Repent: Turn to Jesus for Resurrection and Life!

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Easter Sunrise
Luke 24:1-8

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of our Risen Lord Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

We all have expectations, don’t we? You drive directly east from here and you expect to find Lake Bemidji. You expect to find the winters in Minnesota to be rather cold. You came to church this morning expecting some joyous and uplifting worship. But what do you expect from Easter? There are really only two options: either you expect a dead savior or a Living Savior. But what you find on Easter has huge ramifications not just for your life but for your eternity.

Now the gospel of Luke was likely written around 30-40 years after the events of Jesus’ life. Now, let’s do a little thought experiment. Let’s say that someone comes out with a new book this year, 2017, claiming that 37 years ago, in the year 1980, Abraham Lincoln came alive taught a bunch of people, showed himself to be alive over a period of 40 days, talked with dozens of people, lists their names, and even says that he appeared to over 500 people at one time, most of whom are still alive. And this all happened in Park Rapids. Now, this is very verifiable. How would you find out if that was true? You’d go to Park Rapids, you’d talk to the people there, you’d interview the people named in the book. You’d find out whether the book was relating facts or if the book was just a bunch of make believe. But if it’s made up, I’ll tell you this, it will not become the most widespread, best-selling book for 2,000 years! Thousands and thousands of people will not stake their very life on that fact unless it is absolutely true. The book, if it wasn’t true, would go nowhere. Now, what do we have in the Bible- the books in the New Testament were written 20, 30, 40 years after the Resurrection and read by thousands upon thousands of people. If there wasn’t an empty tomb, if there weren’t hundreds of eyewitnesses who truly saw Jesus risen from the dead, would there really be thousands upon thousands of people who read these accounts and said, “I’m going to give my life to this, I’m going to die for this.” Thousands and thousands of people did.

You see, what we have in Easter is a fact, a reality: Jesus really physically, bodily rose from the dead. You can deny it, say it didn’t happen, not believe it, but that doesn’t change the fact in the least bit: Easter really, truly did happen. What do you expect to get out of Easter?

Here in our text we have an account of a group of ladies who weren’t expecting it, didn’t expect that Jesus rose from the dead. They’re heading out to the tomb to finish burying a dead Savior. Can you think of anything more sad, more pitiful, more heart-breaking, than having a dead Savior? Think about what the implications would be if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead:

First, we would still be stuck in our sins. 1 Corinthians says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” A dead savior is a dead deception. We’d still be stuck and trapped in our sins and facing the punishment of our sins which is death. Second, if Christ did not rise from the dead, then everyone who dies is lost. Then death itself is the end, funerals are hopeless, and all that’s left is a frightening thought of eternity. And lastly, if Christ did not rise from the dead we would have absolutely no hope for this life either. That would make all of this meaningless, all of life meaningless and hopeless. Our lives would be a constant searching, a constant longing for something more, a constant yearning to find meaning out of the meaningless. A constant looking to earthly things- stuff, relationships, more experiences, for meaning but they never satisfy. Almost like looking for the living among the dead.

There is only one place where our accusing consciences are answered, where death is defeated, and where meaning in life is found. These women found it. The angels proclaimed it: He is not here, He has risen! Jesus truly, physically, bodily, in reality rose from the dead. You know what that means? Notice what the angel says, “The Son of Man must…be crucified.” We were so sinful that Jesus HAD to die. But think about what that means: Jesus was willing to lose the universe rather than lose you, He was willing to lose His Father than lose you, He was willing to be cut off and suffer hell than lose you. Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. In other words, Easter is God’s declaration that our sins are forgiven. Turn to His Resurrection seals and guarantees your forgiveness!

And what about death? Death has been defeated! Jesus, by His resurrection from the dead, holds death’s keys and has turned death for a Christian into a sleep- a sleep where we go to sleep here and wake up with our Savior in heaven. Because Jesus lives He is the Resurrection and the Life and all who believe in him really don’t die, they live with him here and go on living with him in heaven forever! Turn to Jesus, His resurrection guarantees your resurrection!

