Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan
- Name: Rev. Jonathon T. Krenz
- Location: Dorr, Michigan
Sunday, April 19, 2015
April 19, 2015
Text: Luke 24:36-49
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
This morning we get St. Luke’s account of our Lord’s Easter evening appearance to the disciples. It is probably the same event we witnessed from St. John’s perspective last week (John 20:19-23). Jesus appears in the midst of His disciples and greets them with the all-important Absolution: “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36; ESV). “Shalom” is how we would say it in Hebrew. Peace, health, wellness, safety, fullness, fulfillment, completion, tranquility, rest; these are all included in the meaning of that word, “shalom.” And this is what Jesus delivers when He forgives your sins. You are at peace with God, and so you can have peace in your heart and mind and soul, and peace with one another. You are ultimately well, safe, fulfilled, complete, and at rest in the salvation of the Lord. This is, as we noted last week, precisely what is needed by disciples who are locked away in fear; who have just endured the crucifixion of their Teacher and Lord, and worse, now have heard from women and angels and several of their own number that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. That’s a pretty unsettling notion when you get right down to it. Just think about your dearly departed loved one suddenly walking through the door, or like Jesus, appearing out of nowhere. You’d be overjoyed, for sure, but also scared to death. The disciples are startled and frightened. They think He is a ghost (v. 37). They think He is out to get them! And that is why what He does next is so important for the disciples in that room, and for you in this one.
He shows them His wounds. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (vv. 38-39). This is no spiritual coming back from the dead. This is a real Body, a real Body with real wounds, wounds that killed Him, but behold, He lives. This is the Crucified. This is the real Lord Jesus standing before their very eyes, speaking to them, bidding them touch Him, showing them His hands and His feet. “Go ahead, poke around. They’re real. I’m real.” It’s all real. A real death for the real sins of real sinners. A real resurrection of the real Lord Jesus for real life forever with God. Just to prove it, He asks for something to eat. Ghosts don’t eat. They give Him a piece of broiled fish, and He takes it and eats it before them. He takes and eats real food, even as He turns the tables on you, giving you the real food of His true Body and Blood, that you might really live and not die.
It is profoundly important that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a real, bodily resurrection. Otherwise this is all for naught. We are still in our sins and doomed to die. If Jesus is not bodily risen from the dead, He’s a worthless Savior. After all, you are a real sinner with real sins that need real forgiveness. You have real problems in a world that is really fallen and a flesh that is just as real and just as fallen. Abstract higher powers, spiritual sentiments, and good moral teachings don’t really help you. Imagine you’re in a horrendous car accident and the first responders try to comfort you by telling you, “Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s someone or something out there watching out for you who will rescue you. We’re all sending good thoughts your way for your help and healing. And as far as those life threatening injuries, we’d just like to remind you that you should really heal up and be whole, because that’s just the right thing to do.” None of those things make any sense in this context, do they? You need real help, tangible help, physical rescue. But that’s the abstract higher power-ism, spiritual sentimental-ism, moralism that passes for Christianity here in America. You’ve probably bought some of their books and thought they were great because they touched your heart. Repent. Because you need real, tangible help from a real Savior who can rescue you from your mortal peril of body and soul in death and hell. Jesus comes to you with His wounds, in a real Body, to rescue you from all the real things that hurt you. Nothing theoretical, abstract, or meaningless about your Savior. He’s God, to be sure, but He’s God who is a man! For us men and for our salvation. He is the Word that became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14). He gets His real hands really dirty with your real sin and death. Indeed, He saves your soul. But He also saves your body. And when He raises you from the dead, He’ll raise you body and soul.
He is a Body and Blood, wounded but living, tangibly present, taking and eating kind of Savior. That is the Jesus who fulfills all that is written of Him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (in other words, the whole Old Testament). That is the Jesus who opens up your mind to understand the Scriptures, that all these things are real, that they had to take place, that the Christ had to really suffer and really rise from the dead on the Third Day. That is the content of all Christian preaching: The real, bodily death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). That is the “For you” of Christian preaching. Repentance and forgiveness of sins. Repent of your sins, your fear, your doubt, your denial of Christ, your living in opposition to His holy will given for your good in the Ten Commandments. Repent of your “spiritualizing” the real things of Jesus. And know that Christ’s blood and death wipes all that away. Your sins are forgiven. And He is risen from the dead. You will not die. You will not be abandoned to the devil and hell. Christ’s life is your life. You are baptized into Christ. That is your new reality. Jesus sends the Promise of His Father upon you, namely, the Holy Spirit, the Power from on high with which you are clothed in Holy Baptism. By this Spirit He opens your mind to understand the Scriptures, and He calls you to take and eat, real food for your body and your soul, His true Body and Blood, for the forgiveness of all your sins.
Your salvation is no theoretical hypothesis, sentimental hope, or pious wish. It is as real as the risen Body of the Lord. When you are alone with the Lord, there are two human bodies present in the room, yours and His. When you speak to Him in prayer, you are speaking to a Man. He is a Man with a Body, and so He can actually help. He is a Man who can actually save. When we confess that we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus in the Sacrament, we mean just what we say, because that is what Jesus says. This is My Body. This is My Blood. If it isn’t really that, He’s lying. But Jesus does not lie. It is what He says, and it is for you, for the forgiveness of sins, and it is real. Jesus shows His disciples the wounds. Jesus puts His wounded, risen Body in your mouth and says, “Take and eat.” It’s all true. It’s all real. Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your heart?
Christ is risen from the dead. It is His true Body by which He deals with you. And here is why it matters. Here is why you need not fear or doubt. He will raise you in the same way. Your resurrection on the Last Day will be as real as His. Real body. Real heaven and real earth, the true Promised Land (really, Land!). And by the way, real food. You won’t need to eat in the resurrection, but you will eat. And unlike our experience in this fallen world, where the best food is the worst for you, and too much of a good thing can kill you, the food of the resurrection will be choice meat and vintage wine (Is. 25:6), milk and honey (Song of Sol. 5:1), the fruit of the tree of life for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2). It will all be good for you. You will eat and be satisfied. Real food for your real body. How do I know? Jesus took the fish and ate it before them. And the Table set before us this morning is but a foretaste of the Royal Wedding Feast to come, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end. It is the Feast of Shalom: peace, health, wellness, safety, fullness, fulfillment, completion, tranquility, rest. “Peace to you,” Jesus says. Shalom. He is really in your midst to announce a real peace. And He bids you come to the Table for the real Food He sets before you. He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Second Sunday of Easter
Second Sunday of Easter (B)
April 12, 2015
Text: John 20:19-31
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
“I just want a little peace.” You’ve said it more than once. You think it all the time. Peace and quiet. Peace of mind and heart. Peace in your marriage and your family. Peace for a nation divided. Peace in a scary world full of violence. Why is there so much turmoil on every front, on every level of your life? Why is peace so hard to find? The lack of peace, which varies in intensity from this time to that, from situation to situation, is actually a symptom of an even greater need. What you really need is peace of conscience, which is to say, what you really need is peace with God. The conscience is a vestige of God’s image in man. Your conscience is the Law of God written on your heart (Rom. 2:15). Those feelings of guilt, the emotional burdens you carry, your anxiety caused by the lack of peace all around you, these are actually the accusations of the Law that you have broken. You know you are a sinner. You know your sin separates you from God. You know that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). And you know that the death of a sinner ends in hell. Now, you don’t consciously think through these things most of the time. In fact, if you can help it, you avoid thinking about these things at all. But that doesn’t change the truth. What you need first and foremost, what you need above all else, is peace with God. And that is the peace Jesus announces to you in the Holy Gospel this morning: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19; ESV).
