Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Second Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter (A)
March 30, 2008
Text: John 20:19-31

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Beloved in the Lord, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19; ESV), says Jesus to you this morning. It is His Holy Absolution. It is the absolution of the risen Lord addressed to His band of faithless disciples shut up in the upper room in fear. It is the absolution of the risen Lord addressed to His band of faithless disciples of all generations. It is the absolution of the risen Lord addressed to you who have locked yourselves away in fear, who have hidden yourselves from the Christ-hating, Christian-hating world, afraid to be crucified with Him and for Him, for His Gospel’s and His Name’s sake. It is the absolution of the risen Lord addressed to you who have doubted… doubted whether Jesus is, in fact, risen; doubted whether God loves you; doubted whether you can be forgiven for your betrayal; doubted whether God’s Easter Promise is true for you, that even though you die, yet shall you live, and that whoever lives and believes in the risen Lord Jesus Christ will never die. Peace be with you. Jesus does not come in wrath. He has every right to do so. He has every right to hide His grace from you and consume you in His anger. But He does not do that. He does not reject you. He forgives you. He gives you His peace. Fear not. All is forgiven. Jesus lives. He has destroyed death and hell and sin. Satan is bound. “Peace I leave with you,” says Jesus; “my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

So it is that Jesus stands among His disciples in the upper room, ten of the apostles, for Judas has hanged himself and Thomas is not present for whatever reason. Jesus stands among them, though the door is locked for fear, and He absolves them. Peace be with you. And then He breathes on them. He in-spirates them with His Holy Spirit. They are re-created as new men. Just as God created Adam out of the dust of the earth and breathed the breath of life into him, so now God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, breathes the peace which is His Spirit into the dusty, downtrodden disciples. And the peace, the Absolution, is not just for the ten. The apostles are to be Jesus’ representatives, His sent ones, sent to speak His Word throughout the world. And His Word is peace. His Word is absolution. His Word is forgiveness. As those who have been forgiven by Christ and called to be His apostles, they are to forgive others. This is the institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry and the institution of Holy Absolution. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23). The Office of the Ministry is given for the dispensing of the forgiveness of sins. Absolution is what we do.

Unfortunately Thomas was not with the Ten when Jesus appeared to them. He did not see Jesus, receive His greeting of peace and the breath of His Holy Spirit. And Thomas refused to believe. The news of the Lord’s resurrection was too good to be true. “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). It’s easy to be hard on Thomas. “Doubting Thomas,” we call him. But honestly, what would you have said? Would you have believed, or doubted? Perhaps you would have said to your friends, “Come on, guys, you must be joking. We saw the Jews arrest Him. We saw the Romans crucify Him. This is nothing to joke about. Get serious. I simply can’t believe He’s risen from the dead.” Or perhaps you would have said something like, “You, my friends, must have seen someone else who looks like Jesus. We all know He’s dead.” Or perhaps you would have said, “Poor dears, still in denial over Jesus’ death. But better to face the reality of the situation than give in to wishful fantasy.” I actually have a lot of sympathy for Thomas and his doubts. Because as truthful as I know you beloved members of Epiphany to be, and as much as I know you would never intentionally lie to me, if you told me you saw my father walking around alive, no matter how many of you thought you saw him and came to tell me about it, I wouldn’t believe you. My father is dead. I saw him buried. You’re either joking, or you’ve been deceived. Unless I see him for myself, I’ll never believe it.

I have a lot of sympathy for Thomas and his doubts because I would probably say exactly the same thing. And if you think about it, you probably would, too. What makes Thomas so endearing is that he’s so real. And that is why St. John preserves the account of doubting Thomas. Make no mistake, Thomas was wrong to doubt. He was sinning when he refused to believe the witness of the apostles. But the account of doubting Thomas is actually the account of how Thomas came to faith again in the risen Lord Jesus. And that is of great comfort for us, because you and I have our doubts, too. Jesus doesn’t reject Thomas, nor does He appear to Thomas in wrath. When Jesus appears to Thomas, He says the same thing He said to the other doubting and fearful disciples. Peace be with you. All is forgiven. Look at my wounds. Put your finger in the nail marks. Cast your hand into my side. Be not doubting, but believing. Thomas didn’t even have to touch the wounds. He knew that from those wounds flow his forgiveness and life. From those wounds flow Thomas’ peace. A Word from Jesus is all it takes. “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (v. 28).

Jesus’ Word dispels all doubt, including your doubt and mine. Jesus’ Word dispels unbelief. That’s why evangelism is as simple as speaking the Word of Jesus. A gimmick will never convert anyone, but a Word of Jesus will. And from His holy wounds, His hands, His side, His feet, His thorn pierced head, flows the Holy Absolution of the whole world. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. There is forgiveness in the blood. So behold the wounds. Receive the mortally wounded, yet risen and living body and blood of the Savior in His Supper. Be not doubting, but believing. There is forgiveness for you. “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” says the pastor in the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. Again, that’s Holy Absolution. And the only proper response is, “Amen. Yes, yes, it shall be so.” That is the answer of faith. Behold the wounds and hear Jesus’ Word. Your sins are forgiven. Your doubts are forgiven. Your fear is forgiven. Fear not. Believe. Peace be with you.

Of course, you can only see the wounds and hear the risen Savior’s voice in His Word with eyes and ears of faith. With your fallen eyes, you’ll only see bread and wine. With your fallen ears you may hear noble sounding words from the Bible, but you’ll never recognize the living voice of God. But when Jesus gives you His Holy Spirit though these means of grace, your eyes of faith are opened to see Him; your ears of faith are opened to hear Him. And Jesus even pronounces a blessing upon you in our text this morning: “Have you believed because you have seen me?” He’s speaking of Thomas seeing Him with his fallen eyes. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29). Blessed are you who have believed through the Word. That is why these things are written. St. John even says as much. “(T)hese are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (v. 31).

Peace be with you, dear friends. You have life in Jesus’ Name. As a called and ordained servant of the Word, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. Blessed are you. For if you possess the forgiveness of sins in the risen Christ Jesus, there is nothing else that can harm you. Even if you have to suffer various griefs and trials now, for a little while, these are only for the refining of your faith. You are receiving the goal of that faith, the salvation of your souls. You have an inheritance in Christ Jesus that is being kept in heaven for you who are being guarded through faith for the salvation ready to be revealed in you when Jesus comes again. So praise the Lord. Rest in His peace. Receive His unending gifts. Be not doubting but believing. For the risen Lord Jesus Christ is present this morning to show you His wounds, speak His peace, and dispense the gifts of His cross. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Wall Street Journal has Issues

Thanks to Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, the Issues, Etc. debacle made the Wall Street Journal. To read the excellent article, go to the website: <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120667366412170875.html?mod=taste_primary_hs>.

Is anyone in St. Louis listening? Does anybody care?

I also really appreciated the Rev. David Petersen's comments regarding Issues on his blog, Cyberstones. The first is a good assessment of the situation applying the 8th Commandment and putting the very best construction possible on everything, <http://redeemer-fortwayne.org/blog.php?msg=9142>. Putting the best construction on someone's actions doesn't necessarily mean saying, "Hey, good job!" Sometimes putting the best construction on somethign also means speaking the Law about that thing.

The LCMS did finally release an official statement about the cancellation of Issues, citing expenses and lack of funds along with low ratings (of course, that was 2005, and why bother checking again). You can read it for yourself, <http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=13252>. Basically, the reason given was, "we don't believe anyone would really listen to a show about theology anyway." Not good enough, in my opinion. Once again, I commend Pr. Petersen's comments about the official statement, <http://redeemer-fortwayne.org/blog.php?msg=9180>.

