Farewell Sermon from Pastor Jacobsen

Trinity 10, 2020

Psalm 92

5 O Lord, how great are Your works!
Your thoughts are very deep.

6 A senseless man does not know,
Nor does a fool understand this.

7 When the wicked spring up like grass,
And when all the workers of iniquity flourish,
It is that they may be destroyed forever.

8 But You, Lord, are on high forevermore.

9 For behold, Your enemies, O Lord,
For behold, Your enemies shall perish;
All the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.

10 But my horn You have exalted like a wild ox;
I have been anointed with fresh oil.

11 My eye also has seen my desire on my enemies;
My ears hear my desire on the wicked
Who rise up against me.

12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

13 Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.

14 They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,

15 To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Planted in the Lord’s House

God is teaching us something similar in all of our appointed lessons today. They take place in two different times: Jeremiah writing about 6 centuries before Christ, and Paul writing about a generation after.

In Jeremiah’s day, idol worship was rampant in Israel, mixed up with the name of God. But Jeremiah was addressing a more specific problem: the spiritual leaders who should have condemned the idolatry were unfaithful. The watchmen were not calling out the danger. They and everyone else assumed it was all okay. Why? They still had the word of God, the Torah. With that, they had nothing to worry about. It was all good in the ‘hood.

But it wasn’t. Jeremiah foretold judgment, but the priests, the other prophets, and the people didn’t take notice. Jeremiah writes, “No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his own course…” Their sins did not alarm them. God’s judgment did not terrify them.

In our Gospel, Jesus wept over Jerusalem for a similar reason. They were missing the time of their “visitation:” when He was with them for mercy. Those who miss this time will not fail to miss the time of God’s judgment. 

They saw His signs and heard Jesus teach, but in general didn’t pay attention. Many among the Pharisees were careful to live by God’s word, but neglected the most important, central part. They neglected to receive the Son of God in faith.

The Sadducees and priests formed another group who missed the time of God’s mercy. They were absorbed not in keeping the letter of God’s Word, but rather in keeping their power and influence. They, too, were blinded to the salvation God sent for their very own eyes and ears.

So Jesus wept in deep sadness for the consequence that was soon to come. Like in Jeremiah’s day, Jerusalem was about to fall. The Temple would be destroyed. Hearts were hardened to the Gospel. They resisted the work of the Holy Spirit.

Our Epistle shows the flip side. Though Israel failed, many Gentiles were converted, repented, and lived out their faith. Many gladly died for their faith. But why did the Jewish people fail to attain the law of righteousness? Paul writes, “Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.” That’s the rock on which God has built His Church: Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins.

Dear friends in Christ, I have been among you now for over 15 years: 186 ½ months, to be more exact. The Lord Himself called me here through you and His larger Church to preach and teach the Gospel. I pray that it was not in vain for your sake, like the preaching of Jeremiah and even our Lord Himself in connection with the city of Jerusalem.

The great spiritual weakness of our flesh and the overwhelming hostility of the world and the malice of the Enemy often make the preaching of God’s Word seem to be in vain. Even catechized Christians so easily forget our priorities and what truly serves for our good. We become convinced that the crisis before our fleshly eyes is more urgent than the spiritual crisis that confronts every sinner.  We tend to think that earthly hunger or physical discomfort must be addressed before our separation from God.

Jesus corrects our thinking. His lesson of the loaves and fish recently taught us again that if we have Him, we have enough. But do we listen? Do we remember? If we did listen, remember, and believe, then every member of Christ’s body should be here every week. Nothing short of death or imprisonment should prevent it. But so many of God’s people spend our time dealing instead with other things, like work or pleasure.

We must not minimize the suffering that others feel. Because of various afflictions, people all around us must endure great anguish: body, soul, and mind. When you suffer, you want the suffering to end. It’s a great comfort to know that Jesus understands. See His grief for Jerusalem! His tears are human tears. But His suffering is also part of what He endured to cleanse you from the guilt of your sin and make you God’s own child. 

Children of this world and children of God end up trying so many ways to ease or forget their suffering and pain. Noah tried to manage the sadness he felt with wine from his vineyard. He did forget his suffering for a little while, but he was also unable to take proper care of himself, to fulfill his vocation as a father and husband, or even to know what was happening around him. He had become comfortably numb. That’s a constant danger when we use earthly solutions for our suffering.

