Jesus Will Have None of It

Welcome, friends. As we journey with Jesus through this Lenten season, Christ is challenging four false assumptions about sin and guilt. Through parable and direct teaching, he insists we all must change – rather than simply looking for others to do so. Click the videos below, as we discover together that, when it comes to scapegoating and blame-shifting, Jesus will have none of it.

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Luke 13:1-9

Almighty and ever living God,
you invite us deeper into your world, your people, your Lent.
May this time be one of outward focus;
seeking you in those we often ignore.
Help us live a Lent focused on freedom, generosity, and encounter.
Give us hearts hungry to serve you
and those who need what we have to give. Amen.

Romans 10:8b-13 – Believe and Confess

“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame. ”For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (New International Version)

Confess with the Mouth

John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Oxford don who became an Anglican priest. He had all the intellectual tools to rightly handle the intricacies of theology and teach the Bible. Yet, when he first started out, there was no heart behind it. 

On a voyage across the Atlantic to America, Wesley spent much of the time on the ship with a group of German pietists – men and women who had a heart behind their practice of Christianity. The Germans deeply impressed Wesley, and he realized there was something important missing from his own religion. 

The ship encountered a storm and Wesley was afraid for his life. But the German believers seemed unfazed, having a heart-faith that John could not explain. He wanted what they had. Wesley was fearful and found little comfort in his religion. So, he confessed to one of them his growing misery and decision to give up the ministry. One of the Pietists advised, “Preach faith till you have it. And then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

John Wesley acted on the advice. He led a prisoner to Christ by preaching faith in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins. He was astonished. Here was a man transformed instantly. Wesley cried out, “Lord, help my unbelief!” However, he still felt dull inside and little motivation even to pray for his own salvation. 

Statue of John Wesley as a young preacher, by Adam Carr, located in Melbourne, Australia

Having returned back to England, Wesley was in a church service listening to Romans expounded by the preacher. He recalled the experience years later: “While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Believe with the Heart

Simply uttering the words with our mouths, “Jesus is Lord,” by itself does not create deliverance and salvation. The heart needs to be involved. Yet, we must also consider the reality that only focusing on the heart, without having the mouth involved, is an insufficient faith. Christian belief has a solid objective real historical base from which our hearts can tether themselves. Christian confession affirms that Jesus is, indeed, risen from death and is Lord of all, having secured salvation for us through his shed blood on the cross.

Consider two hypothetical men at the time of the Passover in Egypt: Eleazar Ben Macaroni and Yakov Yarmulke. Eleazar and Yakov are talking together on the night the angel of death is about to pass through Egypt and the firstborn son in every family would be killed – that is, unless the blood from a sacrificial lamb was over the door of the house so that the angel would “pass over” the house and no one would be killed. 

Passover Angel of Death, by Arthur Hacker (1858-1919)

Yakov says to Eleazar, “Can you believe all that has been happening around here?  It’s all very scary!  All of those plagues, the disaster around us, and now this night!”  Eleazar asks, “Well, haven’t you put the blood over the door?”  “Yes, I’ve done all that – but it all is still disturbing.  My heart is troubled.  What do think will happen?” “Will we be okay?” asks Yakov nervously.  Eleazar responds, “I trust in the promises of God; let the angel come!”

So, when the angel of death came, which house do you suppose lost his firstborn son: Eleazar ben Macaroni, or Yakov Yarmulke?  The answer: neither of them. The angel of death did not come to either man’s house because deliverance is determined by the blood of the lamb and not by the quality or intensity of faith of the person. 

“For me His precious blood he shed – for me His life He gave. I need no other argument, I need no other plea; it is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me.”

My Faith Has Found a Resting Place, hymn by Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (1851-1920)

If we only focus on the heart, our hearts will condemn us. We need to say the words of our faith, to confess them with our mouths, repeatedly, again and again, until we believe them. We are not to wait for our hearts to feel like having faith and living for God, because our hearts can be desperately wicked, and they will keep deceiving us. The heart needs to be informed by God’s Word and accept the words of Holy Scripture by faith:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV)

Have the Heart and Mouth Work Together

We need both a right confession with our mouths and a right confession in our hearts for saving faith. When the heart receives grace, and the mouth expresses the beauty of faith – when heart and mouth work in concert with each other – something beautiful and gracious happens: 

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:13

When Holy Scripture says “everyone,” it means “everyone.” All who cry out to God with their mouths, from a heart desiring God, will be saved. It does not matter whether that call is melodious, sweet, and in tune; or whether the call is a jumbled off-key joyful noise. It makes no difference; both will be saved. 