The disciples need the Lord’s peace on the evening of that first Easter. The doors are locked where the disciples are for fear: Fear of the Jews, fear of the Romans, fear that Jesus is dead, fear that they have wasted the last three years of their life, fear that the women and some of their own number have seen angels and maybe even the risen Lord, fear that their doubts and their abandonment of the Lord in His hour of need can never be forgiven. In the midst of this fear, the risen Lord Jesus stands among them. You see, it is not that He has to come in from the outside, somehow gain entry through the locked door, or sneak in through the window. What the disciples do not realize is that He has been with them, in their midst, the whole time. Ever since His resurrection from the dead, our Lord Jesus always and fully uses His divine powers. He is everywhere, in His risen and glorified Body, as God and Man. He is with you now, and with you always. And He is with His disciples in the locked-up room, with them in the midst of their fear. Only now, suddenly, He is with them visibly and tangibly. And He speaks audibly. His Words are extraordinarily important. “Peace be with you.” It is a Holy Absolution. It is as if He is saying, “For all your fears, all your doubts, all your failure to listen to Me and learn My teaching, all your locking yourself away and hiding, indeed, for abandoning Me in My hour of suffering… Peace. Your sins are forgiven. You have peace with Me. You have peace with God. Let your heart now be at peace. Let My peace take possession of you whole. For mine is the hard-won peace of the cross, the peace of the empty tomb and resurrection from the dead. And this, My peace, I now give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Then Jesus does a very important thing for you, there in that room behind the locked doors. He ordains the Apostles to speak His peace on His behalf through the whole world. And that speaking is to create the very reality it announces. Jesus institutes the Holy Ministry for the preaching of the Gospel, for the proclamation of peace. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” He says to His Apostles (v. 21), and the very word “apostle” means one who is sent as an official representative with all the authority of the one who sent him in the matter for which he is sent. So when an Apostle speaks peace, Jesus speaks peace. And so also those who stand in the apostolic Office of the Ministry. When a pastor speaks peace, Jesus speaks peace. This is especially important for what Jesus does and says next: Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld’” (vv. 22-23). Our Lord gives pastors to His Church to forgive sins in Jesus’ Name. When the pastor forgives your sins in the stead and by the command of Jesus, you can believe it. For it is valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself. For He has, and He does. The Absolution is His. And this Absolution gives peace: Objective peace with God, for God has nothing against you anymore; subjective peace in your heart, for you know you have a gracious heavenly Father who loves you and wants you for His own. And He will work all things for your good, and for your salvation.
The apostles are ordained to speak the peace of the crucified and risen Christ to the world. But Thomas was not with them. Thomas does not believe their preaching. And so Thomas has no peace. Only doubt. You know the story. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25). Seeing is believing, we always say, and Thomas would agree. But that is not how it works in Jesus’ Kingdom. In Jesus’ Kingdom, hearing is believing. You do not come to faith in the risen Jesus by seeing Him. That is why, even though He is just as substantially with you in this room this morning as He was with the disciples in the locked room so long ago, He is hidden. He does not appear to the naked eye. He appears to you in His Word. You see Him with your ears. He appears in the preaching that He has been crucified for your sins, and that He is risen from the dead. He appears in the announcement that all your sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. He appears in His proclamation that the water in the font is a sin-cleansing bath that gives you new birth and new life, that the bread and wine on the altar are His own Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. By that Word, He breathes on you, and you receive the Holy Spirit. You hear Him, and hearing is believing. Thomas resists that. He does not believe the preaching. Could it be that Thomas’ doubt is the fruit of fear? So Jesus does for Thomas what He had done for the other Ten one week before. The substantially present, though hidden, Lord Jesus stands visibly in their midst. He comes right into the midst of the fear and doubt, to dispel it. There is only one medicine for this deadly disease. Absolution: The peace of Jesus Christ. “Peace be with you,” He says (v. 26), and then He shows Thomas His hands and His side, for the peace of the risen Lord Jesus flows from the mortal wounds He received for our sins. Thomas falls on his knees and confesses: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). Finally, Thomas believes the preaching. And now Thomas is ordained to preach that peace to the world.
And oh, how the world needs that peace! Oh, how you need that peace! You need the peace that flows form Jesus’ wounds. Your sins were nailed to the cross in the Body of Jesus. They are all forgiven. Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. You have peace with God. Your conscience can be at rest. You need no longer fear. None of the problems that plague your life, your family, the nation, the world, can ultimately harm you. For, as St. Paul writes, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [you] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). Your peace comes from the wounds, from the crucified and risen Body and Blood of the Lord. And so, as you come to the Lord’s altar to eat and drink at His Supper, Jesus says to you what He said to the apostles in our text: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Then, after your hunger and thirst have been satisfied, He bids you “Depart + in peace.” You can and you do, for you have been bodied and blooded with the Body and Blood of Jesus. You do not see Him with the naked eye, as did the Apostles and Thomas. Still, He appears to you, right in your midst, hidden in the Supper. You know this by His Word. You see Him with your ears. And hearing is believing. The world cannot give you peace, but Jesus does. Let not your heart be troubled. The risen Lord Jesus stands in your midst this morning to calm your fears and forgive your sins. Peace, beloved, peace. He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, April 05, 2015
The Resurrection of Our Lord
The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Sunrise
April 5, 2015
Text: John 20:1-18
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Mary weeps. Outside the tomb, stooping to look inside, knowing the Lord Jesus is not there, she can no longer control her grief. So great is her sadness, it does not even startle her that two angels in white are sitting where the Body of Jesus had lain, one at the head, and one at the feet. Angels rarely go unnoticed when they appear visibly to humans. The angels ask a question, but it is not as though they don’t know the answer. They are calling Mary to reflection. “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:13; ESV). Why? “Because my Lord, my Hope, my Joy has died. He is gone forever. And now they have taken away His Body, whoever they are.” Mary’s sadness blinds her. Her ears are stopped. Her mind is clouded. She does not remember the Scriptures or the teaching of Jesus, “that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:7). She cannot see the evidence all around her that the Lord’s Words are true: The empty tomb, the neatly folded grave cloths (grave robbers would never take the time to neatly fold the laundry!), the angels clothed in white!
Of course, in one respect, her reaction is quite beautiful. Behold her love and devotion to the Savior. See how His absence grieves her. She hangs her whole life on Christ. Every hope, every dream, every desire, her very existence depends on Him. And in this she serves as a model for us. We do well to imitate her love and devotion. But the fact remains that she is looking for a dead Savior. And that is why she weeps. There is a point behind the angels’ question. Think Mary; think, O Christian: If this grave is empty, why do you weep?
