Wednesday of Trinity 17 Sermon, 2018

I love music, but sometimes what it says is utterly despicable. The Jeff Buckley song “Hallelujah” is a beautifully composed song that has Scriptural words in it. But this is what it says last: “Maybe there’s a God above / But all I’ve ever learned from love / Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya / And it’s not a cry that you hear at night / It’s not somebody who’s seen the light / It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.” It’s a song about sex that posits only the possibility of God and describes love as a one night stand instead of the sacrifice of the innocent Son of God in the place of sinful humanity.

But because it repeats the word “Hallelujah,” it’s a Christian song, apparently. Hallelujah, by the way, literally means “Praise the LORD” and that song is not-at-all praiseworthy.

Here’s another example. Do you know the song “Big Rock Candy Mountain”?

I love that song, and at the same time, I hate that song. Here’s a few parts:

“In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, / There’s a land that’s fair and bright, / Where the handouts grow on bushes / And you sleep out every night…In the Big Rock Candy Mountains / All the cops have wooden legs / And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth / And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs…In the Big Rock Candy Mountains / The jails are made of tin / And you can walk right out again, / As soon as you are in…”

Now, that’s a song recorded in the 1920’s, expressing the hobo’s idea of Paradise.

Love, according to Buckley, is not seeing the Light but the cold and broken cry of “Hallelujah.”

Paradise, according to the hobo, is not salvation from sin but freedom to sin. The cops have wooden legs, the bulldogs have rubber teeth, the jails are made of tin, and the railroad bulls are blind.

It is within the possibility of music to describe the best and truest things, but—so often—music is a tool for carnal knowledge, background noise to a hallelujah paradise.

It aims too low.

If you could ask for anything—if your prayer were a song—what would the words be?

Cops you can outrun? Dogs without teeth? Jails with revolving doors? A cold and broken love?

I ask because Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).

If you could ask for anything—if your prayer were a song—what would the words be?

I’ve made this comparison before, and it’s good to be reminded of it: God demands faith and obedience from everyone. Of Himself, thus says the LORD: “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Exodus 20:5).

Jealous—in that He made you, forgave you in Christ, and wants you as His own. He despises that which pulls you away from Him, and He means, even, to break your bones if that you would bring you back to Him. That’s exactly what the Psalmist writes: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice” (Psalm 51:8).

God demands faith and obedience from everyone. It’s the devil who encourages you to play with others, other gods, that is.

Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

You know as well as I do Jesus doesn’t say He’s a way or a truth or a life but, rather, the way the truth and the life.

Christ alone saves us.

But these words alone do not a faithful song make.

The “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” for example, claims to the Church of Jesus. But they deny the Trinity, worshipping three separate gods. God is only one in that these three live in the same community. That’s how God’s “oneness” is explained. They believe the Father was once a man, that He still has a body of flesh, and that God and man are simply different species. It gets worse, by the way, but I won’t say any more.

“There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12). But adding “Jesus” or “Christ” to the name of whatever you believe doesn’t magically save you. The LORD our God is a jealous God—He will not abide evil to be sanctified.

What is the Second Commandment? You shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

I’m not going to go through your phone, or your computer, or your records at home. But if you ask me if there are songs I once listened to, songs I still know the words to, songs that sound great—that I will no longer abide—the answer is yes.

I don’t believe it to be harmless to sing what’s false.

There is an evil use of God’s Word and name. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

And I’ll give you a simple but profound example.

The hymn “Jesus Loves Me” is beautiful in its simplicity. It takes no time to memorize it. But what’s the second stanza?

“Jesus loves me, He who died, heavens gates to open wide. He has washed away my sin. Lets his little child come in.”

I ask because—depending on the hymnal—it might say “He has washed away my sin” or “He will wash away my sin,” and one of those confesses the all-availing sacrifice of Jesus Christ and one of those hopes Jesus does something in the future to save me.

Christ alone saves.

But not just any old Christ will do.

Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), and hearing those words we should understand that the cross, alone, is our theology.

Grace alone. Faith alone. The Word of God alone. We’ve heard these before.

Christ alone. We agree with this. But we only see the truth of it all in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

We confess that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—exists from eternity. Three in person. One in essence or substance. The Holy Trinity. The Father sent the Son. The Son testifies of the Father’s love and shows the Father’s love in taking up His cross and our shame.

He dies to reconcile the world to God. To forgive all sin. That all would be saved.

So when Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14). When Jesus says that, He’s not giving you free tickets to a Packers game. He’s not teaching you to ask for a bland love that lasts as long as a song on the radio. He doesn’t want you to sing of a Paradise that doesn’t address the real problem—sin.

“Whatever you ask in my name,” Jesus says, “This I will do…” (John 14:13).

When Jesus says that, He means for you to ask that His will be done. His perfect will, that loves you completely, desiring for you not a bland life but an eternal life, in a Paradise with something better than a “lake of stew and of whiskey too.”

When Jesus says that, He means for you to ask for peace. Peace in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Peace in the forgiveness of sins. Peace with God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Peace eternal, through Jesus Christ our Lord, and Him alone.

Or, as we sang a few minutes ago: “Lord, I believe Thy precious blood, / Which at the mercy seat of God / Pleads for the captives’ liberty, / Was also shed in love for me.”

For me. For you. For all.

Hallelujah. Truly.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Wednesday of Trinity 17 Sermon, 2018
John 14:1-14
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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