Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"I must go my way." (Luke 13:32a, 33)

In the name of Jesus
Dear brothers and sisters redeemed by Christ:
"And [Jesus] said to [the Pharisees], 'I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following." (Luke 13:32a, 33 ESV)
Feigning care for the well-being of their enemy, the religious leaders advise Jesus to run away from the Holy city.  "Save yourself." they command.  "Herod, the one who threw God's final prophet into prison and delivered his head on a plate, Herod, who comes from the family of ruthless rulers bent on keeping their power at all costs, Herod, supporter of the pagan Roman Empire and its oppression of the Jewish people, is out to get you."
During Lent we are reminded again that only Christ Jesus himself and his Father in heaven understood fully the way that he was sent to willingly walk.  Jeremiah, the most Christ-like prophet of the Old Testament, got a sense of it.  John the Baptist, the embodiment of all the prophets before him, struggled and ultimately accepted his role of foreshadowing the way of Christ.  But the world, and the world's religious leaders, and the nations of the world, and the human natures of the world just didn't get it, and ultimately didn't want to get it.
Jesus' way had been marked out for him by the One who had called him.  And Jesus, knowing full well what that road entailed, had said, freely, willingly, "Yes Father, I will do what you have asked of me. I will walk the road you have laid before me."
The best advice of financial gurus following the billions of dollars lost in the stock market last week: set on a plan, and then, come what may, stick to it. That was also Jesus' approach when it came to living out what he had been called to do.
The resolve shown by Jesus here before the Pharisees is unimaginable.  As we saw last Sunday, Jesus' resolve is the fruit of his prefect trust in the Word of his heavenly Father.  In the wilderness it was all he had.  In our wilderness it is all we have.  His call to us, his will for us, his way for us and for our salvation.
But what is this way that Jesus must walk if he is to consequently give us the undeserved gift of heaven?  The way of example for us to imitate?  The way of encourager and cheerleader?  The way of moral teacher?  The way of ..... ?
That's the million dollar question during Lent -- and any other time of the church year -- and any other time of our life here on earth.  What is that way Jesus set out to walk? Where do we turn to find the answer to this life and death question? The Scriptures? The Discovery Channel?
Well, Jeremiah reveals what it isn't.  (Read Jeremiah 26:8-15)
As Jesus knew from the first days of his public ministry at Nazareth, everyone loves a prophet, until our favorite haunts are judged desolate and empty and without the ability to save. Everyone loves healing without accompanying repentance, miracles without confession of sin, Easter without Lent, the empty tomb without the Cross.
Jesus learned that very quickly as he walked among the porticos of the Jerusalem temple and discussed the way of salvation with the Pharisees and Saducees and scribes. "The little kingdom you have set up here will become desolate." Jesus revealed to the religious leaders of his people. "Your desire to be saved by your own glory and good deeds and outwardly spotless life is, literally, a dead end. You will not embrace by faith anyone's righteousness other than your own. That is why you silenced the prophets and killed those sent to you to announce the Word of the Lord. Therefore, you have been warned. Do what you wish. Attempt to build your own ladder into God's holy presence. But know that I must do what I have been sent to do: accomplish salvation for all who would confess themselves as sinners and offer it freely --irregardless of social position or pedigree."
We all have our memorable scenes and lines from the movies. As we were reminded during the Youth's talent show after the Spaghetti Dinner this year, Star Wars continues to influence even the youngest among us. And what was the struggle portrayed throughout each intergalactic episode? More than simply the battle between good and evil, it is the personal struggle presented to each of us: the acceptance or rejection of our God-given calling. Who can ever forget the towering figure of a tormented father crying out to his wounded son: "It is your destiny, Luke."
We will never know, even in heaven, the full extent of the temptation presented to our Savior to run away or side-step or utterly reject the calling he was sent to faithfully fulfill. Whether in the wilderness without food and water, among well-meaning but misguided disciples, before rulers of earthly kingdoms who demanded a performance, or religious leaders who pretended to be concerned for Jesus while actually plotting his demise, Jesus was constantly tempted with the possibility of trading in his undying love for you in exchange for saving his own hide.
"And [Jesus] said to [the Pharisees], 'I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following." (Luke 13:32a, 33 ESV)
One of the most frightening things in the Lenten season is the bone-chilling realization that the religious and political leaders of Jerusalem thought they were doing a great service to God and the state by placing Jesus upon the Cross and leaving him there alone -- desolate and deserted and destitute. They bartered away Jesus' very life to save their own necks.
This was the destination of Jesus' way of salvation: alowing himself to be driven out from the loving presence of even God himself, that God would relent of carrying out what we had, by our own thoughts, words and deeds, deserved.
Desperate people do desperate things. Do you find yourself in desperate straits this morning as you realize anew that you are completely unable to fix your own fallen spiritual condition? Are you at your wits end trying unsuccessfully again and again to bail out your own spiritual boat and paddle you way into the calm waters of God's almighty favor?
Look to the One who walked your road, put on your weakness, clothed himself with your failures and frailties and your sin-wrought fate. Look to the One -- the only one -- who was called to establish an everlasting kingdom and make satisfaction for the transgressions of an entire fallen race. Look to Christ and his indestructable love for you.
Look to the One who was faithful in completing his way -- for you.
Look to the One proclaimed from the pen of Jeremiah and Isaiah and hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt, who's 400th birthday we will celebrate in one week:

A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
The guilt of sinners bearing.
And laden with the sins of earth,
None else the burden sharing;
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer.
He bears the stripes, the wounds, the lies,
The mockery, and yet replies,
"All this I gladly suffer."

God gather you under the outstretched arms of his Son, at the Cross, at his Supper, at the end of this life. Amen