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Sermon -11/24/19
2019.11.24 23:12:28

Proper 29/C (2019), Malachi 3:13-18; Colossians 1:13-20; Luke 23:27-43.

 

Green,          “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (v. 31).

 

Jesus is being driven to the cross accompanied by the weeping “Daughters of Jerusalem”. Earlier Pilate declared Jesus innocent, but the people demanded, “crucify him” (Lk. 23:21). On the way to the cross the “Daughters”, representing Jerusalem’s populous, experienced buyer's remorse, repentantly weeping at what was being done to this innocent man.

 

After addressing the Daughters, Jesus speaks to his heavenly Father, registering perplexity, For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” To the end of his earthly journey Jesus, Son of Man, continued to grapple with the mystery of sin.

 

In his divinity Jesus is omniscient of all mysteries; and yet in his unsullied humanity he marveled at the senselessness of sin, unworthy of what God created man to be.

 

Jesus’ final journey to the cross is God’s response to his Son’s reflection. At the cross what is irrational; that man would irretrievably give up his essence as image and likeness of God was being resolved to restoration.

 

The “green wood” is God’s Remnant, now with us in this time of the church. When Jesus was lifted-up on the cross he was the final “shoot” of Israel’s green wood possessing God’s life. Jesus, Jesse’s branch, was now abandoned by followers, associates, and God.

 

On account of sin Jesus became the Crucified One, history’s “Abomination of Desolation” of God’s judgment on sin, to be revealed with Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD., both prelude and portent of universal judgement on the Last Day (Mk. 13:14).

 

On the cross Jesus is the last of Israel’s green wood, rejected and about to be cut off from the “land of the living”; but in the Resurrection, God has given Jesus to continue to be the church’s Green Wood and source of Life for growth apart from absolved sin.

 

Before we depart this final day of the Church Year, it is important to join Jesus in pondering the mystery of sin as he and we approach the cross.

 

Adam came under a delusion from Satan, that the creature might become equal with his Creator; this was Satan’s own peculiar rebellion now imported as Adam’s desire, mindless as entirely outside of God’s intended and revealed good order.

 

Adam’s desire for equality with God was the gist of the heresy plaguing the congregation at Colossae; those elevating created beings, “whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” or men claiming “gnostic wisdom” and pure spiritual existence. Paul pushed back, “all things were created through [the now fleshly] Jesus and for him” (Col 1:16b, 17).    

 

OT prophet Malachi, records the conclusion of sin’s lunatic thought; an accusation that God is unfair by human lights; that since God allowed evil-doers to prosper and escape consequence, there was little point to following his commandments or repent of their violation. God was now viewed as equal in status with the wisdom of men, undiscernible from the creation.

 

Yet God is different and entirely “other” from his creatures; and there is not only consequence for Satan’s, Adam’s, and Israel’s rebellion, but God provides a solution to men.

 

This Last Sunday of the Church Year we celebrate God’s solution, “an eternal gospel” (Rev. 14:6), his Green Wood with us. Jesus suffered all sin to his destruction from violent men intent on stealing it (Mt. 11:12).

 

That God is different and “other” than his creation is manifest precisely in committing his Green Branch to destruction, his true Israel reduced into his one true man. Jesus, lifted up on the cross, spliced to the dead wood of the world for death, spoke, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34).

 

Until that historical moment, the legal maxim in heaven and on earth held, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” But Jesus pleads for the world and his persecutors, taking into himself, not only all our sin, but our sin of ignorance of God’s love, that we might be united in his flesh.

 

Still the destruction of God’s green wood on the cross continued unabated. There were witnesses to the destruction; mocking religious rulers and soldier executioners, weeping and appalled “Daughters of Jerusalem”, Pilate’s judgment over the body, “This One is the King of the Jews”, and two law-breakers on either side, one of whom joined the violence, mocking God’s solution for sin and reconciliation.

 

But with the criminal on Jesus’ right there was an acute observer of the surrounding circumstances, what lawyers call the res gestae: Jesus’ prayer for absolution of all; Pilate’s declaration of Jesus’ innocence and kingly status; mockery from evil and violent men; all had an effect on the criminal who was about to add his own witness.

 

This criminal had nothing to offer God against his own destruction, not even his naked body, only a new found friendship with the King of the Jews come into his reign. With his petition to Jesus, “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42) the criminal discerned the radical difference of sinful man from his Creator like him in every way but sin.

 

Jesus responded, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43) affirming the man’s association and identification with his Creator-King. In this union is the Green Wood’s life-giving reconciliation of men to God.   

 

Unlike Adam, Christ, the visible form of the invisible God (Col. 1:15) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, rather he made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant not only in divinity but true humanity (Phil. 2:6, 7).

 

The criminal on the right grasped what Jesus extends to all in his bloody baptism; our absolution for new likeness in Christ that bridges the gulf between man and God for restoration in the new creation.

 

What Adam coveted, equality with God, we by Baptism into Jesus’ death are given through Torah wisdom into our Creator’s nature, who for love of men became Servant of all.

 

Still we do not covet. Jesus is pre-eminent Lord in everything, and head of the church, he is “the beginning, and the firstborn from the dead…” (Col. 1:18) who with the Father and the Spirit is alone worthy of worship. Amen.

 

pem.




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