Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon for Wednesday in the fifth week in Lent, 4/1/2020. A recording of the Vespers service, including this sermon, is available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Lent V Vespers Bulletin
The text for the sermon was Psalm 43. The verse above is from the Epistle from the fifth Sunday in Lent. To read the Bible texts for the fifth Sunday in Lent, click here.
Jesus takes up His sorrows willingly. The conspiracy against Him will only take place when He is ready. When it is time to drain the cup of God’s wrath against sin, then He will offer Himself to the Father in obedience and out of love for us. Though the pain and sorrow are real, He is glad to do it. This is the cost of our salvation and Jesus willingly pays it.
This last Sunday takes its name from the Latin word: Judica. That is the first word in Psalm 43, which we prayed this evening.
Judica means “vindicate” or “judge.” The Psalmist puts the following words into the Messiah’s mouth. Jesus prays:
Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people,
from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me! verse 1
Jesus asks for vindication because He is innocent of any wrongdoing. He has been falsely accused. And His prayer will be answered.
Jesus will be vindicated by His Father in the resurrection. The resurrection proves that His Word is true. What He said happened, and what He taught is right. The resurrection also proves that His Father has accepted His sacrifice and judged Him innocent. Thus Jesus is a worthy sacrifice for our salvation and the payment has been made in full.
Vindicate Me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, verse 1a
as He suffers the abuse of evil rabbis in the Temple. It is easy for Jesus to pray “Judge Me.” He has nothing to fear from an inquiry into His morality. He has no skeletons, no past indiscretions, no internet history to delete. Surprisingly, however, the judgment doesn’t go that way for Jesus. Before He is vindicated, He is judged guilty. Jesus becomes sin and a curse, a stench and offense to heaven.
And so this Psalm is Jesus’ prayer, too:
For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me?
Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? verse 2
It’s a rhetorical question. Jesus knows why He is suffering. Jesus knows why He is rejected by the Father and endures the oppression of the enemy. He has been declared guilty because God is merciful, and in His mercy He has ordained a way to receive our punishment and declare us righteous.
Jesus’ Psalm continues:
Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! verse 3
Wicked men slander and plot to kill Jesus and He asks to be judged for it. His response to the plot is also to say to His Father who is rejecting Him: “Let them bring me to your holy hill.”
He means: “Let them bring Me to Calvary. Take Me to the Cross. Make Me the ransom. Let’s just do it. Judge and declare Me guilty for their sake, O God.”
That leads Him directly to say:
Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. verse 4
Jesus will go to the cross. He will be sacrificed for the sins of the world. He will lay down His life of His own accord, gladly and with joy. Thus, He praises His Father; not for the rejection, the pain and sorrow, but for the mercy and love that didn’t spare Him in order to spare us.
In all this, He also expects the Resurrection, the vindication He began with. He says to Himself:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. verse 5
Jesus knows the cost and the sorrow He must endure for our sins, that we would be forgiven. But He also knows the promise. He waits for the Resurrection and the bestowal of His inheritance. He shall be given the Gentiles, the ungodly nations. He will be given us as an inheritance and bride. That makes it worth it to Him.
But this isn’t a Psalm only for Jesus and only about Jesus. It is also our psalm. We are to pray it. It is also about us.
We do ask not to be judged by our works or our faith, but we do ask to be judged and vindicated by Christ’s sacrifice. We do not fear judgment because we know mercy. We know Christ. We know that He has declared us righteous.
That righteousness can withstand an inquiry into our morality, a search of our internet histories, and even the darkest secrets of our fallen hearts.
God declares you righteous. That righteousness will not fail or prove false. The demons are liars. There is no one to accuse you.
We also ask, with Jesus, to be separated from the ungodly, from those who persecute us, and to be delivered from our own evil thoughts of self-pity and despair.
When we pray: “I will go unto the altar of God,” we also mean that we will go to the cross of Jesus. Without that altar, no other altar makes any sense or is of any use.
We will go to the cross of Jesus, the altar of God, to God Himself, our exceeding joy. And where is that? It is the Holy Communion. The Holy Communion delivers to us, in time, the crucified and risen Body and Blood of Jesus. The Holy Communion brings the fruits of the cross to us for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of our faith and the bestowal of exceeding joy. So then do we also hope in God and confess that we will not stop praising Him, our salvation and our God.