And what about life? Do you know that there will never, ever be a day in your life that Jesus is less risen from the dead? Jesus won the victory! He’s alive. That means there will never be a day when your sins are less forgiven, when death is any less already defeated, when you are any less on your way to eternal life in heaven! Turn to Jesus, His life is your life!

So what are you expecting to get out of Easter today? That depends on what you believe about the reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If the forgiveness of sins isn’t that big of a deal to you, if victory over death isn’t that important to you, then all Easter is is a bunny, some candy, a ham, and a good nap. All life, then, has absolutely no meaning. But if Christ walked out of that tomb- truly, bodily, powerfully – He can’t be just a footnote in your life, just another book on your shelf, just another hobby – He’s everything. If Jesus is alive, and He is, you have every reason to worship Him as often as you can. If Jesus is alive, and He is, today means Jesus is alive and will never die again. You are redeemed, you are reconciled, your sin is gone, hell is conquered your grave destroyed, heaven is your home! It’s true. Believe, Treasure it, live it. He is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

Repent: Turn to Jesus when you face temptations!

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6th Wednesday of Lent
Mark 14:32-38

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
What do you do when someone starts crying? What do you do when you’re in a situation and someone starts to just break down and cry? Does your heart begin to beat faster, do you start sympathizing with the individual in their grief, do you perhaps give them a hug or take their hand? Maybe you begin to let tears fall and begin to join them. Why do people cry? I think it’s safe to say that people cry when a situation has suddenly become very serious to them. Something very serious has happened – a loved one dies, someone or something important is lost. Even good movies can invoke tears, can’t they? When you’re watching a movie and the plot develops, something tragic happens and the main character is suddenly filled with grief, all of a sudden you might find yourself choked up as you’re watching it, why? Because you’ve transposed yourself into the serious situation and you’re imagining how you’d feel if that movie character were you.
What about Jesus, did he cry? The artist who designed and created all of our beautiful stained glass windows commented to me as he was installing them that in none of the pictures is Jesus smiling. There’s a reason for that. We’re never told in the gospels of Jesus smiling. We are told of a number of times of Jesus crying, weeping, being inwardly moved. Why? Because Jesus came to this earth for serious business. And perhaps one of the clearest demonstrations of Jesus’ seriousness is before us this evening when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane. Did Jesus cry here? We’re not specifically told, but notice what we are told:
“He began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground.” In another gospel we’re told that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. We’re also told that angels came to strengthen him. Jesus, overwhelmed with sorrow, perhaps crying and weeping, falling to the ground in deep, deep distress.
Why? Because of the seriousness of the situation. The word “troubled” here in the Greek means to be “overcome with horror.” Overcome with horror. Imagine you’re walking down the street, you turn the corner and there you see someone you dearly love – a spouse, a child – mutilated in a terrible car accident. What do you feel? You’re sick, nauseated, overcome with horror, it’s a horror that is just choking your life. We can’t even begin to imagine what Jesus is facing in that garden- He’s facing the cup of God’s eternal wrath against sin -every sin of every sinner of every time and place- that cup is being pressed to His lips and he’s being made to drink it down to the very last drops. It’s absolutely horrifying.
Jesus took His suffering seriously. But what about the disciples? What does Jesus tell them? “Sit here while I pray, stay here and keep watch. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” And….they’re sleeping!! He tells them to watch and pray, goes away, comes back and what? They’re sleeping again! And they didn’t know what to tell him. He goes away and comes back a third time and…they’re still sleeping!!
But it’s not just the disciples, is it? Lent is a very serious time. We wear black, we don’t sing Alleluia, we sing more somber songs. But are we taking Lent seriously? Do we take Jesus’ suffering seriously? Do we take sin and temptation seriously? Jesus says, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Do we take him seriously? How many car accidents have happened because someone took their eyes off the road and put it on their phone? How many injuries have happened at work or in the home because eyes were diverted and concentration lost? Far more tragically, how many times has Satan lulled us to apathy in prayer, or lulled us with garbage on TV or the internet so sins of sexual immorality or filthy language really doesn’t repulse us as much any more? How many times has Satan tempted us to become lackadaisical and apathetic in our prayer life, in our devotion to God’s Word, in our diligence to worship regularly in God’s house? How serious are we when it comes to sin and temptation?
Jesus was absolutely serious. Is human nature shrunk at the seriousness of drinking the cup of God’s wrath completely and he prayed that the cup be taken from him, but not what he willed, but what God the Father willed. God’s answers was that He was to drink it in full. Why so? So you and I would never, ever face God’s wrath. Jesus drink the cup of God’s punishment for every time we’ve given in to Satan’s temptation, every time we’ve fallen asleep and failed to watch and pray. All so you can rest. Rest your soul in the wounds of Jesus for forgiveness and healing for the times that our weak flesh has fallen.
Temptation is serious. It rears it’s ugly head again and again, day in and day out. Martin Luther once said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying overhead, but you can keep them from building nests in your hair.” So, turn to Jesus in times of temptation. When you do you’re telling Satan’s birds to go nest elsewhere. Satan is good at tempting, but Jesus is perfect at saving and rescuing. So repent, turn to Jesus when you face temptations, turn to him, only him, always him. Amen.

