First Sunday in Lent
March 5, 2006
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9; Hebrews 4:14-5:10
Hymns: 141; 220; 140; 304; 309

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word of God taken for our instruction in righteousness this morning comes from the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Luke 18:31-34:

31 Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. 32 For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. 33 They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” 34 But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.

Theme: Pondering the Passion of Jesus
- See His suffering and its cause
- Understand its meaning for us

In the name of Jesus, who was “wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities”; Dear Fellow Redeemed,

This past week at my regular nursing home Bible study I saw something I had never seen before. Just before we began, someone came through the room where we had gathered and marked the foreheads of some of the residents with ashes in the shape of a cross. I had heard about this custom before, but had never seen it done. Maybe some of you are more familiar with this custom than I was, and have even seen people with ashes on the foreheads before. For those who haven’t and wonder what it is all about, I’ll give you a short explanation.

This past Wednesday marked the beginning of the Lenten season of the church year and is called “Ash Wednesday” because of the custom of putting ashes on the forehead. We may be familiar with the custom in Bible times of fasting from food and praying to God while dressed in sackcloth and ashes. All of this was a sign of repentance. In the early church, the season that led up to the celebration of Easter was considered a special time for repentance. Around 700 A.D. this season of repentance leading up to Easter was set at 40 days, after the number of days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry. Ashes continued to be used to show repentance, though over time it was reduced to a marking of ashes on the forehead, and finally only on the first day of that season, which became known as “Ash Wednesday.”

We continue to set aside time during this part of the church year for repentant reflection on the passion of Jesus. This year we will be following a theme during our Sundays in Lent as we draw our attention to the intense and difficult work of our Savior through some of our familiar Lenten hymns. This morning we will be considering the prayer of hymn 140, “Jesus, I will Ponder Now,” as we again ponder the Passion of Jesus. We pray that the Holy Spirit would enable each of us to see His suffering and its cause, and understand its meaning for us. Amen.

On a number of occasions during His ministry, Jesus told His disciples what would finally happen to Him in Jerusalem. On one occasion, Jesus told them, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:22). On that occasion Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him for saying such things. Jesus then rebuked Peter, saying, “You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23). Another time Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” After hearing that we are told that the disciples “were exceedingly sorrowful” (Matthew 17:22-23).

Since that time Jesus and His disciples had traveled from the north in Galilee, to the southern hill country of Judea and was now preparing to go up to Jerusalem for the final time. Jesus was only a few days from His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and in a little over a week He would be betrayed, turned over to the Romans, and condemned to death. Along the way to Jerusalem, Jesus takes His disciples aside, away from the rest of the crowd that was traveling to Jerusalem for the upcoming Passover celebration, and tells them once again what was about to happen – this time more clearly then He had ever told them before.

The disciples had heard this before. In fact, they even had an idea that Jesus was going to die soon. When Jesus told His disciples that they were going to Bethany because Lazarus had died, the disciples couldn’t believe it. They said, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” (John 11:8). When Jesus insisted, Thomas said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16).

In our text Luke records that Jesus told His disciples, “For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him.” These verses don’t sound strange to us. Most of us have grown up hearing about the sufferings and death of Jesus on the cross. We have heard many times about Jesus being delivered by the Jews to the Roman authorities under Governor Pontus Pilate and how they horribly treated Him before they nailed Him to a wooden cross and left Him to die. For us, hind sight is 20/20.

But now think about how these words would have sounded to the disciples before they took place. They knew that Jesus was the Son of God - they had often made that confession. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ foretold in the Old Testament. But they still did not fully understand why Jesus had come. Even after His resurrection, the disciples still show their misunderstanding about Jesus and His work when they ask Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

At this time the disciples didn’t see the meaning of Jesus’ suffering and death. They didn’t understand that this was the reason for His coming! Luke tells us, “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.”

