Toward a Godly Life
2/22/04Times New RomanArial
"Toward a Godly life" is the theme for the Lenten services which begin this Wednesday. People want to be different, better, happier. Christians want to be more like God. In Psalm 17 David says the men of this life desire a bigger, better portion in this life, but, "As for me, I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake." We want nothing less than what Paul promises in Philippians: for Jesus to transform our vile body like unto His glorious one. In the text before us, we see that transformation is connected to sonship and not only for Jesus but for Peter. Peter has been down this road before, and we went with him. Just 2 weeks ago we we're with Peter in his boat as he went from seeing Jesus as Master, to seeing Him as Lord, to seeing Him as Jesus. He makes a similar journey here. This is the path to the godly life we long for and seek this Lent.
The text open's with Jesus taking His inner circle of disciples, Peter, James, and John, up a mountain to pray. Jesus prays late into the night. He is on the eve of His Passion and He faces it as a man. He faces it like you face that big medical test, that surgery, that family crisis. Jesus stands on the edge of Lent; just like we do today. Easter is down the road. There He will rise from the tomb as a beautiful butterfly, but first He must go through being a worm. This is no walk in the park for Jesus, so as a Man He prays to His Father. Jesus prays; His disciples sleep.
They don't fully awake to all that's happening till it's almost over. Peter has slept through the better part of church. He hasn't been paying attention. He can't seem to focus on Jesus for more than a few minutes even though He knows Jesus is eternally important. Peter wants to be different. He needs to be different. He feels bad that he isn't different. By golly, he will be different now. So Peter says to Jesus, "Master, it's good for us to be here. Let us put up 3 shelters - 1 for You, 1 for Moses, and 1 for Elijah."
Peter is going to be more godly. He is going to do things for Jesus. Do you think this is the path towards a godly life? Do you think this is the path Lent takes you down? I show you a Passion where Jesus suffers horribly for your sins; you feel bad enough to start doing things for Jesus? Are you so foolish as to believe that Jesus needs you to do things for Him? Do you believe that you can do things for Him? Besides, can't you see that any change brought on by you feeling bad will only last as long as your feelings? Like an addict you'll have to have ever greater doses of gruesome images of the Passion of Jesus to move you toward a godly life.
These 2 things are always linked. The view that Lent is suppose to make you feel bad about what you did to Jesus, and the view that Lent is a time for doing things for Jesus. If that's your view of Lent, stay home. Over the years, I've noticed that this is what people do who have "I do something for Jesus" view of Lent. They start out coming to services, but they stop. There isn't enough doing for Jesus in Lenten services. Lenten services are still divine services where divinity comes to you to serve you with forgiveness, life and salvation. With Jesus as Master you want to do for Him: build shelters, give up chocolate, pray more, read your Bible more. You want to do rather than receive.
Do you really think by following the Law you can reach a godly life? Then you haven't read the Law. The Law says everyone who doesn't do everything written in the Law is under a curse. Coming to Lenten services for your Master Jesus, sacrificing for Him, suffering for Him, serving for Him is only acceptable to Him if it's perfect. None of this halfhearted coming to Church, sacrificing what you can live without, suffering only so much, and serving when you feel like it. Following Jesus as Master only leads to a godly life if it's perfect. Otherwise, it leads straight to hell.
Ah, but we're just babbling when we have a view that Lent is for doing things for Jesus. We don't know what we're saying anymore than Peter did in our text. Thankfully, God interrupts Peter and us. The text says, "While Peter was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud." Mark says, "They were exceedingly afraid." Matthew, "They fell on their faces and were filled with awe." Remind you of anything? Remember when Peter saw the glory of the Lord Jesus in a net full of fish? He fell at Jesus' feet and begged Him to leave him because he was a sinner. Here the glory of Jesus as Lord flattens and terrifies him.
Now all of a sudden, it's not so good to be here. Now it doesn't look like Peter can do anything for Jesus. Now it looks like Peter is at Jesus' mercy, and that's right where Jesus wants him and us. The purpose of the Law isn't to show you how you can get to a godly life. As Luther says in the hymn we'll sing during Lent, "God these commandments gave therein/ To show thee, child of man, thy sin." "Our works cannot salvation gain;/ They merit but endless pain." If Lent doesn't get you to this point, its in vain. You will die in your sins trying desperately to cover them up by doing things for Jesus. But it will be useless, for no matter which way you pull the covers, how hard you stretch them your sin of misbelief, unbelief, or other great shame or vice is going to stick out and call down God's wrath on it.