We weep when graves are full. We aren’t used to them being empty. Resurrection is foreign to our experience in this vale of tears. And so we, like Mary, act as though Christ is not risen, as though His Words promising this very thing could not possibly be true, as though death could rob us of all hope, joy, and salvation. We act as though the devil won, as though sin and death have not been defeated, as though Jesus Christ does not live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. And we act as though He will not come again to raise us, in our bodies, from the grave, to be with Him forever. Repent. Wipe away your tears of sorrow. Let them be now tears of joy. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. The grave could not hold Him in. His death has been accepted by the Father as payment for your sin. You are forgiven. You have eternal life. All is not lost. Not at all. All is yours, for you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. Christ is risen. Jesus lives.
Mary does not recognize Him at first. For one thing, He is the last person she expects to see alive. For another, His Body has been glorified. He has shed every appearance of lowliness and humiliation, except for the scars that are the trophies of His victory. He asks her the same searching question as the angels: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (John 20:15). Mary thinks He is the gardener. Maybe He moved the Body. Still, she does not recognize Him. Until He speaks her name. “Mary” (v. 16). Jesus had said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (10:14). “(H)e calls his own sheep by name… and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (vv. 3-4). “Mary,” Jesus says, and now she knows Him. She knows His voice. She knows Him in His Word. Her eyes and ears and mind are now open. So it’s all true! The Lord is risen, just as He said! She clings to Him for all she is worth. But for now she must let go. Our risen Lord will ascend to our Father in heaven. He will no longer be with us visibly, as He was in His earthly ministry. But with us He shall be. In His Name. In His Word. In His Body and Blood. And now Mary has a job to do. “Go to my brothers,” Jesus says (10:17). He calls them brothers, all those who had deserted Him, all those who did not believe. It is a Holy Absolution. There are no grudges with Jesus. All is forgiven, erased by the Blood of Christ. Go to them, Mary, and tell them all that you have heard and seen. That is the calling of every Christian. “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her” (v. 18).
Mary’s story is your own. Why do you weep, beloved? Why your great sorrow? Do you not know that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead? Do you not know that that sets right all that is wrong in the world and in your life? Hell is vanquished. The serpent’s head is crushed. Sin is ended. Death is swallowed up by life. All that is left is to wait out the “little while” between our Lord’s ascension and His coming again. Then all the leftover symptoms of the fall; sickness and disease, injury and sadness, brokenness and tribulation, all of that will be done forever. And God will wipe every tear from your eyes. Jesus calls you by name in Holy Baptism. You know His voice. You recognize Him in His Word. And so you follow Him to eternal life and joy. It is not by accident that Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. He is re-planting Eden. Paradise is restored. All that is wrong is made right again. Jesus makes all things new. He makes you new, too. Rejoice. For He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Friday, April 03, 2015
Good Friday Tre Ore
Good Friday Tre Ore
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
April 3, 2015
Text: Luke 23:32-38 (ESV): “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’”
The work of a priest is to represent the congregation before God in sacrifice and prayer. The High Priest in particular was to come before God with sacrifices of atonement. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the High Priest alone would enter the Holy of Holies, always with the blood of the sacrifice, which He offered for his own sins and those of the people (Heb. 9:7). The High Priest would sprinkle the blood on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. Thus the blood would come between the people and the Commandments contained in the Ark, the Commandments the people had broken. The blood was vital. For “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). The priest represents the people, confessing their sins, making the sacrifice of atonement, pleading the blood of the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus is our great High Priest. He comes before God as our representative, making the once-for-all, perfect, sin-atoning sacrifice of His Body on the cross. His is the Sacrifice to which all the other sacrifices pointed. They were but a shadow of the things to come in Christ, the Savior. He comes before His Father with His own precious blood. Of course, He has no sin His own for which to offer sacrifice. He is unlike other high priests in this regard. He is the sinless Son of God. But He offers the sacrifice for us. And on the basis of this sacrifice, Jesus prays for us. Jesus prays for you. In His Office as High Priest, Jesus prays: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The prayer is not just for the soldiers as they pierce His sacred flesh, though it is for them, too. The prayer is not just for Pilate, who condemned Him, or the Jews, who handed Him over, or Judas, who betrayed Him. Nor is it only for the disciples who deserted Him in His hour of need. It is for all of the above, and for all sinners of all times, all who by their sins crucified the Lord of glory. And this is a great comfort. Jesus prays this prayer for you. He is your priest. All of this that He suffers, He suffers for you, to make atonement for your sins. And so, when He prays “Father, forgive them,” He is praying that the Father forgive you and restore you to Himself, that He be your Father and you be His dear children.
As our Lord is lifted up on the cross over the place called “The Skull” (v. 33), Golgotha in Aramaic, Calvary in Latin, crucified between two criminals, one on His right, and one of His left, Jesus prays for you. And it is a picture of what the crucified and risen Christ always prays for you now that He sits at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for you. He prays, “Father, forgive them.” He prays by the Blood of His sacrifice. He is crowned with thorns for all your sins of the mind: your bitterness and resentment, your hatred and malice, your worry and anxiety. His hands receive the spikes for the guilt of yours, taking what does not belong to you, striking your brother in anger, touching what is forbidden you, clinging to all that is worthless and transient. His feet are fastened to the wood for all the times your feet have carried you where you should not go, carried you away from your home, from your spouse, from your family… carried you away from Christ and His Church. He thirsts to atone for every lie, boast, bitter word, or juicy piece of gossip that has passed through your lips. His eyes are blurred by sweat and blood for your every lustful glance, every hurtful stare, every salacious website or movie or book. His ears are polluted with the mockery and jeering of the religious leaders and bystanders for every time you’ve leant your ear to the lies of the old slippery serpent, the unbelieving world, and your own sinful nature. His side is pierced, He is speared through the heart, for every evil thought that proceeds from your own: “murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). In body and soul, He suffers the hell that you deserve in body and soul as a born enemy of God, a son of Adam, a daughter of Eve. He suffers your sentence. He dies your death. That His death be yours, and that your sins be forgiven. He is your substitute. He is your representative before the Father. He is your High Priest. He makes the sacrifice. He prays the prayer. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And the Father says “Yes” to Jesus’ prayer. He hears and He answers. How could He do otherwise for His beloved Son, with whom He is well-pleased? He accepts the sacrifice. There is forgiveness in the Blood. There is life in the Blood. Easter is coming. Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. The Father forgives you for Jesus’ sake.