Church and ministry are always under the cross. But Christ is risen. His Gospel is still preached. And no matter how much appearances may deceive, the gates of hell will never prevail against our Lord's Church... even when it appears the gates of hell have a little help from the inside.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Resurrection of Our Lord

The Resurrection of Our Lord (A)
March 23, 2008
Text: Matt. 28:1-10

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

The resurrection of our Lord is God’s absolution for the sins of the whole world. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is God’s announcement that the debt of sin has been paid in full, Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient, the sins of the whole world are forgiven, and sinners are righteous, justified, on account of Christ. For He “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification,” writes St. Paul (Rom. 4:25; ESV). That is to say that just as Jesus died for you, in your place, for your forgiveness, so also He is risen for you, for your justification, that you might rise in Him. You are justified, righteous in Him now by virtue of your Baptism into Him, and on the Last Day Christ, our risen Lord, will physically raise you from the dead to live eternally.

The women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, came early to the tomb that first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath, Sunday. They came seeking not the risen Son of God, but a corpse. They did not know that death’s bonds had been burst. They did not know that Jesus, who once lay in death’s strong bands for our offenses given, had put death to death. For them, the tomb was still sealed. The stone still blocked their vision. They could not roll away that stone themselves. They could neither roll away the stone that sealed the tomb nor the stone of unbelief that sealed their hearts. They had come to see a dead body, not a living one. So it is that the angel had to descend from heaven to roll away the stone for them. And when they looked inside, there was no Jesus. You see, Jesus didn’t need the stone to be rolled away. Remember, in His resurrection body He can walk through stone barriers and locked doors and be present bodily on all the altars of His Church at once. The stone was not rolled away for Jesus’ benefit. He was already out of the tomb. The stone is rolled away for our benefit. Look and see. There is no corpse here. There are only neatly folded grave cloths. The message the angel speaks to the women is also the message he speaks to us: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come see the place where he lay” (Matt. 28:5-6). Come and see. See for yourself that He is no longer in the tomb. See for yourself that He is no longer in death. Believe the words of the angel. Believe the Word of the Lord. Did He not tell you before He died, that the Son of Man must suffer and be handed over to the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, but after three days He would rise? O ye of little faith, be no longer doubting, but believing.

The women came to the tomb in doubt, expecting only a corpse. When they arrived they found an empty tomb and the Word of Jesus’ resurrection. And Jesus does not reject them in their doubt. His resurrection is their absolution. The women are given to be the first witnesses of the resurrection. “Greetings!” says Jesus, as the women are running with fear and great joy to tell the news to Jesus’ disciples (v. 9). The Greek word also means “Rejoice!” There He stands before them, mortal wounds intact. They know Him by His wounds. They fall at His pierced feet and cling to Him in worship. Rejoice, indeed! All is forgiven. Doubt is dispelled. Faith is bestowed. Death is dead, for Christ is risen. And the women are given a message to give the disciples. “(G)o and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (v. 10).

Notice that Jesus calls the disciples “my brothers.” Jesus’ resurrection is absolution for the disciples as well. For Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled on the night of His Passion. All the disciples fell away on account of Him. Judas betrayed Him with a kiss. Peter denied Him three times. All the others fled. And now Judas had hanged himself, fell headlong and spilled his guts. And the rest of the disciples, though still alive, were scared to death. They were huddled together in misery, the doors locked for fear of the Jews. They were not expecting a risen Lord, either. Unlike the women, they didn’t even care to go visit the grave. But Jesus sends them a message. He calls the Eleven, “my brothers.” Rejoice! All is forgiven. Come to Galilee and you will see. Doubt will be dispelled. Faith will be bestowed. Death is dead, for Christ is risen.

The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is your holy absolution as well. Have you ever doubted the resurrection? It makes for a nice story and a nice Spring holiday, but do you really believe it actually happened? And what about your own resurrection, and that of your loved ones who have died in Christ? Have you ever doubted? Do you really believe that you and your fellow believers shall rise from the dead… that you have eternal life in Christ, not only spiritually, but physically? Are you here this morning seeking a corpse, honoring a good man who died on a cross many years ago and who is alive today only in our hearts? Because that is no faith. That’s not Jesus. Have you perhaps betrayed Jesus with a kiss, honoring Him with your lips, while inside your heart is full of treachery? Have you denied Him, pretending you do not know Him so that you do not have to suffer the persecution of the world? Have you denied Him, preferring your own sin and your own idols to the crucified Lord? Have you fled from Him in fear lest you have to die with Him, locked the doors in case someone recognizes you as His disciple and you have to suffer scorn and violence? Repent. And rejoice!

For here is the good news for you on this day and every day. Christ is risen. He does not reject you. He calls you His brothers and sisters. “Greetings!” He says to you. “Rejoice! I have been given into death for your forgiveness. I have been raised for your justification. I was dead, but behold, I live forevermore. And I have the keys to death and Hades. All is forgiven, dear brothers and sisters. Do not fear any more. There is no longer any reason to fear. I have come to dispel all doubt. I have come to bestow faith and breathe my good Spirit into your hearts. I have come to raise you from spiritual death. For death is dead. Behold, I am risen. Your debt is paid in full. You are reconciled to God. You can now call God your Father, for I call Myself your Brother.”

This morning your risen Lord Jesus bestows upon you new life. He has incorporated you into Himself. He has baptized you into Himself. You have died with Christ in Baptism, and been raised with Him. And your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). So also on the Last Day you will be raised from the dead. Death no longer has mastery over you, because Christ is risen… Death no longer has mastery over Him. Therefore, on that Day when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you will appear with him in glory” (v. 4). You have the guarantee of eternal life, body and soul, in a new heavens and a new earth, because Christ is risen, and in Him you have forgiveness and justification. Do you need any more convincing? Come to the Feast. Come to the Feast and behold with your mouths the body and blood of the risen Lord Jesus. Cling to His wounds, as the women did. The wounds are mortal, yet the body and blood are living, immortal. They are the body and blood of the firstfruits of the resurrection. The Lamb who was slain stands and give life to His Church. The risen Lord Jesus is Himself the Host at this Feast. And what He here places on your tongues will nourish you body and soul for that Day when He calls you forth from the grave and says to you, “Greetings! Rejoice!”

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Easter Sunrise

Easter Sunrise (A)
March 23, 2008
Text: Exodus 14:10-15:1/ Psalm 118:22-24

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:22-24; ESV). This is the day that the Lord has made, for Christ is risen, and His resurrection has ushered in the new day of our justification. Our God has given us the victory over sin, death, and the devil through Jesus Christ, His Son. Sin has been buried in Jesus’ tomb. The bonds of death have been burst. The devil is bound. Hell must hunger, never to be satisfied. Because in Jesus’ resurrection, the whole world is absolved of sin. In Jesus’ resurrection, your sins are forgiven, and hell has no claim on you.

“I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously” (Ex. 15:1). So sang Moses and the people of Israel when the Lord had delivered them from the hand of the Egyptians by leading them through the Red Sea on dry ground. And your new and greater Moses, Jesus Christ, has come to deliver you from the Egypt of sin and death. The Red Sea event was a type, a foreshadowing, of your own deliverance by the strong arm of the Lord. The Lord has triumphed gloriously for you as well. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made, the day of our deliverance. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

For the Lord also delivers you through a flood. He also leads you through the waters. He leads you through the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. As God drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea, so He drowned your sin in Baptism. As God led His people Israel through the water on dry ground, so He leads you on the path of new life in our risen Lord Jesus Christ, and on the last day, He will raise you physically from the dead. St. Paul says of the events recorded in our text, “I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:1-2). The Israelites were baptized into Moses, and so delivered from their enemies. But you have been baptized into Christ, the prophet like unto Moses who is greater than Moses. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The Lord has triumphed gloriously. He triumphed over the Egyptians as the Israelites passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. He triumphed over sin, death, and the devil when our Lord Jesus burst forth from the grave on Easter morning. And He has given His triumph to you through His Word and Sacraments. The Lord’s victory is your victory in Baptism. St. Peter writes, “Baptism… now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).

