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Sermon for Lent 4 Midweek

Note: This sermon was rather heavily adapted from one in the Lenten Series, “God’s Gift of Forgiveness” by Pastor Todd Peperkorn.

Click here for mp3 audio 24 Sermon for Lent 4,mp3

Sermon: But You, O Lord, Are Enthroned Forever (Psalm 102)

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text for tonight is Psalm 102, which we prayed earlier in the service. We will also be examining the explanation of the Office of the Keys as we prayed from the catechism earlier as well.

The title of Psalm 102 reads, “A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.  We don’t know who the author is, but we know what sort of state he’s in, faint.  He is near the end of his rope, on the verge of utter despair.   “I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places.”  “I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop” (Psalm 102:6, 7b), so prays the psalmist. He complains of tears and fever, lost appetite, and doubt.  It is as though the writer of this psalm has been inside our heads and hearts to know what happens there in the midst of an emergency or personal crisis.  I would expect that everyone here has, at some point, felt like this little sparrow, separated from the rest, alone, far from what feels like home.  But notice that for the psalmist this isn’t simply human isolation.  What does he say has separated him from his friends?  What is it that has brought his own mortality and fear right in front of his face?  It is God’s indignation and wrath over his sin.

When God’s Law does its work in our hearts, we are alone and silent before an angry God.  We know that God does not overlook sin. Sin must be punished. As Paul said, “Through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).  This is what the Law does, dear friends.  It crushes; it shows us what we deserve.  The Law shows us that we deserve to be separated and isolated completely from God to no longer enjoy his presence.  There is a name for the physical locality from where God has withdrawn and is not present.  We call it hell.  Even mature Christians sometimes have a rather Sunday School version of hell in their heads.  It’s the hot place where bad people go.  From the media depictions these days, it’s a cartoon, a caricature of what the Scriptures tell us about it.  It’s far more mature to see hell as the place from where God has withdrawn his presence.  Those who sin are separated from God, not worthy to be in His presence.  It is what we deserve because of our sins.

This is the nature of our sins: they hold us back and keep us down.  Our sins keep us away from God and His mercy.  They would even blind us to our own true character as a beggar before God.  But God’s Law will have its way with us.  Like Peter knowing his sin in the words of Jesus his week so that he broke down and wept, God’s Law looks at us, and we see ourselves for what you truly are: sinners who stands in need of rescue.

Through his work on the cross, Jesus came to rescue from the bondage of hell, to buy us out of slavery to sin, to heal our blindness to sin, to restore to us the honor to walk in the presence of His heavenly Father.  This is what the Gospel is all about. The Gospel is about forgiveness of sins. The Gospel is about reconnecting you to the God who saves you.  As the psalmist wrote, “But You, O Lord, are enthroned forever” (Psalm 102:12). He promises to arise and have mercy on Zion. He will have mercy on you. This is what Confession and Absolution is all about.  Confession is the contrition worked by the Law and Absolution is the declaration of the free gift of forgiveness spoken by Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father.  This is His promise to us for all eternity.

So how does this work specifically for us and our particular sins?  Let’s look at the Small Catechism again.

What sins should we confess?
Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.

God wants us to plead guilty of all sins, even the ones we are not aware of.  We do this in the Lord’s Prayer every day.  We also do this in the general Confession and Absolution on Sunday. But Individual Confession and Absolution is about what troubles the sinner’s conscience.  Last week I said that we don’t confess for God’s sake.  God already knows our sins.  We’re not telling Him anything new.  Rather, we confess for our sake.  We confess so that we realize what it is we have done wrong the magnitude of our sin in the eyes of God.  We confess so that we ourselves see all the more clearly why it is we need the forgiveness Jesus came to earn for us on the cross.  Because left to our own opinions of ourselves, we would never say that we are as deserving of the eternal punishment of hell at least not as much as that other person over there.   I speak from experience here.  Whenever I see someone passing me on the street doing 50 in a 35 mile per hour zone, it never occurs to me that if I’m going 40, I’m breaking the law too but least I’m not as bad as that guy.  The same holds true for God’s Law, of which every single instance of our breaking it is recorded and for which every single instance we break it earns us eternal punishment.  Distracted by the sins of others, I fixate on their sin and their hypocrisy rather than my own and I try to even connivance God I’m a valuable team member whereas this other guy, well…

As a sinner, I need the practice of saying, this particular sin, whatever it may be, my arrogance, my pride, my laziness, my foul mouth, these trouble me.  They hold back the growth of the kingdom in this place.  I confess them, not for God’s sake but because I need to be driven into the arms of a merciful Rescuing Jesus.  I need to hear that God forgives me because of Jesus.  I need to hear again, I am His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased.  Reading about it is not the same.  I don’t want to simply pray about it and rely on my faith to appropriate it to myself, wondering if God truly spoke a word of forgiveness to me or not.  Satan loves to trick us into doubting God’s forgiveness.  But where Satan plants seeds of doubt, our Lord Jesus speaks a word certainty and truth.

Remember, when you hear again that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, He did so for you.  He suffered abandonment and the isolation of the cross, to the point that he was even separated from the presence of the Father, He was forsaken by the Father all so that you would never be abandoned, never be forsaken, never be cut off, and never be cast out of the presence of your merciful and loving God.  He was scourged and mocked and suffered contempt, so that you would never bear those marks from God and so that if ever you were whipped, mocked, and held in contempt for following after him, you would know you suffer not in vain.  You don’t suffer alone.  Your suffering connects you to His suffering for you.

So when Satan flings your sins at you, when the world tells you that you are not worthy to be saved, when your own conscience casts doubt in your heart about your life and salvation, where do you flee?  Flee to God’s word of absolution and forgiveness.  Our Lord died on the cross so that your sins would be forgiven, so why cling to them?  Confess them, and our Lord will fling them into the depth of the sea.  As He said in Psalm 103, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (v. 12).  That is a beautiful picture of the freedom from our sins Christ won for us.

Every time you hear words of forgiveness from God, He is covering you up with Christ’s death on the cross.  He is clothing you with the new justice worked out for you on the cross and rinsed over you in Holy Baptism. Remember it is through baptism that you are connected to Christ’s death and resurrection, buried with Him and raised with Him to new life.  What then is Absolution but the assurance of all those promises returned to you in those life–giving waters, again and again and again?  That, my friends, is the Christian life.

So rejoice! God hears your prayers for mercy. You are not alone as a sparrow on a housetop.  The God who laid the foundations of the earth, and who sent His son to die for you, will hold you in the palm of His hand and love you forever.

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

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