THE UNSTOPPABLE SAVIOR, THE UNSTOPPABLE SACRAMENT
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here for Herod wants to kill you." And he said to them, "Go and tell that fox, "Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course." Luke 13:31-33
WHEN Jesus spoke the devils shuddered! They were smart enough to understand that earth's fortunes were radically reversed when Jesus appeared on the scene. They understood that their time was short and that soon their leader, the "prince of this world," would be de-throned by Jesus on the cross. They knew he would be deprived of his power to inject his damning poison into the affairs of men any longer. This would effectively put the whole company of hell out of business and give them nothing to look forward to but the certain doom they warranted when they rebelled against their Creator. Let us be careful not to join them.
Herod, who was bloodier than a fox in a hen house, wasn't that smart. He was the king, which means he was no fool, but he was also drunk with his own power; so drunk that he forgot that there is one who is called "the King of kings," One to whom all kings of earth are answerable. He could imprison John the Baptizer, and have his head on a platter with a word. But he could not stop Jesus from marching into hell for a heavenly cause. Jesus was unstoppable, and even killing Him, rather than thrwart God's program of salvation, only furthered it; and in a manner that still shocks our sensibilities, and still baffles our fallen reason, how this one death could remove the sins of all men.
Neither were the Pharisees very shrewd when it came to the truth of God. They wore their religion on their sleeve, but they were not very perceptive. That's usually how it is with overly-pious people. They are so focused on themselves that God rates an "also ran"at best.
Nor are we so terribly keen. We are more like dull knives with blunt edges when it comes to dissecting spiritual matters. Our minds are focused on our bellies. It isn't only a matter of the sins we perpetrate, but of those that are done against us. They weigh us down and cause us to drown in the soup of our own sorrow and in self pity. Like rainmakers, they cast clouds in the sky that block the sunshine of God's love from our eyes, and His warmth from our shivering skin, but don't be afraid, because even when clouds fill the sky the Sun of Righteousness has not gone away. He still comes to church bringing grace, mercy and peace with Him.
Jesus would not be deterred. The time reference he makes: today, tomorrow and third day are allusions to his death and resurrection.
"Today" He is the innocent man Jeremiah prefigures in our Old Testament lesson, who stood trial in our place. He is the holy one who was pronounced guilty so that we, like so many Barabbas' might be set free. On the cross our Christ endured the consequences that attach to our crimes, to our rebellion against the Holy One, and to our blatant violations against other persons, each who is a treasured darling of God. That is the gospel in a nutshell that He suffered for us, He died for us, and that by his purity we are made fresh!
On the "day after" our Lord took sin to the grave, He hurled it into the depths of hell where it belongs, and on the "third day" He finished his course. He emerged unsoiled, unstained and victorious from the bitter affair. That is the reason that his loved ones did not recognize him. The last they had seen him he was a disaster, a bloody mess. The most tragic miscarriage of justice in history, but now that was gone. Now they beheld a Beautiful Savior, and so do we.
Jesus could not be deterred, not by scare tactics, not by Herod, not by the devil. His love is too great. His joy in redeeming fallen creation and making her His bride, too large.
It is no surprise that this particular reading would find its way into the church for the holy Lenton season. Lent was originally a time of preparation for baptism which took place once a year on Holy Saturday. Normally the catechumens were baptized, confirmed and received their first holy communion all at once, just like the Eastern Orthodox church still does today for its infants, a practice that merits further investigation.
As Jesus could not be deterred from fulfilling the holy and magnificent mission of our salvation, the same can be said of our baptism: nothing can overcome it, nothing can stop it from doing its wonderful work in our lives, for nothing is stronger than the vows that God makes to us here. Baptism is not a once off affair, but like a vaccine it is alive and active in our lives. It forces the devil out of our being and transfuses the cure for sin, the blood of Jesus, into us.
As Jesus disarmed the devil by virtue of His death and resurrection, in the same way by baptism the Spirit outsts the devil, with all of his wicked works and all of his wicked ways, from us. He removes his brand of Original Sin; and He puts His title of ownership, his own holy name on us. There was a time in church history when this was vividly demonstrated by baptismal candidates. They would turn and face the west, the direction of fading light, and spit at the devil to show their rejection of him and that he was expelled from their being in this sacrament.
We do well this Lenten season to recall that we too have been gathered under the wings of Christ, and into the fold of Holy Mother Church, in our baptism; and to put that blessing to work each day, to follow the example of the venerable Martin whenever the weight of sin or sorrow, trials or temptation, or the sting of death lies heavy upon us. We can say with him, and joyfully confess with him, "but I am baptized," and then let the sure and certain knowledge of this truth soothe us. Such faith is the victory that overcomes the World.
~Rev. Dean Kavouras