Only uttering the right words like some magical incantation does not save us. Only sincerity of heart does not save us. One does not achieve salvation through self-effort or trying to be worthy. No one is saved by finding the right combination of words in prayer or having a nice feeling.

Calling on the name of the Lord with both mouth and heart, trusting in the redemptive events of Jesus Christ, is what saves us.

Whether Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, American or Arab, famous or infamous, it is no matter – because salvation isn’t dependent on our looks, our past, or our zeal in doing good works. Salvation is completely from God and freely given to all who call upon the name of the Lord.

Make No Room for Shame

What’s more, all who trust in Jesus Christ will never be put to shame. In ancient Roman society, nearly three-fourths of all the people in the Empire were slaves to the other one-fourth. It was a culture built around the concept of honor and shame. It was shameful to be a slave, and honorable to be privileged, wealthy, and influential with a good Roman pedigree and citizenship. It was beneath such people to interact with those who served them because dealing with shameful people would make them shameful, as well.

Jesus forsook his honorable position in order to hob-nob with us rabble. He became one of us to save us and lift us up with him.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.” 

2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV

Jesus embraced the shame of the cross. Therefore, we need never live in a state of shame ever again. Our hearts need not condemn us. Jesus has already taken care of shame, once for all.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3, NIV)

Put a Focus on Lent

The season of Lent lets us know we are neither brains-on-a-stick nor walking-headless-hearts. We have both heart and mouth, both deep feeling and real intellectual knowledge. Together, they form belief and confession. Lent is an invitation to prepare our hearts for Christ’s passion and resurrection. It includes an examination of our hearts so that we can deepen our piety and devotion to Jesus. And it incorporates confession of Jesus with the mouth.

The good news is this: Jesus is Savior and Lord; he has risen from death; and there is forgiveness of sins and deliverance from guilt and shame through is cross. When all is said and done, people need the Lord.

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” said Jesus. (Matthew 9:13)

Repentance involves both heart and mouth. And Lent is just the season for it, to turn from everything we have previously been living for other than Jesus. It’s an opportunity to start afresh with new life in Christ. It’s enough to make old John Wesley smile from the grave.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Save me from guilt and shame and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Amen.

Psalm 51:1-17 – Ash Wednesday

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
    Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
    purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
    my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
    I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
    completely correct when you issue your judgment.
Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
    from the moment my mother conceived me.
And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
    you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
    wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
    let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
    wipe away all my guilty deeds!
Create a clean heart for me, God;
    put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
    please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
Return the joy of your salvation to me
    and sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways,
    and sinners will come back to you.

Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation,
    so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness.
Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
You don’t want sacrifices.
    If I gave an entirely burned offering,
    you wouldn’t be pleased.
A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.
    You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed. (Common English Bible)

Ash Wednesday is an ancient holy day on the Church Calendar. It marks the beginning of the season of Lent—a time of penitence, discipline, and renewal.

We are reminded of our mortality, we confess our sins, and we experience forgiveness through Christ’s death and resurrection. The “imposition of ashes” is a central part of Ash Wednesday observances, whereby the penitent worshiper receives ashes on the forehead in the sign of the cross.

In Holy Scripture, ashes serve both as a symbol of mortality and as a sign of mourning and repentance. But neither sin nor death is the final word. So, we also have confidence and gratitude that Christ has conquered death, and nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus, our Lord.

Today, on this Ash Wednesday, the appropriate posture of the devout Christian is prayer. Specifically, prayers of confession of our great and many sins, shortcomings, and moral failures. 

This might sound negative and a major downer. Yet, to not look evil square in the face and call it out for what it is, is at best denial, and at the worst allowing a bitter seed of unforgiveness to gestate in the depths of your soul. 

It seems to me there is no better way to confront the darkness within than with using the ancient prayer book of the Old Testament Psalms. I encourage you to pray Psalm 51 out loud and slowly, with a generous amount of emotional flavor – even, and especially, if you don’t feel like it. 

Pray the ancient psalm over more than once, and perhaps several times punctuated throughout the day today. In doing so, you will be joining the faithful across this entire big world who today offer to God a prayer of subversion against the blackness on this earth.

Holy God, as the season now turns to Lent, we pray that you will guide us in the days ahead.  As we journey with Jesus, give us an abiding sense of your presence, an unguarded sense of ourselves, and an awareness of the needs of this world.

