+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 10:42-45
Theme: Humility In Christ
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
We seldom value the same things God does. Humility is today’s example. We may appreciate humility in someone else but is it something we value for ourselves? Christian maturity involves coming to an ever better understanding that what God cherishes is often scorned by the world. He treasures humility and servanthood. The world esteems recognition and power. Christ stands these values on their heads. His throne was a cross. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”1
Today James and John were hardly examples of humility. They had aspirations of glory. Their objectives were not in line with the Saviour’s. But we must not be too critical.
They were being true to themselves. Are we any different? But to be true to one’s self in contradiction to God’s will is simply to become an illustration of all manner and expression of the power of our inborn sinfulness. It begins at conception.
It certainly runs counter to human reason to suggest that an infant requires the forgiveness of sins. Newborns are often held up as the closest thing possible to pure innocence. But to deny the need for forgiveness is to misunderstand the radical nature of sin. Original sin involves such a deep corruption of the human being that every natural inclination and propensity of the heart, mind, and will is expressed in self-centred independence from God. The Bible speaks of a spiritual deadness before the Word and Holy Spirit act. Luther’s words are well-considered when he says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”2 “I believe that I cannot…believe [on my own].” That is the crux of the matter and denotes well the helplessness of every human soul.
We chronically underestimate our dependence on the mercy of God. We think we just need aide when we really need rescue. We think we just need a push when we really need to be carried. We think we just need equipping when we really need defending. We think we just need some tolerance when we really need forgiveness. We think we just need renovation when we really need resurrection. And if we can’t fathom our need because our life has to this point been relatively painless and carefree, we will certainly come to an understanding when we face our mortality.
Today Jesus speaks of undergoing a baptism of fire. He did so to make immortality available to us. To be baptized with fire is to be immersed in the crucible of trial. Our Scripture says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.”3 Jesus explicitly states the reason for His coming. He came to serve and to give His life as a ransom. All the other implications of Jesus’ coming- His ethics, His morality, His example, His miracles and displays of divinity, His modesty, His humility, His influence on the hearts and minds of people from that time right up to the present day- are given lasting meaning only because of His sacrifice for the sins of the world. Without His death and resurrection, without His sacrifice, everything else would just become confined to the history books. Our God is not a deceased hero; He is the eternal source of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
His salvation is first offered to us not in a baptism of fire but a baptism of water and the Spirit. Sacramental baptism involves a cleansing from sin and purging of the soul. The inner reality affects the outward expressions of life. Of course we cannot infallibly discern if the two always match. Only God can. The well-known phrase says “It’s the thought that counts.” And that has a kernel of truth in it. If a person’s intentions are honourable but they are prevented following through with their plans their integrity still remains intact.
When we assess peoples’ actions we must learn to be discerning so that we don’t cause undue offense. Like the pastor who received for his family a pie from a woman who was a terrible cook. After tasting the pie, they simply threw the rest in the garbage, unable to eat it. The next Sunday, the woman asked the preacher, "How did you like my pie?" The pastor responded, "A pie like that does not last long around our house!"
The phrase also contains an element of truth in a more important spiritual way. Our Christian walk, our bearing of our crosses, our keeping in step with the Spirit can only be God-pleasing when our motivations are in tune with His will. We don’t seek God’s help merely so He can guide our outward actions. We pray that He will change our thoughts, our intentions, and our motivations. We pray that we are changed from the inside out. To change the heart and will is a far greater thing than to restrict or promote external action. The latter will follow from the former.
Dear friends, we have the confidence that every time pardon is offered to us; every time we are drawn back to and through our baptism; every time we receive the forgiveness offered in the body and blood of Christ; God is wiping the slate of the conscience clean. We can’t necessary notice because our hearts are battered and bruised and struggling with guilt and pain. And yet precisely because it is independent from any input from us it is all the more certain. It involves the invincible and irrefutable declaration of God. A decree made indisputable by the blood of the Lamb. Our salvation depends entirely upon the initiative of God in Christ. We are justified- we are declared righteous- we are set right with Him- only by grace through faith.
This truth is so precious it has no peers. But it has many challengers. Many are the distractions and diversions which would draw our focus away from the promises of God in Christ. How easily our attention is averted. How many have been drawn away from the church in the last decades! When Luther's puppy happened to be at the table, he looked for a morsel from his master, and watched with open mouth and motionless eyes; he (Martin Luther) said, 'Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. He has no other thought, wish or hope."
The devil has many tools in his arsenal. He attacks with precision. He doesn’t own a shotgun. His strikes are much more exact. He knows when to aim for the heart. He knows when to aim for the mind. He knows when to aim for the will. But he cannot penetrate the armor with which the heavenly Father protects the baptized. The promise of your baptism is the promise of pure grace. And this grace is never lacking. The allurements of the world will always be persuasive. But in Christ we learn to look past these temporary challenges even when they are severe. And in doing so we also learn true humility. We learn to take refuge in Him who “humbled Himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!”4 In Him we have life! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Mark 10:45
2 The Third Article Explanation, LSC
3 Hebrews 5:7
4 Philippians 2:8