The Israelites did not trust that the Lord would deliver them when they came to the Red Sea and saw the Egyptian armies in hot pursuit. Their solution? Surrender! Go back to Egypt! Go back to slavery! “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” (Ex. 14:11). It is unbelievable to us that the Israelites would lose their faith in God’s deliverance after seeing all the miracles that took place in Egypt, the ten plagues, including and especially the Passover. It is unbelievable to us that the Israelites would desire to go back to slavery in Egypt after seeing how the Lord’s hand had guided them thus far. It is unbelievable to us that the Israelites would rather go back into captivity than press on toward the Promised Land God had given them. But dear brothers and sisters, don’t we do the same thing every time we return to our sin? Don’t we do the same thing every time we allow our sinful flesh to poke its head back up from those baptismal waters and have its way with us? Don’t we also wax nostalgic about our old Adam as if slavery to sin is better than the Promised Land Christ today offers us freely?

Repent. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Do not submit yourselves again to the yoke of slavery. Do not surrender when sin pursues you. Do not suppose that the battle is hopeless. Do not give up because it is too hard for you. The Lord gives you the victory. “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Ex. 14:14). It is all His doing. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). Dream not of the fleshpots of Egypt. Dream rather of the vines and fig trees of the Kingdom of God. For they are yours in your risen Lord Jesus. Christ is risen, and sin has been destroyed. Christ is risen, and death is dead. Christ is risen, and the head of the serpent has been crushed. You, therefore, who have died with Christ will also be raised with Him. The new day has dawned, the day of resurrection. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Vigil of Easter

For tonight's Easter Vigil homily I will be using the Easter Sunday devotion from God Grant It: Daily Devotions from C. F. W. Walther. If you don't have this book, I cannot recommend it highly enough. You can get it from CPH, <http://www.cph.org/cphstore/product.asp?category=&part%5Fno=124261&find%5Fcategory=&find%5Fdescription=&find%5Fpart%5Fdesc=walther>.

Holy Saturday

THE END FOR US

And Jesus cried with a loud voice and yielded up His Spirit. Matthew 27, 50

After more than thirty hard years, Jesus reached the goal which had been decided upon in the eternal counsels of God, His death on the cross. No man was taking His life from Him. He was laying it down as the sin-sacrifice for the world. And He wanted all to know about it. He wanted to shout it aloud. So He asked for a drink. His throat cleared and all of His life surveyed once more from His blessed throne of the Cross, He cried out with a loud voice: "It is finished." All that He had come to do was now accomplished. The will of God for our salvation was done. the full ransom was paid. Freedom was obtained for all who were enslaved by sin, death, and the devil. Any attempt on our part to make ourselves right with God is a denial that Jesus Christ has fully accomplished all. Faith bows in reverent thankfulness before Him and owns no sweeter Gospel than the Crucified's loud cry, "It is finished."

And Jesus died as He had lived, by the Word of God, doing the will of the Father who had sent Him. "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit." He was still praying. In His final prayer He committed His life into the hands of the Father. God is His Father again because all is finished. The Worker, the Creator, the Finisher now goes to the grave that He might break its hold on us and cause it to surrender all claim on us. Jesus knows that the end will be the beginning because He commends His Spirit into the hands of the Father. Now those hands of the Father are open to receive all who commend themselves to those hands. That makes death an invitation to entrust ourselves fully and finally into the hands of the Father. So shall we be with Christ which is by far the best for us.

Lord, help us to know our own death in Thy death that we might know ourselves as always in the Father's hands. So living and believing in Thee, we shall never die. Amen.

From William A Buege, Our Lord's Passion - for us (St. Louis: Lutheran Laymen's League, n.d.).

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Good Friday (Tenebrae)
March 21, 2008
Text: John 19

What is it that is so good about this Friday? How can we call this Friday Good when the events on which we meditate are so tragic and so unfair? The innocent, holy Son of God dies a shameful death on a Roman cross this Friday. He is mocked. He is stripped. He is beaten. His flesh is ripped by scourging and pierced by nails. He is fastened to crude wood and lifted up, naked and bloodied, for all the world to scorn. He does not deserve it. Pilate’s verdict is that He has done nothing deserving of death. He bears no sin of His own. Still we call this Friday Good. It is good because, while Jesus has no sin of His own, He bears our sin and suffers our punishment. He dies so that we do not have to die. He suffers hell on the cross so that we can enjoy heaven for all eternity. In His death He breaks down the dividing wall of hostility between us sinners and the holy and righteous God, so that in Christ, we, too, can call God our Father. That this Friday is tragic does not preclude its being good. It is good for us, because on this day Jesus won our forgiveness, life, and salvation in His death on the cross. Behold, the Lamb of God, pure and holy, who takes away the sin of the world.

Notice that we call this day Good Friday and not Happy Friday. In our culture, “good” usually equals “happy.” A thing is only considered to be “good” if it is accompanied by feelings of happiness. If it feels good, do it. By “feels good,” we mean “happy.” But is that what “good” means for a Christian? I can think of any number of examples of things that are good, but do not make me happy. It is good to do the right thing no matter what the consequences, but such virtue is not always rewarded with happiness. It is good to take responsibility for our actions, especially when those actions cause pain to others. But it is never a happy thing. It is good to sacrifice our own desires, our possessions, and even our very selves for others. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13; ESV). It is good to crucify the old sinful flesh and to bring our body into subjection. But none of this is pleasant. It isn’t happy. Oftentimes it is cause for great sadness. But it is good. And there is joy in it, for joy does not mean the same thing as “happy” either. Even in the midst of great sadness, a thing can be good, and we can be joyful, and at the same time not be happy.

In this way it is good for us that Jesus suffered and died. And it is good for us to meditate upon that suffering and death, especially on this Friday that we call Good. The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a pleasant thing on which to meditate. That is why we cringe, for instance, when we watch Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. Many of us even cover our eyes. It is hard to watch, and it should be. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

Yet as hard as it is to meditate on the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, as contrary to our thinking as it is to call this Friday Good, such meditation is good for us in two ways. First, it strikes terror in our hearts when we are secure in our sins. If we think that sin is no big deal, if we find that sin does not particularly bother us, or if we find in ourselves the attitude that since Jesus forgives us anyway we might as well sin, let us behold Jesus on the cross and realize with terror that we nailed Him there. You and I are just as guilty as the Jews and Romans in the matter of Jesus’ crucifixion. We pierced His holy flesh. His blood is on us and upon our children. Yet Jesus willingly, in love for us, submits Himself to death. And this brings us to the second way in which meditation of the Passion of Christ is good for us. It is a great consolation when we are broken by our sin and our conscience is terrified. For God did so love the world that He gave His only-begotten Son into death on the cross, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. In the cross of Christ, all our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west. The cross of Christ allows us to live before God as His forgiven and justified children. Luther says it this way:

"Take your sins and throw them on Christ. Believe with a joyful spirit that your
sins are His wounds and sufferings. He carries them and makes satisfaction for
them, as Isaiah 53:6 says, “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Peter
says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Paul says,
“For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might
become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). You must rely on these
verses from the Bible with all your might, even more when your conscience tries
to kill you. You’ll never find peace if you miss this opportunity to quiet your
heart. You’ll despair because of your doubt. If we dwell too much on our sins,
going over and over them in our conscience, keeping them close to our hearts,
soon they become too much for us to manage and will live forever. But when we
see our sins laid on Christ and see Him triumph over them by His resurrection,
and fearlessly believe this, our sins are dead and become nothing. Our sins don’t
stay on Christ but are swallowed up by His resurrection. Now you see no wounds,
no pain, no sight of sin at all in Him. That is why Paul says in Romans 4:25 that
Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” In
His sufferings Christ made our sins known and was crucified for them. By His
resurrection He makes us righteous and free from all sin. If you are not able to
believe, then pray to God for faith. This is entirely up to God."[1]

