March 15, 2018

Lenten Questions - part 5

Theme: The Word Moves On
1. The Word Incarnate – from His death, resurrection, and ascension
2. The Word Proclaimed – from rejection, indulgence, and apathy

Luke 23:28-31 But Jesus, turning to them, said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 "For indeed the days are coming in which they will say,`Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!' 30 "Then they will begin to say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!"' 31 "For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?"

One of the great evidences of the Bible’s trustworthiness is the fact humans have a moral code. Humans know basic right from wrong. The Bible says that this basic morality is evident from the world around us and also that God wrote it into our hearts when He designed human life (Romans 1:20, 2:14). The consequence of both factors, whether Creation or Conscience, is that humans have no excuse for immorality. There are certain pieces of information that only believers know and believe – that God is Author and Finisher of salvation and that He freely extends His grace and blessings to mankind. Those facts are not observed naturally – but the basic difference between right and wrong is.

Morality is one area that natural science cannot explain. It yields to a higher power – it demands a higher power. Certainly, this is the position of the Bible. But, we also see the same lessons presented across history. Think of Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper for instance. I probably don’t even have to explain that fable – you probably already know it well. It’s a moral lesson about preparing. The ant was industrious, responsible, and therefore prepared for the coming winter. The grasshopper was lazy, ineffective, and therefore ill-prepared for winter. The moral lessons are straightforward and unavoidable – so simple that little children readily grasp them. It is good to be a hard worker. It is bad to be lazy. They are true, lasting, and memorable because they resonate with what we already know to be true from God. God has shown us these truths in the world. He has put them in our hearts. We are moral beings because God made us that way.

The existence of morality means that there are consequences – good and bad. The ant’s consequence was that he would be safe and secure with his food supply. The grasshopper’s consequence was that he would struggle. In a much bigger way, God gives us the freedom to make decisions for ourselves, but He does not allow us to escape the consequences of those decisions. You can choose to rob a bank or to save and invest your money – both have consequences. You can choose to be kind to others or to gain by exclusion and selfishness – both choices have consequences. There are usually many ways forward depending on the situation that life presents, and so there are usually many consequences as well. Some are immediately known and seen – coming ahead. Others take time to realize.

In this question posed by Jesus this evening, He is appealing to this inner sense of right and wrong that all people share. No one in Jerusalem could claim that what would happen, what Jesus was predicting, would be unfair. They had their choice, now they had to live with the consequence. “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”
In this context, Jesus was really addressing God’s presence among people. At that time, things were green. Jesus was among them. He had given many great evidences of God’s power. He was about to secure the salvation of the entire world. This was a good time to recognize and trust in God’s presence by faith. The warning was that times would change. Soon Jesus would not be around. Soon He would return to heaven. The clear manifestations of Christ’s power on earth, opportunities to believe, would be gone – dried up. The main lesson here is that the Word of God moves on – whether in the direct presence of Jesus or in the written Bible today. God has given us an inner sense of this importance and there are everlasting consequences to the choices we make with the Word of God.

In the direct context, Jesus was addressing His presence among the people – in body. He was moving forward to do what had to be done – to die, to rise, to ascend. He, as the Word made flesh, was not going to be stagnant. He did not come to earth to chill out and show everyone how to love one another so that God would accept them. He did not come to appease peoples’ consciences so that they would feel better about themselves. Jesus came for action. He came to fulfil and accomplish and His work was at the cross and in the bowels of the grave. He came to redeem and forgive. To make right what centuries of men and women had ruined– even to generations like our own that had yet to be born.

Jesus was moving on. What choices would the people make? Sadly, many of them would be the ones to commit the coming atrocities against God’s Son – at least by having a hand in offering support or even in blind indifference. They certainly were not prepared to act upon what they knew was right. And there would be a consequence. Jesus talks about a time coming when women would be happy to be barren. This was quite a prediction for that culture because barrenness was viewed as a curse from God – not a blessing. Think of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, to name a few – women who struggled with the societal effects of not being able bear children.

Jesus says that the horror of the coming time would be so great that this principle of their society would be turned upside down. No one would want to have children. He was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. After He moved on, the Romans would come sweeping down with great fervor upon Jerusalem and punish the populace for the repeated rebellions that would break out. The earthly Messianic fever would not dissipate until the Temple itself had been annihilated. People would run to the hills for refuge – few would find it.

Jesus actually quoted here from the prophet Hosea, when Hosea foretold of the Israel’s destruction at hands of the Assyrians. In both instances, the people fled to the mountains and pleaded with the hills to cover them – to no avail. Such was the totality of God’s judgment over their sins and such is the contrast between the Green and the Dry. The people of Jerusalem failed to heed God’s call to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. The consequence was stark and stunning.

Part 2

Yet, there are even bigger consequences to unbelief than earthly destruction. As Jesus taught, so we see also here: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).” In the book of Revelation, John describes what he saw when he opened to sixth seal, depicting the final day of Judgment: “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 "For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

In these words, is a lesson for us – modern Christians. We do not have the Lord Christ’s direct presence among us in body – but the Word remains among us in the Preached and Sacramental Gospel. We, too, are directed to take heed of God’s Word and to treat it with care and respect – for the Word continues to move on even today. Our choices and their subsequent consequences are very much aligned with the people of Israel in the OT and the people of Jerusalem in the NT. It’s the way it always is for believers of all generations. Your relationship with the Word of God will determine your relationship with God. His presence among you today is based on His Word’s presence in your life.

If today is an era of “greenness,” with free access to Word and Sacraments and no religious persecution, what would be the time of “dryness?” It varies across each generation and even geographic regions of Christians. The key is that the same moral lesson is at play in all circumstances. Use the Word of God. Treat it with respect. Treasure it. Because what you do to the Word, you are doing to Christ.

For us, times of spiritual drought set in by taking God’s Word for granted. This is especially pertinent to those of us who have grown up in the faith. Many of us have not experienced life without the Word. Dangers of this nature are: rejection, indulgence, and apathy. Rejection of basic teachings that we have known from early on. Indulgence of pleasures and lures of the world, and not striving for true joy by the gospel. And apathy toward the issues of our time that threaten our faith and how important a regular use of God’s Word is for our lives.

These dangers indicate the dryness of the era in which we live and the warning Jesus gave to Jerusalem applies equally to us. The Word moves on. Green and vibrant can easily become dry and shriveled. We, too must live with consequence of how we treat the Word of God. The consequences will define which side we are on – but the preparation and care must take place today.

With this simple question, Jesus touched one of the most important parts of life – where we are headed and why. Instructing people about the necessity of receiving God’s Word by faith and warning them about the day of judgment are things we must continue to do. Treasuring God’s Word as we freely have it today, for our own souls, is extremely important also. But, perhaps the most important lesson we can learn comes right away in our text, Jesus tells the daughters of Jerusalem, “Do not weep for Me.”

Jesus knew what He was doing and He knew what would result from the single choice He alone could make. As vital as it is to insist on the important matters of morality by faith in Christ – to have faith is not a choice we can make. Jesus made it for us. Jesus set his face toward the cross and grave so that we wouldn’t have to choose justice on our own. He knew we would fail if we had to. He knew that we could never attain to that higher morality of God by our works, effort, decisions, or desires. So He did it for us – willingly, consciously, freely by His own choice.

And so, we too, do not need to weep for Jesus. And by faith in His name, secured by His holy wounds, we will not have weep for ourselves either. God’s choice to sacrifice His Son for sinners, results in the blessed consequence of the believer’s life in heaven. That hope will be found wherever the Word of God continues to be proclaimed, shared, and received. Amen. 

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment