgiveness freely.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. It sounds so simple, and it is. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Good Samaritan

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 10:25-37

Dear people with bound up wounds: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you want to know what to do to inherit eternal life, the lawyer from our Gospel lesson and Jesus give you the answer. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” If you want to do something to inherit eternal life, this is it. If you fulfil these commandments, you will earn yourself eternal life.

Our reaction to hearing this is often similar to that of the lawyer. We desire to justify ourselves. In other words, we seek to redefine terms in order to argue that we have kept these commandments. We ask, “And who is my neighbour? I live on the end of a street so I’m OK on one side, and the guy on the other side is always gone, so I don’t have any neighbours to love. See, commandment fulfilled. My co-worker is not very neighbourly towards me, so he’s not my neighbour, and I don’t even know that needy family, so no, I don’t have any neighbours to love.” That’s what justifying yourself sounds like. Just redefine the word neighbour. Give it new meaning and say that you’ve kept the commandment.

This works similarly when it comes to the command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. “I think God is pretty important. I go to church every once in a while. I don’t have any idol statues in my house, and I do have a cross on the wall. Yeah, I’m OK here, too.” That’s what justifying yourself sounds like. Just redefine what it means to love God. Give it new meaning and say that you’ve kept the commandment.

The thing with the Law of God is that it points out our sin, and that’s never fun. We want to weasel our way out of its accusations instead of admitting guilt. We want to justify ourselves and redefine God’s Law so that it won’t accuse us anymore. What is a neighbour? When does life begin? What is male? What is female? What is love? What is marriage? Let’s just redefine everything and we can do whatever we want.

Have you really fulfilled the commandments to love God and your neighbour? To fulfil the commandment to love God means that in everything you do, pleasing God is your only concern. It means you would never skip the Divine Service because you never have anything better to do than to hear God’s Word and receive His gifts. It means that you would dig into God’s Word first thing when you wake up and last thing before you go to sleep so that it would guide your thoughts throughout the day and give you peace at the end of the day. It means that you would know God’s Word front to back because you would love and treasure the only communication you have from God to you.

To fulfil the commandment of loving your neighbour as yourself doesn’t mean you give a needy person a loonie out of your pocket or donate a couple of nearly expire cans of food to the food bank. It means that you hold as equal to yours the needs of your neighbour, that is, anyone who is close enough for you to help; anyone in your life that could use your assistance; anyone that God puts in your life.

So if we look at the parable of the Good Samaritan, it means that you go out of your way to help your enemy (the Jews and Samaritans were enemies, after all). You bind up his wounds no matter how disgusting they are. You put him in your car even though he’s bleeding all over it, and take him to a hotel. You pay for his room for as long as he needs to recover, and just in case, leave your credit card at the front desk in case anything more is needed. You pay for his doctor because he doesn’t have medical insurance and you take a second mortgage on your house to pay for it. That’s what it means to love your neighbour as yourself. So if you hear Jesus say, “Go, and do likewise” and think that you can do it, that’s what it means.

This is Jesus’ answer to someone who desires to justify himself. If you think you can fulfil the Law of God, Jesus shows you that you cannot even come close. He closes the loopholes you want to open, and shuts down your attempts to weasel out of God’s commandments by trying to redefine terms.

The reason why Jesus does this, is so that you would see that there is more to the parable of the Good Samaritan than the command to love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself. Yes, you are commanded to love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself, and these are good things which you must endeavour to do to the best of your abilities, but there is more to the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is to show you that you are the man left for dead by robbers. The devil, the world, and your sinful flesh have attacked you and robbed you of innocence. They’ve robbed you of purity, righteousness, and love. You are incapable of helping yourself or saving yourself. Trying harder won’t work. Excusing sin won’t cut it. Redefining terms won’t help. You cannot bind the wounds of your sin by promises to do better. You cannot heal yourself by pretending you’re OK. You need the Good Samaritan to save you.

The Good Samaritan can be no one except Jesus. Only Jesus has compassion on you to the point that He would leave the perfection of heaven to come as a foreigner to our sin-polluted world even though we showed Him nothing but hatred. Only Jesus washes our wounds of sin through the waters of Holy Baptism, as He did for Kylee this morning. Only Jesus nourishes us to health with His body and blood like He will do again this morning.

Jesus does this for us because He did what we could not do. He loved God with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind. Jesus loved His neighbour as Himself. Despite perfectly fulfilling God’s Law, He suffered at our hands and because of our sins. All our sins were put on Him and He suffered the wrath of God for all sin in our place. Thus Jesus earned us forgiveness. He did what we could not do to earn us eternal life.

That’s why the Bible speaks of eternal life as an inheritance. An inheritance isn’t something you can earn. An inheritance isn’t something that is given to you because of what you’ve done. An inheritance is something that you get because of who you are. You receive the inheritance of eternal life because you are God’s child, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, absolved by His Word, and forgiven and strengthened by the body and blood of Jesus.

The Good Samaritan in the parable said to the innkeeper, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” So Jesus, your Good Samaritan, has left you to be taken care of in the inn of His Church. He is still today washing away sin through Holy Baptism. He is still today forgiving you your sins in Absolution. He is still today forgiving you your sins and strengthening your faith through His Holy Supper.

And He says that He is coming back. He has left you to be taken care of, but He will return. He will return and give you the inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34). This eternal inheritance isn’t yours because of what you have done, but is yours because of what Jesus, your Good Samaritan, has done for you. This eternal inheritance isn’t yours because of what you have done, but it is yours because of who you are, baptized into Christ Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.