Repent: Turn to Jesus; He changes your life

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5th Wednesday of Lent
Luke 7:44-50

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, people change. People can change for the worse. The other week I was again at the Beltrami Jail to do a Bible study with the inmates there. I had 9 of them come. As I looked at these individuals- I could tell many of them had wound up in the wrong crowd, I could tell drugs and alcohol had taken a toll on their bodies, and clearly each in some way had broken the law. I can’t help but think that each of these now grown men had once been children in school who laughed and played and had promising futures. But they changed. Perhaps you know someone who has changed for the worse. Some changes in people are painful to see and difficult to deal with.

But thank the Lord that change can also go the other way. Some people change for the better. I can picture a young man who didn’t care about school, cared less about a job, disrespected his parents, sat on the couch, and played video games, but comes back from Marine Corps boot camp, fit, clean cut, spilling over with Yes sirs and yes ma’ams. What a change! I can also picture someone wincing in pain as they walk on a totally worn out joint, but they go into surgery and come through it walking with a smile and pain-free. That’s a change! Some changes are wonderful and a joy to experience.

But here we see someone who doesn’t change: Jesus. We get the impression that Jesus never turned down a dinner invitation, be it from tax-collectors or sinners or from Pharisees. Here we see Jesus eating at the home of Simon the Pharisee. And we don’t know much about this Simon other than that he was a Pharisee, we don’t know what city he lived in, we don’t know when he invited Jesus, we don’t know what was on the menu. We can probably take a good guess as to his motives- probably more interested in finding fault with Jesus than feeding him.

We also know that someone who wasn’t on the guest list shows up. We’re told that a woman from that town who had lived a sinful life came bringing perfume, stood behind Jesus weeping, wetting his feet with her tears, wiping them with her feet, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Simon reacts just like we would expect a Pharisee to. Who does she think she is coming into my home – unasked, uninvited, and certainly unappreciated! And Jesus? If he were a true prophet he’d know that this walking moral disaster is kissing his feet!

Jesus reacts, however, in pure grace. He tells a little parable about two debts that were owed to a moneylender. One debt was ten times the size of the other debt. Unexpectedly and undeservedly, the moneylender had a change of heart. He canceled the debts of both! And Jesus asks, “Now which of them will love more.” And Simon answers: the one who had the bigger debt forgiven. Jesus’s point is: See, Simon, the forgiveness of sins changes a woman!

We’re told that this woman was a “sinner.” We’re told that she was a well-known sinner in that village. That’s a tactful way of saying that she was a prostitute. Can you imagine what a life she had? Do you think she ever cried? Do you think she ever wept over the humiliation of having to sell herself? Do you think she ever cried when she saw other women being taken care of by loving husbands while she was often mistreated and abused? Do you think she cried when she had to do what she did in order to make money so she could eat? Do you think she cried when she saw the way people looked at her, ignored her, and treated her with contempt because of her lifestyle?

