Deuteronomy 32:36-39 (Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday—Series C)
“The Only God Who Saves”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 14, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament Lesson recorded in Deuteronomy 32:
36For Yahweh will vindicate His people and upon His servants He will have compassion when He sees that their power is gone and has become nothing, bound and free alike. 37And He will say, “Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge, 38who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offerings? Let them arise and help you; let them be your protection. 39See now that I, even I, and He, and there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound severely and I myself heal; and there is none that can deliver from my hand.”
If you are like me, then I bet you have had this experience. You are working on your computer and you are not sure how to do something that you want to do. Despair not! There is “Help.” Ever call a help line for a computer problem or another issue in your home? Ever use the often built in “Help” on the computer or in the program you are using? It’s great when “Help” is actually “helpful.” A lot of the time, however, “Help” is useless. Have you encountered that? You wait on the phone a long time for help and the person on the other end of the line is of no help at all. You scroll through the Help features and find nothing to solve your problem.
That feeling of “I’ve completely wasted my time,” the feeling of utter frustration, the feeling that “this is hopeless,” which we experience on help lines and Help functions on our computers, is what it is like to be a fallen human creature. We call them “sinners” who have fallen short of the glory of God. We are helpless in and of ourselves to change our situation from sinner to saint, from unrighteous to righteous, from evil to good, from unholy to holy. But that doesn’t stop us from trying!
“Hey God! I know I’m not perfect. Neither is anybody else. So, let’s make a deal. I’ll be as good as is humanly possible. You take into account my good behavior and say that I’m good enough. That way, I won’t feel bad about myself and you’ll know that I tried and did my best. That’s gotta count for something, right?”
So how good is humanly possible? Not good at all! There is no “divine spark” of goodness in any of us. As fallen, human creatures we are totally corrupt in our thinking, speaking, desiring, and doing. In Psalm 14, David, by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit writes, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Ps. 14:2-3 ESV). Surely, that can’t be right, can it? But it is! Isaiah confirms it with very strong words, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6 ESV). By nature, separated from God by our sinfulness and without God because He cannot dwell with sinners, we are helpless to save ourselves, to be right with God, to do good, to earn His favor.
The Commandments of God allow no room for deviation, not even for a moment, not even from the least part of the Law that demands our perfection which we cannot give. We need help to accomplish them and be the people God demands that we be—holy and perfect. What’s a sinner to do? Call a “help line!” Exactly! And who do we call for help? Gods of our own making. People prefer a god of their own creation, for example, a Jesus of their own imaginations who doesn’t insist on a perfect keeping of God’s Law. A good-teacher Jesus, or a life-coach Jesus, or a model-CEO Jesus, or a moral-example Jesus, or a nice-guy Jesus is not an affront to the sinful nature. He’s no threat to our way of life. If we make the Lord into what we want Him to be, then we have a god who does not take sin seriously, a god who will not punish us, a god who lets us do whatever we want and simply says, “Ok, have fun.” But that god can’t save you. He’s a fake.
The god of our imaginations, a Jesus the way we wish Him to be; the gods of power, influence, wealth, self-satisfaction; the deity that doesn’t have any standards or commandments or laws—is just as fake and useless just like the Canaanite gods worshiped by ancient Israel. These are the gods that the one, Triune God mocks in our text, asking, “Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge, who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offerings? Let them arise and help you; let them be your protection.” In 1 Kings 18, Elijah, speaking for the only true God, makes total fun of the prophets of Baal as they dance around and cut themselves, attempting to get Baal to burn up their sacrifice. Elijah taunted, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” The Biblical writer tells us, “And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention” (1 Ki. 18:27-29 ESV).
A useless, helpless cry to gods that cannot help or save. Yet they called out to them, and so have we. We’ve put our trust in ourselves, in our abilities, in the capabilities of others in order to get ahead, find satisfaction, and just to feel loved. And we’ve been disappointed. We’ve called out for help and assurance from our possessions, from drugs and alcohol, from sex, from any worldly pleasures we can find. No one answered; no one paid attention. The “Help” line was useless.
There is only one Help for sinners because there is only one, true God who kills and makes alive, who wounds and heals. We know this one, Triune God through the revelation of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus. It was when we and the whole human race were completely helpless to sin and under the very power of death and the devil that God the Son took on human flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. As Paul says in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak and without strength, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6 ESV). It was when God saw that humanity’s power was gone and we had become nothing that He had mercy on us and vindicated us by having compassion upon us. That compassion was embodied in the flesh and blood of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. In humbleness, a donkey’s colt carried the King of kings into Jerusalem so that the King, bloodied by beatings and crowned with thorns, might carry His own cross to Golgotha.
“Throned upon the awful tree,” this King of grief bore our sins in His own body. All of humanity’s corruption and sinfulness, idolatry and wickedness, was put on Christ. In the words of one my most loved hymns from the old Lutheran Hymnal, Jesus was “left alone with human sin, Gloom around Thee and within, Till th’ appointed time is nigh, Till the Lamb of God may die” (TLH 174:2).
“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46). Jesus, true God and true Man, suffered hell and death on the cross so that you would never again be lost in sin’s helplessness and hopelessness. In the death of Jesus, and in His resurrection, God saved you not out of weakness, but out of strength; not out of determinism, but out of freedom; not out of desperation, but out of love.
For God so loved you, even though you were sinful and had sought help in other gods, that He gave His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus, so that by His grace through faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, you would have the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and the wondrous gift of eternal salvation. This is the Gospel message of the Holy Week we begin today.
For helpless sinners, Jesus became helpless and covered in your sins as He died your death and suffered your hell on the cross. Now, you are forgiven. Death and hell do not have power over you. Jesus has died and is risen again. And in Holy Baptism, you also have died with Christ and are raised with Christ to the new life of faith and salvation. There is no one and no thing that can deliver you from nail-scared hands of the Savior, your Lord and God, Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Spirit are one God, one Lord. The blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you during this Holy Week as we look forward to the great paschal feast of His resurrection. Amen.
 Francis C. Rossow, Gospel Handles: Old Testament Lessons (St. Louis: Concordia, 2014), 67.