Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent
March 24, 2019
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Marked with the Blood of the Lamb
You have probably seen it. And, like me, you have wondered who would ever want to brand themselves? You will see it on the arms of some football players; that raised scar that is the remnants of the Greek letter omega that had been burned into the flesh. They do it as a permanent display of the brotherhood to which they belong. It is a symbol of their fraternal partnership. Some display it in prominent locations that everyday clothing doesn’t cover. Some have their brands in places less seen. Whether seen often or not, the brand remains as a proof of their belonging.
The Scriptures speak of both the ungodly and the godly as being marked by their owner. The mark of the number of the beast and of man upon the ungodly (Rev13:18); those who have rejected God and embraced the devil as their lord. And those having heard the Gospel and believed, receiving the mark of God’s name upon their foreheads (Rev. 14:1). But God is not looking for outward marks such as a branding or a tattoo. He looks to the disposition of the heart and faith that looks outward to a symbol external, that which trusts in Jesus and His sacrifice on our behalf. The Israelites had circumcision, but it was not the mark that saved them, it was the faith that trusted in the promise conveyed by that mark.
God is not impressed that you have been baptized, finished all your confirmation lessons with flying colors, have eaten from His table, sing the liturgy and hymns with gusto, and make your children say prayers at table and before bed any more than He was with Israel being baptized into Moses in cloud and sea, eating manna, or drinking from the rock. He is not impressed with the outward signs and wonders that He gives to us for our benefit. But we should be impressed by these physical things that convey His heavenly blessings and bestow upon us the gifts He wishes to give. He is concerned with the heart that looks to these things as vehicles or means by which He grants forgiveness, life, and salvation. He is impressed when we receive these things in faith, with thanksgiving, and believe the Word He attaches to them. All of heaven is impressed (Luke 15:7) when we set aside our own personal badges and believe that God does not keep from us any good thing.
I had a real good question one time that drew out this idea of outward signs versus inward faith. I don’t really remember how the question was worded but it struck this cord: “Do you believe in the power of Holy Baptism to save or do you believe in Jesus?” The question is a false question in that we should not pit the two against one another, but for the person that displays Baptism like he would a brand or some other outward sign to prove his belonging, doesn’t quite grasp the fullness of what Holy Baptism is.
To believe in Holy Baptism as the sign of salvation is to believe in the Jesus that, through that sign, clothes the baptized with Himself. It is in that Baptism that the baptized is marked with the blood of the Lamb. It is not so just because the baptized wants it to be so. It is so because God declares it to be so. Without faith that trusts in the Jesus that is given in Holy Baptism, or in the holy Supper, the participation in such things doesn’t bring blessing, rather condemnation.
This is what St. Paul is making clear in our reading today. Every single person in the nation of Israel passed through the sea and was saved from Pharaoh. Every one of those Israelites lived off the bread that cam down from heaven and drank from the water that flowed from the rock that followed them in the wilderness, yet an entire generation was kept from entering the land of promise because they did not believe. Baptism in the purest waters available will benefit the baptized not at all if he doesn’t cling to the promise of God that it saves. Likewise, eating of the same Holy Sacrament of the Altar as every other member of the congregation bestows no forgiveness if the communicant rejects the Word of God attached to bread and wine and the reality promised in it. In fact, Paul makes clear that without faith, the communicant eats and drinks judgement upon himself (1 Cor 11:29) as much as those, who in the wilderness, grumbled against God and His promises.
Their grumbling and complaining revealed what was in their hearts and as Paul says, their punishment serves as a lesson to us, those “things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did,” nor become idolaters as some of them were. Paul goes on to list the various ways in which they displaced faith and trust in the true God with pagan practices and beliefs that catered to their fancies.
Have you ever thought about idolatry as contriving new ways to worship God or applying common understandings to the eternal God? As the Israelites adapted golden images and sexual practices into their worship of God, we, far too easily, think that we can import and adapt various things into our worship or omit things that God has commanded is if it didn’t matter one way or the other. Sometimes, we take pious things and make them idols. Other times we take sacred things and make them common for the sake of our sensibilities.
Good examples of both are found in the Sacraments. In one example, we might take what is good and holy in the Sacrament of the Altar but profane it by worshiping the thing rather that the God that is to be found in, with, and under the common things of bread and wine and trying to explain the displacement of the bread and wine with a substituted body and blood. What might begin as a way to explain and elevate the Sacrament becomes a superstitious work of priest and parishioner as they fashion a belief system not condone by or support in Scripture.
Another example would be the denuding of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism by stripping away all trace of God’s promise in the water and substituting man’s commitment or good intentions. In this case, the ordinance becomes the idol of man and a representation of man’s symbolical act, not God’s. Participation in such an ordinance may be nice but it is no command of God’s.
These Sacraments are given as means by which God bestows His promise of forgiveness. They proffer and bestow the thing that God attaches to them, that is, the merits of Jesus Christ earned by His life, death, and resurrection. In short, they bestow God’s justification for the sinner. And we know that justification is all God’s work, not ours. We do not earn forgiveness, we only receive it through faith.
Too many people want to be super Christians. You know, the kind that movies are made about. There is room for only one Savior in our story. We do not stand tall before God based on anything other than being
Marked with the Blood of the Lamb.
Having that mark, we cannot fall.
God is faithful, and His promise is that you are perfect by that blood which covers you. You will be tempted by all kinds of idolatry. You will be presented with every conceivable contortion of God’s Word, but no matter how plausible nor how appealing they may be, His true Word that directs you to your Savior and the means by which you receive Him and the forgiveness He has won for you, will always be your escape and your means to endure.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.