A Creed for the 3rd Millennium Believes that a Man is Lord
We continue the series dealing with the Second Chief Part of our Small Catechism. Is the Apostles' Creed which dates to the 3rd century still relevant for Christians at the beginning of the 3rd millennium? Do we still believe that a Man is Lord? In the Large Catechism we say "the entire gospel that we preach depends on a proper understanding of this [second] article" (II, 33). And we say the whole substance of the second article is grasped in this one phrase "in Jesus Christ our Lord" (II, 26). So it all hinges on being able to confess that the Man Jesus is our Lord. Do you? Can you?
To say, I believe a man is Lord is shocking. We're you paying attention to the Passion Reading? Four times Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man. He's emphasizing that He is true Man. Maybe you weren't paying attention to the context where Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man. He says, "The Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified." He goes on to say that He will be betrayed and will suffer. And what kind of Lord needs to be glorified? What kind of Lord comes among His subjects as one who serves?
How can we say this Man is my Lord when it's not just on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday 2,000 years ago that Jesus is betrayed, suffered, and crucified? That's what's happening to Him now. He's regularly ridiculed by comedians and rejected by scholars. A ruler in a Third World country is more feared than our Lord. A good surgeon heals more people than our Lord. A good financial advisor provides more for people's future than our Lord apparently does.
Don't be so shocked. You know it's true. Already in 1959 a Lutheran scholar could write, "Jesus appears to have no answer at all to the questions troubling us" (Teaching Luther's Catechism, 152). What do we say to the atheist who taunts us with: if God really wanted to help the world He should've sent basic sanitation principles 2,000 years ago rather than His Son? What kind of Lord considers His people as sheep for slaughter? What kind of Lord stands idly by as His visible kingdom shrinks? Is this One really your Lord? Is this the One you bow before? Is this the One who has first claim on you? I don't think so. It's too absurd.
Wait a second. We stumble over Jesus being our Lord, over a man being our Lord, but we have no trouble seeing ourselves on the throne. O that's not us. Only a sociopath or a psychopath thinks he is Lord. No, it's Eve in the garden; Moses at the rock; David with his census; Judas with his sop, and Peter with the rooster. Eve believed her eyes, ears, and opinions rather than her Lord's words. The Lord told Moses to speak to the rock to get water, but Moses believed he was right to hit the rock. David was forbidden to take a census, but he put his view above God's Word. Judas didn't believe things would be as bad for him as his Lord said they would, and Peter didn't believe his Lord could be right about his denying Him.
We have no trouble believing a man is lord when it comes to me, myself and I. When we think the Lord has forgotten to be merciful, we're lording our words over the Lord's who says every Sunday: His mercy endures forever. When we feel hopeless, we're denying the Lordship of the One who says, "Hope thou in God." When we're running in fear of sin, guilt, or death, we're saying what I say about them trumps what my Lord has said. So who really is Lord of my life? A man is, but not the Man Jesus, me.
Have you seen a show or movie which begins with a physical or emotional scene of destruction? The character is in the midst of a blown apart city or holding a gun with someone dead at his feet. Or the character's marriage, home, work, and life are in utter shambles. That's the opening scene and then through flashbacks you come to understand how this mess came about.
Look around you; all the death, evil, sickness, and shame you see can be traced to the fatal moment when Adam and Eve decided to be their own lord. See aged, faithful Moses looking from Mt. Nebo not allowed to enter the Promised Land. That came about because one time Moses put his word above his Lord's. See David surrounded by those dying from pestilence and a towering angel about to deal a death blow to Jerusalem. All this came about because David wanted to be lord. Judas came to the end of his rope not because his sin was so heinous but because he wanted to be lord of his life. Peter came to bitter tears because for a few hours he was his own lord.
You might be here tonight thinking, "Confessing the Man Jesus isn't my Lord doesn't seem Ash Wednesday enough. I'm guilty of a lot worse things than that." Or you're thinking, "I have a lot of things I should confess but Jesus not being my Lord isn't one of them." But it is. Every single sin of thought, word, or deed begins with not regarding, believing, or wanting Jesus as Lord. That dissatisfaction you have with your spouse doesn't start with them but with the Lord who joined you to them. That despair you are in over world affairs doesn't start with politics but your Lord. That laziness you have in spiritual things doesn't start with my sermons and Bible classes it starts with your unwillingness to confess that Jesus Christ true God from eternity and also true Man born of the Virgin Mary is my Lord.