But now who is she? The former prostitute is in Christ a forgiven woman. Tears of sorrow are transformed into tears of thanksgiving. Her lips which once used for sin are now kissing her Savior in adoration. Her body that she had offered to men for a price, she now offers her whole self to Jesus for salvation without cost. A sinful woman had come home to God the Father’s house as a dearly loved woman. Her huge debt of sin had been forgiven by the One who came to seek and to save the lost. The forgiveness she received from Jesus when she turned to him in faith literally changed everything about her!

And we compare her reaction to Simon. Simon the Pharisee hadn’t even done the social norm of accepting Jesus into his house, instead his heart was full of judgment and criticism. Simon loved Jesus little. The woman’s reception of Jesus was socially over-the top. Why? Because her love for Jesus was over the top. She loved much, for she had been forgiven much. Simon loved little, because he had been forgiven little.

What about us? Where do we fit into this parable? How do we receive Jesus? How often do we shed genuine tears over sins we’ve committed or the shame from which our Savior has rescued us? Do we stretch social norms in expressing our love for Jesus? Do we love him as openly and obviously in our lives as we do here in church? The woman let nothing get in her way of being with Jesus- not even the ridicule and scorn – do we have that dedication, refusing to let anything- job, hobbies, schedule – get in our way of being with Jesus? Or are we loving Jesus less because we think we don’t have much that needs to be forgiven? May God grant each of us a genuine and godly sorrow over our sin and shame.

But then notice what Jesus says to her and to you: Your sins are forgiven, go in peace. He can say that because those feet that this woman anointed with her tears would walk the path of suffering to Jerusalem, those feet would stand in mockery, insults and flogging, those feet would then carry a cross the rocky and stony way to the hill of Golgotha, and those feet would then be nailed to the cross of crucifixion- for this woman’s sins, for your sins, and for mine. With those feet Jesus continues to bring his good news, his peace, his forgiveness, his love to you through His Word again and again.

And that changes everything! Jesus’s love changes our lives. Sin becomes more and more appalling, God’s will becomes more and more appealing. People become less and less strangers, and more and more souls for whom Jesus died. Life becomes less and less grueling and more and more an opportunity to love and serve our Savior.

So, repent. In faith turn to Jesus; he changes everything about your life. Amen.


Nailed! Now That’s Commitment

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4th Wednesday of Lent
Luke 23:33-34

Editor’s Note: We thank Pastor Gene Lilienthal of Lengby Lutheran Parish (ELS) for sharing the Word of God in this service.  While we do not have a transcript of the sermon, we hope you will enjoy the service audio recording.

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.  Luke 23:33-34 (NIV2011)


Repent: Turn to Jesus! He holds the key to heaven.

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3rd Wednesday of Lent
Luke 23:35-43

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I wasn’t expecting that. For tax purposes as a pastor I’m considered self-employed for income tax purposes. And so every year my wife and I pay quarterly estimated taxes. And we often get a portion of it back as a refund. Well last year after doing our taxes and checking them and rechecking them we weren’t going to get much back at all. We were a little disappointed but life goes on. After several weeks I received a letter from the IRS stating essentially that they had checked my taxes over and amended my return and that we’d be getting about 3 times more back than we had anticipated! I wasn’t expecting that and I really wasn’t expecting that from the IRS! When have you said, “I wasn’t expecting that!” These surprises of life have a way of keeping life rather interesting, right?

This principle is something that we see over and over again in the life of Jesus. If you would sometime, try reading the NT Gospels as if you had never heard the accounts before. Like you had never heard them for years and years in Sunday school or church. Imagine what you’d see. The first recipients of the news of the most important birth of all time is announced to…shepherds. They find Savior of the world not in a palace but resting in a feeding trough.  Or the time when Jesus used a little boy’s lunch to feed over 5,000 people. I wasn’t expecting that! Or Jesus telling a paralyzed man to walk…and he does! Or Jesus telling a man dead for over 4 days to come out of his tomb…and he does! I wasn’t expecting that!