God gives faith through His Word and Sacraments. Thus if you need this consolation of God, that His Son has died for you, for your forgiveness, you know where to find it. If you need this faith, if you need the benefits of the cross, you know where to find it. You do need it. And the Holy Spirit bestows it upon you freely in the Holy Scriptures, the preaching of the Word, your own Baptism, the Holy Absolution, and the Supper of Christ’s body and blood. There the cross is delivered to you along with all its benefits. There the idea that this Friday is Good is no longer abstract. There the Good of this Friday is delivered to you in full as your Lord Jesus washes all your sins away. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, How to Mediate on the Passion of Christ, Paul T. McCain, trans. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2004) pp. 8-9.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday
March 20, 2008
Text: Ex. 12:1-7/Matt. 26:17-30

Hear the Word of the Lord from the Book of Exodus, the Twelfth chapter:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for
you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell
all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall
take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the
household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take
according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall
make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year old.
You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the
fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel
shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it
on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it” (ESV).

The children of Israel were saved by the blood of the Passover lamb. It was the last of the ten plagues, and by all accounts the most horrendous. Pharaoh had hardened his heart. He would not let God’s people go. And the consequence of that decision was that the first-born of all in the land of Egypt would die that fateful night. The angel of death was passing through. But the children of Israel were given instructions for their deliverance and salvation. In the very midst of death, they would be saved. Each house was to sacrifice a year-old lamb without blemish, paint its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, and the angel of death would pass over them. The first-born within those houses would be saved. While death looms outside, the children of Israel are saved by the blood of the lamb.

The Israelites were to eat the lamb, and along with it, unleavened bread (there was no time to wait for the bread to rise, and all the leaven should be removed from the house), and bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of their slavery in Egypt. They were to eat in haste, belt fastened, feet shod with sandals, staff in hand, for tonight they would be delivered from their slavery. No longer would they serve the Egyptians. Now they would be freed to serve God in righteousness and faith. And they were to keep the Passover feast, year after year, generation after generation, as a means of commemorating and, in fact, actually participating in the saving events of the Exodus. “And when your children say, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses’” (Ex. 12:26-27; ESV).

Our Lord Jesus is a true Son of Israel in whom there is no guile. So it is that He kept the Feast of the Passover in the upper room with His disciples. Death looms outside that room for Jesus. Unlike the ancient children of Israel, Jesus will not be passed over, but the disciples will, and we will, for Jesus is our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed on the altar of the cross. Listen as Jesus says to you this evening, “Take, eat, this is my body,” and again, “Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:26-28). Remember the bitterness of your slavery to sin, and then remember the Lord’s great mercy as you partake of the Lamb of God who sacrifices Himself for the forgiveness of all your sins. In His death, the blood of the Lamb of God, pure and holy, is painted on the wood of the cross, that death might pass over all who are safe in Him. In His death, our Lord Jesus frees us from our slavery to the devil and sin. In His death, our Lord Jesus destroys the power of death.

So tonight we keep the Feast, the fulfillment of the Passover. Take, eat, for under the form of bread is the true body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Take, drink, for under the form of wine is the true blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the New Testament in His blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. In the Sacrament, the blood of God’s Passover Lamb is painted on the doorposts and lintel of your heart. In the Sacrament, Jesus is present in His body and blood to cleanse you and strengthen you, to justify you by faith and make you holy by giving you His Holy Spirit. In the Sacrament, Jesus stands as your new and greater Moses who leads you in exodus out of your slavery to sin, death, and the devil, that unholy three. The Passover is fulfilled in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and in your eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood here before the altar. When you receive the Lord’s Supper, you not only commemorate His Passion, you receive all the benefits of His cross and actually participate in the events of your salvation. Therefore come, come before that altar of God’s grace, where Jesus is both host and meal. Receive tangible forgiveness for all your sins. Be strengthened for the journey, for the exodus. Doubt not, but believe. Believe the words of our Lord’s promise, that His body and blood are given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. For whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: forgiveness of sins, and along with that, eternal life and salvation. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Issues, Etc.

Beloved in the Lord,

Our Lord says, "And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them" (Luke 18:7; ESV). It appears that a great injustice has been done in the house of our Lord. The powers that be in the Missouri Synod have cancelled popular KFUO radio program Issues, Etc., a program I have often promoted here at Epiphany as an important tool for catechizing our own members and confessing Christ in a culture hostile to Christianity. Host, the Rev. Todd Wilken, and producer Jeff Schwarz were fired. All of the archives have disappeared from the web. And all of this was done without warning and without explanation in the midst of Holy Week. Now I say that it appears that an injustice was done... But who can say for sure since there has been absolutely NO explanation from the powers that be? I called all the offices of all the authorities and everyone was conveniently "out of the office." I'm really trying to put the best construction on everything here, but this looks really bad. I cry to our God for justice. And I cry to our synodical leadership that they should be the instrument of that justice by apologizing to Pastor Wilken and Mr. Schwarz and reversing the decision to cancel Issues, Etc. Our prayers are with all involved. I encourage all readers to call, write, and email the powers that be, register their disappointment, and demand justice.

Here is a synopsis of the developments so far courtesy of Timotheos at Balaam's Ass:

Issues, Etc. Gone
If you are outside the Lutheran blogosphere or other means of Missouri Synod communication, you may not have heard that the KFUO program “Issues, Etc” has been canceled, and its host, Todd Wilken, and producer, Jeff Schwarz, were fired. There is no other information given.
If you are concerned about this, call the LCMS International Center (888-THE-LCMS [843-5267]) and ask to be transferred to the Board for Communications to register your disapproval. This is a significant loss to the Missouri Synod, to all Confessional Lutherans, and to the world at large. Many people have come to better understand Lutheranism or even be converted because of this program. Perhaps the outcry will reach the ears of those in charge so that this disastrous decision can be reversed.
KFUO.org (apparently, the website for KFUO-AM has crashed; I’m guessing it’s because of a massive attempt to download old Issues, Etc. broadcasts)
The Wittenberg Trail has set up a PayPal account for Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz, who are jobless:
A message to all members of The Wittenberg Trail
The Wittenberg Trail is organizing a drive to offer financial support to Pastor Wilken, Jeff Schwarz and their families during this difficult time.
The WT has a secure Pay Pal account set up. Please indicate “Wilken/Schwarz” in the donation comment section.
Please log into the Wittenberg Trail and click on the “Donate” button on the right side of the screen.
Visit The Wittenberg Trail at: http://wittenbergtrail.ning.com
More from WT:
A message to all members of The Wittenberg Trail
Today’s a black day in the LCMS.
Today the Synod ordered the cancellation of the popular radio show Issues, Etc. without stating a reason why, and terminated the employment of Pastor Todd Wilken, the show’s host, and Mr. Jeff Schwarz, the show’s producer.
If you can get into the archives and save MP3 files of the show ASAP.
The person who made the decision to cancel Issues, Etc. was Mr. David Strand, Executive Director of the Board for Communication Services.
Here is Mr. Strand’s contact information:
David L. StrandExecutive DirectorBoard for Communication314) 996-1200david.strand@lcms.org
If you care enough, you might cease support for KFUO-AM until they restore the program, its host, and its producer.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion (A)
March 16, 2008
Text: John 12:12-19 and Matthew 26:1-27:66

This morning marks the beginning of the most holy week in the Christian calendar. It is the first day of an eight-day journey with Jesus to the cross on Good Friday, culminating in His resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. As we set out on this journey, we must be clear about where we are going, for there are many forks in the road, deceiving forks, forks that are tempting because the alternative roads appear to be wide and easy. And the road we are on this week is narrow and hard. There is no getting around that. But the only road to the resurrection is the road through Good Friday and the cross. So we need a road map. That map is account of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why the Gospel lesson is so long this morning, almost interminably long. It is hard to stand through. It is hard to pay attention through two chapters of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. “Could you not watch with me one hour? The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We have better things to do, or so we think. Get on with it Pastor. Today’s sermon better be short. And anyway, you expect me to come to how many services this week after today’s long reading?! That’s too much for me! And so you see how easily we veer off in the wrong direction, on the wrong fork… how we prefer the wider, easier road. In fact, let’s just skip the Passion narrative altogether and go straight to Easter. Oops, remember, there is no way to Easter without the Passion, without Lent, without Good Friday.

