(Lenten services at Bethlehem this year are from the hymn “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice” LSB 556 – from the preaching seminar from Rev. John Pless, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It may seem a bit strange that we gather this Lenten season, a season that began last week with ashes, a season of purple to signify repentance, to have a theme for our midweek services that call the church to “rejoice with exultation springing.”
This is the season we lament over our sin. This is season where we put aside our Alleluias for 6 weeks, unspoken and unsung by the congregation until the proclamation that Christ is risen at the Easter Vigil. So why, in this season of Lent would we have a theme from a hymn that leads us to rejoice?
As we will see this Lenten season, “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice” is right at home in Lent. It is the rejoicing that Luther thought about in penning the hymn. For our joy is found precisely in our repentance. Jesus reminds us in Luke’s Gospel (15:7) that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.
Tonight we heard and read a portion of Psalm 51. We read it in its entirety last week on Ash Wednesday. We speak and sing the words from this Psalm often in our liturgies. David penned this Psalm with inspiration from the Holy Spirit precisely in a time of repentance. King David had desired to live life by his own standards and by his own authority. Yes, shortly after showing great faithfulness with his friend Jonathan, shortly after the famous account in having great faith to defeat Goliath, David is anointed king of Israel and quickly loses sight of himself and the Lord.
As king of Israel David let power, money, and fame go to his head. He could have whatever he wanted. You’ve heard the story. David and Bubble Bathsheba. Bathsheba is taking her bath and David notices her from the rooftop. The king calls to have her come and join him in the bedroom. Surprise, surprise, she’s found shortly thereafter to be pregnant. The real problem is that her husband serves in the military and has been gone.
David continued to rely on himself. He attempts to cover his sin. He has all the brains and the authority to make it happen. For you see, ultrasounds weren’t around. Precise dating a pregnancy was a little of an issue. Sure they knew the basics, but even today due dates can be off a couple weeks. So David has Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, come home and encourages him to spend some time at home, together. He didn’t do exactly what David was hoping. The plan is falling apart.
David still thinks he must trust himself. After all, he got into this mess so he must figure a way out, right? That’s David’s thinking. So, he does what any head of the military would do when he is in a tough spot with someone and needs that man gone. He orders that Uriah be put on the frontline of the battlefields and even more, that when they are about to engage in battle that everyone back away.
This is King David. The one we remember with Goliath. The man the Scriptures declare to be a man after God’s own heart. A peeping-David, who takes another man’s wife (while married himself), and when things don’t go well to cover it up has him killed.
And you thought you needed movies and TV for this kind of drama. Just read 1 Samuel.
David does do something somewhat honorable. He takes Bathsheba into the household and was prepared to take care of the child. Only the Lord has different plans. He sends his servant Nathan to confront David in his sin. Nathan tells a parable of a man who has everything he needs and takes the only lamb from a poor traveler. David declares the man should be killed for his cruelty and evil. Nathan tells David, “you are the man.”
Nathan pronounces the Lord’s forgiveness to David. But there are still earthly, physical consequences. The child will die. Soon after his birth this comes true. David weeps over the death of his son. Yet, in faith and trust, as a forgiven sinner David is lead to this great work and writes for us Psalm 51. Great confession of faith in the deliverance and promise of the Lord God. The Lord removes David’s sin and leads him to proclaim the goodness and mercy of God.
Dear Christians one and all rejoice, with united heart and voice. This kind of rejoicing only comes in repentance and faith. The law of God shows us what we do, who we are, kills us in our sin. The law of God, the reflection of those things which we do not do and those things which we do wrongly, with evil hearts and minds, usually selfishly, leads us to die in our sin.
Only the Lord can forgive sins. Our focus in Lent is not on our piety, not in how great we, and not to embark some kind of spiritual self-help journey. Our focus in on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. With united heart and voice we proclaim the wonders God has done, how His right arm the victory won.
Our ransom, our being held hostage in sin to death cost Him. It cost Jesus His life. We rejoice in repentance, not because we are so great in taking the high road in confessing our sin, but we rejoice in Him who took our sin upon Himself.
Lent is our reminder that God gave His dearest treasure. Every parent can understand this simply. Imagine your child dying because of the sin of another. David felt it. His child died from his and his mother’s sin. He would plead with the Lord, as any parent would, that he die rather his son.
We often overlook or don’t think about what is going on in our Lenten journey. We are being lead to the cross where the Heavenly Father has to give up His Son into death because of your sin and mine. His is the death that takes away the sin of David, Bathsheba, Uriah, you, and me.
When we have those times and are like David, relying on ourselves, repent. We look to our wealth, our positions in life, our own reason and strength to get us through life and life’s situations. We have a tendency to forget the Lord who gives us everything in the first place. We have a tendency to think that we should wait to come to the Lord until we are healed, until things in life are fine. Ever feel like you should stay away from church because things are going so bad. Just wait until they straighten up and are better.
For you the Lord does not wait. He comes. He comes into your life and meddles around, showing you your sin so that He may bury that old Adam into death. He comes into your life and says, here I am for you. You own death and blood, that is the ransom. That’s the price He pays for you. He forgives your sin just as He removed David’s. Sure there are still physical consequences. Things go wrong. People die. Sickness, poverty, struggles with finances and schedules. When we leave ourselves in our lives of sin, sin abounds more and more. But how do you think things will get better without Him who forgives sin and gives life. This place is not a hotel resort for being comfortable in life, the Lord’s house is a hospice center for the dying. Dying in sin. To give life in repentance that looks to and trusts in Jesus to give that forgiveness, life, and salvation.
For you, dear Christians, rejoice. Rejoice in repentance. For God has bestowed on you His greatest treasure. As we were reminded last week in Ash Wednesday, we are dust and to dust we shall return. His right arm has stretched forth from the cross and proclaimed victory over sin and death in the resurrection. All this He does for you. In His death, you have life.
Dear Christians one and all rejoice. Rejoice in Lent. Rejoice in repentance. Where there is repentance there is joy, for where there is repentance there is Christ, the declaration of what God has done for you.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.