But Jesus is still blowing away our expectations while he’s hanging on the cross. But notice first the things we see here that do meet our expectations. First, it’s the rulers, the leaders of Israel, “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him have himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” It wasn’t enough for Jesus to feel the whip on his back, the nails in his hands, and the thorns in his head. But he was also ridiculed and mocked by the religious leaders. They mocked Jesus for being who he truly is. What we see here is the sinful and corrupt human tendency to turn away from God and hate what is true.

But it’s not just the leaders, the soldiers did too, they “mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’” This was just their icing on the cake. They had earlier mocked Jesus with a robe and crown of thorns. This is something we also expect. The sinful and corrupt human tendency to turn away from God to prey mercilessly on the weak.

Pontius Pilate also got his fun in. “There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the King of the Jews.” He didn’t care that Jesus was a king or that Jesus had a kingdom. He intended the sign to mock the Jews- and this Jesus. He presided over the worst miscarriage of justice of all time. This too we would expect. We expect to see the human tendency to turn away from God trying to make wrong right and right wrong.

And finally, what else do we see? Not only ridiculed by the religious leaders, the soldiers, by the Governor, but also by a criminal! “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Wow! Can you get more humiliated than to be insulted by the worst of society? Here again we see the corrupt human tendency to turn away from God but want all his gifts without any love toward him.

I didn’t expect that. Jesus is certainly not the king we would expect. We expect kings in palaces, on thrones, with huge armies, not kings brutalized and mocked, hung on a cross, and wearing thorns instead of a crown.

Jesus didn’t meet the expectations of a king everyone had. Does he meet your expectations? What do you expect from Jesus? Do you expect a nice, easy, carefree life because you are His follower? Do you expect a life of ease and only minor troubles and difficulties? Do you expect that he will make you constantly healthy, wealthy, and wise? Do you expect a grandfatherly grin as you fling yourself headlong into that sin for the umpteenth time?

God tells us what to expect in His Word. He says expect pain, difficulty, trouble in this world – especially for following Jesus. He says expect a sinful world tearing itself apart. See God’s unfathomable wrath poured out on Jesus for every sin you and I thought wasn’t that big of a deal- see Jesus look disfigured beyond recognition, looking like a worm and not a man- all because of your sin and mine.

But then something happens that we don’t expect. A voice of faith-filled repentance: “But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ He said, ‘Since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ His miserable life was about to come to a miserable end, he was about to be snapped in the jaws of a hell far worse than he had ever experienced, but in faith spoke a simple request: Jesus, remember me.

And Jesus did! “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” I wasn’t expecting that! Immediately, beyond this criminal’s wildest dreams, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is what we should expect from Jesus. In Jesus God is gracious to the most undeserving. He is the key to heaven, even for criminals on crosses. Especially for criminals on crosses. With one sentence, Jesus turned the key and opened the gate of paradise in heaven for this criminal!

You see, while we’re so busy trying to save ourselves, trying to have a paradise on earth, Jesus didn’t save himself, he sacrificed himself. Why so? So that his forsakenness would be your forgiveness, his judgment your justification, his humiliation for your glory, his pain for your peace, his wounds for your healing, his death for your life!

And because that’s Jesus we can pray Jesus remember me! Remember me when I’m in pain, when I’m suffering, when I lose a loved one, when life proves to me again and again that I’m not in heaven. And he does remember and one day we will be with Jesus and a forgiven criminal in paradise. So, turn to Jesus; he holds the key to heaven! Amen.

Repent: Turn to Jesus; Do Not Turn Away!

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2nd Wednesday of Lent
Matthew 27:1-5

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, parenting is risky business, isn’t it? You pray for your children, but your children aren’t always the little angelic answers you had hoped for in your prayers. You do your very best to train them in the instruction of the Lord, but then, no matter your pleading and encouragement they stray away, maybe even far away from God and His Word. That is a fear of mine.  You do your best in training your children but eventually you don’t have the influence you once had and you have to pray that they make the right decisions. I don’t know how many times I’ve been contacted by very concerned parents or grandparents (often of BSU students) whose hearts are breaking because they know their children are wandering away from their Lord and they don’t know what to do. I’m sure everyone of us has felt the pain of a loved one who has walked away, turned to another path. But how much more pain, then, did Jesus feel that night in the Garden of Gethsemane when his friend, his disciple because his enemy and his kiss meant death??