As it happens, long readings and extra services are the least of our worries on this journey to the cross. The hardest part is that the cross is just so repulsive. It’s so offensive. The message of the cross is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23; ESV). It’s easy to shout our hosannas to the Son of David when we think our King is coming to give us immediate glory, health, wealth, and prosperity. Just watch a Benny Hinn program for a few minutes, or read a book by Joel Osteen! But when our King comes in humility, headed for the cross, headed for death, promising us suffering and the cross before glory if we follow Him, we prefer to join our shouts with those of the Good Friday crowd, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” We don’t want this Jesus. We want a Jesus who gives us glory, all sorts of earthly prosperity, and a guaranteed “get out of hell free card,” but we don’t want the Christ of the cross who brings His disciples to the Promised Land of heaven only through suffering, the cross, and death. That Jesus demands too much. Crucify that Jesus! Bring us another Messiah, One who is more user-friendly.

So it is that this Sunday is a day of marked contrasts. We begin the service with joyful adoration, palm branches, jubilant praises. But then, after a moment of silence to mark the change of mood, we turn our attention to the cross. And we hear ourselves in the crowd as they reject Jesus. “We have no king but Caesar. We thought this man would be our King. We thought He was Messiah, come to restore the Kingdom to Israel. But His road is too hard. We want to go down another road. We don’t like the doom and gloom of the cross, especially not when the crucified Son of God hangs on it. So away with this man. Let Him be crucified. Give us Barabbas.”

Time after time in the Gospel lesson this morning we hear of those who encounter Jesus veering off on the wrong path, veering away from the road to the cross. Of all people, the Jewish chief priests and elders should recognize the Messiah when they see Him. The whole Old Testament, which these teachers of the Law know so well, is about Jesus. But Jesus is a threat to their power and their comfortable lives. The road to the cross is too narrow and hard for them. They don’t want to bear a crucified God and His cross. Thus their hearts are hard.

Judas, too, should have recognized Jesus to be the Messiah. After all, he had been with Jesus for nearly three years. He had walked with Him and sat at His feet, hearing Jesus’ Word and teaching from the mouth of the Master Himself. He had been chosen personally by the Savior to be an apostle of the Gospel. But money was the wider path for Judas. For thirty pieces of silver he betrays Jesus with a kiss.

Then there is Pontius Pilate, who is confused by all of this. He doesn’t know the Old Testament Scriptures or the teaching of Jesus, nor does he particularly care. But there is something about Jesus he can’t quite get past. This is an innocent Man. Pilate wants to do the right thing, but the pressure is too great. The road is too hard for Pilate if he is to release Jesus. Easier to wash his hands and let a righteous Man die a criminal’s death than have a riot on his hands. And Pilate’s soldiers, just carrying out orders, but with such great zeal! They dress Jesus in scarlet, the color of royalty, place a woven crown of thorns upon His head and a reed scepter in His hand, fall down and worship Him in mockery. “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Matt. 26:29), they say, as they bow before Him, and then spit on Him and beat Him with His scepter. How accurate is the Word of the Lord recorded by Isaiah in our Old Testament lesson… It is Jesus who speaks through the Prophet: “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” (Is. 50:6).

But dear brothers and sisters, these are the usual suspects. We expect the chief priests and Judas and Pilate and the soldiers to reject Jesus, to take the wrong road. But if we give an honest hearing to the whole Gospel lesson, as long as it is, we see that the disciples are not immune from taking wrong turns. We all know the story of Peter, who, in spite of his boast that he would suffer all, even death, rather than desert his Savior, denies Jesus three times before the cock crows twice. And when Jesus turns to look at him, Peter is cut to the quick, runs out and weeps bitterly. But so also, Peter and his fellow disciples, James and John, Jesus’ closest inner circle, choose the easier path of sleep rather than stay awake to watch and pray with Jesus. And under pressure, once again, it is Peter who chooses the way of violence against those who come to arrest Jesus, rather than go the way of the cross. He does not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. And when Jesus is arrested by those who come with the betrayer, all the disciples flee. The Shepherd is struck and the sheep are scattered.

Let us not pass over these verses, beloved, and not see ourselves within them, denying Jesus every time we sin, every time the road to the cross looks too hard and narrow and we would rather travel the glory road. Jesus speaks through the pen of His father, David, in the 31st Psalm, “Because of all my adversities I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me” (v. 11). He’s talking about His friends, His disciples. To quote the prophet Isaiah again, this time the 53rd chapter, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (vv. 2-3). Is the cross of Christ too gory for you to behold? Is it a scandal, a stumbling block for you? Or perhaps foolishness? Do you prefer the cross without the dead flesh of the Son of God? Repent. Because the only risen Lord Jesus in the house is the One who died on the cross for your sins. The only Lord Jesus who will be present here on Easter morning is the One present now, mortal wounds and all, on the cross this morning. And you have to get bloody if His death is to benefit you. The blood and water from His riven side must soak you.

And it does. It flows from His riven side into font and chalice to mold you into His holy Bride, the Church. For as many wrong turns as we take, the map of God’s Word and Sacraments is always true. It is what sustains us and calls us back to the right path, the path of faith, the path of the cross. Jesus knew what He was doing when He instituted the Holy Supper on Maundy Thursday. He was giving His disciples His last will and testament, the New Testament in His blood. He was speaking His Word into their ears and hearts, that they might come back to Him in repentance and faith and go the way of the cross with Him, even if it meant their death. And that is what calls you back to the way of the cross. That is what calls the women, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee, to follow Jesus to the cross and watch where He is buried. That is what calls Joseph of Arimathea to lay Jesus in his own new tomb. That is what calls Peter to repentance and the disciples who were scattered back together as the Church of Christ. That is what sustains all of them through the confusion and dashed hopes of Good Friday to Easter Sunday and beyond as they encounter their risen Lord. And that is what sustains you. All the benefits of the cross are delivered to you in the Word of Jesus, and in His blessed Sacraments. He bore the cross, the mockery, the shame, the rejection, for you, in your place, for your forgiveness. So don’t turn away. Don’t follow the easier road. The map is ever true. Jesus has given it to us along with His Spirit to help us on the way. Remain in Jesus’ Word, the Word of the cross. Become a blood-soaked mess. Travel the hard road of Holy Week. And know that Easter is the final word. It is the final word because Jesus died. And you have been baptized into Him, into His death. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5). So for you, death is not the final word, but life-everlasting in your crucified Savior. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lent Mid-Week 5

Lent Mid-Week 5[1]

March 12, 2008

Text: Psalm 22:6-8:

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He
trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him for he delights in him!”
(ESV).

O Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, pure and holy, who on the cross didst suffer: In this Psalm You teach us through Your servant King David that You suffered all, even became a worm and not a man for us worms and for our salvation. You teach us of the scorn that you suffered for our sakes at the hands of those who beheld Your crucifixion; the derision heaped upon You by the Jewish leaders and Roman executioners and even those crucified with You. They were crucified justly, but You who have been tempted in every way as we are, are without sin. Indeed, it would be just if we, for whom You suffered and died, were to be nailed to crosses of our own and lifted up to be in torment, to suffer the worst physical torture and the utter rejection of God and finally die a pitiful death. But here You teach us that we do not have to suffer in this way. You have suffered for us. You have given Your honor into contempt for us, Your life into death for us, that we might live and receive glory from the Father. You did this so that we could be forgiven of all sin and set free from death and the devil. Here You teach us that we can trust You, and You alone, for deliverance in time of need. Here You teach us that, mystery of all mysteries, the Father delights in us as His own dear children. He delights in us because You, His beloved Son, have been baptized into us, into our sin and death and conquered them forever, and we have been baptized into You, into Your righteousness and life thus to live in You forever.

We give You thanks for this, Your great mercy. We thank You for all that You have given for us, including Your very Self. “Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, dearest Jesus unto Thee” (LSB 420). Indeed, “Then, for all that wrought my pardon, For Thy sorrows deep and sore, For Thine anguish in the Garden, I will thank Thee evermore, Thank Thee for Thy groaning, sighing, For Thy bleeding and Thy dying, For that last triumphant cry, And shall praise Thee, Lord, on high” (v. 7). Thanks be to God for this unimaginable gift! “Glory be to Jesus, Who in bitter pains Poured for me the life-blood From His sacred veins!” (LSB 433). “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25).

But, O Lord Jesus, we confess that we are indeed worms and no men. We are subhuman, for we have failed to live up to that which You created us to be from the beginning. We confess that we have sinned most grievously, and more grievous still, that our very nature is corrupt. We are born spiritually blind, dead, and Your enemies. We confess that as a result we have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In fact, we join with the mockers. We scorn You. We hold You in derision. We confess that we have often joined our voices with those who hold You in contempt, with those who shriek, “He saved others, He cannot save Himself. Let the Lord deliver Him since He delights in Him.” We, too, have mocked You with our tolerance of false doctrine and our unholy way of life. Thus we have brought dishonor to Your holy Name. We, too, have joined in the making of faces and wagging of heads. And certainly we have not spoken in defense of Your glory when in the face of the mockery of others. We have not defended You to the death of us. We have not been willing to go the way of the cross and suffer scorn ourselves for You who suffered scorn for us. It is too hard. The sacrifice demanded is too much. The flesh is weak.

Forgive us, Lord Jesus. Deliver us, as You have promised. Your death is our life. Your resurrection is our victory. Forgive us as You forgave the penitent thief on the cross. He who had once mocked You with the rest of the crowd beheld You, the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God, pure and holy, as You gave Yourself for the life of the world, for his life and the lives of all people. He heard Your gracious words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And he was converted. In the midst of Your death he believed in You. And You strengthened him in the midst of his own death. As his fellow condemned mocked you, he did not remain silent. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our wrong” (vv. 40-41). Dearest Lord Jesus, forgive us as You forgave the malefactor. Forgive us and strengthen us in the same way, so that all we think, say, and do may be for Your glory. Say to us, as You said to Him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43). Indeed, You do say this to us every time You speak Your precious Word of life to us, every time You feed us Your body and blood in the Sacrament. O Lord, all our trust is in You. You will deliver us. You will rescue us. You have forgiven all our sins. You have made us clean and given us strength. And on account of Your holy, precious blood, and innocent suffering and death, the Father delights in us. We are no longer worms. You have re-created us in Your image, and made us men. O Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] This year’s Lenten series is taken from Lamb of God, Pure and Holy (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008). The sermon is my own, but many of the ideas expressed therein are from the authors of the book.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Fifth Sunday in Lent (A)
March 9, 2008
Text: John 11:1-53

It is a little strange, isn’t it, to be talking so much about resurrection as we near the climax of Lent. It is such an important point to hold that there must be death before resurrection, Good Friday before Easter Sunday. But we also must always keep in mind that Good Friday is not the final word. The final word is Easter Sunday. So the two go hand in hand, death and resurrection. The death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday as the sacrifice of atonement for our sin leads to His resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday as He emerges from the tomb, the Victor over sin, death, and the devil. But it is an interesting reversal in our text today, where Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead ends with the chief priests and Pharisees plotting to kill Him. And anyone who knows how this story plays out knows that the chief priests and Pharisees are successful in their devious schemes. As we will hear next week on Palm Sunday, which is also the Sunday of the Passion, how quickly the cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David” give way to cries of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

The chief priests and Pharisees believe they need to destroy Jesus, because Jesus shouldn’t be raising people from the dead. Only God can raise the dead, and the chief priests and Pharisees don’t believe Jesus is God. And if the people really believe Jesus can raise the dead… if they really believe Jesus is God, then there will almost certainly be political trouble. Caesar will send his armies on the offense against Israel as a rebellious nation. The casualty count will be colossal. The chief priests and Pharisees will lose their power. Thus unbelieving Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, unwittingly prophesied, “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:50; ESV). And of course, Caiaphas is right. It is better. In fact, it is God’s eternal plan of salvation that one man, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, should die not for the nation of Israel only, but for the sins of the whole world, “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (v. 52).

The million-dollar question in the case of the chief priests and Pharisees, Mary and Martha, Lazarus, and you and me, is posed by the Prophet Ezekiel in our Old Testament lesson this morning. “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ez. 37:3). In other words, can the dead really be raised? And if so, who can raise them? Who will bring life to these dry bones? Martha answers the question of whether the dead can be raised in the affirmative in the Gospel lesson. She confesses, “I know that [my brother Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). She’s right, he will. But Martha fails to answer the question of who can raise her brother. She fails to make the connection between the resurrection of the dead and the One who has power to raise the dead, Jesus Christ, Son of God. In fact, Martha and Mary and even the crowd confess that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have succumbed to death. But even believing Martha and Mary fail to recognize Resurrection Personified in the person of Jesus. “I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (vv. 25-26).

But our Lord is not just engaging in empty rhetoric. He backs His Word up with action. For remember, His Word always accomplishes what it says. It is not like our words, which may or may not be fulfilled. His Word is fulfilled every time. When Jesus calls on the dead to rise from their slumber, they do. So it is that Jesus comes to the tomb of His dear friend Lazarus. He is overcome by grief for His people’s slavery to death, that even His beloved friend is ruled by this last enemy to be defeated. He weeps over what sin has wrought in the world. He commands that the stone be rolled away. Martha still has not put two and two together. “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (v. 39). How slow even we Christians are to comprehend the resurrection power of Jesus. How slow even we who love Jesus and believe in Him are to trust His resurrection power in the midst of grief and pain. Lord, if only You had been here. But now it is too late. Now there is the odor of death. There is nothing more You can do, Lord.

How slow even we Christians are to recognize that all things, including death, work for the good of those who love Jesus and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Sometimes Jesus purposely delays His help just to make this very point. “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” says Jesus to our hearts of stone (John 11:40). Be not doubting, but believing. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to raise the dead, He cries in a loud voice to the dead man, “Lazarus, come out” (v. 43). And Lazarus comes out. The Word of Jesus always accomplishes what it says. The Lord of life stands in human flesh before the tomb of His dear friend and calls him forth, linen strips and all, from the grave. He dispels the odor of death with the breath of His mighty Word. He bestows life where once death reigned. He bestows His life-giving Spirit where once there was only dead, rotting flesh. He who has the authority to lay down His life and take it up again also has the authority to bestow life on the dead. It is a foreshadowing of His own resurrection. It is a foreshadowing of the resurrection of all flesh on the last day and the eternal salvation, body and soul, of all believers in Christ, the very resurrection Martha confessed. Out of death springs forth life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). That which is sown perishable is raised imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42).

