Ash Wednesday Sermon 2018
Return to the Lord, Who is Gracious
It begins as a distant hum and a vague shadow on the horizon. The sound grows until it becomes a din. The shadow darkens until the sun disappears. Countless generations around the globe knew exactly what it meant. A plague of locusts- what we would call grasshoppers- was coming, and death and destruction were coming with it. Though few of us have lived through such an onslaught, go back a generation or two, and they knew it all too well. Go to certain parts of the globe still today they know it all too well.
Those who went through it knew the plague of locusts as a multisensory event. The deafening buzz, the darkened skies, hairs standing on end from the vibration on your skin- and it all meant one thing. Death! Today we have our pesticides, but for generations before us and for others throughout the world, there is no escaping the deadly destruction wrought by a plague of locusts. They consume everything. Everything you have planted, everything you expected your family to eat, everything upon which you depended to keep you alive for the next year- it is all gone. When you know what a plague of locusts can do, all it takes if the faint hum and slight hue on the horizon to strike fear. As fear mounts, hope departs. Where can you turn? You turn to the Lord.
The Lord inspired his prophet Joel to warn his people of an impending horde. Joel proclaims, “What the cutting locusts left, the hopping locust has eaten. What the swarming locusts left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locusts left, the destroying locust has eaten.”
Joel is delivering more than a lesson in the taxonomy of various locusts. The stockpiling of one type of locust upon another heightens the hopelessness of the situation. From the cutting locust to the swarming locust to the hopping locust to the destroying locust- as soon as one wave passes another comes. Nothing will be left. The destruction will be complete. And you cannot stop it.
Why would the Lord allow such destruction to be visited on his people? To call them to repentance. They have pinned their hopes on that which cannot deliver; they have trusted in that which will fail them. And the stakes are even higher than decimated crops. This is but a picture of the end-times judgment. Locusts threaten earthly life and bring distress that passes in time. Joel warns the people of the Lord that judgment is coming that brings eternal death. Joel proclaims, “The day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” The answer? NO one can endure it.
This is the dark and difficult context into which the familiar words of Ash Wednesday are set. Every year when Lent arrives, you can count on the voice of the Lord through his prophet Joel: “Return to the Lord, your God.” “Return” is a standard Hebrew verb for repentance. But it also has a common usage that describes repentance vividly. It commonly means ‘turn.’ That is repentance- turning away from sin.
Joel is not only calling his contemporaries to turn away from sin; he is calling you as well. Your sin is unique to you. Temptation got the better of you today in one way; and it got the better of me in a different way. Yet there is still the commonality with our sin. It always involves trusting in something else more than the Lord. The question each of us must ask is this: “Upon what have I pinned my hopes rather than upon the Lord?”
There is nothing new under the sun. You fall prey to the same temptations that have bewitched all generations that have come before you. Joel did not name specific sins for which judgment was coming at that time, but their sin was in line with ours. Common among the prophets is condemnation because of financial prosperity. The problem is not money. All that we enjoy is a gift from God. The problem is when the gift becomes the focus of our hope rather than putting our hope in the giver. When that happens, hope waxes and wanes with the financial times. But when hope is pinned to the giver, to the Lord, then hope is persistent, strong, complete.
The temptation is ever present to pin your hopes to financial prosperity. It happens personally. Just like the family that is devastated by a horde of locusts wiping out their crops and along with it their financial stability, so you have known the fear of having your financial security ripped away. A job is lost; savings are wiped out by unexpected medical bills; the economy turns south and along with it your spending power. Such loss is all too real. The Lord is not aloof to your loss. But when the loss exposes that your trust was in your financial security rather than in him who provides it, his call is clear. Turn from your sin; put not your hope in that which will fail.
It happens corporately as well as individually. It happens to us collectively in the church. When things are humming along, when the annual budget is running in black ink, we are at ease. But when there is red ink, when there is talk of “reducing” or “changing” then there is tension. “How will we keep afloat?” And the accusations begin. “It is because of the cold reception visitors receive from those in the pews.” “It is the lack of generosity and sacrificial giving among the members.” “It is because the special projects are taking away from the mission of the church.” That is what happens when you pin your hopes to the idol of financial prosperity. As soon as the tide of finances ebbs, you turn against one another. But when the idol is gone, you can hear the Lord, “Turn from your sin.”
