In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul, ‘Flee like a bird…
The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked…
The Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face. [Ps1]
Is. 64:5-9; Phil. 3:4-9
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways… I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh…
as to the righteousness under the law, blameless… But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ… for his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…
you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time…
shall we be saved?
We are unclean. Even our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We fade like a leaf. [Ps1]
Our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. [Ps1]
There is no one who calls upon your name… to take hold of you;
You have hidden your face from us…
Making us melt in the hand of our iniquities…
But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
We are the clay, and you are our potter;
We are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord…
Remember not your iniquity forever
Behold, please look, we are all your people.
Luke 23:7-11; Matt. 27:27-31
[Pilate] sent him [Jesus] to Herod… When Herod saw Jesus,
he was very glad, he had long desire to see him…
he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him…
He questioned him at some length, but he made no answer…
Chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him…
Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him.
Then, arraying him in splendid clothing,
He sent him back to Pilate…
The soldiers of the governor took Jesus… gathering a whole battalion before him.
They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,
and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head
and put a reed in his right hand.
Kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’
They spit on him
and took the reed and struck him on the head.
When they had mocked him, they stripped him… put his own clothes on...
and led him away to crucify him.
Law/Gospel series suggests: our righteousness is filthy rags (L)
While Jesus tells us we have his clean righteousness (G)
Rubbish… Addiction… bottoming out…
Silence… no one cries out…
True desires… want to be righteous… Herod wants to see a show… actors
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness 563
My glorious dress… in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head…
Bold we stand in that great day…
Through these absolved I am… from sin and fear, from guilt and shame…
Lamb… silent to the slaughter…
Shed for me… ransom paid
Christ the Life of all the Living
That by his death, death may die… thousand thanks may be…
 Garbage, dung, excrement… “Whatever may be regarded as a prop to support the religious man who hankers after something to boast about and is blind to the fact that he can live only by the grace of God, or as a virtue which he would call his own, is counted loss and dung. | The vigorous language and the widened scope of the apostle’s confession… Paul has in mind here… his ever present choice against a recurring temptation to rely on anything apart from Christ.” (Martin 1983, 145)
That the Hearers identify (not in their merit, but) in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you
from God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son, Our Lord. Amen.
All these words, here them with your ears and hold them in your hearts (Ez. 3:10)
What does that word mean to you?
To me, it is powerful. I had the opportunity to take counseling last quarter. I was in the “Pastor as Counselor” class where we meditated on how exactly a pastor is also a healer, a therapist. The professor believed it would be a good idea for the pastoral students to experience the receiving end of consultation so that they can relate with how the person coming to them might feel. To be honest, at first I was uncomfortable and withdrawn. I didn’t really understand the need to talk about myself. But, as I began to go to these sessions, I realized through discussion that I didn’t have trouble with stress or anxiety, fears or temptations. What I struggled the most with was a feeling of helplessness.
It is tough because helplessness reveals to us just how dependent we are. It is the point where we cannot extend ourselves any further because of unforeseen limitations. This helplessness might be due to a lack of skill, a lack of experience, a lack of opportunities, or even the lack of lenience. It might be due to oppression or distance. There are many causes of helplessness… the feeling that “I want to do more, but for whatever reason, I am not able to Perhaps you see a problem that you’re just not able to fix, a relationship that you can’t mend, or you’ve lost your job and you don’t know what to do next. .” It is something that haunts our identity.
This is a feeling that I am not alone in experiencing. I am sure most of you understand what helplessness is, you can relate it to some point in your life… maybe you can even relate it to where you are today. We are not alone.
It is exactly what the text in Isaiah is all about. The Israelites remembered that the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked shall perish. But, they had sinned. And, they continued to live in sin. They were trapped in their helplessness, being slaves to sin. “They wanted to do more, to add to their righteousness… to make themselves right again, but they were unable to.” They pleaded with the Lord, “shall we be saved?”
They saw themselves as so unclean that even the things they had managed to accomplish were dirty, polluted with their sin. Instead of learning and growing on the foundation of God’s righteousness, they saw themselves as a withering leaf, cut off from the vine. They are swept away by their iniquity. God had hidden himself from them. And, they begged him to acknowledge that they were his people once again. They wanted him to make something out of them, to love them like a Father and mold them like his clay. But, instead they feel helpless, useless… worthless.
In this helplessness, we often try to make something of ourselves. Because we cannot address the problem at hand, we are helpless to make ourselves worth something, we find worth in other things. We achieve other merits. That is what Paul had done in his life. He avoided the feeling of helplessness by becoming zealous in his calling. Ever since his birth, being circumcised on the eighth day, born of the tribe of Benjamin (one of two of Israel’s favorite sons). He was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was “the man.” He knew the Law like the back of his hand. He practiced it and made sure that others did too. He lived as an example to them. He did not do this as just another job or lukewarmly, but with a passion. This was so much so that he was willing to kill for what he believed. He slaughtered heretics. You think it’s one thing to debate or argue or stand up for religion, Paul was willing to kill for it. He acted perfectly righteous before the people around him. He did everything he could do for himself. He would have been a saint to the synagogue. But, once he lost all these things, he realized once again his worth. It wasn’t much… it was almost nothing at all… it was just rubbish, garbage, the word here in the Greek really points to excrement.
