O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The Pure and Holy Lamb of God
The Pure and Holy Lamb of God
Based on 1 Peter 1:18-19
Preached on March 1, 2017 - Ash Wednesday,
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The text for the sermon this evening is from St. Peter’s first letter, the first chapter.
For you know that is was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Time for some spring cleaning.” “Hey Howard, have you been doing any spring cleaning?” “Boy, this place could use some spring cleaning.” The term "spring cleaning" may sound a bit old fashioned or odd to our 21st Century ears, but even in these busy times we still find it necessary now and then to stop and do some major cleaning around our house or work space, don’t we? For survival’s sake, if not for cleanliness’ sake. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but the frantic, frenzied lives we live leave little time for either one. And it begins to show after a while, doesn’t it? You can live with a certain amount of clutter in your house, but messy souls are another matter. That little stain at the back of your fridge is something you can overlook, but stained souls sully every situation. Lent comes around each year to school us in repentance, to turn us from old to new: It is spring cleaning for the soul.
That‘s why Lent is such a good thing, spiritually speaking. For forty days Christians are annually led on a pilgrimage with Jesus to His cross and grave, through His bitter suffering and redeeming death and then on to His glorious resurrection. Our souls are made new in His Dust and resurrection. Death and resurrection.
We call Lent a penitential season, and rightly so. It is a time of repentance. A time of turning to the new. But since repentance involves both sorrow for sin and faith in Jesus that brings forgiveness and new life, that means that Lent is also a time of cleansing and renewal. Cleansing and renewal in Jesus, the Lamb of God. That’s what we’ll be doing in all these midweek services: airing out our souls, clearing out the clutter of our sin-ﬁlled hearts, dusting off the dirt, tossing out the trash, and finding refreshment and renewal in the precious blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, which cleanses us from all sin.
The focus of our meditation tonight and in all the special services of Lent and Holy Week will be the great Lenten hymn “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy." Each time we gather here before the cross we will be contemplating another angle of our Saviour’s redeeming love as it is highlighted in God’s Word.
Tonight, then, as we begin our Lenten journey, the purity of God’s Lamb comes clearly into focus in the words of the Apostle Peter, where Christ is called “a lamb without blemish or defect." No blemishes. No defects. Simply pure. Holy. Like us in every way – He was conceived. Born – but with one exception: He was without sin. Holy Spirit conceived. Virgin born. True Man No Sin. This is how God’s pure Lamb is different than you and me, for we are sinners through and through. We would not make suitable sacrifice. But Jesus – He is pure. He is suited for sacrifice. Chosen for it. When He faced temptations – the very same ones you and I face every day – He resisted. He refused the temptations we all too often cave in to – or even at times – embrace - with opens arms. And so we find ourselves defiled and contaminated by sin from head to toe. lt shouldn’t surprise us when we feel dirty and polluted deep within, for we have fouled ourselves not just in what we do, but in what we say and how we think... there is truly nothing good in us when it comes to our sinful nature. Blemishes and defects. Disqualified from the holy presence of God.
Yet we have an advocate with the Father: Jesus Christ the righteous. This Lamb knows the onslaughts of doubt and temptation first hand, He is familiar with every trick of the devil. He bore our sorrows – every heartache - and is well acquainted with grief. He is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses because He has endured them all Himself -and knows every one of them first hand.
Our consolation is not found in Christ’s sympathy and compassion however - but in His sacrifice. This isn’t about the compassion of the Lamb. This is about His pure and holy sacrifice. His blood. There on the cross - He exchanged His righteousness for our sin. Traded. One for the other. No – its not a good trade by worldly standards – it’s a terrible trade – the worst! He, the sinless Son of God, was made to be sin for us stained ones, so that we might be made the righteousness of God. Purity for Stain. Holiness for Pollution. All traded through trust. Those who trust in Him not only find their sins removed and absolved, but by faith in Jesus they share in His holiness; before the judgment seat of God they stand just as holy as He is: No blemishes. No defects. This is who you are in Christ.
But it doesn’t stop there. In the courts of heaven. The apostle teaches that this blood redemption in Christ also has profound meaning for the life we live here on earth: you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers.