One of the reasons our churches are in decline is that earthly remedies for suffering are on the rise, remedies that numb the pain for a time, or give some temporary pleasure. These earthly remedies can help us, but they don’t solve the root problem, and must be renewed continually, like the sacrifices in the Tabernacle of the Israelites. But unlike those sacrifices, our earthly remedies for suffering lead us away from God’s permanent solution instead of toward it. Tabernacle sacrifices taught the Israelites to trust in Jesus, whose suffering has ended suffering, whose death has ended death, and whose resurrection has begun a new Creation filled with godly pleasures without end. Consider what Johann Gerhard wrote about this:

The world considers it the greatest misfortune when a man is taken in physical death or is subjected to poverty, sickness, and other crosses in this life. But this opinion is false and misguided, for the crosses of this life serve to the good of man, as all of Scripture attests. Physical death does a man no harm if he clings to Christ in true faith (John 8:51). Eternal death is the real and great tragedy. It is the poverty and sickness of the soul, the unrepentant, carnal security, and godlessness that hastens a man to eternal death. This is the greatest misfortune.

Johann Gerhard, Sermon for Trinity 10

Our actions betray our worldly priorities. And no wonder. If we follow the example of Noah’s wine, we too will become comfortably numb: numb to the pain to some extent, but also numb to the Word of God. Wasn’t that the very problem in Jeremiah’s day? Wasn’t that the reason Jesus had to weep over Jerusalem? They were settling for earthly solutions for their lives, maybe even using bits and pieces of God’s Word but leaving out the cross that ties it all together. Is it any wonder in that case, if churches become empty on most Sundays? You can get your fix or your kicks somewhere else. But that doesn’t lead toward eternal life. As Gerhard wrote, it leads to the greatest misfortune of all.

So I fear that the same condemnation that befell Israel in Jeremiah’s time and Jerusalem in Jesus’ day will fall upon this congregation. You may think, “But those people were worse: they had a prophet of God — even the Son of God among them!” They did. And our congregation has nothing less than a minister sent by Jesus Himself, a shepherd under Christ. For a while now, more than one.

So I entreat you to take this passage to heart from Hebrews 3: 

12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.

Hebrews 3:12-14

How should you exhort one another? What should you say? 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24-25)

For every child of God, the whole life of faith revolves around God’s presence. Not His omnipresence by which He exists in all places, but His coming to dwell graciously with you, joining you to Him in one communion that will outlast this world. That’s the whole point of the weekly Divine Service. That’s where it happens on earth. By giving our devout attention to these things, God’s people are stirred up to love and good works. We are healed of our spiritual disease and reconciled personally to God through His Spirit’s work: repentance and faith. This is where we receive all that we need to bear the crosses that God has given us.

As for those who have fallen away and so do not continue in our Lord’s presence, we pray for them, and our Father hears us. We pray, and He calls us to be part of the answer to our own prayer by steadfastly confessing the truth in all we do and say.

All of this is wrapped up in today’s Psalm 92:

12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,
15 To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Listen to the voice of your Lord! Rich temporal and eternal blessings are given to those who are planted in the house of the Lord.

In the psalmist’s time, that house was the Tabernacle and Temple, the center of all true spiritual life for Israel. But we have it even better: the house of the Lord is wherever Jesus comes to us and gathers His Church.  This is no desolate place! Eyes of flesh may see only a few people and many empty pews, but we have come into the presence of the Holy Trinity, where the Church triumphant is joined in worship with the heavenly host in the fullness of God’s glory.

To benefit from this glorious reality, you have to be a part of it. That begins here every week, and it continues as you bear God’s love and good works wherever your vocation may take you. If you have not been as faithful as you should, welcome to the Church militant. You’re in good company here. We all must be alarmed by the Law and repent daily, returning spiritually to the baptismal water where our new lives in Christ began. We all must bear our crosses, and so must also bear with one another. Never stop praying for each other and acting on those prayers in a spirit of forgiveness and love.

Remember the tears of Jesus! It seemed to be in vain that He was about to suffer and die for Jerusalem. But in His great love, He went anyway. That is the love to which you are now called, for you are His children through faith, and He has forgiven your sins of unfaithfulness and worldliness. Put your trust entirely in Him, receiving strength from Jesus who comes to you intimately with His body and blood. Let His strong word strengthen you with the power of the Holy Spirit to bear your crosses in the knowledge that their time is quickly passing away. 

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:57-58)

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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