You and I are lost and condemned people primarily because we insist on being the lords of our own lives. And the true Lord will let us do that. The Lord didn't slap the forbidden fruit out of Eve's hand or the staff out of Moses'. The Lord had General Joab plead with David not to take the census, but when David persisted the Lord let him. You heard tonight how the Lord tried to untie the rope Judas was making for his own neck, but when he persisted in doing things his way the Lord let him. And the Lord didn't interfere with Peter taking the path of denial. He let Lord Peter follow him to the high priest's house; let him sit down in their midst, and let him ruin his life.
What a mess. It's an even bigger mess if you don't see the mess you've made with your self-lordship. Luther said, "If you do not know or recognize your need or experience no spiritual attacks, then you ought to know that you are in the very worst possible plight. For the greatest temptation is that you find yourself so hardened, hardhearted, and insensitive that no trouble moves you" (LW, 44, 63).
So if you can look about you and not see the destruction, the carnage, the mess that you have made by being your own lord, doing things your way, following your word not God's, your opinions rather than His revelation, if you cannot see that you are a lost and condemned person, it's because you have fallen prey to what C. S. Lewis called a strange illusion. He said, "We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin.But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin" (The Problem of Pain, 61). That means you don't get found just because you have forgotten you're lost; you don't escape condemnation because you no longer condemn yourself. It takes the Man who is God to find the lost and pardon the condemned.
So don't try to scrub the ashes off your forehead by yourself. Don't be your own lord here too. Don't try to remove them with promises of you won't get lost next time. Don't try to remove them with excuses of how you can't be condemned for the mess you're in. You and you only are to blame. Confess that Jesus hasn't been your Lord; you have been your own.
God the Son begotten from the Father from eternity saw your plight and He took on flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary to find you. He started looking for you where you started going astray in the womb, and He found you there under the Law. How could He move this burden off you? He couldn't move it by His omnipotent power because the Law was God's Law. It had a valid, divine demand on you. So what did the God Man do? He slipped Himself under the weight of God's Law and pushed you out of the way.
Take a deep breath. You're out from under the Law that you could not keep and made you ever guiltier. Jesus now bears the weight, all of it. There is not a Law of God that you can think of that Jesus didn't keep in your place. There never was a time that Jesus didn't think, say, or do exactly what God His Father wanted Him to do. Don't stay pinned underneath the Law a moment longer. Jesus has found you and lifted that weight off you.
But what about your condemnation under the Law? You really are guilty. You have taken the reins of your life. You have lived it on your terms. There really is hell to pay. Jesus paid it. That's what's going on in our Passion Reading. Jesus is betrayed by a friend because your sins deserve that. Jesus will suffer drop by drop, tear by tear, sigh by sigh because that is what should happen to proud sinners like us. Jesus will be condemned to Satan and Death because that's what we deserve.
Now just as you aren't to stay under the weight of the Law, so you are not to share in the condemnation for your sins that Jesus already suffered. You have been redeemed by His perfect life and His innocent death. You have been purchased and won from all sins, from death, and even from the power of the devil. Why? So you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom. Jesus has done everything to bring you into His kingdom where He is Lord. Not a Law or judgment of God stands in your way of entering.
Look at our text. See how sin is active even here. You have Judas plotting to betray Jesus and the disciples arguing about which of them is greatest. Not even their sins or sinfulness stops Jesus from finding the lost, pardoning the condemned, and being Lord. Like the Lord that He is Jesus feeds them a banquet of His Body and Blood for forgiveness. And He confers, as only a Lord can do, a kingdom on them.
You know how those movies that start with the character's life in shambles can sometimes show one change in the past so the mess is not made? Don't think that way. Don't think if only I had confessed Jesus as my Lord in this or that decision I could have avoided this mess. Leave that in the past. Confess Jesus as Lord now. Meet Him in His Supper now where He waits with forgiveness and to bestow His kingdom on you. Go forth into this 3rd millennium as a subject in your Lord Jesus' kingdom. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ash Wednesday (20130213); Passion Reading 1; Second Article