You are called to live in dependence on the Lord. Your hopes will be dashed when they are grounded upon what will not last. So, Joel proclaims, “Turn from your sin.”
Joel knows that turning from sin is also a return to the Lord. Listen again to Joel’s familiar words for Ash Wednesday; “Return to the Lord.” You are not just turning away from death and destruction, from your misplaced hope and trust. You are called to return to the life and joy of him who is your true hope and who is worthy of your trust.
He is worthy of your trust and hope because of his character. Listen to Joel: “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” This is the kind of God you have. He is not vindictive and capricious. He is not filled with unending anger. He is the opposite. He is gracious and compassionate, “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” This is not only his character; it is the very essence and identity of who he is.
It goes back to Exodus 34. Moses is up on Mount Sinai after he had smashed the tablets of stone upon which the Lord had written the Ten Commandments. Moses is dejected by the idolatry of the people. He has every reason to expect that the Lord will be full of wrath. So, the Lord reveals to Moses who he truly is. He hides Moses in the cleft of a rock so that his holiness does not kill Moses. And then he passes by Moses, allowing him to look upon the Lord’s back. As he passes by, the Lord proclaims his name. When you have the Lord’s name, you have him. His name bears his identity, his essence. As he passes by Moses, the Lord proclaims his name, saying, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” [Ex. 34.6]
That is the unchanging, eternal identity of the Lord. He proclaims and he reveals his gracious nature in Christ. If you want to see who the Lord is, look at Christ. He will not hesitate to point out your sin, whenever you have pinned your hopes on something other than him, and call you from them. But that is all so that you might hear Christ say, “Return to me!” You know what you will find in him. You will find that he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
You will see his gracious character throughout Lent. You will see it as we continue to hear him say, “Return to me.” And each week we will hear why his call to return is so blessedly beautiful. You will hear him constantly calling you to turn from destruction that you might return to him.
You will see his gracious character throughout Lent as you follow Christ to the cross. Christ’s suffering and death reveals his very being by how he responds to your sin. He calls you to repentance, but he also dies that you might be free of that sin. There at the cross, you will see destruction, but from it flows hope- a certain hope that cannot be shaken. So even when all seems hopeless, there is hope in the Lord who dies for you.
Joel sees that hordes of locusts on the horizon, yet he proclaims hope. You see financial destruction, not just on the horizon, but right here and now; yet there is hope. Hope has a name- the Lord, a God gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Lent Mid-week II
February 21, 2018
Return to the Lord, Who Has Redeemed You
It is one of the permanent blights on our nation’s conscience- slavery. It is a universal human phenomenon. Every generation and culture has seized other people and treated them as property. We are not alone in such deplorable behavior, but that doesn’t diminish our collective shame for our nation’s history. It is nothing short of sin.
Do not think it a mere coincidence that slavery has been undone in the west because of the tireless and faithful work of Christians. Whether it was William Wilberforce in England or the abolitionist movement here in the United States, faith in Christ was the driving force that prompted many to say they could not look the other direction as those whom Christ created and for whom he died were held in slavery. When you know Christ has deemed someone worthy of his blood being shed, you cannot put a price on them. Christ has declared them to be priceless. So, our brothers and sisters in Christ mobilized against slavery and subjugation.
Let us rejoice in what the faithful accomplished in previous generations. And let us continue in their train, because slavery is not something isolated in the past; it is very much a present reality. Today, we speak of it as human trafficking. The statistics will make you shudder. Here is a sampling; according to the FBI, human trafficking is the third largest criminal activity in the world today. While prostitution may be the first thing that comes to mind with human trafficking, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service reports that 22 per cent of the victims of human trafficking are forced into prostitution, while the remaining 78 per cent are used for other forms of forced labor. It is estimated that 20-30 million are enslaved today by means of human trafficking. The U.S. State Department reports that 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into our country each year. It is sobering to know that so many are sold into slavery and brought into our nation. Even more troubling is the estimate that 100,000 American children are trafficked without crossing the border; they are born here and enslaved here. Human trafficking is not isolated to adults, as 26 per cent of all those trafficked are children. [lirs.org./mythbusters/]
Slavery is still very real, and it is right next door. It calls us to action. And it opens our eyes to see our own role in slavery. So here is the harsh reality; you are a slave. That is why the Lord speaks to you today through his prophet Isaiah, calling you to return to the Lord, for he alone redeems you from slavery.
