Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday Sermon: "Jesus' First Word from the Cross: Forgiveness"

+ Ash Wednesday – March 1st, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran HB
Text: Luke 23:33-34 – Jesus’ 1st word on the cross

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

Martin Luther once said the church is the mouth-house of God. Here, God calls us to receive his word, listen to Jesus’ word, and speak that word to others around us. This is especially true in the season of Lent. As good as the soup suppers will be, Scripture reminds us that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. If we are to speak, sing, and confess Jesus’ word, we must first be filled.

That’s why we have additional weekly services during Lent: to hear Jesus’ word of forgiveness. That’s what the ancient practice of fasting or “giving something up for Lent” is about: forgoing something for more time to hear God’s word, or fasting from something to use that money for the support of spreading God’s Word.

This Lenten season we’ll fill our ears with Jesus’ last words as he hung on the cross to save, redeem, and forgive us. Today we hear the first word of Jesus on the cross:

And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This is arguably one of the harder of Jesus’ words on the cross: Forgiveness. I’ve talked to many dear saints who’ve confessed that the hardest part of the Lord’s Prayer to pray is, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I imagine that’s true for all of us some days.

We think of historical stories, like, Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian woman who was thrown in a Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews in WWII, and later after the war was over, came face to face with one of her captors following her presentation on forgiveness. What did she say? What would we say?

Or perhaps fairy tales like Cinderella come to mind. The most recent Disney version of Cinderella illustrates this well. The wicked step-mother is portrayed in all her vile, cruelty. And her snotty daughters revel in physically and emotionally abusing Cinderella. Together they mercilessly humiliate, degrade, and dehumanize her every chance they get. How did Cinderella respond? How would we respond?

Even the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis wrestled with this, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive…”[1]

Isn’t that the truth. We tend to think of forgiveness the same way the disciples did. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him, seven times?”

We want to place limits, conditions, terms, stipulations, and quotas on our forgiveness, treating it like the height requirements at a Disneyland ride. We’re quick to anger and slow to forgive. We forget all manner of sins we commit against others but when it comes to those who have sinned against us, we have an instant replay, photographic memory.

Thankfully, God’s ways of forgiveness are not our ways.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

When you consider where Jesus was and what he endured, these are remarkable words. Jesus was rejected by his people. His own followers deserted him. One of his closest disciples betrayed him. His best friend denied having anything to do with him. He was tried in a kangaroo court by the religious authorities, taken to the Roman governor who declared him innocent, yet still delivered him over to be scourged and executed. Jesus was pummeled with verbal abuse. False prophet. Blasphemer.

The Roman soldiers mocked him with royal robes, a crown of thorns upon his head, and a reed in his hands for a scepter. Then they bowed before him and pretended pay him homage, only to laugh and strike him with the reed. The priests and people reviled him. Jesus was beaten, scourged, fastened to the cross with iron stakes, and left to hang naked, bloodied, and on display for all the world to see.

Yet, in the midst of all this, the first words from Jesus’s mouth as he hung from that cross was a prayer. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus prayed for his persecutors. Jesus prayed for Peter who denied him, for Pilate who unjustly sentenced him to death, for the religious authorities who mocked him, and the soldiers who executed him. While they were killing him, the doctor was curing the sick with his blood (Augustine).

But Jesus also prayed for you. He prayed to forgive us our trespasses as we trespass against him. He prayed to forgive our mockery, our lies, our anger, our selfishness, our judgment, our grudges, and to forgive all our sin.

As Jesus hung on the cross he prayed for our forgiveness while at the same time he was dying to win our forgiveness. This is why he came…to forgive, save, and redeem you.

God made us alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:1314).

God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will remember your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25)

This is why Redeemer Lutheran is here in Huntington Beach: to receive forgiveness in Jesus’ name, and to speak forgiveness to others. This is why we have a preschool, Bible studies, and music programs. It’s why we celebrate and encourage one another to receive the sacraments of absolution – in public and private, the daily gift of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper more and more. Because more hearing and more receiving of Jesus’ Word and body and blood means receiving more forgiveness. Every sinful thought is forgiven. Every wicked word is forgiven. Jesus hangs on the cross for you! Jesus pleads for your forgiveness!

When Corrie Ten Boom came face-to-face with one of her former Nazi tormentors, by God’s grace, that’s what she did. She took his hand and forgave him.

When Cinderella left her house, cruel step-sisters, and wicked stepmother at the end of the movie, before she walked out the door she simply said, “I forgive you.”

When we look at the sins others have committed against us and we have committed against them, this is also how we live, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven us.

This Lenten season, and in all seasons of life, Jesus fills your ears, hearts, and minds, and covers you with his forgiving word from the cross:

“Father, forgive them.”

A blessed Ash Wednesday to you each of you…

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, chapter 7. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001. p. 115.

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