The 21st Sunday after Pentecost October 21, 2007
277, 630, 302 (WS 2000 alt. 753), 51
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Dear fellow servants of the King of kings and Lord of lords:
Shattered bones, jagged wounds, bloody gaping holes—mankind has a natural curiosity with the morbid. Why is that? Perhaps deep within each of us is the realization that we fully deserve a lifetime of physical pain from the hand of a just God for all that we have done amiss. So it is that when we think of what Jesus has done for us, we find ourselves thanking Him for one of the lesser components of his sacrifice for our salvation, namely, the physical pain He endured for us. At the same time we may ignore, or take for granted, the single most important reason we have to thank Him: Jesus was made sin for us—for all sin. He received the full punishment for sin that was justly deserved by every man, woman and child who ever had or ever would be born. In other words, Jesus got what we deserved, and we got what Jesus deserved. What a great trade for you and me. What a lousy deal for our Lord Jesus.
The fact is that too much is made of the physical pain of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus is not our Savior because He endured pain on our behalf. He is our Savior because he paid the penalty for our sins on the cross of Calvary. He was, during that time on the cross, abandoned by His Father in heaven. The reason has been made clear to us: “For He (God the Father) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We cannot imagine what it must have been like to know God the Father so intimately and then to be abandoned by Him. We cannot even comprehend with our poor, limited understanding just how God could be abandoned by God—how such a thing is even possible.
The point here is that there is much more to suffering than physical pain, and yet we show almost no concern at all when it comes to the worst sort of misery, both for ourselves and for others. With this rather cryptic introduction, we turn now to our text for this morning. From this Word of God we will, as always, gain clarity, insight, direction, and strength. Our text is found in Mark’s Gospel account, the tenth chapter:
The Pharisees came and asked [Jesus], “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.
These are the words of God, read and study them as such. Since they are God’s words, they alone can never fail you, never lead you astray, never cause you to fall. It is therefore altogether fitting that we pray to the Author of these words: “Sanctify us through Your Truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
The pain inflicted upon Jesus was certainly bad enough in itself, but satisfaction for our sins was the single greatest gift we needed from our Savior. This is the one thing that we could never do for ourselves. We could have suffered physical punishment on earth, many men have. We could have endured persecution and abandonment by our friends, many men have. We could have endured the shameful treatment at the hands of the soldiers and even death on the cross, many men have. We could never, however, have paid for even one of our countless sins, no man ever has. Jesus did for us what we could never even hope to do for ourselves. What is more, in paying for our sins, Jesus endured the full wrath of God the Father toward sin in our place.
Is there a Christian who can remain cold and indifferent when reminded of these sacred truths? Is there a Christian who is not filled with gratitude for the Savior who snatched him from certain death in Hell—from eternal torment far in excess of any pain we could even imagine here on this earth? What Christian, when he contemplates these sublime facts in the still hours of private meditation, does not shudder at the thought of what each of us faced even while we are filled with a sense of rescue and escape at what is now ours? A New Man has been created in us, and that new man is fully content and excited to live a life of humble submission and service to such a Savior. Putting on that new man, every single Christian gladly struggles to be like that Savior in all ways and to please Him in everything that he does.
Unfortunately, since we are made up of both Old and New Man, such sentiment is inconsistent in our hearts and lives.
Honesty can be pretty ugly stuff. An honest look inside our own hearts will force us to see many things we wish were not there. Many of us long, for example, to carry out grand and lavish works for our Lord—high profile, low time consumption stuff that will get lots of attention. But when it comes to the day-to-day grind that is life, we really don’t want to have to work too hard at being Christ-like.
The fact remains, Jesus has always been interested in the small stuff. Didn’t He strongly condemn the Scribes and Pharisees for their high profile “showing off”? Didn’t Jesus make it clear that simple loving obedience in the most common menial jobs was what pleased Him very much? Our problem is usually that there is no social praise for serving God in private, nor is there most often a quick and permanent fix for many of our problems. We tend to shy away whenever the commitment is for all day, every day. Again, honesty can be pretty ugly.
Now, this whole business of service and pain and quiet, private, consistent obedience can seem rather disjointed and meaningless unless we come to understand exactly how and why it all applies to each one of us. This is where our text comes into play. The text lists two examples: 1) the relationship of husband and wife, and 2) the vital importance of raising a child in the fear of the Lord (bringing a child to Jesus). Both hold little glamour in the eyes of the world and that ought to clue us in to the fact that simple, day-to-day matters are vitally important to our Lord.