You are a slave. Let that sink in a moment. Your first reaction to such news may be like those who refused to listen to Christ in John 8. They said, “We…have never been enslaved to anyone.” To which Jesus responds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” [33,34] Jesus will not let us dodge and deny reality. He calls us to attention. “Truly, truly, I say to you….” That is Jesus’ way of not only getting our attention, but to let us know the ironclad reality of the words he speaks. Whoever sins is a slave to sin.
You are a slave. That is never clearer than when it comes to those sins that you repeat time and again. You hate it. You don’t like that you get so steaming mad at family members or those on the highways, but you are enslaved by rage. You loathe yourself that as soon as so and so is out of earshot, you jump in gossiping and backbiting. You hate it, but you are enslaved by your sin.
There are all kinds of addictions that take hold as well. Alcoholism, substance abuse, gambling- all wreak havoc in homes throughout our community. And the victims come from every socioeconomic demographic. They include the addict, their spouses, children and families, their employees and employers, their fellow congregational members, and many more. Even when they hit rock bottom and they want nothing more than to be free of their addiction, they struggle to change their behavior because they are enslaved to sin.
Each of us has sold ourselves into slavery. Whatever sin you cannot escape, the one that you repeat daily even though you hate it- that sin is your master. And it chains you to natural consequence of the sin. Isaiah speaks to Jerusalem regarding their sin of idolatry. They trust in anything and everything other than in the Lord himself. The natural consequence of their idolatry is coming. When you do not trust in the only one who can protect and defend you, then you are vulnerable to invasion and defeat. That is what Jerusalem faces- invasion and defeat at the hands of the Babylonians.
You stand with Jerusalem. You are chained to the natural consequences of the sin to which you are enslaved. Your family is alienated, your body is crushed, and your mind is warped by addiction. Your job is forfeited and your finances are eradicated. And you are powerless to do anything about it. You are enslaved, controlled by an unforgiving master, chained to the horrific consequence of your sin.
You need a redeemer. You need someone who will pay the price for you. You have sold yourself into slavery- you cannot free yourself. Someone else must come to pay your redemption to set you free. The Lord sends his prophet Isaiah to you this very day to proclaim to you that you have a redeemer who has made the payment for you. The Lord says, “Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” That you might not doubt him, the Lord repeats the promise of redemption; “The Lord has redeemed Jacob.” And if that weren’t enough, he gives you a third proclamation. “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer.” The Lord delights to be your Redeemer who pays the price in full to set you free from captivity to sin.
And there is more. He lets you know how the redemption takes place. He says that it happens through a shepherd. “He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose.” When Isaiah first carries this promise from the Lord, he is speaking of Cyrus, who would be the Persian ruler more than two centuries later. The Lord would use Cyrus to set his people free from their exile in Babylon. What happens beautifully through Cyrus finds greater fulfillment, full fulfilment, in another shepherd. The Good Shepherd, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, does even more than redeem us from physical slavery. He pays the price to set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
That is the wonderful language of the Small Catechism as it confesses what your Good Shepherd has done for you. What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own.” [second article]
He has redeemed you by paying a price. Not just anything can purchase you that you might be free of your slavery to sin, death, and the power of the devil. Only one price is sufficient- only one payment will satisfy- the blood of Christ shed for you, his suffering and death on the cross. He does it all so that you may belong to him. No longer will you be chained to your sin and its consequence. No longer will you be a slave. No longer will you live in bondage.
His redemption is all about removing your sin, the very thing that has enslaved you. Listen to the Word of the Lord, your Redeemer, in Isaiah 44.22: “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” That is why we return to him. Slavery to sin causes us constantly to return to our sin, committing it over and over even though we hate it. We keep returning to sin because we are enslaved. But when Christ sets you free, you are free indeed. You return to him not because you are bound by chains, but because you are free. You live in the joy and freedom of one who has been purchased and set you free.
