Standing at the Cross through Persecution

March 29, 2017 – 4th Wednesday in Lent

by Pastor Pete Scheele


Read Romans 8: 32-39

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Grace and peace to you as you stand at the Cross of Christ even through persecution, from God, our Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Author Donald Miller says that a good story contains “A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.” You’ve seen this same plot line in all most every movie you’ve watched. Think about it. The Little Mermaid wants to have legs and live on land, that’s what the whole movie is about. She has to overcome her father’s warnings and the evil Ursula to make that happen. In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wants to get back home to Kansas. She has to overcome the Wicked Witch of the West to get to the Wizard whose suppose to be able to make it all happen. It doesn’t matter what Star War episode that you watch there is always some person who wants something better for the world that they are living in and the movie is all about how they overcoming all the conflicts that they will face to accomplish a better life for their people.

Have you ever felt like you’ve been living in a movie? There are things that you want in life and it seems like you have to overcome one obstacle after another just to get them. As Christians, we sometimes feel that same way. We have a goal of remaining faithful to God so that we can enjoy the peace and love of God for all eternity with all of our family and friends, but the Old Evil Foe; he puts through us all sorts of conflicts because he wants us to live a life in the darkness of hell with him.

Life is getting harder and we have to overcome more and more obstacles just to live out our faith. Society is becoming less and less tolerant toward our beliefs in the one true God. Government regulations are making it more difficult to express our faith in the public square. We live in a less biblically literate society than our parents did, so we have to overcome even the obstacle of ignorance, or worse. Yes the Old Evil Foe is working hard at keeping us on the dark side so that the light of God’s Love wouldn’t shine in our lives.

In his second sermon for Holy Week in 1534, Martin Luther said this to his congregation: “Thus Christ was not killed in a rebellion, nor in a riot, nor by people who had no legal power; No, He was killed by those who held full, legal power.” Jesus lived out the epic story of our salvation and willingly overcame unimaginable obstacles to accomplish the task of giving us salvation from our sin, so that we could live in His peace and love for all eternity.

All throughout His ministry Jesus had to face, and overcome, the obstacle of persecution. Then, when things mattered most, the deck was stacked against Him as His opponents used every religious and legal tool to find a way to take His life. When even that didn’t work, they lowered themselves to deceit: “The chief priests were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put Him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward.” Jesus was convicted of the truth that the people of the world under the dark forces of the Old Evil Foe didn’t want to hear, He was the Son of God sent down to save us from our sins so that we don’t have to live in the darkness of death for all eternity.

Sometimes we complain about being persecuted, but it is we ourselves who persecuted Jesus with our sins. We ignore Him or hide Him away when we ought to be boldly proclaiming His name. We use His name in vain or we use Him as a crutch when we’re in a pinch only to discard Him once again when we no longer feel that we need Him. It wasn’t just the legal and religious leaders of Jesus’ day that persecuted Jesus. We persecute Him, too, with our lack of faith and trust in His will in our lives. We persecute Him just like we do our parents, when we were little and didn’t want to listen to the truth that they were sharing with us out of love, but wanted to do it our way.

Sin is the most difficult obstacle for us to overcome. So we try to tackle it by making excuses. We try to avoid it with human fortitude. We attempt to explain it away by telling ourselves that God’s commands and requirements aren’t nearly as stringent as the Bible says they are. If that doesn’t work, we exaggerate our own goodness to make it look like we’re better than we really are. None of it works though, because in the end, sin is what makes us suffer. It separates us from God and from one another. It’s a plot line that’s all too familiar to each of us and the only way to change it is to be Jesus, the true Son of God and Son of Man.

So how does this sinful story that we find ourselves in get resolved? It starts with a God who saw the obstacle of our sin and determined that He would let nothing stop Him from rescuing us from its prison, eternal death. This plot line begins and ends with the love of the Heavenly Father for each and every one of us. In the middle of it all is the life and suffering of Jesus Christ. God’s plan made Him “who knew no sin to become sin for us.” If God’s plan were a movie, no one would believe the story was true. It seems too absurd that God would take on human flesh only to suffer and die for sinful humanity. It seems too unbelievable that God would make His only Son flesh and blood so the He could overcome sin by never falling to sin during His whole life time and then take all our sins upon Himself so that He could make the full and final payment for each and every one of our sins. Hollywood doesn’t know our God the way we do because the Holy Spirit is working in our lives to bring us to belief in the truth.

His plan of salvation for us is so much greater than a summer blockbuster. It’s the greatest story ever told. Jesus lived a perfect life in our place. He overcame the antagonistic devil by dying on the cross for each and every one of us. Then He burst out of the gates of death and gave us the ability to live again in the Love of God for all eternity. Jesus accomplish everything that God had promised that He would do for us, including an agonizing death and then three days later rising again to go and sit at the right hand of God to be our spokesman and defense.

In our baptism Jesus’ story becomes our story. He has taken on the punishment of our sins for you and me. He has overcome the devil for you and me. He has conquered death and the grave for you and me. All the obstacles that were placed between God and us because of sin have been shattered, broken down, and crushed by our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our sins are forgiven. There is no barrier that can keep our God from joyfully chasing after us with goodness, mercy and love.

Because Jesus wanted nothing more than our salvation, He overcame every obstacle in front of Him including persecution to obtain our redemption. That’s why we can say with the Apostle Paul: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” The greatest Superhero of all time has made us “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” There is nothing that can stand in the way of our salvation, because Jesus has accomplished it all for us on the cross where it all came to a finish. Amen.

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