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Hero

December 09, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

 

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

It was an impossible situation. Forty years, Israel had been suffering under the cruel boot of the Philistines, with the Gentile oppressors looting Israelite cities and ravaging the countryside. Severely oppressed and enslaved, Israel was in a dark and hopeless time. So often, though, dark and hopeless times give birth to new or renewed faith in God. God heard the Israelites’ repentant groans and did for them what was humanly impossible: He rescued them from the Philistines.

But His rescue plan did not include military strength or weapons development. It centered on one man, who would single-handedly rescue Israel without touching a conventional weapon of war. It started with circumstances no one was expecting (unless you heard last week’s sermon): an angel speaking to an unnamed barren woman, known only as the wife of Manoah. “Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son,” the angel proclaimed. His name would be Samson.

God’s Spirit gave Samson incredible strength. He single-handedly accomplished jaw-dropping feats (pun definitely intended) that would become the stuff of legend: being attacked by a vicious lion in a vineyard, only to tear the lion to pieces with his bare hands. Absolutely destroying one thousand Philistines with a makeshift weapon—the jawbone of a donkey. Tearing the city gates of Gaza from the walls, and carrying the gates on his back to the top of a hill when the Philistines thought they had him trapped, but it was his final feat that was his greatest. Blind, stripped of his strength, and mocked by his enemies, Samson was placed between two pillars in a large temple where thousands of Philistines were worshipping their god Dagon. Even though it would cause his own death, Samson prayed that God would let him have strength once more to collapse the building on all of the pagan Philistines. Samson pushed his arms outward against the pillars, and three thousand enemies of Israel died through Samson’s final act.

There is no doubt that God’s Spirit did great things through Samson, but his life was supposed to be distinguished not only by his single-handed feats of strength, but also by his single-minded devotion to the Lord. Even before he was conceived, he was set apart to live as a Nazirite – forbidden from eating anything unclean, drinking wine or any strong drink, or cutting his hair. He was to be different, called to be holy, “set apart for God’s purposes.” He was to live a life dedicated to the Lord. But while Samson may have wowed us with his strength, he didn’t wow anyone with his dedication to the Lord; again and again, he failed to live up to his Nazirite calling.

Does that sound familiar? It should because it’s a microcosm of ancient Israel and her pattern of sin, oppression, repentance, redemption, and repeat. It also sounds familiar because, unfortunately, it’s our story as well. In baptism, we, too, have been called to be holy, to think and live differently than the world around us, a world that is spiritually blind, dead, and vehement haters and enemies of God. “You shall be holy, for I am holy,” Peter says in his epistle, but to our shame, we are like Samson—called to holiness, but are anything but; indeed, sometimes outsiders rightly perceive that we are worse than the surrounding culture, hypocrites of the highest caliber. I am the chief of sinners, and so are you. We are undisciplined, self-indulgent, compromisers, too often acting in ways indistinguishable from the rest of the world. We’re more devoted to our sports teams than to the Lord and His Church. We’re more dedicated to our impulses and desires than to the holy habits, like reading the Scriptures and spending quiet time in prayer. Suffice it to say, we’re more committed to our own way than to the Lord’s. Our dedication to living a holy life is hardly praiseworthy, and we stand guilty and damned before Him. It’s an impossible situation we find ourselves in, one which we cannot rescue ourselves from.

But God can. And He has. Our Lord is more dedicated to you than you are to Him – a fact we should rejoice greatly over! He has done for you what you could never do yourself. In the fullness of time, at another time of great oppression, the same God who acted for Israel through Samson acted for the world. For you. With single-minded devotion, He rescued you from your sins and from the devil you chose to obey. He has single-handedly done what is humanly impossible. He has rescued you by the greatest rescue plan. “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Six times throughout the Scriptures does God do incredible things through the wombs of unlikely women, but it’s in our Gospel reading for today that He does an even more incredible thing … through the womb of a seventh woman, the most unlikely of all. He speaks His word through the angel Gabriel, and a faithful virgin named Mary conceives the greatest Deliverer. The rescue plan for the world begins to manifest – not through a barren womb, but through a new one. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,” the angel said. Mary’s womb would bear, not a sinful child like Samson, but rather the sinless Child—Jesus. Gabriel said, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. . . . Of His kingdom there will be no end. . . . The child to be born will be called holy.” This is an understatement! What Child Is This? This Child … is God in the flesh, the incarnate Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus of Nazareth, Who is called “The Christ!”

This Child was the Greater Samson, Whose life was also set apart. But He did not waver from His calling and the purpose of His life. Also unlike Samson, Jesus’s greatness was not found in His single-handed feats of strength. Instead, His greatness was in setting aside His divine strength to single-handedly do everything necessary for YOU, for your salvation. He had the strength to rip Satan apart, but for your sake, He placed Himself in Satan’s jaws, suffering God’s righteous judgment in your place. He could have torn down all those who rebelled against Him, lied about Him, spat on Him, beat Him, nailed Him to the cross; but instead, He lifted all rebellion onto His back and took it up a hill to pay for it with His life. He could have stretched out His arms and crushed His enemies at any time, but for your sake, He let Himself be stretched out with His limp, dying arms on a cross and let hell’s punishment do its worst against Him so that it could not do so to you.

And yet the greatest act this Child ever did was rise from the dead on the third day. He single-handedly won the ultimate victory for you while bringing eternal judgment on His foes.

From a new womb to a new tomb, this Child’s whole life was dedicated to making you new—a new creation, filled with the same Holy Spirit that empowered Samson. The same Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary. You now can say with Mary, “Let it be to me, Lord, according to Your word.” When the Lord sends trials, we can say, “Let it be, Lord; for what You ordain is always good.” If the cancer comes back, still we can say, “Let it be, Lord; for Your will is always best.” In impossible situations, in times of deep discouragement and depression, we can still say, “Let it be, Lord; You know best when to end it.” For our Lord is great. His mercy is great. And His victory is great.

+ In the name of Jesus, our Great Deliverer. + Amen.