And now everything is new. Jesus, your High Priest, has ordained you a priest for your neighbor. Now you represent your neighbor before God in sacrifice and prayer. You love your neighbor. You sacrifice for your neighbor. You shed your blood, if necessary, for your neighbor. And you pray for your neighbor. To be sure, you make intercession for your neighbor’s needs of body and soul. But chiefly you pray this prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” You pray this prayer for your neighbor’s sins against God. You pray this prayer for your neighbor’s sins against you. Because the Father has forgiven you for Jesus’ sake. You actually say it this way: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That is a priestly petition, and it flows from the cross of our High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is our High Priest. The sacrifice has been made, the Commandments covered in the Blood of the Atonement. The Holy of Holies is open to you. Jesus prays for you. And you have peace with God and eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion
Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion (B)
March 29, 2015
Text: Mark 14:1-15:47
“And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52; ESV). The young man is not named. Mark does this on purpose. It is a literary device employed to pique our curiosity. Who is this young man? Why does he appear here, of all places? The Holy Spirit is not so careless an Author as to weave meaningless details into His Composition. This is here for a reason. Many have surmised (and I include myself among them) that the young man is none other than St. Mark, John Mark, the human author of our Gospel. That could well be the case. It would not be unusual for an author to write himself into the narrative, especially if this is Mark’s way of confessing that he, too, denied his Lord, ran away from Jesus when the going got tough. It is fun to speculate, but we can’t say for sure, because Mark leaves the man unnamed. Because he has an even more important point to make. The young man who runs away, the young man who is already dressed immodestly but now has to run away naked and totally exposed, the young man who abandons Jesus in His hour of suffering is not only John Mark, not only some random figure in the wrong place at the wrong time. You are that young man. And so are the apostles. And so are Adam and Eve. So are all their children. This is humanity’s story. This is your story.
Note that the scene takes place in a garden. God in the flesh, Jesus, is walking with His people, His disciples, sons of Adam all. But in the time of trial, mortal men once again fail and fall. In the face of temptation, rather than hold fast to the Word of the Lord, the disciples determine for themselves what is good and what is evil. It is good to flee, they think, and leave Jesus to suffer His own fate at the hands of cruel men. It would be evil to be caught and to die with him, they think; to take up their own cross and follow Jesus. So as the serpent strikes the Shepherd’s heal, the sheep are scattered (cf. v. 27). They all realize they are naked, vulnerable, exposed, so they hide. Undoubtedly they make excuses. Undoubtedly they turn on one another. They are fallen men. “You will all fall away,” Jesus had prophesied (v. 27). Now His Words come back to haunt them. Every one of them had boasted they would never leave Jesus in the lurch, that even if they must die with Him, they would never deny their Lord (v. 31). Their track record would suggest otherwise.
They already show their hand, making a big fuss when the woman anoints our Lord with expensive ointment at the house of Simon the leper (v. 3). “There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor’” (vv. 4-5). The woman’s extravagant gift is a fruit of faith. She anoints the Savior’s Body in preparation for His burial. The reaction of those at the table is neither a fruit of faith, nor the fruit of any real concern for the poor. It is stinginess dressed up with piety. The Church has suffered from this sin from time immemorial. Repent. In any case, this is the last straw for Judas. When the money isn’t handled as he sees fit, he leaves, and from that point on he seeks an opportunity to betray Jesus. He will be there in the upper room to ask with the others, “Is it I?” (v. 19), and to dip his bread into the dish with Jesus (v. 20). But he is there under false pretenses. He bellies up to the Communion Table, but he eats and drinks judgment on himself. For he does not discern the Body of Christ. He does not eat and drink in faith. He is a hypocrite in the true sense of the word. Woe to Judas. “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (v. 21).
Judas, of course, is the most egregious example of a disciple who falls away from Jesus. But how do the rest fare? After boasting of their faithfulness, Peter, James, and John cannot watch with their Lord for even one hour (v. 37). They fall asleep when their Friend needs them most. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (v. 38). It is true for all of the disciples. Judas comes with the soldiers and every one of them scatters: “And they all left him and fled” (v. 50). Look closely. There is that young man running away naked. There is his linen cloth, lying on the ground.
It doesn’t get any better at Jesus’ trial. Peter follows at a safe distance, but as our Lord is falsely accused, mocked, beaten, and spat upon, Peter doesn’t speak up for Him. Instead, Peter is in the courtyard denying Him three times. Just as Jesus said He would. Peter is not so willing to die with Jesus after all. The rooster crows twice, calling Peter to repentance. Peter breaks down and weeps bitter tears (v. 72).
And the hits keep on coming. The Sanhedrin, the spiritual leaders of Israel, hand Messiah over to the Roman government to be killed. The crowd of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover sacrifice call out for blood: “Crucify him… Crucify him” (15:13-14). Pilate denies Jesus justice for the sake of his own convenience. Barabbas (literally “Son of the Father”), an insurrectionist, a robber and a murderer, goes free. Jesus is scourged and delivered up to be crucified. The soldiers worship Him in mockery, beat Him, abuse Him, then strip Him and lead Him out to the Holy Hill to be crucified. They nail Him to the cross and lift Him up between two robbers. They gamble over His clothes. The chief priests and scribes and those passing by deride Him. The very sun in the sky hides its face for three hours. Our Lord is utterly alone, abandoned by His friends, the Church, the State. And what of His Father? Where is the Father? His back is turned on His beloved Son. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 34). Even the Father has left Him to suffer on His own. That is hell. He suffers it because of your sin. And Peter’s. And that of the Twelve. Even Judas. Even Pilate, the Sanhedrin, the robbers, Barabbas, Mother Theresa, and Hitler. It all hangs there on the wood in the flesh of the Son of God. This is the payment. This is the sacrifice of atonement. Jesus is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. He is the perfect Mediator between God and man, because He is God and Man, by His death reconciling God and man in the forgiveness of sins. Of all people, the centurion in charge of the execution is the first to get it. As Jesus utters a loud cry and breathes His last (v. 37), the centurion confesses what the disciples should have known all along: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (v. 39).
And where are you in all of this? You are there in the griping and complaining, in the hypocrisy and betrayal. You are there in the boasting of your faithfulness and the failure as you flee. You also have denied your Lord when the going gets hard. You also have neglected justice for the sake of convenience. You also have betrayed Him and pierced His sacred flesh with every sin, every breaking of every commandment, every lustful thought, every wandering glance, every juicy bit of gossip or sweet boast that passes over your lips. You talk a big Christian talk, but when it comes right down to it, you can’t watch with Him one hour either. You need your sleep. And you certainly don’t want to take up your cross and die with Him. I know you don’t want to hear it, but you are just like your parents. You just can’t bear the temptation. Instead of clinging to the Word of the Lord, you listen to the serpent. You are convinced you can determine your own good and evil, and you reach for the fruit that is forbidden. Hear the rooster’s early morning sermon: Repent. But know this. Even as you are the young man fleeing naked, your sin exposed for all to see, you are in the naked Man lifted up on the cross, your sin exposed for God’s wrath to be spent on it in His flesh. That you be saved.