This resurrection promise is for you. Jesus died for you, more than that, was raised from the dead on the third day, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. The Father has exalted Jesus to His own right hand and given Him the Name that is above every name. But Jesus will return again. He will come back to judge. And on that day He will call all the dead forth from the graves, just as He called Lazarus. In fact, Lazarus had to die again after Jesus raised Him in our text. His resurrection was but a foreshadowing. But on that Day when our Lord returns He will call forth Lazarus from the grave once and for all. And He will call us as well, along with all people. The souls of all the dead will be reunited with their bodies. Then those who did not believe in Jesus will be cast, body and soul, into the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his evil angels. But those who believed will be made perfect, body and soul, and brought to live eternally in a new heavens and a new earth. For they are joined to Christ. They are baptized into Him. They are united to Him by faith. His death is their death. So also His resurrection is their resurrection. Christ’s victory over death is their victory over death. And this is the promise for you even in the face of death. Christ is risen. Therefore you, too, shall rise, and live with Jesus and with your loved ones who are in Christ, in perfect bliss, beholding the face of your Savior for all eternity.

But the promise is not just a future reality. The physical resurrection comes in the future, when Jesus comes again. But spiritual resurrection has already taken hold of you. Jesus has already said to you, “Dear Christian, come out! Come out of your bondage to death! I have burst the bonds of death in my own death and resurrection. What is mine is yours. Arise and live before me in righteousness and purity.” That is what St. Paul is talking about in the Epistle lesson. You no longer need to walk according to the old sinful flesh. You can crucify it, for Jesus’ death is your own. Now you can walk according to the Spirit, in holiness and righteousness. You have been given new life, for Jesus’ resurrection is your own. “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace… You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:6, 9). And the Holy Spirit does dwell in you. He is imparted to you in Baptism. He is imparted to you every time you come into contact with His means of grace, the Word and the Sacrament. The chief priests and Pharisees walked according to the flesh, in unbelief, but by God’s grace, you walk according to the Spirit in faith. The Spirit is the One who creates and sustains faith in your heart, even in the face of death. In fact, He is the One who creates and sustains faith in the future resurrection from the dead on account of Christ’s resurrection. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (v. 11).

So… “Son of man, can these bones live?” Yes, they can. “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live” (Ez. 37:5). Jesus breathes His Holy Spirit on the dry bones of sinners and re-creates them as His living, flesh and blood servants. And that is the good news that can sustain you through Good Friday. There must be death before there is resurrection. But death is not the end of the story. Our risen Lord Jesus is the end of the story. And He is the resurrection and the life. He is your resurrection and your life. If you believe in Him, even though you die, yet shall you live. And whoever lives and believes in Him shall never die. The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. And He has authority on earth to raise the dead. Therefore dry bones, arise, come forth from the grave. Your Savior is calling. Come and live in Him, for He is your life and salvation. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Lent Mid-Week 4

Lent Mid-Week Four[1]

March 5, 2008

Text: Gen. 22:7-8, 13-14; John 1:29:

And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.”
He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
So they went both of them together.

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught
in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a
burnt offering instead of his won. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord
will provide”; as it is said to this day, “on the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world!” (ESV).

Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God, provided by God Himself, come to take away the sin of the world. Our hymn, “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy” (LSB 434) praises Jesus as we confess, “All sins Thou borest for us, Else had despair reigned o’er us.” In the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac, we have a type, a foreshadowing, of God the Father’s sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ, on the altar of the cross for the sin of the world.

You all remember the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. God had promised Abraham that through his Seed all the nations would be blessed, that the child born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, Isaac, would be the ancestor of the promised Messiah, the Christ, who would save His people from their sins. But now God asks an impossible thing. God asks Abraham to take this child of promise, Isaac, to the designated spot on Mount Moriah, bind him on an altar of stone, slay him, and offer him as a burnt offering. Are you ever a bit horrified when you read or hear this story? There is no question that it is meant to shock. What would you do in Abraham’s place? I can only speculate that I would refuse the Lord’s request. You want me to sacrifice my child?! Forget it!

Thus Abraham has greater faith than I do. Because Abraham does as the Lord says. Perhaps that is even more horrifying to you, that Abraham would actually take the son whom he loved more than life, the son promised to him by the Lord, born to him when he and his wife were well past the age of child bearing, and be willing to sacrifice him. But here is where Abraham’s faith leads him to do the most horrifying thing imaginable to him. Abraham offers his son as sacrifice, as the Lord commanded him. Abraham believes that God will provide another lamb in place of Isaac for sacrifice. And Abraham believes that if God does not provide another lamb, if Isaac is the lamb, God can raise the dead. Thus the writer to the Hebrews says of Abraham, “By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb. 11:17-19).

Abraham believes God, and it is credited to him as righteousness. Abraham believes God, so that when his beloved son Isaac asks, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for burnt offering?,” Abraham is able to answer, “God will provide for himself a burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:7-8). Abraham believes God, so that when he has built the altar and laid the wood, he binds up Isaac and lays him on top of the wood. Abraham believes God, so that when the sacrifice is ready, he raises the knife to slaughter his son. He must have been shaking. He must have had tears in his eyes. How his heart must have been praying, “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me. Yet not as I will, but Your will be done.” Abraham believes God in the face of overwhelming doubt and despair. And as unbelievable as it sounds, in faith, Abraham would have slaughtered his son. But just as he is about to bring the knife down and plunge it into the flesh of his dear child, an angel of the Lord calls from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!… Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (vv. 11-12). Oh, what relief! Praise and thanks be to God! And then, as Abraham looks up, he sees that God is ever faithful. God provides Himself with a Lamb for the sacrifice. There in the thicket is a ram, caught by its horns. Abraham unbinds his dear son, and in his place binds the ram that the Lord has provided. The ram is offered in place of Isaac, and Isaac goes free.

Beloved, God has provided for Himself a Lamb for sacrifice. What God did not finally require of Abraham, God required of Himself. He bound His only Son to the altar of the cross to be sacrificed as His own Lamb for the sin of the world. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. No angel stayed the hands of Jesus’ executioners that fateful Friday. The Father went through with the execution of Abraham’s promised Seed. By that Seed, Jesus Christ, all the nations of the earth are blessed. For in that Seed, in His sacrifice, in His suffering and death, by His precious blood, the sins of the whole world are forgiven. That includes your sin and mine. That includes your sin of idolatry, not fearing, loving, or trusting in God above all things, not being willing to make the sacrifice Abraham made, much less sacrificing an extra five dollar bill so a poor man can eat. There was a double type, a double foreshadowing, the day that Abraham bound his son to the altar on Mount Moriah. Isaac was a type of Christ in that Abraham was called upon to sacrifice his only son, just as God sacrificed His only Son Jesus, and Abraham received Isaac back from death, just as God received His Son Jesus back from death in the resurrection. But so also the ram is a type of Christ, and Isaac is a type of you and me. God provides the ram just when Isaac is about to be slaughtered, so that the ram is sacrificed, and Isaac goes free. So also God provides His precious Lamb, Jesus Christ, just when you and I are about to be eternally slaughtered in hell, so that Jesus is sacrificed, punished, in our place, and you and I go free. In fact, we are rewarded for Jesus’ sacrifice. We get eternal life and salvation because of His sin-atoning work. All our sins are wiped out, our debt paid in full by Jesus on the cross. But we aren’t just forgiven. We’re given crowns that we might reign with Him in heaven. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

This is the faithful God we have. He is faithful to the point of sacrificing His only Son on the cross for our sin. He richly and generously doles out the benefits of that sacrifice here in His Holy Church through His Word and Sacraments. So we can believe in Him. We can be faithful to Him. No matter what trial or temptation God allows to come upon us, we can have the faith of Abraham. We know God has already provided for himself the Lamb for sacrifice. And we know that even when it seems like He requires the impossible, He is faithful, and He will not let us fall. He will uphold us with His righteous right hand. And in the end, He will bring us into His heavenly Kingdom and bestow upon us the crown of life. All because Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, Pure and Holy, who bore all sins for us, and who continually drives away all despair, and Himself reigns over us. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] This year’s sermon series taken from Lamb of God, Pure and Holy (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008). The sermon is my own, but many of the ideas are from the authors of the book.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sin

Pastor’s Window for March 2008

Sin

Lent is a season of repentance. Repentance literally means a turning or returning. It is a turning from sin to God, or a returning to God from sin. And repentance includes two things: contrition (sorrow over sin) and faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

But what is sin? That may seem to be an obvious question, and if I walked up to you on a Sunday morning and asked you to define sin for me, you would probably say, “all the bad things we do.” But your answer would only be partially right and it would betray the fact that none of us takes sin as seriously as we should. For in your definition of sin, you would have identified the symptoms, but not the disease. Treating symptoms will never cure the disease. While treating the symptoms may be important, if that is all we do, the disease of sin is still fatal. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23; ESV). How can we take repentance seriously if we don’t take sin seriously?

