Thursday, November 20, 2014

Too important to care about those little people over there

SLAYING HUMAN PRIDE

I am crucified with Christ, thus:  it is no long I who live but Christ living in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God Who loved me, and gave Himself over on my behalf.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ died for no purpose.  Galatians 2:20-21

NATHAN, Jesus and St. Paul all had tough jobs in front of them, the hardest there is, to slay human pride.  Pride can be a good thing if we don't let it get out of hand, but to display it before men draws their envy, and to parade it before God...that is deadly; deadly because no one can be justified before the Great Judge on the basis of his accomplishments.  No one is that good, pious, holy or dedicated.  There is none that is good, no not one.  None, that is, save Jesus alone.

Nathan the prophet, who we met in today's Old Testament lesson, had a demanding task.  He was assigned to cut his monarch down to size.  David had sinned grievously before the Lord.  He got too big for his britches and took what wasn't his to take, another man's wife.  That is a sin that the Lord will always avenge.  Then, to cover his tracks, he did something more treacherous yet, he had her husband murdered.  It just doesn't get much more despicable than that.   

The Lord was angry!  He was livid!  But even then He did not stop loving David, and He won't stop loving you either!  Even so, He did not sweep these sins under the rug.  Instead He sent Nathan to do what is always a dangerous undertaking: to correct a sinner.  One task made more difficult because this sinner was the King who no one dared approach without an invitation and an intermediary if he valued his life.  However, Nathan was no fool.  He did his task in the most intelligent way he could, by telling the king a parable.  We could all learn from him.  We won't repeat the parable here (2 Samuel 11:26-12:14, as above) but only say that Nathan was good enough, and David humble enough to come clean, and to be alarmed over his wrongs.  May we all be so alarmed over ours, and may we also believe the words that the Lord told David through his pastor, "The LORD has put away your sin, you shall not die.  Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die."  This was the worst possible news, a child dying for the sins of his father, but in the larger scheme of things, this death also had a bright side.  It was a living prophecy of another Son of David, One Who would be born a thousand years in the future, and Who would redeem Israel from all his iniquities.  Jesus is that Son.  David's Son and David's Lord Who by His sacrifice on the cross atoned for the sins of the world and brings redemption to us all.

St. Paul's job was no easier.  In his epistle he was trying to convince the Galatians that the Gospel he preached, and that they once believed, is the only true gospel there is.  He set out to persuade them that the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation cannot be earned by us, but that they become ours by faith and faith alone; by trust in the Son of God Who loved us and handed Himself over into death on our behalf, Who became our substitute on the cross to answer for our adultery and our sins of murder by His agony.

There is something in our make up -- pride is what it is -- that insists that we are quite capable of mending our own broken fences with God.  After all, isn't this why God provided a list of do's and don'ts, so that by following them faithfully we can obtain His favor?  Or as one neo-evangelical clergyman recently said: so that we can make God happy?  God forbid!  As Nathan had to slay the dragon of human pride in David, St. Paul did the same for the Christians in Galatia, and by his letter which the Holy Spirit preserved for the church, he does the same in us today.  We must disabuse ourselves of the notion that good behavior or personal piety reconciles us to our God.  That can be accomplished by one thing only, by faith; faith in the only object worthy of our confidence, the reigning and returning Lord Jesus Christ.  Neither must we forget His promise that in baptism we are crucified with Christ.  That is Paul's meaning in our text when he says, "I am crucified with Christ," for that is what happens, sacramentally speaking, in baptism.  The Old Man is put to death and we are born anew of water and the Spirit, and therein declared, once and for all, forever and ever, righteous before God.  That is something that you definitely want to be!

Yet if Nathan and St. Paul had tough jobs, our Lord had the hardest of all!  He too combated the pride of the Pharisees, even as He glorified the humility of the sinful woman who literally worshiped at the Lord's feet; feet that would carry the Lord to Calvary, where they would be ruthlessly fastened to the cross with nails, so that the death would be especially slow and agonizing, for that is what our sins merit.

That is why if anyone thinks that he can justify himself, or atone for his own sins, St. Paul clearly states in today's epistle lesson that our Lord was crucified for nothing.  He was not!  He sacrificed His life for lost and condemned creatures who have no other way of salvation, no other way of atonement, no other way to find peace with God.  All this is given to us as a gift in our baptism which, though it takes place only once, its effects last forever.  Baptism is not something we do for God, but something that He does for us.  Let us always remember that.  At the font we become children of God for time and eternity.  We become new people with new hopes, new dreams and new determination to do battle against sin, and to live for our Lord now and always.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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