You have denied Him, but He has not denied you. You have forsaken Him, but He has not forsaken you. There is great comfort in confessing yourself to be the naked young man. The linen cloth is all the young man has with which to clothe himself. It is immodest and insufficient. It is his own version of Eden’s fig leaves. But in the arrest, suffering, and death of Jesus, the young man and you are stripped of your linen cloths, your fig leaves, the sin you parade before God and others as if it were righteousness. You are stripped of it, that Jesus may be wrapped in it and buried in it. “And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb” (v. 46). You see, Jesus does all of that to death. He takes it to the grave with Him. That He might clothe you in something better. In the Garden of Eden, God sheds the blood of animals to clothe Adam and Eve in their skins. At Golgotha, God sheds the blood of His beloved Son to clothe you with Jesus. And you are no longer naked. By your Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, you are given the robe that is Christ Himself. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). And so you don’t need to run away and hide anymore. You already died with Christ. And Easter is coming. No matter what happens to you in the days to come, there is one thing that is certain. In the end, your grave will be as empty as His. He cannot leave you in death. You are clothed with Him. You walk around in His skin. Where He is, you are. Weep your bitter tears this Holy Week for all your sin and all that Jesus has suffered for your forgiveness. But so also, lift up your head and rejoice. All of this has come to pass that you may be God’s own child, fully fed and fully clothed. God has written it in the flesh of Jesus: You are loved. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Fifth Sunday in Lent (B)
March 22, 2015
Text: Mark 10:32-45
Jesus does not rebuke James and John for their request. After all, they had simply taken Jesus at His Word. Did He not say, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matt. 7:7; ESV)? Throughout His earthly ministry, our Lord taught us to ask God in prayer “as dear children ask their dear Father” (Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Introduction). Dear children ask their dear fathers for all sorts of things, many of which would not be beneficial for them. As a father, I am asked for candy probably 12 times a day, and that doesn’t include the candy petitions my wife receives from the same three dear children. If we said yes every time we were asked, our kids would already be in dentures. But it isn’t wrong for them to ask. They ask the right people. They ask those who have God-given authority over them, who have been entrusted with their health and welfare, and who hopefully have enough wisdom to balance the concern for a healthy diet with the occasional joy of sugary treats. As an imperfect earthly father, my goal (though I often fail miserably) is still to always hear the needs and desires and requests of my children, and respond to them in love and for the good of their bodies and souls. And if I, then, who am evil, know how to give good gifts to my children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matt. 7:11). So also, our Lord Jesus. The point is, you can ask God anything. He always hears your prayers. He never fails. Even when you ask for things that are not good for you. He hears. And He always answers. He always responds with something good. The answer is never simply “No.” No prayer falls from a Christian’s lips without some benefit bestowed by God. Oh, He may not give you exactly what you want in the manner and time you have prescribed. But He will give you what is good. You can count on it. Your prayers are never in vain. When God does not give you what you want, it is because He is giving something better.
Jesus does not give James and John their request. He answers their prayer by giving them something better. He teaches them. He teaches them that the Son of Man is glorified (and therefore also His Christians are glorified), not by sitting in the highest seat, being honored and served, but in serving and giving His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus turns everything on its head. This is the theology of the cross over and against the theology of glory. James and John are theologians of glory. They want to be exalted, being Jesus’ right and left hand men, His closest advisors, His trusted confidants. They want the VIP seats in heaven. Though it is not wrong for them to ask, to be sure, their motivation is all wrong. Pride, one of the seven deadly sins… Pride, which goes before a fall (Prov. 16:18)… Pride is what leads them to ask. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38). Pride responds: “We are able” (v. 39). James and John don’t know what they are saying. For Jesus is a theologian of the cross. The cup He drinks is that of His bitter suffering and death for the sins of the world. The Baptism with which He is baptized is the Baptism of His blood shed for proud and fallen humanity, to save us from eternal death. And in this way, by doing this for James and for John, for you and for me, Jesus Christ is glorified, and He glorifies our Father who is in heaven.
James and John make their request out of pride, but don’t be too hard on them. They had simply beaten the other 10 to the punch. That the 10 were indignant betrays the guilt of their own pride and lust for honor. And if you had been there, you would have done the same. Our harshest judgments are reserved for those whose sins we see in ourselves. We are proud that we aren’t as prideful as James and John. Not to mention how much greater are the sins of those in the pew across the aisle, or the yayhoo driving in front of us on the way to Church. Judgment and self-exaltation are the fruits of pride, which is deadly. Repent.
And hear the teaching of Jesus: “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (v. 42). For that is the way of our Lord. He who is, by definition, greatest among us, God in the flesh, becomes our Servant, is made a Slave, bound, beaten, nailed to the tree, that God may exalt Him by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His own right hand (Phil. 2:5-11). “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The glory of Jesus Christ is to be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, to be condemned to death and delivered over to the Gentiles, to be mocked and spat upon, flogged and killed (vv. 33-34). He is crucified between two thieves, one on His right and one on His left, as He comes into His glory (probably not what James and John had in mind). His glory is to shed His blood and give His life. For you. For the whole world. To make you His own. To win for Himself a people and a Kingdom. “And then after three days he will rise” (v. 34). That is the theology of the cross.
Jesus drinks the cup of God’s wrath for your sins, drinks it down to the very dregs. He is baptized in His own blood, gushing from every part of His Body, His sacred head wounded for you, His hands, His feet, His side, pierced for you, the scourge marks all over His flesh suffered for you. But in this something amazing happens. Your debt to God is paid. Your bondage to sin and death and the devil is broken. And what was a bitter cup becomes now the sweet cup of blessing that is a participation in the Blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). The Baptism with which you are baptized becomes now the font of new birth and eternal life. Your robes are washed white in the Blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). James and John and the 10 and you do drink the cup of the Lord and you are baptized into Christ. But you drink and are baptized from the other side of our Lord’s death and resurrection. What was death to Him has become life for you. What was the payment for your sin has become the gift of His righteousness to you. From His spear-riven side poured water and blood, the water of the font, the Blood of the Supper. You are born and nourished by Jesus’ death. You live on His life. His Body, His Blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.
That being said, there is no room for pride. Jesus has done it all. What do you have that you have not received (1 Cor. 4:7)? Everything you have is a gift, undeserved, given by grace. So that changes your prayers. As you grow and mature in the faith, you recognize that prayers for your own exaltation at the expense of others are not all that helpful. It is not wrong to ask for an improvement in your earthly position. But don’t be surprised if Jesus gives you a lesson in humility instead, which is far better. It is far better to state your needs to the Father in Jesus’ Name, and then let Him work out all the details. It is far better to pray for the needs of your neighbor than the luxury and comfort of your own flesh. And it is far better to become your neighbor’s servant and slave, that at the proper time God may exalt you (1 Peter 5:6). You can even give your life for your neighbor, suffer for your fellow Christians, die for the Name of Christ, be a martyr, knowing that Christ died for you, and that just as He is risen, He will raise you. Self-sacrifice for the sake of another is actually your glory, even as it is Christ’s. Suffering for the Name of Jesus is a tremendous honor. Of course it isn’t pleasant at the time, and it isn’t something you seek out, but when God bestows it, you rejoice and give thanks, for great is your reward in heaven. That is the theology of the cross. And the cross is always given for your good.