Jesus shows Peter and us His full glory as Lord before His brutal Lenten Passion to lead us to repent of the idea that Lent is a time for us to do things for Jesus. What does the Man who has all the glory, power and holiness of God need from me? What can I give to this Man who has the greatest saints of the Old Testament at His beck and call?
Fast forward into the Passion. Think of how many times someone wanted to do something for Jesus and he turned them down. In the upper room, Peter wanted to spare Jesus's dignity by refusing to allow Him to wash His feet. Jesus wouldn't hear of it. In the Garden, Peter tried to defend Jesus with his sword. Jesus says, "Put it away. Don't you know I can ask the Father and He will send me 12 legions of angels." On the road to Calvary the weeping women think that at least they can give Jesus their tears during Lent. Sharply Jesus tells them, "Quit weeping for Me; weep for yourselves."
Let the glory of the Lord Jesus drive out of your hearts the prideful notion that Christianity in general and Lent in particular is chiefly about you doing things for Jesus. See Jesus in all His glory. He's God in flesh and blood. Millions of angels serve Him. Rather than pity Him on the cross pity the face you see in the mirror. If you think you have anything that Jesus needs other than your sins, vileness, and filthiness, then you haven't yet seen Jesus in all His glory. Rather than your face in the dirt and your knees knocking uncontrollably before the majesty of God in Jesus, as they should be, you've got your head popped up still telling Jesus what you can do for Him.
God in flesh and blood needs nothing from you. He came into flesh and blood to give things to you that you need and will be damned to hell in this life and the next without. A godly life starts with that realization, but it doesn't end there. After Jesus as Lord had knocked the prideful disciples down pushing their faces into the dirt and their stomachs into their throat, what do they find? Jesus only. All the Gospels use the same words: Jesus only. Here is the godly life you long for and seek in Lent. Jesus only.
Do you see the progress? First Peter sees Jesus as Master and focuses on himself. He and the others can do something for Jesus. Then the focus shifts to Jesus as Lord, and Peter is repented of his proud notion that God in Jesus needs anything from him. But that thought only leaves him groveling in the dirt, and that's neither a godly life nor the goal of Lent. Both the end of Lent and a godly life are in Jesus only and not in Jesus' majesty or glory but in the fact that the all glorious, majestic God let go of the full use of His glory and majesty to do what you could never do in a billion, trillion life times of trying.
Lent brings you Jesus. A Jesus who does what you can't do. A Jesus who suffers unjustly and doesn't complain. A Jesus who is forsaken by friends and family yet still loves them. A Jesus who willingly takes on the shame and guilt of those sins you try to pretend never happened. A Jesus who is just as terrified at the thought of death as you are, but goes to it for your sake. A Jesus who knows the foresakedness of the damned in hell but still refuses to put down your sins which send Him there.
This is the Jesus you need in death, in life, in Lent, not Jesus as Master, or Jesus as Lord, but Jesus in your flesh and blood keeping the Laws of God you can't keep and paying what you could never pay for breaking them. And that's what God in heaven concludes too. God leaves us not with heavenly beings, not with Jesus in glory, but Jesus only. And He promises Jesus' Words are enough for us. In Lent we listen to Jesus. We hear Him one more time a week than usual. The path to a godly life is listening to the Words of Jesus.
This Lent you will hear Jesus speaking in the Commandments and you will be certain, as you should be, that you can only go to hell. But don't stop listening there. Jesus also speaks in the Passion. And He doesn't say, "Pity Me; do things for Me; give things up for Me." No, Jesus says in the Passion, "Come believe on Me. Come, see, and know that your sins have been paid for. Look at Me and know that there is nothing left for you to do to go to heaven. Look at Me and see the full price, the open door, the guarantee that a sinner like you can go to heaven." Jesus as Master makes people do. Jesus as Lord makes people fear. But Jesus as Jesus makes sinners, transforms sinners, into daughters and sons. And that's a godly life! Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Transfiguration (2-22-04), Luke 9: 28-36