Text: Jeremiah 11:18-20
It seems almost anti-Christian, doesn’t it? Asking God to take vengeance upon your enemies? What happened to turning the other cheek? What happened to forgiving and forgiving and then forgiving some more? Yet today we see Jeremiah calling upon the Lord to do just that–take vengeance upon his enemies that threaten him.
So was that right for Jeremiah to do?
Yes. We call these kinds of prayers–or psalms in the book of Psalms–imprecatory prayers. They are prayers that essentially ask for God to crush his enemies. Remembering that Scripture says that vengeance belongs to God and not us, imprecatory prayers ask that God continues to execute his will over and above all enemies.
So while we humbly show love to all, even to our enemies, we at the same time pray that God’s enemies be overcome and defeated. After all, God’s enemies restrict us and persecute us. They oppose the preaching of God’s Word. They work to stop the growth of God’s Church. Their defeat means more opportunities for God’s people and God’s Word to grow.
Finally, these words of Jeremiah remind us of our Savior Jesus. Just as Jeremiah was led like a lamb to the slaughter, so also the great Lamb of God was. Jesus suffered at the hands of his enemies and was finally killed. Yet in this suffering and death Jesus won the ultimate victory over all our enemies–Sin, Death, and the Devil.
Thanks be to God for his victory! Thanks be to God for his power over our enemies!
Entrust to him all your cares and concerns about our enemies of faith. Give to him all glory.
Prayer: All glory be to you alone, Lord God Almighty. Watch over me with your great power and might. Keep me safe from all enemies. Crush them with your mighty power, that all may see you as King of kings and Lord of lords alone. Amen.
Midweek Lent 2
Text: Psalm 40:5-10
There he was on his knees in the dirt. His knuckles were white as chalk, his fingers interlocked in folded reverence. His face and body contorted in the anguish he was undergoing. His concentration level was so extreme that blood literally ran down his face mixed with his sweat despite the cool of the evening. The inner turmoil this man was undergoing is so extreme few of us can even begin to grasp what it was like.
Why? What could cause such extreme anguish, the likes of which I will probably never know?
This man was enduring a brutal, down-in-the-dirt, life and death, mental wrestling match. This man was fighting a battle against sin and he was bound and determined to win it! This man was Jesus on his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed. In less than 24 hours he would die a death so violent that a new word was created to explain the pain he would go through… excruciating (Latin for “from the cross”).
What made this night so hard was the fact that he knew what was coming. Being true God did not make this task any easier for Jesus, in fact being true God meant he knew the exact details of what would be expected of him. The bloody sweat that dripped from his face, the anguish and turmoil that wracked his body and brain were the result of his refusal to doubt his Father’s ability to carry him through this. They resulted from his obstinate determination to follow the will of his Father no matter what the cost. He could have run away, he could have fled for his life, literally, but he wouldn’t. His resolve, his love, was too great to allow himself to do that.
By human standards he had fallen so very far. Only 33 years or so ago he was in heaven living in perfect harmony with the Father, Holy Spirit, and all the angels. Pain, suffering, anguish and sadness never touched him then. And now this… this man on his knees in a garden that didn’t hold a candle to the perfect gardens in heaven… this man about to willingly undergo torture and death… why? Why would Jesus do it? Why was he so insistent on keeping his Father’s will even when this will would lead to his death?
It makes no sense. Who in their right mind would willingly walk into a trap that they knew would lead to excruciating pain? Who in their right mind would undergo something so terrible simply because someone else wanted them too? Who in their right mind would refuse to defend themselves when accused of crimes they did not commit? Who in their right mind would die for people who did nothing but hate him?
It seems irrational that the God who has done so many wonders that no one can recount them, as Psalm 40 claims, would require such a grotesque act be done to his only Son. It seems irrational that a “loving” Father would require his Son to leave perfection to suffer pain, ridicule, hatred and death as a sacrifice, death on a cross of all places. There was nothing quick or painless about death on a cross. It seems like a sick kind of torture for a Father to let his Son know beforehand the terrible things that he would make happen so the Son could suffer all the more until it came.
Why? Why would Jesus say through the Psalmist, “Here I am, I have come… I desire to do your will?”
It is an irrational and uncomfortable story. It is irrational because we live in a world where survival of the fittest is engrained into our very being. In a country where everyone is out to get the best for themselves it would be foolish to give up perfection. In a society where avoiding pain and discomfort is the daily goal of many, Jesus’ willful walk toward his death seems downright dumb. It is uncomfortable because compared to Jesus’ insistence on obeying his Father’s will, our submission looks tremendously weak. Compared to Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of God’s laws, our measly attempts look empty and foolish.