As it happens, when our children ask for candy, most of the time we give them something more nutritious. Sometimes we make them go without, or we give them broccoli, which is hard for them to bear. Then again, sometimes we do give them candy. Because we want them to have joy. So it is with our God. When we ask Him for things that are not necessary for our body or soul, He responds by giving us the good gifts we really need. He is our dear Father. He knows what is best for us. He always hears our prayers, and He always answers for our good. Sometimes He makes us go without, or He gives us a cross, which is hard for us to bear. Then again, He gives us an awful lot of candy. Because He wants us to have joy. But He wants our joy not to be in the candy, but in the Giver of the candy and the daily bread and the cross. He wants our joy to be in the cup and in the Baptism and in His teaching us. He wants our joy to be in Jesus, who does not rebuke us for our prayers, but gives us His Kingdom. And in this way, you can take Him at His Word: “Ask, and it will be given to you.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, March 08, 2015
Third Sunday in Lent
Third Sunday in Lent (B)
March 8, 2015
Text: John 2:13-25
Jesus knows what is in man (John 2:25). He knows that what is in man is not good. It is unclean. It is destructive. It is deadly. Jesus knows that out of man’s heart come evil thoughts: murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matt. 15:19). Jesus knows that what is in man is all that is opposed to the Ten Commandments, which we heard in our Old Testament reading (Ex. 20:1-17). Jesus knows what is in you. And it isn’t pretty. Contrary to the culture that tells you to follow your heart, go with your gut, that you are beautiful, that you should always feel great about yourself, that you are a good person, Jesus knows the black hole of your enmity and rebellion against God. He knows the filth that pours forth from your soul. And He has come to clean house. Far from the Jesus proclaimed by our contemporaries, the Jesus who accepts you for who you are apart from Him, who wants you to do whatever makes you happy, the Jesus we encounter in our Holy Gospel is in your face, confrontational, a man of action, violent even. He uses force. He is not someone you want to meet in a bar fight. He cannot tolerate the filth that surrounds you and comes out of you. Not even if that is what makes you happy, not even if that is who you are. Jesus fashions a whip of cords, His holy Law, which kills and utterly destroys, to drive out all that is opposed to His Commandments. Jesus cleanses His Temple. Jesus cleanses you. Zeal for God’s House, Zeal for you, consumes Him (John 2:17).
Don’t for a minute think that this undertaking will be pleasant for you. It hurts to be slain by God’s Law. When we look into the Ten Commandments, as in a mirror, the Law points its accusing finger on every count. For in each case, even if you have kept the Commandment outwardly, you have not kept it in your heart. It may be that you have never murdered, but you have despised your neighbor. It may be that you have never fornicated or cheated on your spouse, but you have looked lustfully upon another who is not your wife or husband. You have not always been chaste and decent in your thoughts and your words. Perhaps you’ve never stolen so much as a cookie from the jar, but you have coveted what is not yours. You have envied your neighbor. It hurts to admit it. It hurts even more to confess it out loud. But the Lord must do His alien work of showing you your sin in the mirror of His Commandments, condemning and killing you by the Law’s accusations, that He may then do His proper work, showing you your Savior in the Holy Gospel, forgiving your sins, pouring out His own righteousness upon you, giving you new and eternal life. The Lord cleans house by His perfect Law, to fill you with all that is good and right and true, with Himself, by His life-giving Gospel.
But what is even more amazing is how He does it. You see, He doesn’t do it by simply erasing your past and then giving you a powerful shot in the arm so you don’t sin anymore. To be sure, He does give you power to fight against the sin of your flesh. But that isn’t how He cleans your house. If He did that, then your ongoing righteousness before God, your remaining clean, would depend on you and not Him. It would be salvation by works. And then every time you commit another sin, which is always… you’re always sinning… you’d have to be baptized all over again. You’d have to stick your head in the font and keep it there until you die. No, here is how Christ cleans house in you. He takes all of your sin and filth and death and damnation into the Temple of His Body. And He destroys it by offering His Body to the destruction of the cross. The whip of cords He fashions in the Temple is a type of the whips used to scourge His precious flesh by the soldiers. The money poured out on the Temple floor is a type of the 30 pieces of silver, the blood money, Judas threw back at the Chief Priests and the Sanhedrin. The driving out of the merchants and money-changers is a type of His driving out the demons and Satan by His suffering and death. The freeing of the sacrificial animals is a type of His freeing you and all flesh by offering Himself as the Lamb, as the sacrifice of atonement that pays your debt to God and wins your forgiveness and release. The Temple itself is a type of His Body. The building is a picture of His flesh. The Temple is the place where God dwells with His people. In Jesus, God dwells with His people, with you, in the flesh. “Destroy this temple,” says Jesus, “and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19; ESV). “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (v. 21). And “the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt,” tented, tabernacle, templed “among us” (1:1, 14). The Temple of Jesus’ Body was destroyed, for you, along with all that is deadly and demonic in you. It was destroyed by the death of crucifixion. But on the Third Day our Lord raised it up. Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. And now the risen Lord Jesus gives you His righteousness as a gift. His righteousness counts for you. It comes from outside of you. You don’t have to fulfill the Ten Commandments to be saved, because He has fulfilled them for you, and He has covered your breaking of the Ten Commandments by His blood. You are righteous in God’s sight. You are covered with Jesus. The Father looks at you and sees Jesus. The Father looks at you and sees perfection. The Father looks at you and loves you with the love He has for His only-begotten Son.
So why, then, the Commandments? Why even read our Old Testament reading? Why make the kids memorize them in Catechism? Why even try to keep these things? Why avoid the evil that (you may think!) makes you happy? Why do good works? Well, first of all to remember who you are outside of Christ, and why your whole life, temporal and eternal, depends on Jesus. Second, out of thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for you in giving His Son for you, in forgiving your sins and granting you eternal life, in loving you and providing for you and making you His own. Third, because these things are good for you. The Ten Commandments show you what is your Father’s good and perfect will for you. In them, He speaks to you as Father to His beloved child about what is beneficial for you and what is harmful to you. And fourth, because your neighbor needs you to keep the Ten Commandments. God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. You don’t do good works because you in any way become righteous before God by them. You do them because you love your neighbor, who needs you to believe in and confess the one true God, who needs you not to murder them, or fornicate with them, or steal from them, or lie about them. Our Lord’s death and resurrection makes you perfectly righteous before God. Our Lord’s self-sacrificial love which He pours out on you in His Word and Sacraments now overflows in you so that you love and serve your neighbor. By placing in you the Temple of His Body and His cleansing Blood, He refreshes you and strengthens you in faith toward God, and fervent love toward one another.
And He makes you, now, His Temple, His dwelling place. Even as you are in Christ by Holy Baptism, the risen Christ is in you by the Supper. His Body and Blood become one with your body and blood. As He speaks in His Word, He breathes out His Spirit upon you. St. Paul writes, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor. 6:19). As the Lord forgives your sins in Absolution, He reconciles you to the Father and makes you one with Him. You are God’s house. You are His Temple. In you, He dwells with your neighbor. By you He works for your neighbor. And you become a living sacrifice to God for the sake of your neighbor (Rom. 12:1).
