GOD'S ANSWER IN SPIRITUAL CRISIS
Dear Christian friends,
I sent out an email yesterday about Stephen Schroeder. He is the nephew of our synod president and the cousin of Pastor Jonathon Schroeder, pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg. Stephen completed his study at the Seminary and then served as an instructor and dorm supervisor at Luther Preparatory School, one of our WELS high schools that trains young people for the ministry. After 9/11 he was driven to join our military rather than accept a call into the parish ministry. He became a helicopter pilot. This past week he and three others were critically injured when their helicopter crashed in training exercise. Stephen has a broken back with spinal cord injuries and many broken bones and burns over his abdomen. There is a likelihood he won’t walk again. Some think the cause of the crash was something getting tangled in the back rotor of the helicopter.
His wife, Sarah, has written that that the support has been overwhelming. Yet I am positive that the Schroeder family is drawing on every bit of comfort they can from the Word received from their childhood on. That’s exactly where to flee – we all need to flee – in time of spiritual crisis. Today with the prophet Ezekiel to guide us and gives us “God’s Answer to Spiritual Crisis.”
First of all, God has an answer for spiritual despair. I have sat across a desk or table with hundreds of people that were going through crisis. I have seen people in prison, in medical hospitals and mental hospitals. One thing they needed and wanted was God’s help and guidance.
Judah was having a spiritual crisis. Ezekiel was sent by God to help. Judah was in trouble. The nation was imprisoned by Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar and his giant sized ego wanted to conquer the world. In the year 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, made a big step. He went to war against Egypt at a place called Carchemish. Carchemish was neither in Egypt nor Babylon. It was in between, in Syria just north of Judah. Babylon was victorious. They decided to gobble up all the surrounding lands. That included Judah and Jerusalem.
Ten years later spunky Jerusalem fought for their freedom again. God had told them through the prophets to submit and take their lumps. They didn’t listen. He promised in seventy years things would change. Babylon took Jerusalem to the woodshed again and more severely. The elite were deported to Babylon. Ezekiel was among them. God wanted Ezekiel to be their shepherd.
Ten years later (586 BC) Jerusalem rebelled still once more. Babylon swatted them like a fly. Most in Jerusalem were deported. They city was destroyed including the LORD’s temple.
Not a single citizen had a house of their own. They lost what they had. They were taken to a land they didn’t want to inhabit. You have seen pictures of Auschwitz; you have seen photos of Syria and Iraq. The houses Judah had built were in rubble. The fields they planted would never be harvested. How was Judah feeling? Not blessed, rather punished.
God gave Ezekiel instructions. “Son of man, say to the Israelites, This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?” God allowed his people to hurt. Was it God’s wrath? It sure felt that way.
There was certainly good that came out of this.They didn’t blame God. They put the blame directly on themselves. “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”
As you read the book of Ezekiel, there is kind of an evolution of their thought. Earlier in the book the people refused to assume responsibility. They blamed the generations that came before them. They were the ones who wore out the Lord’s patience. Now they were the ones to pay. In this chapter, captive Judah accepted the blame. Their sins angered the Lord to allow this to happen. They admitted that they followed other gods. They lied and cheated. They despised God’s prophets. They finally got that part right!
But they were a lot like people who are driving a car and find themselves distracted going toward a ditch. They correct and go too far. They soon find themselves in the ditch on the other side of the road. Contrition turned to despair. “How then can we live?” That’s hopelessness and despair. How can God ever forgive?
That’s why people commit suicide. Despair leads to hopelessness. How can I live? That’s why people turn to alcohol and drugs – to deaden the pain. At least that’s what they think. How can God ever forgive me? How can he accept me, when I wasn’t faithful to him or my spouse, when I searched for those websites, when I took it out on my family or messed up with my job? Or when I don’t want to be in church? How can we live?
How can we live? Listen to Ezekiel’s message. “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” The one who gives life wants you to have life forever. The Lord doesn’t get his kicks seeing people die. It grieves him. God didn’t create the world to have death reign. God created people to have life. He proved that was and is his will.
“Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?" Turn to him and turn away from your evil ways. This is the whole idea of convert. When you turn toward him you see God who is forgiving. To the people of the Old Testament there was a promised that would be kept. God would become flesh and win forgiveness. Your sin is not greater than God’s grace and forgiveness. The apostle said it like this, But as the apostle says, “Where sin abounds, God’s grace does much more abound.” There is always more grace of God’s grace than man’s sin. Paul says in another place, “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” That’s an amazing verse! God justifies - he declares innocent. How? Through Jesus blood and merit. Who? The ungodly! But faith makes it your own. That’s the turning. That’s conversion. The answer to despair is to turn to God who has the answers. He has forgave on account of Jesus.
I said before how many times in life we go from one ditch to the other. Ezekiel speaks about that too – from despair to proud self-righteousness. The self-righteous don’t know it because they are confident they are worthy of the Lord. They are in crisis but don’t really know it. They don’t know they need God’s grace. Ezekiel speaks about that too.“Therefore, son of man, say to your people, If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.”
Hey kids, have you ever tried this on your parents? You get into an argument with your brother and sister. It gets a loud and maybe even violent. Your parents enter. They are not happy. “What’s going on here? The first words out of your mouth are, “I didn’t do anything. I am not the one who did wrong.” I am going to let you in on a secret; it didn’t work for my generation either. We tried it too. It doesn’t work with God either. He knows. We need to know he knows we did do something and it wasn’t right.
It didn’t work for the people of Judah either. It didn’t work for the Pharisee who bragged, “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like other people or like that tax collector there in the corner. There were Jews sitting there in captivity shaking their fist at God thinking they didn’t deserve their situation. Ezekiel says, “The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.” One sin makes us a sinner. Don’t even be a fool to think that any of us sins once or twice a day.
When we say that God is righteous, that means he is perfect and without sin. That is foreign to anyone who was ever born except Jesus. Quite frankly, the other ditch on the other side of the road are the sinful who are self-righteous and proud. The solution for both ditches, despair and pride of self-righteousness is the same - God’s forgiving grace. "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?”
Where do the good works come in? Or aren’t they important at all? Let’s examine closely what Ezekiel says. “And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die.” The one who turns toward God also wants to turn from sin. When we turn to the one who loves and forgives us, we want to turn away from the things that displease him. The good things we want to do are the proof of our love for him.
This is the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation. I want the congregation to appreciate the heritage we have as Lutherans. This was a huge point with Luther, understanding the need and place of good works.
After 1517 Luther’s nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church that rang out the beginning of the Reformation, the next four years were years of tremendous spiritual growth.
The great discovery that the Holy Spirit allowed him to see that to be declared innocent (justified) by Jesus and his payment of flesh and blood. It becomes ours simply through faith.
In the words of a famous Reformation historian, “Luther (now) realized that such an approach to religion as he had held before assumes that God must become reconciled through human effort. Rather implicit faith in the Gospel converts the life of a reborn Christian into a new life of constant good works. Whatever the Christian does, eating, sleeping, working, performing his daily task in faithfulness, all these are accepted by God as good works. They are done not to save but because God in Christ has saved…Luther realized that the greatest sin is to doubt the Gospel and rely on human effort to save rather than on Christ’s supreme sacrifice. Reliance upon human effort rejects Christ by denying the efficacy of Christ’s atonement.” When people don’t understand that good works flow from faith, when people think that their good works produce a good standing with God instead of flowing from the good standing we have with God because of Jesus, that’s crisis.
In spiritual crisis, whether spiritual despair or even proud self-righteousness, turn to the Lord acknowledge your sin and believe in Jesus. The bottom line answer is God’s grace.