Loving God, as we are marked with the ashes of earth, we bring before you the frailty of our very human lives:  our fragile health; the uncertainty of our plans; the changing nature of our relationships. Grant us patience in suffering and healing from our ills. Give us, in equal measure, humility and hope in our pursuits. Bind us in love that is constant, yet able to change according to the needs and circumstances before us.

Just God, you call us to action; to bring freedom to the oppressed; to care for those in need; to lift the burdens of others. We ask you to increase our courage and our will to work for the peace you envision and desire. We pray for an end to warfare and conflict, accepting our call to be peacemakers. We pray for an end to hunger and homelessness, knowing we are called to share with others and show hospitality. We pray for an end to false righteousness, evil speech, and shallow faith in our lives, in the church, in our public life, and among all the nations.

Eternal God, we pray your kingdom will come in fullness; that what is perishable will be raised imperishable; that death itself will be swallowed up in victory; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Deuteronomy 9:15-24 – The Dark Underbelly of Sin

“Golden Calf” by John Bradford

Moses continued: “So, while the mountain was blazing with fire I turned and came down, holding in my hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. There below me I could see that you had sinned against the Lord your God. You had melted gold and made a calf idol for yourselves. How quickly you had turned away from the path the Lord had commanded you to follow! So, I took the stone tablets and threw them to the ground, smashing them before your eyes.

“Then, as before, I threw myself down before the Lord for forty days and nights. I ate no bread and drank no water because of the great sin you had committed by doing what the Lord hated, provoking him to anger. I feared that the furious anger of the Lord, which turned him against you, would drive him to destroy you. But again, he listened to me. The Lord was so angry with Aaron that he wanted to destroy him, too. But I prayed for Aaron, and the Lord spared him. I took your sin—the calf you had made—and I melted it down in the fire and ground it into fine dust. Then I threw the dust into the stream that flows down the mountain.

“You also made the Lord angry at Taberah, Massah, and Kibroth-hattaavah. And at Kadesh-barnea the Lord sent you out with this command: ‘Go up and take over the land I have given you.’ But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God and refused to put your trust in him or obey him. Yes, you have been rebelling against the Lord as long as I have known you. (New Living Translation)

I’m really glad there was no social media back in the day when the Israelites made the golden calf idol. Most people tend to post flattering pictures of happy families and wonderful experiences. Somehow, methinks the ancient Israelites would have tried to make the whole thing at Mount Sinai look like some party we would envy going to.

But there’s always a dark underbelly to all the glitter and photoshopped pics. And God sees and knows it all.

God is full of grace, steadfast love, and covenant commitment. Yet, this does not mean that God is okay with disobedience and people doing whatever the heck they want to do. The Lord has anything but a shoulder-shrugging “meh” attitude toward hedonism. 

In fact, grace only exists because of sin. Where there is boundless grace and compassion there will be found bucket loads of self-absorbed behavior. And, oh my, was there a load of it among the ancient Israelites! They were characterized as stubborn, rebellious, and idolatrous. It’s the kind of stuff that evokes the ire of God.

Genuinely godly people share God’s heart and interests. That is, what upsets God, upsets them; and what makes God pleased, makes them pleased. Moses was in sync with God. So, he was visibly angered by the people’s idolatry. Moses confronted the people with going far astray from the Lord. And, what’s more, Moses showed that his heart reflects God’s heart by immediately engaging in an extended time of fasting and prayer on their behalf – forty days and forty nights.

Lackadaisical attitudes and approaches toward God are a dime-a-dozen with many so called believers. There is little to no sustained, prolonged, and focused times of prayer and fasting among both individuals and groups of people. Many folks are simply too busy indulging in revelry with their idols of money, sex, power, and perfectionist control. 

Until we are cut to the heart with this present darkness of empty souls and vacuous spirits, which run to everything and everyone but God, there will be no entering the Promised Land of peace, love, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 

The dark underbelly of sin needs to be turned over so that it can be exposed to the purifying light of God’s glory. The worms of guilt must be unearthed, spread before the heat of the Son, and destroyed. The heavy load of shame needs to be jettisoned and thrown into the fire of God’s wrath.

The glory of the Lord is almost upon us, and the season of Lent is nearly here. So, let us make a solid spiritual plan for the forty days leading up to Easter for prayer and fasting on behalf of our own wrongdoing and shortcomings, as well as for the sin of the world.

Holy God, idolatry brings about your wrath because you cannot stand the lack of love in the world. I bow before you and bend the knee to your sovereign reign in my life. Please lead me in your way of righteousness and have mercy on those trapped in darkness so that we might see you, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.