Baptized saints in our Lord Jesus Christ:
You can always tell when someone has been drinking. You’re not fooled by the sweet smelling gum or the pleasant talk. You can smell it on their breath. So it was with Jerusalem. Oh, she talked sweet. She welcomed her Lord with shouts of joy and praise like a wife who has not seen her husband in years. She gave him the red carpet treatment. But underneath that sweet smelling praise was a stench as rotten as death. Jerusalem had not alcohol, but murder on her breath. She had been hitting that age-old bottle of unbelief again like she had so many times before. Only this time, it was no mere prophet that would suffer at her hands, but the Son of God Himself.
In the absence of her King, that once holy city had sold her soul to the devil twice over and now she was all beauty on the outside but full of death and emptiness on the inside. She opened wide her arms for Him only to smother Him in her exposed bosom. The wife of His youth had become a harlot. She had the innocent face of Sarah, but the wicked heart of Jezebel; fair as fair Rebecca, but with all the craftiness of a Delilah.
But still Christ loved her, unlovable though she was. He did not despise the wife of His youth, even for all her ugliness. He longed to embrace her, to hold fast to her once again. He was faithful even though she was faithless. Our greater Hosea came to woo His wicked bride back to Himself, to do for her what she could not do for herself. He came to cleanse her, to make her holy again. Even though she no longer recognized Him, He knew her, and He had come to open her eyes and to make her sing once again like she did when she came up from Egypt. He came to cover her nakedness and shame. He came to die for her.
Only through death would He restore her innocence. Only through suffering would He relieve her suffering. He would cover her nakedness with no earthly garment but with the blood-stained cloak of His eternal righteousness. He would endure her scorn, her shouts of anger, and her mockery for He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted—with love for His adulterous wife. She cries out, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” and He says, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
It’s quite a contrast isn’t it? The holiest week in the history of the world begins with shouts of praise and joy and ends with cries of hatred and mockery. But Jesus knows the drill. He knows what happened to the prophets of old, how long Jerusalem tolerated them before she became drunk with their blood. It was only a matter of time before she would tire of Him. And that time had come. It was time for Him to be poured out as a drink offering, time to humble Himself and become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
That’s what this week is all about. It is about the depth of divine love and compassion. It is about a God who could not bear to leave His fallen creatures lying on the side of the road, beaten and robbed of their dignity by sin and the Devil. Why do we rehearse it year after year? Why do we keep reminding ourselves of it? Because we are just as prone to forgetting this love as Israel was of what God had done for her in Egypt.
Too quick are we to treat His suffering and death as though it were unimportant or worse yet, as though it never happened. Sure, we would never say that it wasn’t important to us if we were asked, but you can tell a lot about what a person considers important by his actions. If you don’t believe me, then just ask yourself when the last time was that you went to a Good Friday service. When was the last time you came to the Lord’s Supper giving thanks to God from your heart for the great mercy that He showed to mankind in the death of His Son? How often in your daily lives do you pause and reflect on the fact that Christ shed His blood for your sins? How often in your prayers do you remember to thank Christ for fulfilling the will of His Father and humbling Himself on the cross? What ungrateful and forgetful children we can be sometimes!
You need to hear this over and over again, this story of divine love and mercy, because you also can be quite unlovable. Yes, it is true. It is easy to point the finger at Jerusalem and act like we are so much better and say, “I would never have cast one stone at my Lord!” But let’s not kid ourselves. One drink out of that bottle of unbelief, one whiff of its toxic fumes, and you too go stumbling off course again.
And when you come to your senses again and realize that you have lived as if God did not matter and as if you mattered most, Christ will be here not with words of condemnation but with words of love and forgiveness. If He could love Jerusalem with all her sin and unbelief, can He not also love you, who have been ransomed by His blood? Indeed, Christ loves you even when you are unlovable. Though you would like to divorce Him, to separate from Him, to leave Him, He will never do so to you. He will always receive you back to Him no matter how far you have strayed, no matter how unfaithful you have been.
Only do not wait too long to return. For the Day of Judgment is coming. One day the door to the Holy Ark of Christendom will be sealed, the doors to the wedding hall will be shut, and Noah and His holy Family will enjoy the safety of heaven while the storm of God’s eternal judgment rages outside. If you earnestly wish to escape that dreadful storm, then I suggest that you take shelter now under the shadow of His wings. Don’t wait until the storm is upon you, lest you be caught unawares.
I say this especially to our confirmands today, for you are entering a new stage in your Christian life. You are being admitted to the Lord’s holy table today, having been instructed and proven to be fit partakers of such a blessed meal. Don’t be like Esau and sell your birthright for a pot of worldly stew. It may smell better, it may even taste better to your undiscerning taste buds than the grace that our Lord offers to you in His pierced hands, feet, and side, but do not be deceived by it. It is nothing but worms and maggots compared to Christ.
And to all of you I say rejoice today as your heavenly Champion descends into your midst once again, riding on the humble forms of bread and wine. He comes today not to die, but to serve you, His Bride, His New Jerusalem, with His Crucified and Risen flesh. Stand at the gates and greet Him. Let your breath no longer reek of unbelief and murder, but let it be filled with the sweet sounding Hosannas of praise that flow from a believing heart. Come this week to hear as the Son of David is seated on the throne of the cross, and crowned with a wreath of thorns. And then return here to hear the triumphant story of His resurrection, His vindication over His enemies, and remember that all who are baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death and resurrection. “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest.” Amen.