Jesus knows what is in man (John 2:25). He knows what is in you. That is why He came. To clean house. To cleanse you. To make you holy. And He does so by death and resurrection, His for you, and yours in Him. He does it by killing you and making you alive, by Baptism and new life, Law and Gospel, repentance and faith, Confession and Absolution, Body and Blood. He is in your face, confrontational, a man of action, a man who is not afraid to fashion a whip and draw blood. For zeal for God’s House consumes Him (v. 17). Zeal for you consumes Him, consumes Him on the cross. You consume Him, risen and living. You consume Him in the Supper, that for you and in you, Christ may be all in all. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, March 01, 2015
Second Sunday in Lent
Second Sunday in Lent (B)
March 1, 2015
Text: Mark 8:27-38
Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34; ESV). Broadly speaking, bearing the cross is any suffering a Christian bears in the Name and for the sake of Jesus. In this sense, all the sufferings of the Christian are baptized in His blood, sanctified, made holy, and the promise applies to these sufferings that God will work them all for the good of His beloved baptized child (Rom. 8:28). That means all your aches and pains, all your heartbreak and loss, your grief and your sorrow, all these have been turned into gifts of God, crosses laid upon you in love by your gracious heavenly Father, so that you despair of yourself, crucify your flesh, lose your life in Christ, and flee to Him alone for help and salvation. The cross drives you to Christ. The cross drives you to His Word. The cross drives you to prayer. So you should always receive your suffering with thanksgiving, for God is working a mighty thing through it, even though you may not know what that thing is until you see Him face to face. Faith believes what the eyes cannot see, even in the face of great suffering.
But Jesus is more specific about the cross in our text this morning. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it… For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:35, 38). The crux of the matter is being ashamed of Jesus and His Words, who He really is and what He really says, in this adulterous and sinful generation, a generation that doesn’t want the real Jesus or His real Word. The cross the Lord bids you take up in our Holy Gospel is that of faithful confession of Jesus and His Word, no matter what persecution it may bring you. Think here of the hundreds of Christians who have been kidnapped by ISIS in Syria. Think here of the 21 Christian martyrs who were beheaded in North Africa. Think here of the florists and photographers and bakers who have lost their businesses, reputations, and livelihoods because they were not ashamed to confess the Word of Christ. They considered it more important to be faithful to the God who was so faithful to them He gave His only Son into death. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (v. 36). The word “life” can also be translated as “soul.” You can easily gain the admiration and approval of the world, but at what cost? Your soul. Things can be easy now, but you will, in the end, lose your soul into an eternity of sorrow. Or things can be hard now. You can be despised, mocked, rejected now, suffer now, lose your life now, and your reward will be an eternity of the Lord’s admiration and approval in heaven. For whoever would save his life, his soul, his self… NOW… will lose it in the end. But whoever loses His life, his soul, his self… NOW… for my sake and the gospel’s, will save it in the end. When it comes to confessing Jesus and His Word, it’s either your way, which is to confess a Jesus who is acceptable to this adulterous and sinful generation… or there is the way of the cross, which is to confess Jesus as He is, and His Word as He says it, and to do so without shame, and so to suffer whatever consequences such confession may bring.
Peter doesn’t like that plan. Peter is ashamed. Oh, he’s willing to die for Jesus. At least he thinks he is. But he’s not willing to die for a Jesus he finds unacceptable to his own reason or ideals. He is not willing to die for a Jesus who just surrenders Himself to His enemies, surrenders Himself to the cross and death. Jesus teaches that the cross is divinely necessary, that He must suffer many things, that He must be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, that He must be killed, (and then the part that they all miss) that He must rise again after three days (v. 31). He says it plainly (v. 32). He says it boldly. And Peter does not like it one bit. Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him (v. 32). But Jesus will not save His life, His soul, His self NOW and so lose the souls of those He loves. His mission is to lose His life for Peter’s sake, for your sake, for the whole world, to save your soul for His eternal Kingdom. And seeing His other disciples, Jesus cannot allow Peter’s adulterous and sinful, indeed, demonic preaching to continue. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 33), on the things of this world and this generation, the things of your fallen, dead flesh. Incidentally, talk about a Jesus who is offensive to our politically correct sensitivities. When Jesus hears false doctrine, He isn’t tolerant. He isn’t even nice. He calls Peter (one of His three best friends in the world) “Satan!” For false doctrine has as its source the very father of lies.
The truth is, though, sometimes Jesus has to say this to you. Because there are any number of things about Jesus that you don’t like, and there are things that He says that make you ashamed of Him. There are things in His Word that make you cringe. There are commandments you wish His Church wouldn’t proclaim quite so loud. And worst of all, there is the Gospel, which preaches a Savior who just surrenders Himself to His enemies, gives Himself up into death, willingly, without a fight. And then has the audacity to say that this is necessary if you are to be saved. Because you are so evil that it takes the death of God to pay for your wickedness. Because if He doesn’t do this, you will be the rightful property of Satan. So He does it, because He loves you. Not because you are so loveable. But because He has decided to love you anyway. Because He says so. Because that is how gracious He is. Because He is faithful. He remembers His mercy and His steadfast love, for they have been from of old (Ps. 25:6). He remembers us, and He blesses us (Ps. 115:12). That’s just who He is. For “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
And now Christ Jesus is risen from the dead, and that changes everything. Peter is forgiven and restored. He is no longer ashamed to confess His love for the Lord. He is given the charge to feed the Lord’s sheep and precious lambs. And now he will lose his life, literally taking up his cross, for he will stretch out his hands and be dressed with the wood and carried where he does not want to go. Those are Jesus’ words, indicating the kind of death with which Peter would glorify God. It’s all right there in John 21 (vv. 15-19). So you also are forgiven and restored. You have died with Christ, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). This all happened at the font. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. So the you that is ashamed of Jesus and His Word is crucified by daily repentance, a daily return to the baptismal water. And raised to new life in Christ, you are no longer ashamed. With St. Paul, you confess that you are “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). You are not ashamed to confess your love for Jesus. You are not ashamed to speak His Word in season and out of season. You are not ashamed to lose your life, to surrender yourself to the cross, to die with Him who died for you, that you may live with Him who lives for you.
This adulterous and sinful generation has many ideas about who Jesus is and what He says. He is a prophet, a great teacher, a revolutionary, the model of morality, a practitioner of tolerance and acceptance of everyone and everything. There are as many opinions about Jesus as there are people on the earth. To take up the cross is to die to your own opinion of Him. There is only one true Jesus. He is, as Peter confesses, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Savior appointed by God from all eternity to suffer the cross to save sinful humanity. The Christ is defined by God in His Word, not by the opinions of men. And when you go confessing the Christ as defined by God, you will suffer for it. They may mock you. They may reject you. They may dress you in an orange jump suit and lead you where you do not want to go, to kneel by the sea and there receive your martyr’s crown. But losing your life in this way, you will glorify God. And you will receive the better life won for you by Jesus in His own suffering and death. Those 21 men by the sea in North Africa cried out to Jesus as their throats were slit. It was the last thing they heard on earth, the last word they said. Then, all at once, they heard for themselves the choir of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb. And Jesus confessed them before His heavenly Father. He was not ashamed to call them brothers. For redeemed by the cross of Christ, they were not ashamed to deny themselves, take up their own cross, and follow Him.
