The Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost August 16, 2009
5, 575, 416, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the undeserved love of God be multiplied to you, and may you know the peace which comes only to those who have faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin and Hell. Amen.
They say you just can’t get service like you used to. I’m not sure that is actually true, but if it is, it is just such a lack of old-time service that serves to heighten and magnify the service we sinners receive from our Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Consider all that our God does for us. First, He created us as perfect human beings—man and woman. This is obviously a service that we could not provide for ourselves. We, of course, ruined God’s plan when we sinned, bringing a curse on ourselves and upon the earth we inhabit. God’s loving service did not end even though He had every right to make it end. Instead, God sent his only Son to pay for our sinful rebellion.
God still wasn’t done. He then gave to us the gift of the Holy Spirit whose work it is to create saving faith in our hearts and to keep us in that faith until our end.
There is more. Along the way there will be troubles of every kind for the child of God. This our Heavenly Father knows because He has Jesus at His right hand speaking for us—Jesus who has personal, first-hand knowledge of what life on earth can be like.
There is still more! Sometimes we do not even know for what we ought to pray or even what words to use. Sometimes we don’t even know what is wrong with us—can’t really even put our finger on just what the trouble really is. Again our need is richly supplied by God’s loving generosity. His solution to this need is described in our text for today which is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the eighth chapter:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
So far the very words of God. In an age where words have come to mean less and less, may we never forget that these are the very words of God and respect and study them accordingly. To this end we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
What a text we have before us today. What a tragedy if anyone walks away from this text without a grasp of and appreciation for the message of these words that our God cares about you and for you and that He does so despite the fact that He knows you intimately.
We take up our sermon text near the end where we hear about the sort of care that we receive from the God who knows us so intimately, for there we read that “the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses.” [v.26] Broken down into its literal meaning, it says, “the Spirit grabs hold together with us in connection with our weaknesses.” The compound word translated “helps us” is a rare one used only twice in the Bible. The only other time is in Luke 10:20 where Martha begged Jesus to tell Mary to stop listening to the Word of God and to instead come and “grab hold of the work together with her in the kitchen.” It is a rather strange concept to think of God the Holy Spirit serving us by taking hold of the burden that is rightfully ours, but that is exactly what He does, and He does so because He cares. He cares about you, and therefore he also cares for you.
Our text goes on to describe the particular service rendered by God the Holy Spirit in this regard: “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered…He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” [vv.26-27]
It may take just a moment for this to sink in, it may take a lifetime, but sink in it must. God the Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints! Who are the saints? Some believe that saints are all those who have performed more good works than sins and can thus go directly into Heaven after death without having to pay for some of their sins in purgatory. God’s Word does not teach such silliness. In fact, Paul here makes it clear just who he means by the saints. He means those who have no sins in God’s eyes. He therefore means you and me. In God’s eyes we are saints for our sins have been placed upon Jesus Christ. Our sin was the thing that had separated us from our God. No more sin, no more separation. We have received “the adoption as sons” (cf. Galatians 4:5). Note also in our text how Paul first says “intercedes for us…” and then says “intercedes for the saints…” We are the saints. We are the special ones whom God cares about.
Based on the parable from today’s Gospel lesson in Matthew 13, Christians are the wheat. All around you there are tares or weeds. To the untrained eyes of the world there is no difference. To God the Father there is a very great difference. You are His children! One day God will reveal this very thing to the world—a world that even now slides with gathering momentum to its own destruction, ignorant of their approaching disaster. According to Jesus’ own words, the reason the godless are not destroyed at this very instant is because of you, the children of God.
Why does God care so much about you? Your importance to God is judged on the fact that He assigned a very great value to you—the death of His Son, Jesus. That is what determines both your value and your purpose. It is on this basis that you ought to determine your sense of worth and determine the course of your life here in time. From eternity God chose you to come to faith. Before you were formed in the womb, God knew you and chose you to be his own. Did you and I deserve such a gift? Of course not! How could we possibly lay claim to any merit when God chose us long before we were even born? Some, rather arrogantly, claim that God chose us because He also knew beforehand that we would be special—in some way more deserving or more accepting than the average, run-of-the-mill, lost and condemned rebel sinner. These are thoughts of “tares” and not of “wheat.” True children of God know that there was and is nothing good in themselves that caused God to love and save them. God’s love is undeserved.
