May 29, 2016 — Proper 4
Sermon Text — Luke 7:1-10
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN! Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. Luke’s gospel account the 7th chapter.
Beloved in the Lord,
Kingdoms Built Upon Words
The children of men make much of words when it suits their agenda but men’s words often do little to save or heal. Kingdoms are built upon the words of the king. Nations are established on the words of their leaders. Our own nation is founded upon the words of the Constitution of the United States. Men make much of words when those words suits their agenda but the words of men cannot liberate the conscience or heal the heart. And the kingdoms of men, though established on words cannot help but enforce those words at the edge of a sword nor can they defend those words from enemies both domestic and foreign without the aid of guns and tanks. Our nation knows this well. Many American men have died – not to protect our freedoms, but to defend the words of the constitution. Indeed, such sacrifices are worthy of our adulation and praise. For these have surrendered themselves to the providence of Almighty God in the defense of and for the sake of certain inalienable rights, namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness chief of which is the freedom of religion.
The Centurion in our text is a soldier. He knows a bit about the power and authority of words. When he says “go” they go. When he says “come” they come. When he says, “do this” they do it. Words matter. Our text this morning is all about words, the words Jesus finished saying in the hearing of the people, the words of the Jewish elders come to Jesus on behalf of this soldier and his servant, the words of the soldier concerning Himself and the Word of Jesus that trumps all other words. Everything is bookended with the words of Jesus because it’s the words of Jesus that matter most.
Dealing with Sin and Death
The centurion sends for Jesus because there are some things in this world which the words of men cannot rightly deal with. There are some things that cannot be enforced or defended at the tip of a sword. To be sure kings and rulers can punish sin and inflict death. They do not bear the sword in vain and rightly deserve our honor and obedience when not in conflict with God’s Word, but at the same time the words of such kings and rulers, nor their swords and guns can rightly deal with sin and death. They cannot heal and they cannot save.
The Jewish Elders have an agenda. The come on this gentile’s behalf because as they say, “he is worthy. He loves our nation and is the one who built our synagogue.” At a time when the Jews dislike gentiles and the Jewish leaders distrust Gentile soldiers in particular, this one gentile soldier isn’t like the gentile soldiers everyone hates. No, he’s better than those others and deserves Jesus’ attention and action. Their words betray their agenda and so also their fallen human nature. For it is in man’s fallen nature to consider works of more value than faith. This is true not only of these Jews in our text but of all people of all ages throughout all time since the fall of Adam in the Garden. Thus is it true of you and me. Thus it is not in our nature to believe that sin and death are dealt with by words. In our fallenness we believe that such things are only dealt with by actions, works, deeds and not creeds. God says do it and we had better do it and if we don’t do it we had better do something to make God less angry with us because we didn’t do it. IN other words, not doing what God says often leads one to expect the tip of the sword or some other discipline for our disobedience. If we do right things will go well for us. We’ll be healthy, wealthy, and wise. If we do wrong then should expect something bad to happen. So that when something bad does happen, when illness comes, or cancer shows up, or whenever we’re reminded of our mortality we believe we’ve fallen from God’s favor and love and now must do something to make up for it, tilt the scales of divine favor toward us, to earn it ourselves. This translates into a theology of works and a therefore a theology of glory neither of which necessitates Christ. If I have to do it myself. If I can do it myself then who needs Jesus? Who needs absolution? Who needs baptism or the Lord’s Supper? Who needs Words when we’ve got deeds? That may be how fallen man works. That may be how we want it to work, but it’s not how Jesus works. The Jews try to persuade Jesus based on the centurion’s works. But they err. Jesus doesn’t go because of the man’s works. He goes because the man and his servant need Jesus and His Words.
Dealt With in Christ Crucified
To deal with sin and death God doesn’t send a soldier. He sends His Son. This is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us, you and me and all people and sent His Son to be a propitiation, a blood covering atonement for sin. The soldier’s primary task is to kill and destroy – a task for which they are well trained. Not so the Son. He has come that we have life and have it abundantly and eternally. Jesus has come to seek and to save. Such seeking and saving is accomplished not at the tip of a sword or at the end of a barrel but on a cross with nails and a hammer. Jesus has not come to stir up the troops and encourage them to win the battle for themselves but He has come to do the fighting Himself, to deal with sin and death according to the Father’s good pleasure. Jesus is the suffering servant, the Holy One of God, come to do right in our place and suffer wrong for us and for our salvation. He lives the perfect life in our stead. He is actively obedient to the Law’s demands perfectly fulling every jot, tittle, and iota of the law, exceeding the righteousness of even the Pharisees both then and now. But to fully deal with our sin and death Jesus must also stand in our stead before the eternal Judge. Like a sheep that is silent before its shearers Jesus offers no execuses, makes no defense, bears the Law’s accusations against us so that condemned in our place He also nails those accusations to the tree in His flesh. He is crucified for the sins of the world. He dies to set the captives free. He bleeds to cover us with holy blood. For without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Sins need to be forgiven. Death needs to be vanquished. Hell needs to be conquered. And all is finished when Jesus surrenders to the providence of the Almighty Father and offers Himself in your place. No soldier can win this battle. No army can plunder the grave, no earthly king can step out of death. Only Jesus. Only He is crucified for you. Only He is risen for you. Only Jesus can save and heal. That’s why the centurion calls on Jesus. That’s why we’re here today.
Dealing with Your Sin and Your Death with Words
It is not the centurion’s deeds which we are note, but his faith. For the centurion knows the truth. Though he does love the Jewish nation and had truly built them a synagogue, he remains unworthy to have Jesus enter his home. He makes confession and hopes for a Word. This soldier knows the power of Words. He too is a man under authority and he trusts that Jesus’ Words do what they say and work what they promise. For all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus.
Jesus has authority over sin, sickness, death, devil and hell. This authority is not exercised by armies with swords or guns, but through the Word and sacraments. This is how God deals with your sin, sickness, death, devil and hell. God speaks. He has words for you, words that have power and authority. This is how God desires to deal with you and me who are sinners in need of health and healing from sin’s consequences. He wants to give you His Word. And in no way does God want to deal with your sin and death apart from His Word. Any other dealing apart from God’s Word is of the devil. God works His Word through means. This means that we sinners receive God’s Word for our eternal life when hearing the word we receive by faith, when baptized into the Word we live by faith, when falling or stumbling in sin – as sinners are wont to do – we return to His Word in Absolution and believing that word as it is the not the word of men with their agendas, but the Word of God Himself for you to forgive you and save you. Even here, even now, everything that is done in this service, everything that is said in this service is to bring God’s Word to you and you back to God in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. Words matter, especially God’s Word and God’s Word is given you today to save you and heal you from the inside out, to create in you a clean heart and renew within you the abundant life of Jesus who loves you and gave Himself up for you.
A Kingdom that Never Ends VDMA
Beloved in the Lord, unlike the word of men upon which our nation is founded, God’s Word endures forever. That’s what Christians have believed and confessed from the very beginning. That’s what those letters carved on the front of the lectern mean, Verbum Domini Manet Aeternum, the Word of the Lord endures forever. And because God’s Word endures forever so does His kingdom. The kings of the earth establish themselves according to the word and agendas of men. And because they do they will always be temporal. Kingdoms shall rise against kingdoms and nations shall war with one another. All will fade because the words of men will not endure. Not so the Kingdom of God. Not even the gates of hell shall prevail against it. For this kingdom is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. And within this kingdom reside those who are truly free, those like this centurion and his servant, all those who believe the Word. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!