Our text speaks first about God’s view of marriage. Though it is becoming less and less clear to the world around us, God hates divorce. If we bear in mind that marriage is God’s institution and that the bond of marriage is not broken without sin, then we will have won at least half the battle. But there is more here. Jesus is not just concerned with the major event—the divorce. To live a life of love and thanksgiving means that we live day by day and moment by moment in harmony with his will. This means husbands and wives ought to show love and respect to each other day by day, moment by moment. How is it to anyone’s credit that a couple “never got divorced” when they for forty years refused to love and respect each other in the Lord? Do not imagine that you are pleasing God by continually sinning against your spouse in thought, word, and deed, but that all is somehow overlooked if you can just avoid divorce.
The first thing that our text describes as displeasing to our God is divorce, together with all the sin that leads up to it. Yet as bad as that ugliness is, our text speaks of something even worse.
Certain phrases in the Word of God slip past us, mostly because they are used so often in our society that they have come to mean very little. We have one such in our text where we read, “But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased…” [v.14] The words are ordinary enough. In fact we seem to talk long and often in our day about being “greatly displeased” about this or that (or words to that effect). It is interesting to note, however, that this is the only place in the Bible where the Holy Spirit applied this term to Jesus. Nowhere else do we read that Jesus was “greatly displeased.” Once you hear that, doesn’t it make you want to stop and take another look at this whole event? Many things in life troubled Jesus, but if this is the only place where we read that he was “greatly displeased,” doesn’t it deserve a closer look. What was it that so troubled Jesus and why?
It should come as no surprise that the Bible was talking about the abuse of children when it identified Jesus as greatly displeased. Child abuse? Even the world is greatly displeased with child abuse. Only our text isn’t talking about the sort of abuse that conjures up the wrath of the godless of our day. In fact the action described in our text is actually the sort of thing that draws praise in our society.
We know from other passages how jealous Jesus was and is about the little ones of His kingdom. He Himself said that it would be better to have a millstone hung about your neck and to be cast into the depths of the sea, rather than to offend one of His little ones (cf. Matthew 18:6). But why is this so crucial to the Lord Jesus? The answer is more than just “Jesus had a soft spot for children.” The answer reaches to the very heart of Christianity.
What troubled Jesus so profoundly was the fact that His own disciples were trying to prevent little children from “troubling” Jesus. Parents were trying to bring their children to Jesus for a blessing. The disciples believed that Jesus had bigger and better things to do. Jesus recognized that there is nothing “bigger” or “better” for anyone to do. He Himself said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.” [v.14] The fact is a childlike faith is absolutely essential and central to all of Christ’s teaching. The disciples acted as if the children didn’t count. Jesus made it clear that this sort of thing is more important than any of us could imagine. He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” [v.15] People still today—even entire Christian denominations—ignore this striking truth in our text. They continue to treat children as though they are innocent until a certain “age of accountability.” They, along with the child’s own parents, continue to prevent the little children from coming to Jesus by offering them silly alternate fluff rather than the Word of God which they treat as inappropriate for young children.
What the disciples did “greatly displeased” the Lord Jesus because it is a childlike faith that each one of us must possess in order to be called children of God. Adult intellect is far too cynical, far too skeptical. Only a childlike faith accepts without question—based only on the words of our dear Savior with no visible evidence. Children could give a lesson on the right kind of faith, but it was children that the disciples were trying to drive away.
As we said earlier, physical pain was not the worst aspect of Jesus’ suffering. The spiritual harm that adults inflicted on children hurt Him much more.
No matter what your station in life, this ought to attract your attention as perhaps nothing else should. When our Savior is greatly displeased, we need to sit up and take notice. As parents we have prevented our children from coming to Jesus every time we decided to skip church, every time we allowed them to decide whether or not they would go to church, every time we failed to hold the family devotions at the appointed time. As older members we help to prevent the children from coming to Jesus every time we give them the impression that our religion is really only a Sunday morning affair, every time we demonstrate our impatience with the young mom trying to train her children to sit quietly and pay attention. As young adults we harm our children every time we sleep through the sermon, ignore Bible Study, and fail to participate as adults in the Christian congregation.
Our children see all that goes on around them, and it either builds them up in their faith, or tears them down. You can answer for yourself which God loves, and which He hates.
Once we take a long, hard, honest look, we see in ourselves only failure and unworthiness. Yet how sweetly then the blessed Gospel falls on the ears of sinners like us. I am indeed a wretched, self-centered reprobate and yet Jesus died for me. Jesus suffered the real terror and torment of the Father's wrath toward sin in my place. Thanks and praise to our dear Lord Jesus. These sins too are forgiven—forgiven for all my failures as a parent, forgiven for the sinful examples I have set, forgiven for often and grievously displeasing my dear Savior with my many sins.
I pray, let this forgiveness fill my heart, Holy Spirit, together with joy and thanksgiving, and do Thou correct in me all that is amiss, that I might never again displease my precious Savior, who died to give me life. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.