Wed Night Lent 2 – Vicar Schleusener

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One of the things that I found myself thinking about when I was preparing for this sermon is just how many different claims God could have made to defend His right to speak to His people in such a commanding way. Some of these claims are regularly advanced by people who want to use the power of God’s Law to push people into changing their behavior in certain ways.

For example, many people talk about the claim that God has by virtue of being the Creator. He made us, and since our very existence is a gift from Him, we owe Him obedience as a debt of gratitude. That there’s something fundamentally perverse about threatening people with the label of “ungrateful” to try and force them to keep God’s Law never seems to occur to such people. I mean, if God’s calling something a sin can’t prevent us from sinning, how in the world is the fear of being labeled “ungrateful” supposed to get the job done? What may be even worse about this approach is that it invites people to buy into the utterly false idea that the debt we owe God is one we’re supposed to pay back somehow. Lies like this can and often do trap people on metaphorical hamster wheels, trying desperately to get away from the constant uncertainty of not knowing if they’ve done enough to please God yet.

Another claim that God could make, and that some people may be tempted to push, is the claim He has by virtue of being the One who sustains us. By His power and His power alone do lungs work. Hearts beat. Brains function. Without God’s actively sustaining their existence at every moment, every living thing would die, and creation itself would come utterly undone. This road leads to a brutal world in which we’re offered precisely two choices. “Obey, or die.” This constant fear of punishment leads to a pins-and-needles approach to God that’s very much like the one condemned by Melanchthon in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession when, discussing Rome’s works-righteousness orientation, he wrote, “…without the Holy Spirit the human heart either despises the judgment of God in its complacency or in the face of punishment flees and hates God who judges them” (Ap IV 34).

These claims are seductive because God both creates and sustains, but the truth is that these aren’t the handles that God wants us to use to try and take hold of Him. Attempting to do so encourages people to focus on their own works rather than on Christ’s, thereby robbing Christ of His glory and us of the peace and comfort God gives us in Jesus. It’s not a coincidence that God doesn’t make these claims even while giving the Law! These aren’t approaches that He wants us to take toward Him, and they don’t capture His true desire and delight.

So let’s take a look now at the claim God does make here. And see how the claim that He actually makes shows us the reality of God as He is. Of God as He wants us to see Him. Not God as tyrants, whether human or demonic, would like to portray Him.

God makes His claim with the following words. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” At heart, God is love. He is Savior. Deliverer. Redeemer. His people had been hopelessly enslaved in Egypt, one of the leading military powers of the day, so God single-handedly crushed that power and brought His people out of their slavery. Did He do this because His people did something special, or were somehow especially excellent? No. As Deuteronomy 7 (verses 6-8) makes clear, this was simply because God loved them and wanted to keep the oath that He’d previously sworn to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was a free gift. Incontrovertible proof that He loved His people dearly. That He both could and would provide for them for no reason other than because He wanted to.

As believers, this is a familiar picture. After all, it’s the one we see in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who is God in the flesh, come to save us. God is a God who seeks us out even though all we have to offer Him is our sin. He doesn’t insist that we first acquire even the desire to keep His commandments. And so even when we fear, love, and trust in anything under the sun more than we do in God, God comes to us. When God is the absolute last thing on our minds, He loves us and wants to make us His.

When we were trapped in sin, hating and rejecting God, rightly deserving to have Him visit our iniquity on our children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. That’s when God Himself became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s when He suffered and died, taking upon Himself every scrap of His own wrath against sin. He fulfilled the Law perfectly. And to everyone who doesn’t absolutely refuse His promise of forgiveness, He trades His perfect righteousness for our utter sinfulness.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when God sees you He sees “those who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments.” Because by faith He has awakened love for Him in your hearts. By faith, He has ascribed Christ’s righteousness to you.

And because of this, His faithful, steadfast love is yours, according to His promise. He whose wrath is spent in a mere three or four generations, but whose steadfast love is shown not just to thousands, but to thousands of generations. His love for you is without end. And not only for you, but for your children, and for their children, and on and on to the end of the ages. Amen. In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.

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