Christ, the Way of Love

Texts: 1 Sam. 16, 1 Cor. 13, Lk. 18

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in our Epistle reading about the enduring importance of love in the life of a Christian. You cannot have a right faith before God if the fruits of faith, love especially, are not displayed in your life. Paul uses himself as an example. If he were to speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, he would be as useless as noisy gong or clanging cymbal. If he were to have the gift of prophecies and a faith that was strong enough to move mountains, without love, he would be nothing. If he gave everything he had, even his own life, without love, it would all be for nothing. To paraphrase the blessed saint, if you ain’t got love, you ain’t got nothin’.

The same is true for us. If we do not have love and if we show ourselves to be unloving people, then it seems that our faith is misplaced. For, a living and active faith in Christ necessitates, and actually produces, love for our neighbor. But let’s stop for a second here and talk about Christ and His love. Our fathers in the faith selected our texts today and placed them on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the Sunday before the 40-day journey to the cross, for a reason. In the Epistle, St. Paul extols love. It is patient and kind; it bears and endures all things. In the Gospel reading we heard Christ speaking of the things which He’ll endure for us: being mocked, spit upon, flogged, and being killed. The reason He undertakes all these things is the same as why He gives sight to blind Bartimaeus, and it’s the same reason why David, though the youngest of his brothers and last in line to be king, was chosen to shepherd God’s people: love. As we enter the season of Lent, we see in Christ the way of love. By choosing David over His older brothers, and by healing the blind beggar others rebuked, Jesus shows Himself to be the true way of love.

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We see this play out a few different ways in our readings this week. In our Old Testament text the boy who would become King David is anointed by the prophet Samuel. The current king, Saul, disobeyed the Lord’s Word and was rejected as king, though not immediately deposed. Samuel also anointed Saul to be king earlier, and one of the things that Scripture notes is that Saul was the son of a rich man. He was handsome, a head and shoulders taller than anyone around. Even though he was of the least of the tribes of Israel, he still looked the part of a king, and so he was. But, one of striking things that we see through the Lord’s Word is that He doesn’t always do things the way that would seem right. Particularly for Samuel and us, He doesn’t choose the strongest or the oldest for His inheritance. The Lord spoke to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

And so it was that the Lord anointed David, the youngest, to be king. This is just like how, out of Abraham’s sons, God chose the younger – Isaac. Of Isaac’s sons, it was Jacob who received the birthright and inheritance. Out of Jacob’s sons, Christ does not come from the line of Reuben, the firstborn, but from Judah. And now, here, is David – not the oldest, not the strongest, but the still the one from whom an offspring will come who will sit on the throne forever. This is how God works. He doesn’t choose us because of who we are or what we do, but because of who He is and what He’s done in Christ. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to Himself, including we, who like St. Paul, are untimely born. We all live two millennia after Christ walked the earth, and yet He dwells among us now in grace, truth, mercy, and love, in His Word and Sacraments. He daily and richly forgives our sins and binds up our broken hearts.

In His love for the lost and fallen, Christ reaches out to the untouchables, those scorned and rebuked by society and considered least in the eyes of the world. In our text from St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus is already on His final journey to Jerusalem and draws near to Jericho. This will be Jesus’ final miracle before His passion, and it is a work of love. Along the roadside sat a blind beggar, and when he heard that Jesus was passing by he began crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” What he could not see physically with his eyes, he saw with the eyes of faith. This Jesus is the Son of David promised so long ago, who would usher in the kingdom of God and the forgiveness of sins. The crowd rebuked the man and told him to be silent, but Jesus stops. He shows Himself the true Good Samaritan. In the parable, a man is attacked by robbers on his way to Jericho. Now, here in Jericho, Jesus stops to have mercy on a man in need. Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” Immediately the man recovered his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God. All the people around also gave praise to the Father.

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In choosing David, the least of his brothers, and by healing the blind man who was worth so little in the eyes of the world, Christ shows us the way of God, the way of love. Christ Himself is the image of the invisible God, the embodiment of love. He is patient and kind. He does not shame us for our sin, but daily walks with us and forgives us when we fall. He does not envy or boast. He is not arrogant or rude, and He doesn’t resent us for all our transgressions against Him. Instead, He bears and endures all things for us, even the cross. This Sunday puts us at the brink of Lent. In just a few short days we will adorn ourselves in ashes, marking the Church’s season of focused repentance. Christ teaches us about all the things that His love for us will lead Him to endure. He says,

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

St. Paul wrote that if he were to have power to understand all mysteries and have all knowledge, and if he had faith to move mountains, and if he delivered up his body to death, but had not love, it would all be for nothing. My friends in Christ, Jesus is love. He is mercy, grace; forgiveness. These are what drove Him to the cross for you. It’s what lead Him to endure being handed over to the Gentiles, being mocked and treated shamefully. He bore being spit on and being flogged. Then, His love for you led Him to allow those nails to be driven into His flesh with hammers, and to hang there helpless, bearing in Himself the wrath of God against sin. He did this all so that, as He rose from the dead, so, too, will all those who believe in Him.

