Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 10, 2009

Sermon on Mark 14:48-52

This sermon was preached at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Belmont (my congregation) on Wednesday evening, March 4, and will be preached again at Apostles Lutheran Church in San Jose on Wednesday evening, March 11.

Sermon Series for the Midweek Lent Services: “Father, Forgive Them”

FORGIVE US FOR OUR FEARFUL LACK OF TRUST

Text: Mark 14:48-52

It’s time for a Latin lesson.  Simil iustus et peccator.  Chances are most of you don’t know what that means, but perhaps a few of you might venture a guess if you’ve done some personal theological study or if you know a little church Latin.  Simil iustus et peccator is a Latin phrase that means, “Simultaneously saint and sinner.”  Simil iustus et peccator is a Latin theological phrase that summarizes the reality of the Christian life: From the day of our baptism until the day of our death, we are simultaneously saints and sinners.  The old sinful nature and the new Christian nature reside within our hearts and do battle every moment of our lives.

Simil iustus et peccator.  Simultaneously saint and sinner.  This is a truth that we need to keep in mind as we consider the Bible reading that serves as the basis for tonight’s sermon.  As we work through the Passion history of Jesus once again this Lenten season, we hear the echo of Jesus’ cry from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And with that echo ringing in our minds, we look just a bit further back to Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested by his enemies in the dead of night, leading to an unjust trial, an unfair conviction, and an undeserved death.  And as we see the disciples of Jesus ditch out on him at the moment of his arrest, we simultaneously pray, “Dear Father in heaven, forgive us!  Forgive us for our fearful lack of trust.”  Listen to the following verses from Mark 14:48-52.

“‘Am I leading a rebellion,’ said Jesus, ‘that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?  Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me.  But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.’  Then everyone deserted him and fled.  A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus.  When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.”

In the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Lent (Mark 8:31-38), Jesus told the disciples that he was heading to Jerusalem where he would “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”  Do you remember what happened next?  Good ol’ Peter, the spokesman for the group, pretty much said that this would only happen over his dead body.  That exchange took place several months before Holy Week.  Fast-forward to Holy Week.  Before the arrest in Gethsemane, before Maundy Thursday arrives, Jesus tells Peter that he would deny Jesus and the whole group that they would flee from Jesus when his enemies came to capture him.  Once again, they talk big.  “Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the others said the same” (Mark 13:41).

When Peter and the others made their claims, do you think they were just full of hot air, or do you think they sincerely meant what they said?  Was it empty talk or honest sincerity?  What’s the answer?  I think the answer is, “Yes.”  Remember: simil iustus et peccator.  Simultaneously saint and sinner.  Unfortunately, when push came to shove, their sinful nature won this battle decisively.

Judas and company arrive.  They come with swords and clubs.  They come in the dead and secrecy of night.  They come in fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, and in the process of arresting Jesus, another Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled.  Our reading says, “‘Am I leading a rebellion,’ said Jesus, ‘that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?  Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me.  But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.’  Then everyone deserted him and fled.”  And this was exactly what the Old Testament prophet Zechariah predicted: “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (13:7).

The shepherd was metaphorically struck, and the sheep were literally scattered.  The disciples promised their allegiance at one moment, but in the next they run into the night like frightened mice.  One lone, unnamed follower of Jesus appears to have stuck around for Jesus’ arrest, and someone in the angry mob grabs him.  The last follower of Jesus panics and gets away by slipping out of his tunic and running away naked.  That appeared to be a better choice than standing by his Lord!

“Everyone deserted him and fled.”  What a sad, sad statement!  Had these men forgotten everything Jesus had taught?  Time and time again he explained his upcoming Passion.  Everything was playing out exactly as Jesus had predicted.  And Jesus had made it quite clear that they were going to Jerusalem, but he and he alone would be betrayed, arrested, tried, convicted, and crucified.  In Luke 18 Jesus said, We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.  He will be handed over to the Gentiles.  They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him.  On the third day he will rise again.”  Yes, their Lord was arrested, and everything he said was coming to fulfillment.  But if they had just listened to his words and believed what he said, there would have been no reason to run away with such a fearful lack of trust.  How could these men, who had witnessed the power and preaching of Jesus with front-row seats, fail to trust him and run away with such childish fear?

