Beloved. Today’s Introit sets the mood for today and for the final two weeks of Lent. It is a prayer of St. David, but one that we can certainly hear our Lord Jesus praying, especially in light of today’s Gospel [Ps 43.1]: Vindicate Me, O God, and plead My cause against an ungodly nation. In today’s Gospel account, we certainly see Jesus before an ungodly nation; we certainly see Him in need of God vindicating Him. We come into the middle of a run in Jesus had with the religious leaders of the Jews. Jesus had called these religious leaders out on their plan to kill Him [v.40]: But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. The religious leaders of the Jews continued to reject Jesus and His word—even after Jesus points to His sinlessness as evidence that He is who He says He is—the true God, the promised Savior: Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God. They then accuse Jesus of having a demon. Jesus then says: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, about whom you say, ‘He is our God.’” So what is Jesus’ prayer? Vindicate Me, O God, and plead My cause against an ungodly nation. And did the Father vindicate Jesus, His Son? Absolutely—with His resurrection on Easter Sunday morning! There was proof positive for all the world to see that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and the Savior of the world; that Jesus offered that one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world—and that His sacrifice for the sins of the world was accepted as the Father raised Him from the dead announcing the forgiveness/ absolution for the sins of all. But that vindication would only come after Jesus’ great suffering and death.
As we enter these two final weeks of Lent, called “Passiontide,” our attention turns and focuses more on Jesus’ suffering and death for us, on account of our sins. We hear Jesus as it were during these two final weeks of Lent praying all the more fervently: Vindicate Me, O God, and plead My cause against an ungodly nation. And we look ahead to Easter and there see that yes, God vindicated Jesus. But in the meantime it wasn’t easy for Jesus as His prayer certainly became more fervent: Vindicate Me, O God, and plead My cause against an ungodly nation.
There’s a lesson—and comfort—for us, too. As we struggle against sin and strive to live a life of holiness to the glory of God, seeking to do His will, we will face powerful enemies—the devil who is always trying to lead us into sin and to destroy our faith; our old sinful nature that we all have that wants us to/ delights in sin; we have the world around us that doesn’t want to be reminded of sin/ to have its conscience pricked by seeing the Christian loving and serving God, striving for holiness or hearing the call of the Church to repent of sin and to seek forgiveness of sins in Jesus. It will not be easy to be a Christian in the world or community or even in our own families. The Christian will often feel like a “freak” because as we take our faith seriously and seek to live it out in our daily lives we will be different. And so our plea, too, is: Vindicate Me, O God, and plead My cause against an ungodly nation.
What is our comfort here? The words of the Lord to us in our text: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. As we live out our lives as Christians, we have the command and promise of our Lord: Fear not, for I am with you. As we face our spiritual enemies of devil, of the sinful world around us, of our old sinful self that is still part of us, do not be afraid: Fear not, for I am with you.
We do seemingly have great cause to fear. Our text mentions: all who are incensed against you… those who strive against you… those who contend with you… those who war against you. Why did Jesus endure such hostility? Why was He who was promising something so good, the forgiveness of sin and eternal life, rejected and so cruelly put to death? Why has the Church down through the ages suffered persecution after persecution down to our very day—so that more Christians died for the faith in the 20th century than in all others combined? Even in our own country, why are Christians — even without doing anything weird—so often vilified simply for holding to traditional beliefs? Simple answer is that the Christian message—that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus crucified and risen is as St. Paul already noted in the 1st Century [1 Cor 1.23]: we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness. In other words, the message of Christianity—Christ crucified—doesn’t make sense to people, to human reason. The natural way of thinking is that by what I do, I make myself pleasing to God; or, I’m not all that bad a person so I am pleasing to God and deserve heaven; or, I do what seems to me to be right and loving in the situation.
Add to that: in today’s world, people want to make themselves their own god: I determine what is right and wrong; I am in charge of my own fate; I am in charge of life and death: that means I can choose to abort my unborn child; I can change my gender; I can have a doctor help me kill myself.
Add to that: in today’s world there is a true loss of the sacred and eternal. Everything is for the here and now; everything is to serve me here and now. This life is all there is, so let me make my heaven on earth. This way I don’t have to think about eternity. And if all that is here is for me here and now, nothing is really sacred.
