“An Impossible Son, an Impossible Deliverance” (Judges 13:2-7; Luke 1:26-38)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 12, 2018

“An Impossible Son, an Impossible Deliverance” (Judges 13:2-7; Luke 1:26-38)

It was an impossible situation. For forty years, Israel had been suffering under the oppression of the Philistines. The Philistines were looting their cities and ravaging their countryside. It was a period of great distress. Israel was in a dark and hopeless time. Often, though, in God’s way of doing things, dark and hopeless times give birth to new hope and renewed faith. So the Lord heard the Israelites’ cries of distress and did for them what was humanly impossible: He delivered them from the hand of the Philistines.

But God’s rescue plan did not involve gathering an army or amassing the weapons you would expect. God’s plan in this case centered on one man. An army of one, you might say. One man who singlehandedly would rescue Israel without touching a conventional weapon of war.

What’s more, God’s rescue plan began in circumstances that also seemed impossible: A barren woman would give birth. The angel of the Lord spoke to the wife of Manoah. “Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son,” the angel said. Earlier in Israel’s history, the Lord had done great things through the barren wombs of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel. Sarah gave birth to the patriarch Isaac. Rebekah gave birth to the patriarch Jacob. Rachel, to Joseph and Benjamin. Later on, the Lord again would do great things through the womb of Hannah. She would give birth to the prophet Samuel. And much later, it would be the aged Elizabeth who gave birth to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. But now in the Book of Judges, the Lord will do the impossible through the barren wife of Manoah. She will give birth to Samson, a mighty deliverer who, in some ways, is a type of an even greater Deliverer to come. And so our theme tonight: “An Impossible Son, an Impossible Deliverance.”

The Spirit of the Lord gave Samson incredible strength. He singlehandedly accomplished jaw-dropping feats that became the stuff of legend. Once, while in a vineyard, he was attacked by a vicious lion. Samson tore the lion to pieces with his bare hands. On another occasion, Samson killed a thousand Philistines with a makeshift weapon, the jawbone of a donkey. When the Philistines thought they had trapped Samson in Gaza, he went out at midnight, tore the city gates from the walls, and carried the gates on his back to the top of a hill. But his final feat was his greatest. Blinded, weakened, and mocked by his enemies, Samson was placed between two pillars in a large building where thousands of Philistines were worshipping their false god Dagon. Samson stretched his arms outward against the pillars. Even though it would cause his own death, Samson prayed that God would let him have the strength once more to pull the building down on all of those Philistines. And three thousand of Israel’s enemies died that day through Samson’s final act. God’s Spirit empowered Samson to do great things.

Samson’s life was supposed to be marked not only by his singlehanded feats of strength but also by his single-minded devotion to the Lord. Before he was conceived, Samson was set apart to live as a Nazirite. The Nazirite vow meant not eating anything unclean, not drinking any strong drink, and not cutting one’s hair. Samson’s life was meant to be special, to be holy, to be 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 physical strength, he did not wow anyone with his dedication to the Lord. Time and again, he failed to live up to his Nazirite calling.

In Holy Baptism, you and I have been called to be holy, to think and live differently than the world around us. God says to us, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” But to our shame, like Samson, we have not wowed anyone with our holiness. We’ve been undisciplined and self-indulgent. We have compromised our values and blended in with the world. We’ve been more devoted to our leisure and our sports teams than we have to the Lord and his church. We’ve been more dedicated to our impulses and desires than to the Lord. We’ve been more committed to our own way than to the Lord’s. Our dedication to living a holy life has certainly not wowed God, and we stand guilty before him. We find ourselves in an impossible situation from which we cannot rescue ourselves.

But the Lord is able do the impossible. And he has. Rejoice that the Lord is far more dedicated to you than you are to him. He has done for you what you could never do yourself. In the fullness of time, at a time of great oppression, the same God who acted for Israel through Samson acted for the world through an even mightier Deliverer. The Lord acted for you. With single-minded devotion, he rescued you from your sins and from your enemy, Satan. The Lord has singlehandedly done what is humanly impossible. He has rescued you by means of the greatest rescue plan. Rejoice! “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Six times previously in Scripture God did wondrous things through the wombs of unlikely women: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, Hannah, and Elizabeth. But in the reading from Luke today, God does an even more wonderful thing through the womb of the most unlikely seventh woman. God speaks his word through the angel Gabriel, and a faithful virgin named Mary conceives the greatest Deliverer of all. God outdoes himself. The rescue plan for the world begins 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, imperfect child like Samson, but rather the sinless, perfect child, Jesus. No wonder Gabriel said: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” “And of his kingdom there will be no end.” “The child to be born will be called holy.” “What Child Is This?” This child is God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. A humanly impossible Son, who will accomplish a humanly impossible deliverance.

This child, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, would be the greater Samson. Like Samson the Nazirite, Jesus of Nazareth was set apart to serve the Lord. But Jesus did not waver from his calling and the purpose of his life. Also unlike Samson, Jesus’ greatness was not found in his singlehanded feats of strength. Instead, his greatness was in setting aside his divine strength to do everything necessary for your salvation. Jesus could have used the jawbone of a donkey to wipe out those who opposed him. Instead, Jesus humbly rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, to accomplish your deliverance. For your sake, Jesus let himself be blindfolded, beaten, and mocked. Then he lifted all our rebellion onto his back and took it up a hill, to atone for our sins. Jesus had the strength to easily rip apart that roaring lion, Satan. Yet for your sake, Jesus let Satan strike him, suffering death in your place. He went to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, and there he stretched out his dying arms on a cross.

In so doing, in his own sacrificial death, Jesus, the greater Samson, pulled down the pillars of Satan’s domain and destroyed our enemies for us. His victory became clear when he rose from the dead on the third day. Yes, your mighty Deliverer, Jesus, has singlehandedly won the victory for you, destroying all of your 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. Now we can say with Mary, “Let it be to me, Lord, according to your word.” When we are faced with impossible situations, we can say, “Let it be, Lord; for what you ordain is always good.” In times of deep distress, we can say, “Let it be, Lord; your will is always best, and you will work this out for my good.” For our God is great. His mercy is great. And his victory is great, in Christ, the greater Samson. An impossible Son, accomplishing an impossible deliverance. “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

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Published in: on December 12, 2018 at 1:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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