You live in joy and freedom. Listen one more time to the Word of the Lord spoken by Isaiah; “Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it. For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel.” You are free, so sing. Sing with joy before the Lord, for he has done it. Join with all creation- the heavens above, the depths of the earth, the mountains, the forest and all its trees. Sing because you are free. Your slavery is over. Your redemption is complete.
Mid-week Lent III
Return to the Lord,
who will restore you
Life will knock the wind out of your sails so that you struggle just to keep going. At times, you are ready to throw in the towel. It is the daily grind of a parent with special needs child. No matter how hard you try, no matter how persistent and consistent you are, no matter how much love and effort your pour into the child, he just will not heed your voice. You know it’s the result of a neurological injury and that you are remaining faithful in the face of a challenge that you didn’t create. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
And it’s not easy for the one whose spouse refuses to reconcile. Instead of listening to the one person who has not only made vows of loving fidelity, but has also been faithful to live by those vows, the wavering spouse listens to the voices of others. Those others call them to infidelity. They normalize divorce as no big deal; they say that vows taken in your youth suddenly don’t matter when you grow older; they see a love grown cold as something to be discarded rather than rekindled.
Speaking of growing cold, the wind is out of your sails when a friendship has grown cold. Kindred souls are now alien. The ear that would listen is now deaf, and the mouth that would console is now mute. It is as if you are dead to the one who once enriched your life.
There are plenty of reasons for life to knock you down, but you get back up when there is a certainty of restoration.
Jeremiah had had enough! He was a true prophet, faithful not to tell people what they wanted to hear, but only what he had been given to declare by the Lord. His message was simple, and it was the same message we have been hearing throughout Lent. Repent! Jerimiah warned Jerusalem that she would fall because of her sin. If only she would repent and trust in the Lord, then she would be spared.
In walks the false prophets. They say that Jeremiah has no idea what he is talking about. Jerusalem will not fall. Why listen to Jeremiah when he is but one prophet and they are many. Why listen to Jeremiah when Jerusalem has the temple as a divine insurance policy? Jerusalem can’t be touched as long as the temple is in place. Why listen to Jeremiah when he gives you a hard message that is difficult to swallow and there are others whose message is Cream of Wheat that goes down so smoothly?
You can see why Jeremiah is rejected by others, and so he is personally dejected. He knows what is coming. Judgment for sin cannot be avoided. The temple is no insurance policy. The Lord has proclaimed that he would remove himself from the temple because of the people’s idolatry, and then it would be nothing but a building that can offer no protection against the likes of the coming Babylonian army. But that’s not what the people want to hear, so they not only turn a deaf ear to Jeremiah- they throw him in a pit so he can’t make such a fuss about nothing.
Maybe you can understand Jeremiah’s frustration. He loves his brothers and sisters dwelling in Jerusalem. In love, Jeremiah calls them to repentance. Yet the more he cries, the more they ignore him. He sees their coming destruction on the horizon, and he can’t stop it. You know that frustration. You warn others against the false prophets of today. You tell them that it’s a false, misleading dream that their gift of $100 to a televangelist will become $1,000 in their bank account. You tell them that it demeans Christ and robs them of certainty to base their salvation on a decision they made rather than on what Christ has done for them in Baptism and through his Word. You tell them that prayer is not a means to strong-arm God to get what you want, but that God is bound only to his Word and not to your demands. His Word delivers far better promises- forgiveness, eternal life, salvation, peace with God, and more- far more than what is demanded in prayer. Yet they are still crushed when they don’t get what they want and are certain that their faith must be too weak.
You also fall for the lie. It may be more subtle, but it is just as deadly. Trouble comes and Satan’s lie is in your ear. “You are being punished. God doesn’t love you. You must have done something to really upset him. He is full of wrath against you or you wouldn’t be going through all of this. God most certainly is not pleased with you, or your life would be more pleasant.”
When that satanic lie take hold, it is natural enough to give up hope. You have had enough. So you throw in the towel not just on the part of life where the original trouble was located, but in every realm. You are ready to walk away from that child, that spouse, that friend. You add to it so that you are ready to throw in the towel on your job- what is the point of working so hard when there is no one to appreciate it? You throw in the towel on your marriage- pride says you deserve better than this, so let that spouse get some of the same medicine. You throw in the towel on society- the whole thing is falling apart, so stop wasting your energy to right a sinking ship. You throw in the towel on church- they are a bunch of hypocrites anyway, and the pastor can’t expect anyone to be that great when he talks, talks, talks about sin. Why can’t the pastor and the church fix my problems? You throw in the towel on God- if he isn’t willing to come to your aid when you ask, what good is he?