But then there’s the Christian who holds to divine mysteries, like the Blessed Sacrament; who looks forward to an eternity in heaven; who holds to a standard of right and wrong; who recognizes things as sin; who calls for repentance; who recognizes that he/she is a sinner and needs a Savior from sin. Precisely that is what so many do not want to be reminded of, because in their heart of hearts they know it: their sin, that they must give an account before the Divine Judge, that there is an eternity. Even many calling themselves Christians fall prey to the way the society/ culture thinks because, after all, it’s all around us, like the air we breathe.
So what does this rather gloomy picture mean? The same thing it did when Jesus sent out the disciples and told them [Luke 10.3]: Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Jesus knew exactly what He was saying—He was living it: He was that lamb among wolves! But when the Lord sends us out we have the promise of our text: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. When we were baptized, that’s when the Lord claimed us as His dear Christian and both rescued us from the world and sent us right back into it to live out our lives as Christians in this world. Even though we may be like lambs among wolves, we have the Lord’s command and promise: Do not be afraid.
It is absolutely vital that we keep hearing that command and promise: Do not be afraid. It is so easy to be anxious, to look around and see that the devil and his allies surround us and all that they can potentially do. However, our greatest anxiety is not necessarily from outside of us but from within us. The devil afflicts and torments us, not only leading us into sin but also reminding us of our sin and wanting us to think that our sin is too great to be forgiven. He wants to lead us to think that that if somehow something is not going well for us, that when we are in some sort of trial or hardship that God has become our enemy and has turned against us. And there are thousands of other ways that the devil works his tricks and he is persistent. That’s why we need all the time to hear, especially in hard times, when we are anxious: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
As Christians, we have that glorious comfort of praying as we did this morning: We beseech You, almighty God, mercifully to look upon Your people, that by Your great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore in both body and soul. The Lord is governing and preserving us in body and soul. At times it may not seem like it—after all, we’re as lambs among wolves; we are the victims of the devil’s tricks and persistence. That’s why we need at all times but especially in times of difficulty or when you feel that God has forgotten you or even has become your enemy, to hear: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. And when do we hear it? We hear it in church—in the holy absolution when the pastor, in the place of Jesus, says “I forgive you all your sin…” With the forgiveness of sin, God is telling us: in Jesus, things are right between you and Me; I am your dear loving Father who is working all things for your good. Do not fear, I am with you—even when it looks like I’m not. I will give you grace and strengthen you through it all.” This is what He promised and gave to us in Holy Baptism. In baptism He not only washed away our sin but He brought us into His holy family. Daily and often think of your baptism, that is when the Holy Triune God came to you and promised: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Our Lord continues to make this real and tangible to us as in the Holy Supper He comes to us, gives us His very body and blood/Himself. How can we fear? He is with us—He just came to us, united us to Himself as He gave us His very body and blood.
We have no cause to be afraid. It is the almighty and gracious God Himself who comes to us and says: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. He is with us—that is, He is united with us, our ally and comrade—and He is with us with His merciful power. And precisely because He is our God, He gives us love, grace and salvation. Although our strength to face our spiritual battles, our strength as lambs in the midst of wolves, amounts to nothing, God will give us whatever strength we need to face what we do. And notice His glorious promise: I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Our Lord’s righteous right hand—His hand of righteousness upholds His dear Christian. This is His most glorious promise and why we need not be afraid. His righteous right hand gives us the perfect righteousness of Jesus. And when we have that perfect righteousness of Jesus, why should we fear? We have been redeemed by Jesus, our sins are forgiven and our salvation has been obtained! That’s all we need to know—Jesus has redeemed us; He is our righteousness. The power of Jesus’ cross and resurrection is greater than any evil that we could fear. Look at what the Lord promises in our text—that we be completely victorious over our enemies:
Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.
Jesus triumphed over all of our enemies—sin, death, devil and hell—and He did so for us; through faith His victory is ours. Jesus certainly prayed: Vindicate Me, O God, and plead My cause against an ungodly nation, and He was vindicated—He rose from the dead. Now His vindication is ours, through faith in Him. Do not be afraid. INJ