February 11, 2018
If I were God I'd do things differently! Now, you might find that statement blasphemous and foolish. And you'd be right. It is blasphemous to even think about taking God's place as ruler of the universe. And it is quite foolish to think that you know better than God. Yet, this thought is not confined to the minds of raving lunatics. People everywhere frequently think that they know better than God and they act upon such a deranged notion.
Our first parents were the first ones to start this trend. They knew God's command, yet they were persuaded to believe that they knew better than God. And so, sin and death spread to all mankind. The Lord sees not as man sees. And this continues to befuddle sinful people.
All human beings are sinners. Therefore, Scripture says, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14) And the disciples demonstrate this for us in our Gospel lesson. Our Lord says, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise." These are pretty plain words. Yet, the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying.
It's not that the disciples didn't understand the words Jesus said. But they could not understand what Jesus meant by them, because his plan was so greatly different than what they would have expected. In other words, if they were God, they would have planned this whole Messiah thing differently.
People in general think they would do a better job at being God than God. As crazy an idea as that is, that is the nature of sin. Every time you act against God's Law, you are behaving on the premise that you know better than him. And when false teachers preach false doctrine they are operating on the assumption that they know better than God does. Such false teachings have left devastation in their path. God teaches in his word that a sinner is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Yet, false teachers, who know better than God, teach that a sinner must earn his salvation through good works. This has led to self-righteous hypocrisy in some and despair in others. Whenever people think they know better than God they cause hardship and strife.
This Wednesday is Valentine's Day. This has become the day of romantic love. I cannot think of a word that has been more grossly misused than the word love. Scripture says, "God is love." (1 John 4:8) Yet, the sinful world claims that it knows what love is better than God does. And the result has been devastating. Our culture characterizes love as an emotion that seeks intense pleasure and relationships based on love are contingent on these pleasurable moments. This definition of love has caused many drunk by its emotion to throw caution to the wind and strive after securing its fleeting pleasure. This is the definition of love that both young and old are instructed in by movies and shows, which they spend a lot more time watching than reading and hearing God's Word, which teaches the correct definition of love.
And what has been the result of embracing this shallow view of love? Rampant fornication and adultery, children without fathers, mothers without husbands, abortion, and disease. Demonstrators held signs saying, "Love Wins" as the Supreme Court struck down every marriage law in the country that limited marriage to one man and one woman; laws which sought to protect children by increasing the likelihood that they would have both a father and a mother; laws which protected women by hindering abandonment; laws which encouraged men to be men; and most importantly laws, which were based on the revealed will of God. Of course, such sign-wavers don't know what love is. Love's a beautiful word. No one wants to be against love. But when love is changed from selfless and sacrificial action to selfish emotion people are hurt in the name of love.
In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul beautifully teaches us what God says about love. First, he tells us that love is essential. Second, he tells us what the nature of love is. Third, he tells us that love endures forever.
Love is essential. St. Paul writes, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."
Here Paul gives impossible examples to show how essential love is. You can't speak in the tongues of angels or understand all mysteries and knowledge of God. But even if you could, St. Paul tells us that your teaching and preaching would be worthless without love. The most important thing for you to expect from me, your pastor, is that everything I preach to you is true and based on God's Word. Yet, even if I have more knowledge than any pastor, can recite the Bible front and back and answer every theological question truthfully, I would know nothing if I did not have love. How can this be? Because God is love. You cannot understand God's word unless you understand love and are possessed by it.
You cannot understand God's Law unless you have love. The Holy Spirit caused St. Paul to write in Romans chapter 13, "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (vss. 8-10) The Law of God commands that we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves. Every commandment you observe from God must have the ultimate goal of showing love to God and your neighbor.
You cannot understand the Gospel unless you have love. The Gospel that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the price for our sins is God's expression of love for you. God thought about your needs and sought to benefit you at great cost to himself. Love is so essential to the Gospel, that you do not know what love is unless you know the Gospel. The Gospel is God showing pure unadulterated love to you.