That is sin. It is dealing in hopelessness. It doesn’t matter who you are- Jerusalem, Jerimiah, or little old you- hopelessness is sin because it is giving up on God and his grace. There are certainly reasons for hopelessness. The deaf ear of those who won’t listen, endless investments of truth with no return at all, a wealth of time and energy given with nothing to show for it. The harder you try, the worse it seems to get. Why wouldn’t you be hopeless?
Because there is a reason for hope. Hope is grounded on promise. Greater than the frustration of being surrounded by those who won’t listen is the certainty of the Lord who speaks his hope into you. Listen to the Lord’s promise to Jeremiah; “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me.” The Lord comes to his dejected prophet. He knows that Jeremiah is spent and ready to give up. Here is the reason to keep on going. When Jeremiah returns, the Lord will restore him. He even promises that Jeremiah will stand before him. To stand in the presence of the Lord is no small matter, especially for Jeremiah. He has been standing in the presence of those who refused to listen to the Word of the Lord that he has been sent to proclaim. That is why Jeremiah is so hopeless. But now he is promised that he will stand before the Lord himself. That is hope!
The Lord promises to Jeremiah, “I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you.” THERE is strength. Jeremiah stands alone among the false prophets; he alone speaks the truth. But the Lord is with him, so he will not fail.
Andrew Jackson famously quipped that one man with conviction is a majourity. Jeremiah has it even better than that. One prophet who stands with the Lord is a fortified wall of bronze that cannot be overcome. This doesn’t mean Jeremiah’s life became a rose garden. Far from it. But Jeremiah stood through the coming years of rejection and destruction with the strength of the Lord.
Two promises are not enough for the Lord, so he gives a third promise to Jeremiah. “I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” Jeremiah will be saved. Those who would destroy Jeremiah will not succeed because he is in the grip of the Lord. And so are you.
In a world of false promises, you nevertheless have hope because the promises given to you are from one who is good for his word. A promise is only as good as the one who makes it. S you have hope because you know who has promised to deliver you.
The Lord calls you to return just like Jeremiah. And just like Jeremiah, he promises that he will restore you. Your restoration is bound up in Christ. All others may turn a deaf ear to you, but Christ does not. He hears, and he intercedes for you before the Father. All others may lose hope, but you will not. Christ promises that you, like Jeremiah, stand before the Lord. That is the place of his pleasure. He is pleased with you even when your life is full of trouble and rejection. The Lord’s pleasure is yours because Christ has restored you to his pleasure.
Lent Mid IV 2018
Return to the Lord,
who will Raise You Up
The past three Wednesdays have greeted you with the same message; “Return to the Lord!” On the one hand, it is a no brainer. Ash Wednesday called you to turn from your sin and return to the Lord- that is the repeated call of Scripture telling you to repent. The past two Wednesdays have underscored that call to return to the Lord by reminding you of what he has done for you. He has redeemed you, and he has promised to restore you. It is all because of what the Lord has done for you that you have faith so that you trust the very one to whom you are returning. But what he has done also creates a significant challenge. Returning is quite difficult when you know that the Lord is the one who’s brought disciple upon you. Hosea calls out to the faithful, to you, saying, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.” Did you get all of that? The Lord has torn you and struck you down. And yet you are supposed to return to him.
In verse 1, you hear Hosea’s call, “Let us return.” In good Hebrew poetic fashion, the prophet clarifies what that means. Hebrew poetry loves repetition. Say something once, and then say it again to add emphasis or to bring clarity. To see that repetition here in Hosea 6, we need a quick grammatical reminder. I know that grammar isn’t the most exciting topic in the world for many, but when grammar is utilized and then recognized by its reader, it is exciting to see what you can do with words. The grammatical device for your consideration here is the cohortative. You find it anytime you hear, “Let us.” You find it here in verse 1. “Let us return.” And again in verse 3, not just once but twice. “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord.”