This love that Christ has for us, the mercy that He showed by choosing us for salvation from before the foundation of the world – and that not because of our works, but because of His grace – will never end. All things will pass away. In Paul’s language, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away, but love will not. In this life we don’t always see things clearly, for we know only in part and see as through a mirror dimly, but soon we will see the love of God in Christ Jesus face to face. And though our lives seem like one great Lent, a time full of trials and cycles of sinning and repenting over and over again, soon we shall know fully the eternal love that Jesus has for us. And while we are in this life, He looks past our sin and shame, past our weaknesses and temptations, and He brings us the forgiveness that He won for us on the cross. He chose David, the least of his brothers, and He healed blind Bartimaeus, to show to us His way: love. As He shows us His love, through His Word and Sacraments, He also strengthens us to show forth that love. May He ever continue the preaching of His Word and the administration of the Sacraments among us, both gifts of His love, as we enter His Lent and look to His Easter.

 

 

The Perpetual Throne

Text: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

There used to be a show on ABC called Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Loving neighbors nominate a friend or family member who has fallen on hard times and needs work done on their house to receive a free home makeover. The producers of the show treat the chosen family to a vacation while local contractors go to work remaking the house in a week while the occupants are busy. If the house is deemed beyond repair, they just demolish it and build a new one. This, of course, is all filmed for our enjoyment.

In the text from 2 Samuel 7 we heard, “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.’”[1] King David basically wants to do an extreme makeover for the Lord’s house. He sees that he lives in this nice strong house made of cedar. Him being king, it’s probably extravagant. David lives in a house, but he sees that the ark of God remains in a tent. He decides he’s going to do something for God, then. God responds through the prophet Nathan that He has something else in mind: God is going to build a David a house, one which will last forever. In this house of David, the throne will be established forever. This is no mere mortal house, rather, it is the house that Christ established, and it is His throne that lasts into eternity.

I.

Certainly David’s desire is pious. It is well-intentioned and comes from the heart. It maybe is a desire that many of us can identify with. A number of us here can remember the old sanctuary and the building of the one we are currently in now. We call the church the “house of God,” so that’s something else we have in common with David. Even Nathan the prophet said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”[2] Now that the Ark of the Covenant had been brought to Jerusalem, a feat in itself since David had to defeat the people who already lived there, Israel’s enemies have been defeated and David received rest from the Lord.

The Biblical witness of David is that he is a man of war, a man with blood on his hands. But, the Lord is with him. God Himself testifies that it was He who went before David cutting off all his enemies, just as God led the people in their wandering and their conquests. But now, that time has passed. At least for a little while, there will be rest in the land as God has granted it. In this rest David happens upon the fact that he is living comfortably in a palace, while God sits in a tent. So, he figures, if he can build a house for himself, he might as well have a go at making one for God, too. That sounds pretty good, at least initially. Nathan speaks for himself that it’s a good idea and encourages David to go ahead.

That night the Word of the Lord came to Nathan with a message for David. This message was not exactly what David wanted to hear, but it was both bad and good as we shall see. The message begins, “Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling.”[3] The Lord asks a powerful rhetorical question of David: would you build me a house to dwell in? David, the aforementioned man of blood, later testified shortly before his death, “I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.’”[4]

God continues His Word: “In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’”[5] He says that from the day He brought up the people of Israel from Egypt up until now, He has not lived in a house. Neither did He speak a single word with any of the judges about building a house for Him. Even if He did ask for a house, how could man build a house for God – He whose throne is the heavens and footstool, the earth?

II.

No, God did not need David to build a house for Him. Instead, He’s going to do something for David. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name…And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more…I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.”[6]

The Lord says, thanks but no thanks. Instead of David making Him a house, God will make David a house, just as He took him from the pastures, made him prince, and cut off all his enemies before him. All these were for the benefit of the children of Israel. Now, God is going to build a house for David, for the faithful children of Israel, and for us as well. Only, this isn’t a house that decays and eventually falls; this isn’t a house made by human hands. Instead, it is a house that lasts forever with a throne that lasts into eternity. As God says in verse 16, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”[7]

In the Gospel text Gabriel testified to Mary what Scripture had long promised, “[Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”[8] This is the truth that David understood as well, as we can read in his response later in 2 Samuel 7. The house that God was referring to is not one built by human hands, though the kingdom and temple of Solomon would serve to foreshadow the coming of Christ. The house that God means is one that lasts forever, where people have a place to find security and peace. The house that God means is His house, the Church.

We do not mean a house that God Almighty physically rests in, but it is the place where He dwells and makes Himself available to His people. We are human and so God has provided a place where we can go to receive His gifts and be in His presence. The throne that lasts forever is as the Gospel text says – Jesus’. This throne He reigned on from the beginning, and yet He stepped down from it to be born of the Virgin Mary, the event we will shortly be celebrating. He set aside His throne and glory to take our flesh upon Himself. He became Immanuel, God with us. In His body He carried our sin and reconciled us to God by destroying the powers of sin and death through His death on the cross.

After His death He no longer restrained His glory, instead He proclaimed to the souls in prison that death had no power over Him. He appeared to hundreds of people, healing their diseases, and then He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The right of the Father is not some location separated from us in time and space, but rather, it extends everywhere and lasts forever. Where can we see it? Here. Here in the Church is where Christ dwells and is among us. Here He comes to us with His Word and Sacraments to forgive us, to strengthen us, to renew us, and to reassure us that He is coming again. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 2 Sam. 7:1–2.

[2] 2 Sam. 7:3.

[3] 2 Sam. 7:5-6.

[4] 1 Chron. 28:2-3.

[5] 2 Sam. 7:6–7.

[6] 2 Sam. 7:8–11.

[7] 2 Sam. 7:16.

[8] Lk. 1:32–33.