Judas Iscariot was called by Jesus as one of his twelve disciples. So we can picture Judas sitting at Jesus’ feet learning  the Word and asking questions. Jesus also sent out the disciples to preach and do incredible miracles (Matthew 10). Can you picture Judas preaching the Word, cleansing lepers, healing the sick, driving out demons, even raising the dead? What kind of picture do you have of Judas? As one of the disciples we can assume that he was zealous, eager, and faithful in following Jesus.

But what did he do? He betrayed Jesus. Wait…what? How did that happen? How did we get from preaching the Word, healing the sick, raising the dead to betraying the Messiah?? Well, he didn’t just wake up one morning and say to himself, “I think I’m going to betray the Son of God today.” But how did Satan begin to work on Judas’ heart? How did it start? It starts wherever he can get a foothold. For Judas it started with greed.

Remember what God’s Word warns? “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim 6:10). And think about what Judas would have heard straight from Jesus: your real treasure is in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, a person cannot serve both God and money- he will hate the one and love the other, the deceitfulness of wealth can choke the Word right out of the heart, it’s easier for a camel to be crammed through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. He heard all of that! But then slowly he began turning away from Jesus and turning toward gold and silver.

He was also the keeper of the money bag. Money passed through his hands and he helped himself to it. He became incensed when Mary gave Jesus a precious gift anointing him with a perfume that cost a year’s wages. Jesus wasn’t worth that! And then the opportunity came. Jesus’ enemies were rich and powerful and willing to pay cold cash. Now Judas became deliberate: discussing the “business transaction,” carefully watching for a time to betray, leading the soldiers, having a pre-arranged signal of kissing Jesus.

30 pieces of silver. It felt so good in his hands, but ate away at his heart. He was seized with remorse, tried to return it, when they wouldn’t take it back, he threw the money, and went away and hanged himself. He got his money, but he forfeited his soul. Now he’s been suffering penniless in hell for almost 2,000 years.

“Poor Judas.” No. Instead we should be saying, “God help me!” God doesn’t tell us about Judas so that we can pity a dead man, but so that we can avoid his dead end. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” We have all kinds of examples in Scripture of faithful Christians who fell away. Here’s the warning: Any sin that we let take root in our hearts- be it greed, neglecting God’s Word, envy, coveting, etc, any sin that takes root can spin us into unbelief. Look at Judas!

But do you know what’s most tragic about Judas? When he came to his senses after seeing Jesus led away like a lamb to the slaughter, he had a change of mind. But instead of turning to Jesus for full and free forgiveness, he turned to his guilty conscience, instead of turning to the Lord for mercy, he turned to the corrupt priests to try to unbuy his betrayal. But no money, not even all the silver and gold in the world, could pay for one sin, only the innocent blood of Jesus can. In despair Judas turned to a noose instead of his Savior.

Learn from Judas, don’t turn toward your sin, turn to Jesus! Turn to Jesus who has turned to you in love with every word he spoke and every deed he did. Turn to Jesus who willingly allowed a lynch mob to arrest him and bind him and lead him away. Turn to Jesus who endured scorn, ridicule, mocking, and insults so you wouldn’t have to. Turn to Jesus who willingly allowed his hands and feet to be nailed to a cross to take your punishment on Himself and save you. Turn to Jesus who suffered hell for all the times we betrayed him with our sins. Because of that it is impossible for you to be more forgiven than you already are in Christ. Don’t turn to your sin and guilt- that’s spiritual suicide- look at Judas. No, turn to your Savior, He will always receive you with arms outstretched and hands with scars that prove His eternal love for you. Turn to Jesus, do not turn away. Amen.