The hymn, “Jesus, I will Ponder Now” is the first one in the Lent section of our hymnal. It is often used at the very beginning of the Lenten season, because it prepares us for what the passion of Jesus and the season of Lent are all about. In the first verse we are reminded that we shouldn’t pass over the Lenten season like we’ve heard it a hundred times, nor should we miss the point of Christ’s passion as the disciples did. Instead we are encouraged to ponder on the passion of Jesus with Spirit filled meditation, and pray that we will not despise the thought of Christ’s suffering, but through faith, trust in His sacrifice for our sins, and through it gain eternal life.

We were reminded earlier about how Peter had earlier rebuked Jesus for saying that He would soon die. This was a repulsive thought to Peter. He couldn’t stand the thought of his friend and teacher dying. Later in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus was about to be taken into custody, we find Peter still trying to prevent it, striking with the sword and cutting off a man’s ear. Peter, along with the other disciples failed to realize that the suffering and death of Jesus was necessary to make the payment for sin. Their sin, our sin, ALL sin! Jesus told them, “All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.”

The prophet Isaiah had clearly described the work of the Messiah, writing, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). He would die to make the payment for our sins.

We have a problem similar to that of the disciples. We have heard the account of our Savior’s sufferings so many times that it often loses its significance. We tend to forget the same thing that the disciples failed to realize. All that our Savior suffered, all that He endured, He did for you. When we really get to the heart of the matter we see that the real cause of our Savior’s suffering and death was not the scribes and Pharisees. It wasn’t the soldier who scourged Him or the soldier who drove the nails. Jesus’ suffering and death was made necessary by our sins. The events that brought Jesus to the cross were the events of your life and mine, events that are full of the dark deeds of sin. The death of Jesus was made necessary because of the evil that we have done, and the good we have failed to do.

In the second and third verses of that hymn, we are reminded of what the suffering of Jesus was all about. “Make me see Thy great distress... make me see how ... for man thou diedst, O God!” And the cause of Christ’s suffering? “Ah! I also and my sin wrought Thy deep affliction; this indeed the cause hath been of Thy crucifixion.” Yes, it is important for each of us to remember that it was you and me that He was going to the cross for.

Still, it’s not enough to see the suffering and death of our Savior and know that our sins caused it. Certainly thoughts such as that sadden us and should make us realize the high cost of our deliverance. But Jesus also wants us to understand the meaning of His Passion for us.

Pondering the Passion of Jesus and seeing that our sins were the cause of His suffering and death, should lead us to repentance over our sin. In our hymn we pray: “Grant that I Thy passion view with repentant grieving...”. Earlier I told you that repentance has long been connected to the season of Lent. We have new cloths on the altar in the color of purple - the color of repentance. During Lent we are brought to see the dark depths of our sin, and what it brought about, but it is also in Lent that the great depth of God’s love for us is revealed and His forgiveness shines on us with greatest brilliance.

Are you trying to hide your sin? Don’t! Confess it, and turn from it just as Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-4). Jesus directs us to look inside ourselves to see our sin, but then He calls us to look back to Him and see our Savior who brings us deliverance and peace.

At this point the disciples didn’t understand the meaning of the sufferings and death of Jesus. When Jesus died, they saw it as a great tragedy and not a victory. Is this how we should view the passion of Jesus? The disciples didn’t understand the meaning of His death until after He rose again – His resurrection was the final proclamation that His sufferings and death had won the victory. Jesus had also foretold this important point to His disciples in our text. He said, “They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” This seeming tragedy would end in victory!

When you consider the suffering and death of Jesus, what do you see? We should see the tragedy of our sin, and the victory over it by our Savior. Ponder once again the Passion of Jesus. During the next six weeks see the great suffering of Your Savior, and remember that your sins were its cause. Understand that, through His death, the penalty for your sin has been paid and you have been given a new life. Understand that “All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man (have been) accomplished!” The victory has been won, our salvation is complete! Thanks be to God, our Savior! Amen.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Nathanael Mayhew