Hosea is calling the faithful- he is calling you- to return to the Lord because you know him. Listen to the rest of verse 3 as Hosea reminds you of what you know about the Lord: “His going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” In other words, you know how reliable he is. He is as reliable as the dawn. You will go to bed tonight confident that the dawn will come. The sun will rise tomorrow. It has risen every morning of your life. And you know basic astronomy to understand that the rotation of the earth ensures the sun will appear in the morning. The dawn is ingrained in the laws of nature. So also the reliability of the Lord is a given. It is ingrained in his very nature.
Hosea offers another occasion of repetition. The reliability of the dawn is repeated by pointing out the reliability of the spring rains. This repetition brings another level of meaning. You can count on the spring rains not just because they come around every year, but also because you depend on them for the sake of the growing season. That is how it is with the Lord as well. You can count on him not only because he comes to you faithfully, but also because you are dependent on him doing so as he delivers all his goodness to you without fail.
Hosea calls you to remember what you already know about the reliability and dependability of the Lord so that he might set it in stark contrast to what you also already know about us. Specifically, just what kind of love do we humans have? Hosea captures the Word of the Lord in verse 4; “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” You can bank on the spring rains because the come to nourish the earth. But the dew is there at the dawn, and then it quickly evaporates. For the parched ground, the dew is just a tease that fails to satisfy. You can’t depend on it.
That is our love. Your love for others has failed them just like the dew that evaporates too quickly. There are those who have benefitted mightily from your love. Your loving actions and dedication to family and friends has been a blessing delivered by Christ through you. But then there are those who are difficult to love. At first, your love for them is firm. In the course of time, it becomes forced because the demand is heavy and it is a one way street; no love is being returned to you. Eventually, you ignore them. You don’t answer their calls. You go out of your way to avoid them. You have become the morning dew for them.
That is also how it goes with our love for the Lord. There is plenty that you have received from the Lord. All that you need for this body and life comes from the Lord. Forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and salvation- all come from the Lord. But when the righteous demands of God’s Law weigh upon you, when you are called to repent, to turn away from sin and return to him, suddenly your love becomes dew. It evaporates and disappears.
That is why the Lord disciplines us. In verse 4, our love is describes as the dew; then we hear in verse 5, “Therefore, [because of what you just heard about our love being dew] I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgement goes forth as the light.” The Lord is justified when he judges us. His judgment is not capricious but in direct response to our sin, including our love that quickly evaporates. The Lord’s judgement comes by him speaking the Word. His Word of judgement is powerful. Just as his Word could bring all things into being at creation, so his Word of judgment cuts us down. “I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth.” The Word of the Lord cuts deep- it hews us that our sin might be revealed. In the process, we are slain.
But the Lord will not stop there. Remember verse 1: “Let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.” And we can say, “He has slain us that he may make us alive again.” He does this by his Word. Just as the Lord brings judgment by speaking the Word, so he justifies by speaking the Word. You have heard that Word time and again. “I forgive you all you sin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Word of the Lord does what it says. With that Word, your sin is gone.
Here you have two words from the Lord. The one judges you and kills you. The other forgives you and makes you alive. Then why does God’s forgiving word get the greatest say? How can we bank on that word of forgiveness over and above God’s word of judgement?
Because you know who the Lord is!
Listen to the Lord speaking through his prophet Hosea. “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” He does not delight in judgement. He delights in steadfast love because this is what he has for you. Even when your love evaporates like the dew, his love for you remains steadfast. It is so steadfast that it has put an end to sacrifice. The Lord does not desire sacrifice from you, because his love is sacrificial. We will sing of that love this evening. “My song is love unknown, my Saviour’s love to me, Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.” [LSB 430]
Your Saviour’s love to you is steadfast. It will not stop, and it will not fail. It keeps going all the way to the cross, that he might there forever put an end to sacrifice. Such love is like the dawn and the spring rains. It will not fail you. It is always present for you. It is so reliable, so steadfast, that even the cross could not slow that love. Quite the opposite; his love for you overflows from the cross.
Listen again to the prophet of the Lord as he calls you to return. He gives you perfect reason to return. “After two days, he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up. That we may live before him.” The Lord has a way with the third day. It’s the day of life that cannot be ended. It is Christ’s day. And he makes it your day as well. As Christ lives, so you will live.