And so you. Since you have been justified by faith, you have peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, you have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which you stand, and you rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, you rejoice in your sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put you to shame. You are not ashamed. Because God’s love has been poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to you (Rom. 5:1-5). This is God’s doing. He turns everything on its head. Losing your life, you save it. Hated by the world, you are loved by God. Yourself a sinner, God declares you righteous. Having died with Christ, you have new life in Him. With Jesus, Good Friday always ends in Easter. And at the End of all things, your grave will be as empty as His. Christ Jesus will raise you from the dead. And because of that, you need never be ashamed. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
First Sunday in Lent
February 22, 2015
Text: Mark 1:9-15
St. Mark paints a picture of stark contrasts in our Holy Gospel this morning. First the beautiful Trinitarian picture of our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan, the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending on Him as a dove (Mark 1:10), and the voice of the Father from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (v. 11; ESV). But then a violent transition. That beautiful dove, the symbol of peace, the Holy Spirit now filling our Lord Jesus to the brim, “immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (v. 12). Drove Him out, cast Him out, the same Greek word used when Jesus casts out the evil spirits. Threw Him out, you could say. Immediately upon His Baptism, the Holy Spirit threw Jesus out into the wilderness, the place of nothingness, where the demons are said to dwell, the home of Satan. Utterly alone except for the company of wild beasts, our Lord languishes for 40 days in the place of hunger and thirst, loneliness and desolation, death. Why? To be tempted. To do battle with His archenemy, Satan. To be tested. To be faithful. To be victorious where you, and Adam, your father, have not. To love the Lord His God, His heavenly Father, with all His heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30; cf. Deut. 6:5). To love His neighbor, love you, even more than Himself. And to do it all in your place, for you, so that it counts for you, so that His victory is your victory. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He wins the battle! And the holy angels minister to Him (Mark 1:13).
You are baptized into Christ. You are clothed with Christ. You are in Christ. And so what happens to Christ, happens to you. You are baptized, and the Spirit comes upon you, and God says that you are His beloved child, with whom He is well pleased. But then immediately, violently, the Spirit throws you out into the wilderness of this fallen world. He throws you out into the place of nothingness, of doubt and unbelief, of sin and sorrow and death. This is where the evil spirits are said to dwell. And they do. You know it by experience. You only have to turn on the evening news to see the evidence of their handiwork. And it is not for nothing that Jesus calls Satan “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). It is a dangerous place, this wilderness, a place where you hunger and thirst for righteousness, a place that is often lonely and desolate (that’s why we need each other in the Church), a place where, on your own, you would die. Spiritually. And eternally. You would die. Why does this Spirit put you here? This life, in this world, is the Spirit’s school of cross and trial. You are here to be tempted. You are here to do battle. You are here to be tested. You are here to be faithful.
But there is a great difference between you and Jesus in this wilderness sojourn. Jesus’ faithfulness is the faithfulness that counts for you. And thank God for that, because you aren’t always faithful. You fall. You sin. You are hit by Satan’s arrows. Sometimes you even like it. You’re perfectly happy to trade the bread of God’s holy Word for the bread of stones. Repent. But thank God, this isn’t that kind of test for you, to see if you’ll be faithful enough to be saved. Jesus did all that already. This time of trial and tribulation is different. It is a time to crucify your flesh. To drive you to despair of yourself, your righteousness, your abilities, your talent, your loveable-ness. To make you realize that, in and of yourself, you are as empty and dead as the wilderness. That apart from the Holy Spirit who is in you, you would be the dwelling place of evil spirits, under the rule of Satan. You would be dead. You would be, not a son of God, but a son of hell.
The wilderness is not a pleasant place to be, but it has its good purpose. The Holy Spirit has done this kind of thing before. Remember Moses was exiled to the wilderness for 40 years after killing the Egyptian. 40 years spent in the middle of nowhere, tending the flocks of Jethro, marrying Jethro’s daughter, living the life of a Bedouin. Moses was 80 when YHWH called him from the burning bush, and he had four decades of wilderness wandering still ahead of him. For those 40 years Moses spent with his father-in-law Jethro, were just a trial run, a practice, a preparation, for the 40 years Moses would spend shepherding God’s flock, God’s holy Bride, the children of Israel, in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. St. Paul tells us the people of God were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, when they went through the Red Sea as on dry ground (1 Cor. 10:2). And then they immediately found themselves in the wilderness, the place of nothingness, the place of hunger and thirst, and, apart from God, the place of death. They had to live by faith that God would bring them into the Promised Land, that God would be faithful to His Word, that His Word would keep them alive and bring them joy and blessing, that He would feed them with His manna. It was all a picture of our life in the wilderness, as the Church, the people of God, the New Israel.
For just as Israel of old failed to be faithful in their wilderness wandering, so are we. Just as they grumbled and looked back longingly to the flesh pots of Egypt, so we moan and complain about our lot in life and pine after the good old days of our slavery to sin. Just as they fashioned idols and sat down to eat and drink before them, and rose up to play, so we run after other gods and follow after the pleasures of the flesh. Just as they trembled and feared before their enemies and forgot that it is the LORD their God who fights for them and wins the victory, so we tremble and fear before the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. And we think we will never receive our inheritance in the Promised Land, because our enemies are too strong for us. Of course, we’re half right. They are too strong for us. But our Lord is stronger. He fights them. He defeats them. Our Holy Gospel is all about that. Where Israel, where we, have failed in our wilderness journey, the Lord Jesus Christ has not. He did not grumble or complain, but went willingly into the wilderness for us. He did not eat and drink and rise up to play, but fasted and denied Himself, for us, living not by bread at all, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of His Father. He did not fear before His enemy, but triumphed over him for us, by the sword of His holy Word. And now, baptized into Christ, His victory is our victory. His faithfulness is our faithfulness. And He does not leave us in the wilderness alone. He is with us, as our Mighty Fortress, protecting us, providing for us, picking us up when we fall, speaking to us His Word of life, feeding us with His Manna, His true Body and Blood. And the angels are ministering to us, surrounding us to keep us safe in body and soul.
Lent has this way of making this all so vivid for us. Lent is about our baptismal life in this wilderness, our journey from the font to our Father in heaven, our battle in the meantime with Satan, a battle which has already been fought and won for us by the Lord’s faithfulness, by His cross and death, by His resurrection life. Many of us give something up for Lent, but we don’t do it to impress God or impress others or make ourselves more righteous. We do it to remind us how weak we are, how impossible it is even to give up chocolate, much less give up sin. Some of us add a discipline for Lent, which is always good. We certainly add the discipline of more services and more devotions. But again, we don’t do it to impress God or anybody else. And we don’t do it because it makes us that much more worthy of heaven. No. We do it because we know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). Even as we fast, we feast on the gifts of our Lord Christ. Lent gives us to see our cross in the shadow of His. Your suffering, your sorrow, your sin, your death… it is all taken up into His. Lent imposes the cross of Christ on our foreheads and on our hearts. It is the banner of our Lord’s victory over the devil, that the serpent who once overcame by the tree of the garden, has now likewise by the tree of the cross been overcome (Proper Preface for Good Friday). And after the cross, there is Easter and the empty tomb. After the Lenten fast comes the Feast. After the wilderness, there is the Promised Land. Christ is risen. Christ will raise you from the dead. Blessed Lent. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.