Because St. Paul says that without love he would be nothing, even if he had faith to remove mountains, theologians in the Roman Catholic Church have argued that love is more important than faith in justifying a sinner. They teach that it is more important that you do works of love than have faith in Jesus and that faith in Jesus alone does not save. Yet, this is not what St. Paul is teaching.
Scripture clearly teaches that we are saved by grace through faith alone apart from our works. This means that we are justified by faith, not by our works of love. Yet, St. Paul teaches us that there is no true faith without love. Your faith in Christ receives God's love. This means that your faith will produce love. Yet, God does not judge you based on how well you love. Rather, God finds you innocent of all your sins purely through faith in Jesus Christ, who took all your sins away.
St. Paul tells us that no matter how great we think our faith is, it is not true faith if it does not produce love. True faith in Christ is not simply knowledge. True faith is trusting in God's love. True faith produces works of love.
St. Paul continues, "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." Here Paul describes the nature of love. Love is not a pleasure-seeking emotion. Love is self-sacrificing action.
Yet, to understand what Paul means by these words, we must look at how Jesus fulfills them. Jesus is patient and kind. He is slow to anger and quick to forgive. Jesus does not envy or boast. Although he was in the form of God he did not seek equality with God a thing to be grasped, but took the form of a servant and became obedient to the point of death on a cross. Jesus is not arrogant or rude. Just think of that! Jesus claims the highest office. All things whether in heaven or on earth or under the earth are under his feet, yet Jesus calls his 12 weak disciples friends. And he calls you his friend too. He speaks to you with patience and understanding, just as he did many times with broken and messed up people as he walked on this earth.
Jesus did not insist on his own way. Rather, as he sweat blood with his soul in anguish to the point of death, he prayed that God's will be done, even when he knew that God's will was to crush him. Jesus went as a lamb to the slaughter for us. He went willingly. We see this in our Gospel lesson. He tells his disciples that he is going to suffer and die in Jerusalem. Then why does he go? He doesn't need to go through all that for himself. Jesus is God! There was no need for Jesus to leave his glorious throne, to take on our human flesh, to suffer our ailments, to be found guilty of our sins, to suffer punishment both in his body and soul and to die a miserable death. Jesus had no need to do this for himself. But you certainly did. If Jesus did not do all this, then you and I would be punished for our own sins.
But Jesus didn't insist on his own way. He didn't look out for himself, rather he looked after you and your needs. This is love. You men might remember the butterflies in your stomach when a pretty girl first smiled at you. You women might remember your heart thumping when a handsome guy put his arm around you. Or perhaps you've had the experience of your heart exploding as you look at your newborn child in your arms. But you don't know love unless you know the love Christ showed for you and possess this love through faith.
Jesus is not irritable or resentful. Although we return to him over and over again, repenting of the same sins, he does not resent us. Rather, Jesus forgives us as often as we sin with perfect patience. And yet, Jesus does not rejoice at wrong doing. Jesus hates your sin. He doesn't want you to fornicate or steal or gossip. He wants you to confess your sins and rejoice in the truth. Jesus endures all things for you, so that you can believe against all odds that God loves you.
Love endures forever. St. Paul writes, "Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. … So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." I'm preaching to you now. And I'll likely preach to you again, because you need to hear God's Word so that your faith in Jesus may thrive. But there will come a time when I will no longer need to preach to you. You have faith now. And you hope for many great things in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet there will come a time when your faith will be superfluous and you will no longer need to hope for what you do not see. Now through faith you look through a dim glass and see the reflection of Christ as you hear him preached and you receive Christ's true body and blood in the Sacrament. Yet, faith and hope must give way when the veil is removed from your eyes and you see Christ Jesus in the flesh and know him even as he sees and knows you fully.
Love is eternal. God the Father has loved the Son from eternity and vice versa. We depend on faith for our salvation now, but once we reach our salvation, we will no longer depend on faith. Yet God's love for us will still abide, as will our love for God and for one another. Our faith will have served its purpose, but love is the eternal goal. The world's shallow notion of love will pass away forever, but God's love for us will enliven us for all eternity. And for this reason, we thank God that God is God. Amen.