2-7-21 Sexagesima

Bible Text: Luke 8:4-15 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Gesima 2021 | When we think about power we usually think about force, about what we call active power, the power to compel and control. The government has power, because it has laws backed up with guns. And as the Holy Spirit says, if you resist its power, it doesn’t hold the sword in vain. In fact, the government is one manifestation, one instance of God’s power, as a force that compels. We see this power all throughout the Bible. Look at the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah or the parting of the Red Sea. These are exercises of God’s almighty power, to force and compel His creation. And the Bible will talk about God’s Word this way also. The Psalms say it constantly. “The voice of the Lord is powerful. The voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars. The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare.” There’s power. Active power. It’s by God’s Word that all things came into being. And at the Word of God all things will be destroyed and remade on the Last Day.

But there is another kind of power. It’s the power not of force, not of compulsion, but of love and suffering. When our Lord was languishing on the cross and men spat on him and mocked him, they told him to use his power and come down and prove that He was the Son of God. They taunted him by demanding what? A display of positive power, of force against the elements. But our Lord refused. And that didn’t make Him powerless. It’s quite the opposite. He was bleeding, and by bleeding He was washing away our sin. He was dying, and by dying He was killing our death. He was suffering, and in His suffering He was winning peace with God. You will find no greater power than the suffering of God. It’s greater than the breaking of cedars. It’s greater than the creation of all things. It’s greater than any miracle Jesus ever performed. It’s the acting out of God’s essence as the Son becomes our neighbor to love us as Himself and lay down His life for His friends. And it is this power, this suffering power, that inspires the Word of Jesus, that makes you a Christian and keeps you a Christian.

There’s a long list of powerful things God tells us not to trust in. The might of a horse. The strength of an army. The power of princes. The influence of money. And God tells us not to trust in them not simply because God is more powerful. It’s not just a matter of degree. It’s a matter of kind. God’s power, the power to save us, is of a different kind altogether. It’s a power made perfect in weakness. First in the weakness of the Son, our Lord. And then in our weakness, who trust in Him.

It’s a common occurrence that people will blame God for unbelief. God’s almighty. His Word does not return to Him void. It accomplishes what he sends it out for. Didn’t we just hear that from Isaiah? Then why doesn’t this all-powerful word work with my brother, you say, or my sister, or my children, or my friends or my coworkers or my husband. But this is to imagine that the Gospel of Jesus has this power of force, of compulsion, as if God should zap us, as if we were machines who can be programmed to say “Yes, sir,” but can’t feel it and can’t will it. But who are we? How did God create us? He created us in His image. The confirmation students can tell you what that means (one of them will during Examination). To be created in God’s image is to know God rightly and to love Him perfectly. God didn’t create us slavish machines. He created us to love Him and trust Him from the heart. And love can never be compelled, never forced, that’s against its definition, against its nature, love is willing, love is voluntary, God is love, and He isn’t forced to anything.

No, the power that forces and compels and enslaves our hearts, is not God, but sin, the devil’s power, who violently attacks our hearts and our wills and forces us away from our God and His love. We need to start seeing our sin and every temptation this way. As attackers. That’s how Jesus describes them in our Gospel. What happens to the seed, to the word? It gets trampled, crushed, devoured, burnt up, strangled. Sin works its power forcefully, by violence. This is how God sees it, so let’s see it from his perspective. And you’ll see it’s true to your experience as a Christian. You’ve felt the force of sexual temptation. You’ve felt the compulsion of lust for money. You’ve experienced the push of pride, for recognition, for glory. Recognize them as acts of violence against the body and soul your God has bought with His blood and wooed by His Word.

And know that God will not act in kind. He won’t force you back from sin. He’ll strike at the birds and remove the rocks and tear out the weeds, he’ll be violent against your enemies, but He won’t be violent with you. He can’t force us to love and believe. No, He answers our lovelessness with love. Our forceful rejection of Him with a Word that tenderly calls us back. It is an almighty word, it’s an all-powerful word, but it’s not a word that forces. Look at how Paul preaches. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and not counting their trespasses against them, therefore we are ambassadors for God, Paul says, and God is making His appeal through us. We beg you for Christ’s sake, be reconciled to God. You see the language! God is appealing to us! Paul the preacher begs us for Christ’s sake! There’s no forcing here. It’s an appeal. It’s a persuasion from our God and Brother who knew no sin and yet became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Look at how Jesus preaches. Martha, Martha, you are worried and burdened by many things, but there is only one thing needful. What an amazing condescension. God talks to us. But more than that. Instead of speaking only justice, only hell to us, only threatening compulsion to force us into line, He speaks tenderly. He says look at the violence of the pleasures and cares and temptations that pull at your heart! Look at how they burden you and crush and devour and burn and choke in the end. Look how they tear you away from Me, your God and the Redeemer of your life, and now listen, be persuaded, I beg you, know the one thing needful and come to me, and you will find rest and peace. I’ll cover your sin with my righteousness and remove all your shame by the blood of my cross. And what’s more you’ll bear fruit, you’ll learn to love and trust and know as I have known you. Jesus speaks a Word that He suffered and died to speak to you.