At first this doesn’t seem to connect with us, because our life doesn’t seem very empty. How can it be, when our life is crammed with so many activities? We’ve got our hands full just keeping up with the pace of things. There are appointments to keep, deals to close, projects to finish, jobs to complete, goods to be sold, people to be managed, kids to be raised, all kinds of things crowd our calendar and clutter our clock. With all the demands on our time and attention, it’s really quite hard just keeping our heads above water, much less stopping to catch our breath.
In the midst of our fractured, frenzied lives, Lent comes as a breath of fresh air, bidding us to pause and reflect on what's going on around us. St. Peter gives us a fresh perspective on the whirlwind blur of our lives. He labels it bluntly: “the empty way of life.”
Empty? Who could call our life empty, we wonder? With our crowded calendars and app-packed phones, with the infinite details clamoring for our attention day to day, the problem seems to be just the opposite. We seem to be suffering from too much rather than too little. We seem to have a glut rather than a famine. But that’s just the problem. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Life on overdrive is not really living. Going faster and faster, we're getting nowhere fast. We may accumulate a good share of the trophies that lots of people consider signs of success, but if that’s all we’ve got to show for our time and effort, we haven’t got much. We may have a very full life as some people count it, but when you get right down to it, such a hectic, compulsive life is full all right... it is full of emptiness.
The world around us is always trying to sell us a bill of goods, isn’t it? We hear a great deal of talk about “freedom,” these days - but what it boils down to is the freedom to do as you please; the freedom of the unbridled will. Such freedom the Bible brands bondage: “There is a way that seems right to a man,“ we read in Proverbs, “but its end is the way to death." That‘s the problem with life in this fallen world. All that glitters is not gold. Things are not always what they seem. Turn a sinner loose to do as he pleases, and you’ve sent him down the path to hellfire.
But that’s what the world would like. Unbridled. Sin masquerades as freedom. Abortion is called “freedom of choice.” Unauthorized sexual activity is labelled an “alternate life style". Under the guise of “freedom of religion,” Christian imagery is removed from public view and Christian vocabulary is banished from public discourse. Freedom? Life? You can call death life all you want – it will still be death.
No, these so-called “freedoms” are not freedom at all. They are bondage. Bondage to sin and death. Bondage bedazzled in glitter glue. St. Peter was right. calls such bondage disguised as freedom what it actually is: “empty, worthless.“
Beloved, you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers. Note the passive nature of that redemption. “You were redeemed." This is no do-it-yourself project. It couldn’t be. This kind of slavery is not something you free yourself from.
Yes, it happened now and then in the ancient world that slaves would actually purchase their own freedom. But the slavery to sin and death that you and l have inherited from our ancestors is not that easily abolished.
No pile of silver or gold, no amount of stocks and bonds, no accumulated net worth could ever be enough to free us from the bondage in which we were born and the chains we have forged for ourselves by our own sins in thought, word, and deed. Only blood. Only the blood of a pure Lamb. Only the blood of Jesus Christ, the pure and holy Lamb of God, can purchase souls. You were redeemed.
“Ash Wednesday," gets its name from the ancient Christian custom this first day of Lent that all the baptized receive the sign of the cross outlined in ashes, together with the words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” This is a sobering thought, and one we would all do well to ponder. One day we will all depart this life and stand before the judgment seat of God. We cannot - we dare not enter there in that holy place clothed in the defilement of our sin, in the empty, futile life we have inherited from our forefathers. No, but through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, we all have the perfect claim of sonship, clothed in the pure and holy righteousness of Christ Himself, faultless to stand that Day before the throne.
Meanwhile now - in this holy season we contemplate the depth of the love of God our merciful heavenly Father, who loved the world so that He gave His only Son the lost to save. Entering this world in human flesh, He shouldered the burden of our sin and guilt and the shame and defilement of it all as well. He took upon Himself the rotten mess we have made of our lives that He might blot out all our sins by His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. As the pure and sinless Son of God, He could cleanse and free us from bondage to the defilement and filth of our sin. By His grace, you are His and He is yours this night.
So cleanse your souls in Him: Lay down your burdens, put away your sorrow, set aside your heartache and your pain. All this and more the pure and holy Lamb of God has taken with Him to His cross, that by His death He might redeem you, make you pure and holy like Himself, and set you free to live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. You know this is certain because He is now risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr