Our sinful flesh is never satisfied. The more of anything we get, the more it becomes expected, and the less we appreciate what we have. This is nothing new. Even a quick glance through Holy Scripture shows that this condition has plagued men from the Garden of Eden, Israel in the wilderness, and to this very day.
When God gave His Law, He knew man could not keep it. The Law always condemns. In this world, after the Fall, man cannot keep the Law. It will always and only show where we have stumbled. It tells us what we ought to do, that which pleases God. But the Law is also supposed to drive us to our Savior, our only source of Help and Comfort. Condemned and killed by the Law, we flee to the Gospel, to the Christ revealed in it who "takes away the sin of the world."
In the Collect we asked God to “be our defense against all our enemies.” The Sunday Gospels in the season of Lent show us what our enemies are. Two weeks ago we learned about the temptation of the devil. Last week we learned that God allows our faith to be tested so that it becomes the strongest it can be, and our flesh would rather curse God and believe the worst of Him, that He doesn’t care about us, refusing to see Him at work in times of trouble. Today, once again, we learn that our enemy is the devil who wants nothing more than to see to it that our last state is worse than our first. In other words, he doesn’t just want us to be sinners who did not know God’s Law and therefore didn’t know any better. He wants us to be hardened sinners who very much know God’s Law and intentionally, spitefully do the exact opposite.
In tonight’s Gospel Jesus takes His disciples aside to let them know what is going to happen to Him. This is the third time He has told them, and it is also the most detailed of the Passion predictions. For the first time Jesus mentions that He will be handed over to the Gentiles and crucified. How exactly the disciples responded we do not know. But we know from the previous two times, they were shocked and saddened, but also perplexed. How could this happen to the long-awaited Messiah? How could their own leaders do this to their Savior? They did not yet understand that Jesus would enter into His glory through rejection, suffering, and death.
Be relentless! Do not lean on your own reason, your own experience, your own view of the situation! That is what Our Lord teaches us today by way of the Canaanite woman. He is not polite, the way we count politeness. He doesn’t give her what she wants so she is quiet and leaves everyone alone, like the disciples want Him to. Instead, He does what He knows is right for her, right for the disciples, right for us. Jesus teaches them and us to be relentless in prayer, always approaching the throne of grace with confidence. Jesus teaches them and us to rely solely on His Word and the promises it records.
We can all relate to Elijah. We know what it’s like to have had enough. Enough of the tensions that exist in this life. You know everything that’s bothering you right now, everything that’s weighing you down—anxiety over the next chapter in life, wondering how to manage everyone’s hectic schedule, how this month’s bills will be paid, when the doctor will finally call with the test results. And the list goes on. All of these stresses weigh on you. You wonder just how much more you can bear.
Today the Church reminds us that we are at war against our ancient enemy, the devil. There is no complacency. This spiritual warfare is serious. It’s been going on for thousands of years, since the very first days after Creation. But there is no dodging the draft. Everyone who is Baptized has been enlisted and is fighting. If the devil fought against our first parents, if he fought against Our Lord, what makes you think he’ll leave you alone? And if you think he is leaving you alone, then he’s already winning.
Ash Wednesday presents the great Christian paradox. We are dead, yet alive. The key ceremony of this day, which gives it its name, smacks us in the face, or the forehead if you will, with our own mortality. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” In the back of our minds, we all know this is our destiny. One day we will draw our last breath. One day this body will go the way of all flesh, the way God never intended for it to go. But because of our first parents’ sin and because of the sins we have added to it, death must come. But herein is the paradox. Even though we walk through this valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil because God is with us. He has sent His Son to bear our sin and be our Savior. We are Baptized into Him. So while we march towards death, we know that, as we will sing at Easter, death is but the gate of life immortal. Ash Wednesday calls us to repentance for our sin, for our willing disobedience. But it also reminds us that confession has two parts. First that we confess our sin, but secondly that we receive absolution for all of our sin. We are dead, but in Christ, we live.
Love…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” As we stand now on the threshold of Lent, as we prepare to follow Our Lord from the cross to the grave and back to the Upper Room to comfort His terrified disciples, this is the theme. St. Paul’s great “Love Chapter” isn’t about weddings. It’s not even about the love we have for others. It’s about the love Jesus Christ has for you. For you He bears all things, even your sin. He believes all things, even that He drinks the Father’s cup of wrath to fulfill His will that all men might be redeemed. He hopes all things, even that all might repent, believe, and receive His full forgiveness. He endures all things, even the cross, to save you. So today He reminds His disciples that what He is about to endure He bears willingly. He goes to the cross in obedience to His Father and in love for His creation, the greatest love the world has ever known.
When god created the world, everything was “very good.” In that perfection, man was able to hear the Word of God rightly. Adam and Eve’s hearts were, by nature, good soil. The Word could take root and yield a hundredfold harvest. There was only faith toward God and fervent love toward one another. Unfortunately, the sower in today’s Parable isn’t the only sower. The devil also sows. He sows the seeds of doubt and unbelief. He sowed those seeds in Adam and Eve and there was an immediate harvest of death. Man fell into sin and lost the image of his Creator and the perfect relationship between God and His creation was destroyed. Because of sin, man’s heart now has rocks, thorns, trampling feet, and demonic, devouring birds, all ready to destroy the seed of faith and its fruits. Each seed bears fruit according to its kind, and we are now in the image and likeness of Adam, marred by sin, and we, too, are inheritors and breeders of sin and death. No one is exempt from this death-causing sin.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.