Sermon: 3rd Sunday in Lent – “Deny Yourself and follow the Christ.”

Deny Yourself and follow the Christ.  That was the theme of our readings.

We heard it first in the 10 commandments God gave to his people from the Book of Exodus. Far from being arbitrary rules we must follow, a set of hoops to hop through to prove our faith , the commandments are a rule to deny our selfish and hurtful desires.

  1. You shall have no other Gods. We fail to live rightly, and when we fail, we find our God to be too strict, when really we are so quick to turn wicked in our ways. So when God’s standard becomes too difficult, or doesn’t fit our expectations, we’re quick to replace him with another God, as Aaron and the Israelites did when they made the Golden Calf, or we just make our own selves our God.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. That is, do not wield our God’s name as some spell or weapon  to your own advantage. We are quick to validate our false words by saying “I swear to God!”. In doing so we are not honoring our God, but we are implying that all of our other words are not trustworthy. 
  3. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it Holy. We would rather do anything but keep God’s day holy. There is always more work to be done in our lives. More work at work, more work at home. Sleep to be caught up on. Anything but remembering what all God provided for us,  the true sabbath rest he gives  us  here when we gather as the Church
  4. Honor your Father and Mother. We all know better than our parents. Whoever stops to consider how God has blessed us with our parents? Granted, no parent is perfect, and some are even negligent. But no doubt God has placed some kind of authority figure in our life who has watched out for and blessed us. Regardless, we are quick to deny this blessing and consider ourselves to be wiser than those God has placed over us
  5. You shall not murder. Very few perhaps are guilty of murder, yet we know Jesus tells us that anyone who looks at his fellow with anger has committed murder in his heart. How much easier would this world be if we could rid all of those who fill us with anger?! I shudder to think how many of us sinners would indeed be murderers in our anger if we thought we could get away with it. Our anger burns hotly.
  6. You shall not commit adultery. We have departed far from what God intended for man and woman. It’s easy to pick on same-sex relationships. But again, Jesus said that anyone who looks at someone with sexual lust has committed adultery? How often in our hearts and mind do we allow sex to be separted from this special union of marriage that God has granted us?
  7. You shall not steal. Just as with murder, few are guilty of shoplifting or armed theft. Yet how often do we knowingly take what is no rightfully ours? How often do we look for loopholes in business or our taxes? We love to find ways to come out ahead
  8. You shall not give false testimony. We can’t help but give false testimony. We regularly lie, or tell half truths, half lifes. We use our words for our own advantage at the expenses of others. We’re quick to slander those we view as enemies, and cry about great injustice when our enemies do the same to us.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. We want what we don’t have, and we’ll never be satisfied. The more God happens to bless us, the more we covet. Whether it be our house, whether it be our spouse, or any of our possessions. We ALWAYS want more. 

God wrote the commandments not to burden us, but to restrain us from our wicked selfishness. We hurt each other and ourselves when we break them, and depart further away from our God. Even that knowledge doesn’t stop us from doing it.

Deny Yourself and follow Christ. 

The wisdom of the world is to watch out for yourself. We demand signs, proof, wisdom that fits our understanding. St. Paul spoke of such. The Jews wanted enough signs to prove something was from God, the Gentiles seek enough wisdom to prove something is logical. Jesus’ death for our sins will satisfy neither of those things. It will make Jews stumble, it will make Gentiles regard it as foolishness.

God chose what was foolish to shame the wise, he chose what was weak to shame the strong. What do the wise do but take advantage of those who are foolish? What do the strong do but take advantage of those who are weak? God provides for those who are helpless, not able to help themselves. St. Paul summed it up with this:

 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Deny Yourself and follow Christ. 

Even when we claim we are following our Lord, it is easy to go astray. So it was in our Gospel reading in God’s temple. It was necessary to have sheep, oxen, and pigeons available for sacrifice, but people had not lost this opportunity to make money in God’s name. The people had become like animals, seeking their own primitive desires, so Jesus drove them out accordingly with a whip, just like you would a wild animal. 

The Jews did not question this action, but asked for a sign, proof to satisfy their own wisdom that Jesus had this authority. Who was he to disrupt what was going on in the temple?

Jesus answered: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

He wasn’t referring to the stones that made up the building around him. He was the true presence of God on earth. Not in the form people wanted to see. They would rather praise the glorious building of the temple. 

I preached last week that Jesus was not the Christ that we want, but the Christ that we need. We need to be ready to receive this, and it involves denying ourselves. 

We are so quick to switch our relationship with our God around. We love to demand that our God prove himself to us, to fit our needs and desires. If he doesn’t fit what we want, or if he doesn’t give us enough signs for proof or enough wisdom to be logical, then we announce that God isn’t real! We have made ourselves God then.

Let us have no other Gods. Especially let us not make ourselves our own God. Do not ask how does God fit into your life, but rather  how do we fit into this very world our God created. We are so quick to become arrogant. If God gives even a little wisdom or logic that Paul said the Gentiles desired, then we announce God is wrong, or isn’t real. If God gives us wondrous and supernatural signs, as the Jews desire, we find ways even to dismiss those. No amount of miracles by Jesus would make some believe. Think back to Pharaoh in Egypt, no amount of wondrously terrible plagues would cause him to properly fear the one true God.

Deny yourself and follow the Christ. Look to the 10 Commandments. They remind us of how wicked we really are in our hearts and in our actions, and how better a place this world would be if we could follow them. We dearly need forgiveness and redemption. 

Then open your hearts to how God gives us this forgiveness and redemption. Again, as I preached last week, Jesus is not the Christ we want, but the Christ we need. He is not a glorious savior according to man. That’s what we naturally want, but it’s not what we need.

We need a savior who will step down from a heavenly pristine throne, and stoop down into the muck and mire of this world. A savior who would dare touch lepers, who would eat with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. A savior who was less concerned with being like a roaring lion, and instead was ready to be a lamb, led uncomplaining forth to the slaughter, bearing on his shoulders the sins of us all. 

God himself came to us in this way. Jesus came to be with us and for us. The temple of his body would be torn down, but in 3 days built back up. He promises the same resurrection for us all.  

Pay attention to the commandments, not to try and keep them for your own righteousness, but for how God would desire us to live with one another. And when you fail, do not blame God’s commandments for being too strict, look to our God for grace. 

Do not demand proof in signs and wisdom from the one who would be gracious to us, but remove the arrogance from your heart, and open your hearts and minds to what God gives us through his Word in the Scriptures. Then God will give us his Holy Spirit, so that we may understand how Jesus is exactly the savior we need.

Deny yourself, and follow the Christ.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.