Saturday, February 14, 2015

What exactly is involved in sin and forgiveness?


And taking the twelve, he said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is 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." But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Luke 18:31-34

IN the coming season of Lent we will once again have our eyes opened like the blind beggar did, but we might wish that God would mercifully close them like He did the disciples’ when Jesus informed them of all of the things that were about to happen. Why would we wish that? Because during Lent we will once again take a close look at the reality of our sin. As we ponder it in light of our Lord’s passion we will discover how deadly it is and the terrible price that was paid to remove its burden from us.

Even though we are Christians and our wrongs have been pardoned, we can never stop being reminded about sin’s reality. Why not? First, because we all have an Old Adam within and it can produce nothing but evil thoughts, words and deeds. It is blind to the things of God and only serves itself. Unlike the New Man which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things, Sinful Nature bears nothing, believes nothing, hopes nothing and endures nothing. It lives for the moment. Its only concern is whatever it can reasonably get away with at the moment; and its only hope is that there are at least a few more thrill’s ahead.

Sinful Nature is the very opposite of love. It’s impatient, unkind, rude and conceited and there is no known cure for it. Why do your pastors remind you of this fact so often? Because there are two competing liturgies we have been taught to pray. We pray the Church’s liturgy each Lord’s Day by choice and by faith. It is powerful, comforting, satisfying and fills us with the truth of the Gospel. It makes the troubles of life tolerable by giving us an eternal perspective and opens our eyes to the glories that await us in Christ; but whether we like it or not we also are forced to attend the world’s liturgy. We have to listen to its corrupt creeds and hear its cacophonous hymns. It competes with God’s Word for our loyalty and promises us all the things we could ever want right now if only we’ll fall down and worship at its altar. The only problem is that the world’s religion cannot deliver what it promises, but leads us down the primrose path to hell instead. You don’t want to go there!

Secondly we need to hear the Law so that we can continually turn away from sin, and that is impossible without the fear that the Law instills in us. The reason Jeremiah’s people were destroyed is not that they sinned -- sin is forgivable-- but that they did not repent or receive absolution, and thus had no strength to stop their downward spiral.

It is not only the Law we are exposed to during Lent, but most especially to the salvation Jesus gained for us by the things he suffered, and by His resurrection from the dead on the third day. During Lent we will carefully examine the things that the disciples could not bear to hear: that the Son of Man would be handed over to His enemies to do with as they wished; that the best thing ever to happen to this world would be mercilessly put to death, so that we might receive mercy. We’ll also learn again that by His death Jesus drove a spike into the devil’s head, just as Jael did to Sisera in the Book of Judges.

It might seem confusing that Jesus told them what was about to happen and then prevented them from understanding it, but these things had to be said, and they had to be said to these men. Why? Because the salvation God had promised for thousands of years was now just days away. Further, these blind and simpering disciples, who in coming days would be scattered like sheep without a shepherd, would not many days after that receive the Holy Spirit who would turn them into powerful preachers of the gladdest tidings that sinful ears ever heard; that by faith in the name of Jesus sinners obtain peace with God and victory over death.

Our eyes will also be opened once again to the inescapable truth that faith must always be active in love. St. Paul reminds us in today’s epistle lesson that if we speak in the tongues of men and of angels, if we have all prophetic powers, if we understand all the mysteries of God, if we have enough faith to move mountains and even offer up our bodies to be burned, but have no love we are nothing and gain nothing.

Finally, during the coming Lenten season we’ll take a closer look at the future things that await us in Christ. Yes suffering and death are in the cards for us all, there is no escaping them, aut as those things were not the final chapter for Jesus neither are they for us. Rather it is as we sang earlier in the hymn, “and the grave that shuts us in shall but prove the gate to heaven, Jesus here I die with thee, there to live eternally.” Trouble and sorrow are also in our future, there’s no escaping them either. But again as the hymn says, “and the fears that now annoy, shall be laughter on the morrow, Christ I suffer here with Thee, there O share Thy joy with me.” But there is something else that awaits us! The complete answer to all of our questions, full knowledge of God, and Holy Communion with Jesus the likes of which we cannot even imagine.

It is true that now our understanding of Divine things is very partial. The things we don’t know could fill volumes while the things we do know a thimble. We have more questions than answers, and more things seem mysterious to us than do not, but it will not always be that way. All of that will be changed in the blink of an eye when the last trumpet sounds. Until then there are three sacred and abiding virtues that will carry us through our lives, and make us adequate to meet every challenge. They are: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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