Before we sit back in our padded pews with self-righteous shame aimed at the disciples, perhaps we ought to ask a similar question about ourselves.  How could we, who have experienced the power and preaching of the Gospel in this church, fail to trust our Lord’s Word and live in fear?  Psalm 37:25 says, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”  But tough economic times roll around and we begin to wonder and worry if we will really have all that we need for today and tomorrow.  Romans 8:28 says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  But we see a diving stock market, job losses, and global instability, and we wonder and worry if God really has control of the reigns and if he really can take this world’s mess and make it a blessing for his people.  Isaiah 55:11 says, “My word…will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”  But somehow we’re not sure if God’s Word really has the power to do what God says it will do, and we wonder and worry if an old book with an outdated message really should be the basis for what we preach and how we minister to the community.  Romans 1:16 says, “The gospel…is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”  But something inside us suggests that the gospel message about a bleeding and dying Jesus might not be powerful enough, and so we wonder and worry if we would be better served to add a little pop psychology and practical advice about money or parenting or relationships or something else to power-up the power of the gospel.  Yes, we may call ourselves believers in the Lord Jesus, but our sinful nature wins the day more often than we care to admit.  Simil iustus et peccator.

Aren’t those fears, whatever they may be, just our version of fleeing Gethsemane along with Jesus’ disciples, choosing to run away from Christ in the nakedness of our sin rather than to be clothed with the righteousness and forgiveness he brings in his Word?  Jesus’ disciples did not take him at his Word, and so they fled in fear.  And are we any different?  We fear that his Word didn’t mean what it says or won’t accomplish what it promises, and so our lack of trust sends us looking to something else of our own choosing that we think we can trust.

Isn’t it interesting that at the moment Jesus’ disciples fled, Jesus said nothing?  He didn’t say, “I told you you’d all leave me!” and shame them back to him.  He didn’t say, “Hey, why are you ditching out on me now?  Brothers, come and help!”  He lets them go.  The Shepherd is struck, the sheep are scattered, and the Shepherd says nothing.  Because just as Jesus said all along, he and he alone was going to the cross.  Jesus and Jesus alone had been arrested, and he and he alone would be convicted, condemned, and crucified.

But it was precisely because of their fearful lack of trust – and our fearful lack of trust – that Jesus went forward.  How ironic!  The disciples’ fear sends Jesus to the cross, and Jesus does not say “To hell with you!”  Our fear and faithless worry and selfish lack of trust sent Jesus to the cross, and Jesus does not say “To hell with you!” either.  He says, “To hell I will go.”  And to hell he went!  Jesus faces the fabricated witnesses and the kangaroo court and the spineless governor and the heartless soldiers and the cruel cross, and he faces it with full determination to pay for our guilt and cleanse us from our sin.  As he hangs on the cross in hellfire, he perfectly trusts his Father’s plan to rescue us even as he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And after he has endured it all, he places his sacrificed life trustingly into his Father’s hands and sighs, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Simil iustus et peccator.  Simultaneously sinner and saint.  That is what we are.  That is why at one moment we sit at Jesus’ feet in worship and listen to him trustingly, but at the very next moment we can be filled with fear, worrying that Jesus really didn’t mean what he said in his Word.  And that constant struggle between our sinful nature and Christian nature is immensely frustrating and spiritually deflating!  And so we pray, “Father, forgive us!  Forgive us for our fearful lack of trust!”  And we watch as Jesus fulfills his Father’s Word by nailing our fear and mistrust and all our other guilt to the cross.  And we see the righteous blood of Jesus wash away every last sinful stain of worry and fear and mistrust and all the rest.  And we humbly rejoice that the One who always trusted his Father’s will has kept the Father’s will for us, beginning with his temptations in the desert all the way to the torment of his death.

There is an ancient custom connected to the conclusion of worship on Maundy Thursday.  A choir or cantor chants the words of Psalm 88, while the altar in the front of the church is solemnly stripped of all its furnishings.  (Read Psalm 88 after you return home this evening, and ask yourself if it doesn’t sound like Jesus’ thoughts as he was abandoned in Gethsemane).  The altar was a place where sacrifices took place, and so the altars in our churches are a symbol of Jesus, the Sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  As the altar furnishings are removed, we remember how Jesus’ disciples “removed” themselves from his presence at his arrest in Gethsemane.

Think about what that ancient ceremony is designed to say.  Yes, we see the ceremonial action that says that the disciples abandoned Jesus, but what are you left with?  You’re left with the bare altar.  You’re left looking at the symbol of the sacrifice that our Lord made for sin.  You’re left with the visual gospel.

The account of the disciples in Gethsemane surely brings to mind the times we have failed to take our Lord’s Word to heart and the times our sinful hearts have been filled with a fearful lack of trust.  We dare not pretend that we don’t struggle with sin.  But as we leave this church tonight, let’s leave with the mental image of the bare altar before us.  Let’s leave with the thought of the incarnate Lamb of God who went forward from Gethsemane to the cross to forgive our fearful lack of trust and everything else that separates us from God.  Let us pray, “Father, forgive us,” and then rejoice that in Christ, he has.  Amen.

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