Apart from God, apart from Jesus Christ… he was still worthless. He tried to make something out of himself, he dressed himself up in his works, but he was still naked. His merits dissipated into smoke. I don’t know how Pastor Paul picks these texts, or maybe it was God… probably both. But, this one really hit home for me last week. That feeling of helplessness, worthlessness, almost nakedness hit me in the gut. (The Law crushes us!! Elaborate to fit in the series.) As I was meditating on the texts, one of my friends actually came up to me and asked me if I was ok… The dismay must have revealed itself on my face… I said I was “ok.” But, he didn’t believe me. After asking a few more questions, he finally walked away and I could avoid the entire topic. But, maybe he was right.
I had put on the mask that we often do, I clothed myself in a dress of happiness… I didn’t want anyone to see the inner struggle created by reading Scripture. I wanted them to see my merits, everything that I had accomplished… the great things that I can do… Instead of the revelation that God reminded me of… Even all of these things are nothing apart from Him. And I, just as much as any of you, am just a tool working in His grip.
You can probably relate this to your own life… trying to be something different on the outside than the inside… The international students I met over the summer told me that Americans are really kind and nice people but they’re also two-faced. I didn’t really know what they meant, in fact I was pretty insulted. It bothered me the whole day, I explained to one of them from Slovakia, “If I am really just two-faced and pretending to be a friendly person… if I’m just putting on this costume to impress people, then what’s the point?” I hoped for an authentic relationship. I wanted to really get to know my friends. And, if I wore a mask the whole time that could never happen. But, as I thought about the concept more and more, the more I understood it to be true. There is one side of most of us that we allow the world to see. And, another one lies deeper… it’s the part we don’t want to show. It’s the nakedness beneath the costume, the helplessness, the hopelessness.
And, the gospel reading didn’t really make it any better at first. In Luke, we read that Herod was ecstatic to see Jesus, he had heard about all of the great things this new magician had been doing. He wanted to see a sign, to witness a miracle. The great Nazarene Houdini had come to visit and Herod wanted to see a show. He questioned him (probably about his tricks), but Jesus decided not to put up a mask. He didn’t get defensive. He didn’t reveal the supernatural side of himself just to please Herod. He remained authentic to who He was. He remained silent as a lamb headed to the slaughter. The lamb was accused and mocked, but he did not raise his voice, he did not wish to entertain, he did not wear a costume… and because he would not be who they wanted him to be, they gave him one.
He was stripped down and his bruised and battered body adorned splendid clothing. They made him to look like the King the Israelites wanted instead of the servant-king he was. His scarlet robe became wet with his blood, a twisted crown of thorns adorned his head… they gave him a reed to hold in his right hand. And, they scoffed, “Hail, King of the Jews!” before spitting on him. Then, they stripped him once again and led him away to be crucified. Jesus shows us where our own merits get us… death.
Where is the hope in that?? If all we deserve… if all of our merits leave us empty… worthless… naked… Then there is no hope there.
It might be in losing our job, or losing control, being limited, or hitting rock bottom. But, sometimes it takes helplessness to see those who are still there for us. Sometimes we need to be starving to see the hand that’s willing to feed us. Sometimes we need to get rid of our masks so that we can know who could truly love someone like us.
The Lord, he looks at our hearts. Jesus knows what’s in man… he sees our naked helplessness. And, he becomes our help. Think about this, God, the most powerful One, the only one who is able to make us righteous, to give us worth, to give us hope and merit through His Son, became naked in his helplessness for us.
He sees us dressing ourselves up in kingly costumes, avoiding the pitfalls in our own lives, trying to entertain the world instead of being who we truly are. And, in that moment, he chooses to come for us. Even though not a single one of us cried out to him, although we had become like twigs blown away by the wind, although we have covered ourselves in rubbish, he chooses to cloth us in his righteousness. (That’s the Gospel!! Elaborate to fit in the series.) (We are worthless, but God gives us worth…. We are unrighteouse, but God gives us His righteousness… We are nothing, but God makes us everything.)
He takes the scarlet robe we had dressed ourselves in, covered in his blood, and cleanses us in his holiness. He dies for us and sacrifices himself for us so that we are no longer hopeless, helpless, or worthless…. But so that we can hope in Him. We find worth in Him. He is our help and our salvation. Amen.
Now, may the peace that passes all of our understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus from this time forth. Amen.