That’s why Jesus is so reckless a Sower. He sows the seed everywhere. He preaches His word across the world. He says Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. He wants all to be saved. Because He suffered for all.

So Jesus says, don’t be impressed by the forceful power of the devil and the compulsion of this world’s pleasures. They’re enslavers. They crush and devour and dry up and choke the Word that makes you free. Why would we be impressed by force? By being enslaved? By a show of power? We were bought by the suffering of Jesus, we were freed from sin and death by the Word of His suffering. This is the seed that grows into Christians. And a seed produces what is in it. An apple seed produces an apple tree. The Christ-seed, the seed of Christ’s suffering, produces Christians who are impressed not by compulsion and force, but by God’s love and suffering, and the love and patience of fellow Christians.

This is precisely the problem St. Paul is dealing with among the Corinthians. He says, “You bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.” What’s he describing here? He’s describing positive power, force! This is what impresses the Corinthians, this is what gets them to act, what makes them unimpressed with Paul and the Gospel he preaches. But I, Paul says, I was too weak for that. There’s some beautiful irony. The Word Paul preaches won’t force you. It won’t slap you in the face and enslave you and compel you to believe and to love and to live the Christian life. No, it will look weak. It will preach the God-man who died on a cross. And it will make you weak, make you see your own weakness, so that you learn to depend on true power, the power of God in Jesus’ suffering.

And that is exactly what it means to be good soil, to take in the seed. Good soil is plowed soil. It’s soil that is constantly attended to. With rocks dug up, weeds plucked out. And God’s Law does this for us when it points out our sin and our weakness and our frailty, and then God adds to it sufferings, like fertilizer, which stinks, but it’s good for us, makes us grow, makes us see the real violence of sin and the devil and what they’ve done to God’s good world, the cancer, and the disease and the death and the pain and the loneliness, the hatred and the envy, these unnatural intrusions into God’s world, and so we flee to the God who alone gives relief, gives what this world cannot give, gives peace with God through the cross of Jesus.

This is why St. Paul tells his story of suffering. It’s not to brag. It’s to show us how God makes us weak to find our strength in Him. What happens in the world? Shipwreck, stoning, dangers, daily concern that people have fallen from the faith, slanders, and then, on top of it all, there’s just pain, unspecified, constant. This is violence and force. And these sufferings that the devil means for your fall, God turns to your good, works all things for good to those who love God. Take that sin. Take that devil. Suffering drove Paul to Jesus. To His Lord. That’s what he says. He doesn’t use the generic term God. He uses the specific word, Lord, which in Paul is always a reference to Jesus. He appeals to Jesus who suffered for him. Who knows what it means to suffer. Who sympathizes with Paul’s pain. Paul asks that the Lord take his pain away, this thorn in the flesh, three times he asks, no doubt praying our Introit, “Awake! Why do You | sleep, O Lord?* Arise! Do not cast me off for- | ever. For my soul is bowed down | to the dust;* arise for my help and re- | deem me.” I’m in pain, Lord, make haste to help me.

And our Lord’s answer answers for us all, for all pain and suffering and violence of sin and the devil we’re attacked with, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” For when I am weak, Paul says, then I am strong. And there is no irony there. This is certain truth. Our Lord sends, he allows, he uses the sin and pain and violence of the devil, to show us we’re weak and the rocks and thorns and birds and tramping feet would destroy us, if we didn’t have our gardener. So we cry out and so He comes. With words of love and not force, words borne from His own suffering and His own pain and His own cross, My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness. It’s enough. That’s what that means. You don’t need anything more. Because in Jesus you have everything. And if it takes suffering to focus our eyes on Jesus and not lose this treasure, fine, give me suffering and make me weak, only keep me steadfast in Jesus, let me not lose Him who made me and died for me, who is now my brother and makes God my Father, who has freed me from the violence of this world and the sin that tormented my conscience and the vanity that weighed down my soul. Pluck out the rock and dig up the thorns, no matter how it hurts, only let your seed grow. Make me realize there is nothing this world has to offer, that could possibly rival seeing my Savior’s face, to behold his glory, to look on Him who shed His blood for me, to even now take His body and blood into my mouth and hear His word of forgiveness and peace with God, and so I would rather lose everything than lose Him, I would rather be a doorman in the tent of my God than a King in this world. All worldly pomp be gone, to heaven I now press on. For all the world I would not stay. My walk is heavenward all the way.

Therefore, we say with Paul, when I am weak, then I am strong. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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