Repent: Turn to Jesus and Not to Yourself

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Ash Wednesday
Luke 18:9-14

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! “Repent!” What comes to mind when you hear that word? Maybe you think about one of those sensationalist street preachers who holds up a big sign saying “Repent before it’s too late!” or “Repent the end is near!” Or maybe you think that repent means to feel bad about yourself or down about yourself or be upset with yourself. Or maybe repentance means to be full of remorse or regret. What is “repentance”? It seems that our world is constantly considering that question. It’s true in our day. It was true in Martin Luther’s day as well. As many of you are aware this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran reformation when Luther nailed 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg. Well, many of his theses focused on what true repentance means. In fact, his first these says, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Well, tonight we’ll learn a key truth about repentance. A truth that Jesus’ taught using a parable. Notice first of all who it was that Jesus was speaking to, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.” To such people Jesus gives them a mirror in the Pharisee that he describes. Picture it. You’re in the temple, there’s a lamb burning on the altar, the sun is going down, there’s a crowd, you notice this man, he’s a Pharisee, he spends plenty of time in the temple, he’s dressed well in flowing robes, he’s a religious professional, stands up probably in the middle of the crowd, and prays, and notice his favorite word, “I thank you…I’m not like other men…I fast twice a week…I give a tenth of all I get…” He’s not praying! He’s celebrating himself! He’s turning to himself. He doesn’t need anything from God- He is everything God wants! God was sure fortunate to have someone like him!

This Pharisee is a mirror for all who are confident in their own self-righteousness, not just in Jesus’ day, but also today. It’s horrifyingly easy for any of us to become this Pharisee. Notice that this Pharisee is self-focused, comparing, and inventorying. He’s self-focused- notice his vocabulary, it’s “I, I did this, I did that, I’ve accomplished.” I’m becoming more like this Pharisee when I’m self-focused. Notice that he’s also comparing. “I’m not like other men…” Isn’t that one easy? “Wow! I’m sure glad I’m not like that drug addict, that alcoholic, that criminal, that proud, pompous person, that jerk, etc.” And he’s also inventorying everything that he’s done. “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” In other words, he’s saying that God ought to be happy with him and reward him for all that he’s done. Do we do that? Perhaps it doesn’t show up all that often until something bad happens in our lives and we’re complaining in our heart, “God, after all that I’ve done? After how faithful I’ve been? After everything that I’ve done for you? And you give me this??” In other words, I don’t deserve it, I deserve better for all that I’ve done.

Today is Ash Wednesday, today we focus on repentance. Repentance includes sorrow over sin. Repentance is sorrow over both the bad things I’ve done, but also sorrow over the good things I’ve done. Because even the good things I haven’t done with the right heart, right motives, right intentions. Don’t turn to yourself, turn somewhere else.

Totally opposite of the Pharisee is the Tax Collector. He stood at a distance, he looked down, he beat his chest, and said, “God have mercy on me a sinner.” Literally, he said, “God be appeased…” He knew there was nothing he could do to appease the wrath of God for his sin. No praying, no fasting, no giving could make his sin right in God’s sight. He wasn’t the solution. He had to turn toward another. God Himself would appease His wrath toward sin. That’s what our first lesson said, “He [The Lord] saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.” The Lord appeased His own wrath against sin by becoming one of us, suffering and dying on a cross as the payment for all of our sins. God didn’t ignore our sin, he punished it on his own Son. Jesus became the Chief of sinners on the cross so that you and I – chiefs of sinners- could become his own sons and daughters!

You and I are really like that tax collector. The only, only reason we are where we are is by the grace of God. And so a Christian’s entire life is a life of repentance – a constant, lifelong turning away from ourselves, from our works, and turning toward Christ and his work. It’s not your work, your prayers, your dutiful service, your commitment to your family or church or country that saves you. It’s Jesus and His cross. There God HAS been merciful to you, there God HAS forgiven you, there God HAS lavished grace upon grace to you forever. Repent! Don’t turn to yourself, turn to Jesus and only him always. Amen.