The Psalmist points out one of our crucial flaws this way, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire… burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.” God is not satisfied with an outward obedience to the laws he lays out in the pages of the Bible. God demands complete and total submission, willing obedience to his will, to his law. God had certainly demanded that all sorts of offerings be made by the Old Testament believers but he also made very clear in this psalm and in many other places that God demands more than outward actions. God demands complete alignment between our will or desires and his will.
Like Jesus displayed, no matter how hard it gets, God expects perfection.
It is not enough to come to church every Sunday and plaster a fake smile on your face for the world to see, thinking that in this act you have earned God’s favor. God sees your heart, and he sees the filth inside. He sees that when we obey his law we are almost always doing it in a filthy, disgusting, self-serving way. He sees the desire to have our good deeds recognized by others. He sees our hypocritical judging thoughts against others around us. In short, he sees a complete and utter failure to submit our every thought, word and deed to God’s rules.
God holds up the standard of perfection before our eyes. In the Bible God tells us what we have to do to get to heaven on our own merit. In Jesus we see an example of what perfection looks like. Go ahead and hold your paltry list of deeds up against God’s word and see how well you have kept God’s will. Our complete failure to not only keep God’s will but also desire to keep his will looks nothing like Jesus on his knees in the garden. We look more like that little two year old in the midst of his terrible two’s looking God right in the face and screaming, “NO! I don’t want to! You can’t make me!”
God sees this complete and utter failure and against all rational thought, his heart breaks for us. God sees our stubborn, willful running from his rules and amazingly he still cares what happens to us.
Why? Why should God care? Why should his love for us be embodied in that man on his knees in Gethsemane? Why was Jesus so insistent on doing his Father’s will, no matter what the personal cost?
The only thing that could possible explain this irrational emotion from God is love… love like neither you nor I have ever seen before, nor will we ever see it again.
Jesus left his perfect home in heaven and humbled himself. He willingly placed himself in a situation in which he would be tempted to break his Father’s rules just as we are. He willingly placed himself in a situation where the inborn hatred of God found in all people could hurt him. He willingly placed himself in a human body with which he would experience all the same pain, sorrow and hardship that we experience every day because of sin. He certainly didn’t have to undergo this humiliation!
Jesus came so that he could actively keep all of God’s laws perfectly on our behalf. He stood on this earth and said to his Father, “I have come to do your will,” and then he kept it. He walked through this life without ever, not even once, thinking a disrespectful thought about his parents. He lived among people who hated him for no reason and he never, not even once, had a single hatful thought toward them. He dealt with prostitutes and loose women on an almost daily basis and he never, not even once, harbored a single disgusting thought about them. He lived on the generosity of others without ever wishing he could have more than he did. He never gossiped, he never slandered, he never mocked all the ignorant and foolish people that surrounded him every day.
He lived perfectly so that when he died he could be the perfect lamb, without any single blemish that was required in the Old Testament sacrifices.
Then Jesus knelt on his knees that fateful day in Gethsemane and he won the wrestling match with the temptation to run from the will of God. In order for God to free us from the condemnation we deserve a sacrifice had to be made. The Father offers his own Son as that sacrifice. The Son willing submits to his Father’s will and offers himself as the perfect sacrifice for your sins and mine.
Blood dripped down Jesus’ brow that night in Gethsemane because of two unstoppable forces. Our just God needed to punish someone for our failure to submit, and our loving God was going to punish himself so that we could escape the punishment we brought on our own heads.
Jesus left perfection behind… because he loves you.
Jesus perfectly followed all of God’s laws for his whole life… because he loves you.
Jesus submitted himself to God’s will that Maundy Thursday night… because he loves you.
Jesus resolutely faced his death… because he loves you
All of a sudden we start running out of words to explain how great our God’s love for us is. “Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.”
“Here I am, I have come… I desire to do your will.” Almost 1000 years before he was born, Jesus prophesied through King David that when he came he would willingly keep all of God’s rules and willingly take the punishment due us.
So now what? God’s will has been met. His rules have been followed. We stand before him covered with Jesus’ perfection which means it looks like we have kept God’s will even though we know we haven’t.
Here’s an idea of what to do next… “I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, as you know, O LORD. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly.”
Stand up, look your God in the eye and say with Jesus, “I have come to do your will, O God!”