Before we travel any further into our understanding of the ramifications of being known and cared for by God, we need to take a short side road. To this end let me ask you how many times, if ever, you have approached God’s throne in your prayers only to realize that you really don’t know what the problem truly is, only that something was wrong? How many times did you not know for what you ought to pray, or the words you ought to use? How many times have you thought to confess your sins, only to realize that you could not possibly remember and name them all, or even most of them? How many times have you felt inadequate, skimpy, and lacking in your prayer life? If you are anything like me, you must answer, “Often! I am guilty on all counts.” But then doesn’t that make today’s text all the more comforting to you? Here we are told that the Holy Spirit knows what is in our hearts even before we try to speak it. He then serves as our divine translator, bringing to God the Father all that we could not—all that is in our hearts. He supplies what is lacking, talking to the Father for us “with groans that words cannot express.” [v.26] This tells us, among other things, that there is perfect communication between the Father and the Spirit. Our text says, “And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit…” [v.27] Here, again, God the Father richly provides what is lacking in us sinners all because He cares.
Here, finally, we get to the heart of our study—God cares for you despite the fact that He knows you intimately.
There are statements that hold terror for some and relief for others. For example, if a judge were to declare that only the guilty horse thief would be hanged by the neck until dead, that statement would hold terror only for the man who stole the horse. Innocent parties could and should hear those same words as a message of comfort and security.
So in our text we have the same sort of comfort/terror declaration: “God the Father searches the heart.” This one statement holds sheer terror for the unbeliever and hypocrite, but comfort and assurance for God’s children. The fact that God sees what man cannot see is a terrible thought to a man who is pretending to be something he is not, while it is very reassuring to a child to know that his loving Father in heaven is always watching over him.
While this may or may not serve as any great revelation to you, I want you to think about these words, this truth, from a little different angle. Everyone has an image or perspective of himself that he wants to “sell” to everyone else. This image is actually most often more lie than truth. We want others to see us as someone who always does the right thing, unless doing the wrong thing somehow enhances our image. A young man might, for example, be tempted to downplay what went on at spring break or summer camp when asked by mom and dad while enhancing the very same events when retelling the story to his buddies.
We want to make ourselves look artificially better than we are. In practical terms that means that we want others to think that our houses are always cleaner than they actually are, that we rise earlier than we actually do, that we read our Bibles more than we watch television, pray more than we gossip, and both brush and floss according to the schedule prescribed by the American Dental Association. You get the picture. It doesn’t matter that most of these things are not really accurate, it’s the image we want others to have of us. All of this is probably a manifestation of pride in our hearts, but there is another problem that we need to confront. We would like to be that kind of person, but we fail more than we succeed. The general fear is that others might not like or respect us as much if they knew the plain, bald, unwashed truth.
Which brings us to the real problem we face in connection with understanding God’s care for us namely, God knows that we are not the kind of people we pretend or project to others. As with other human beings, our fear at times is that if God knew what we were really like He might not love us enough to accept us into his Heaven. Yet hear these words again from that great passage in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For [God] made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” You are known by God. God knows exactly what you are like. He knows each of us better than we know ourselves…and still he loves us! He loves us, not because of our failures, but because we have no failures in His eyes. All of our deficiencies, all of our rebellions, all of our sins and imperfections have been taken from us and placed upon His Son.
This is why that new man in us can find such joy and comfort in the very same words that strike terror in the hearts of God’s enemies. When God searches our hearts He finds the likeness of His own Son. This, to our profound comfort and relief, is all that God will see when he really examines who and what we are. When God searches our hearts, there He finds saving faith. There he finds the very same faith placed in our hearts by that same Holy Spirit who even now works to keep us in that faith.
So then search your own hearts, dear Christians, day by day, but let this be an exercise in comfort, rather than terror. Recognize the sin that taints all that you do, but then take refuge in the comfort that God, for Jesus’ sake, has erased your sin forever. With faith in Jesus Christ reigning in your heart, you too can stand before God exposed, but holy and without shame in his eyes.
Marvel then in the fact that the God of Heaven and Earth cares about you, and therefore also cares for you in ways you and I will never fully understand or appreciate on this side of Heaven. He knows you perfectly and He loves you perfectly—all because of your Savior Jesus. Thanks be to God for His incredible care and love. Amen.
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