Christian theologians have always found it helpful to make a distinction between Sin and sins. When we talk about Sin with a capital ‘S’ (I’m capitalizing it in this article for the sake of convenience), we’re talking about original Sin, the guilt we inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve, who rebelled against God by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Ever since, their descendants have been infected by the disease of original Sin. As a result of this disease, man has lost the image of God, which is the perfect knowledge of God as He wishes to be known, perfect alignment of man’s will with God’s will, perfect love for God, perfect holiness, perfect righteousness, and perfect happiness in Him. As a result of the disease of original Sin, man’s nature is fallen, corrupt, so that he no longer has a free will, but is bound to the devil and sin, and is born spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God. He cannot choose to love God. He cannot choose to serve God. He hates God from birth, and even from conception (cf. Psalm 51:5), so deep is this inborn corruption. We confess this in the liturgy each Sunday morning when we declare, “we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean” (LSB, p. 151). We cannot free ourselves from this inherent bondage to Sin. We cannot cure ourselves of this dreadful disease.

This disease comes with symptoms. The symptoms are the actual sins (lower case ‘s’) we commit, sins of commission (the bad things we do) and sins of omission (the good things we omit, don’t do). We confess these actual sins in the liturgy when we declare, “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” Now, don’t get me wrong, these actual sins are serious. One actual sin is enough to earn us an eternity in hell. But again, we don’t cure a disease by treating the symptoms. Tylenol may take the edge off a headache, but it will not cure the brain tumor. We may give someone with a brain tumor Tylenol, but we do not kid ourselves into thinking the Tylenol will help cure them. We are more concerned to treat the disease that is causing the headache. Likewise, it is important to treat the symptoms of Sin, but it is even more important to treat the Sin. In short, you will not defeat Sin by living a holier life, sinning less, doing more good. You will only live a holier life, sin less, and do more good, after Sin has been defeated in you by God in Jesus Christ His Son.

The only cure for Sin and its resulting sins is Jesus Christ! He is your Great Physician. He alone can cure you from your dreadful disease. He alone can free you from your bondage to sin, death, and the devil. He did so by taking on your flesh, being tempted in every way as you are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He reverses the curse of Adam by living the perfect, holy life in our place. Original Sin does not take hold of Him. He commits no actual sins. But He does take our Sin and our sins upon Himself on the cross. There the righteous and holy God, out of love for us, punishes His only Son in our place, for our Sin, and for our sins. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus is the Lamb of God, pure and holy, who is the once for all sacrifice of atonement for Sin, offered up to God on the altar of the cross. God declares this sacrifice acceptable and pleasing. He does so by raising Jesus from the dead, and seating Him at His right hand.

Now Jesus’ perfect life, sin-atoning death, and victorious resurrection are given to you, freely, by grace, through faith. You are baptized into Christ. Your Sin has been washed away. Your sins have been covered in His blood. His righteousness is counted as yours. His death for your Sin is your death to Sin. His resurrection is the sure and certain promise of your victory over death and your own resurrection from the dead, as well as your new life in Christ even now. Adam’s curse is reversed. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin… grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:12, 21). This is not all apparent yet. As long as you are in this sinful flesh, you have to deal with Sin and sins. But remember that these things have already been conquered in you. You have the freedom now to battle against Sin and sins. Repentance is that daily battle. It is a daily return to God’s gifts in Christ. God gives you strength as you daily remember your Baptism, daily hear His Word, regularly hear His Word preached, regularly confess your Sin and sins and receive His absolution, and regularly attend the Supper of His body and blood for your forgiveness. God grant us His grace this Lenten season to take Sin seriously, so that we realize our Sinful condition, are brought to daily repentance by the Holy Spirit, receive Christ’s gifts in faith, and daily battle against and crucify our corrupt flesh out of love for our heavenly Father, who first loved us, and gave His Son to save us.

Pastor Krenz

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Fourth Sunday in Lent (A)
March 2, 2008
Text: John 9:1-41

Divine healing is a messy thing. Jesus Christ is the light of the world (John 9:5), but He is not ashamed to get down and dirty when it comes to those in need of His healing touch. In the case of the blind man in our text, Jesus very well could have just said, “Be healed,” or “Receive your sight,” as He did on other occasions. As true God in human flesh, Jesus has that authority. But instead He chooses to get dirty. He chooses to use lowly, earthy means. “Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud” (v. 6; ESV). It’s really kind of gross when you think about it. Jesus rubs mud made from His own spit into the eyes of the blind man. If drinking from the chalice makes you squirm, imagine how this guy felt! Divine healing is a messy thing, because sickness is messy, and the cause of sickness is messy, the messiest: Sin.

The disciples want to know if this man’s blindness was caused by his own sin or that of his parents. But they ask the wrong question. Now it is true that sometimes our sins bring on adverse consequences, diseases, injuries, blindness, and even death, but it is also true that many times these adverse consequences come upon us without any direct correlation to a specific actual sin. But in every case, they are a result of original sin, the disease with which the whole human race is infected, including you and me and the man born blind and the disciples and everybody who has ever lived or ever will live, with the one exception of Jesus Christ. In the case of the man born blind, it is not one specific actual sin that caused his blindness, either on his own part or on the part of his parents, but the disease of original sin. But here is an example of God working all things to the good of His elect. Jesus says to His disciples, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v. 3). In other words, as is often, or in fact, always, the case, God has a higher purpose in mind for the suffering of His children, namely, their benefit and the glory of God. Even though suffering has its root cause in original sin, God uses even this suffering for His purposes. And in the case of the man born blind, God’s purpose is to heal his physical blindness so that the man may also be healed of his spiritual blindness and come to faith in Jesus Christ, and that many more who read about the healing of that man in the Holy Scriptures likewise be healed of their spiritual blindness and come to faith in Jesus Christ.

But its messy business, this healing of Jesus Christ. The blind man sees. But it gets messier, and now I’m talking about spiritual messiness, not just mud and spit in your eyes. The Pharisees are the spiritual leaders of the Jews in Jesus’ day. They are the teachers of the Law. If anyone should have spiritual sight, it should be the Pharisees. But what is their response when the neighbors of the man born blind bring him before the Pharisees? They are aghast that Jesus should perform a healing on the Sabbath. They turn over any and every stone in their search for some explanation for the man’s healing other than Jesus’ divinity, for as the Pharisees said, He can’t be from God, for He breaks the Sabbath (v. 16). They even search out the man’s parents and question them under the threat of being put out of the synagogue: “‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’” (v. 19). The parents answer from fear. They know that whoever confesses Jesus to be the Christ will be punished. But they do know this: their son was born blind, but now he sees. So the Pharisees have run into a real sticky wicket, for as others among their ranks point out, “‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?’ And there was division among them” (v. 16). The man born blind sees. The men who are supposed to have the most acute spiritual vision are nothing more than blind leaders of the blind, causing both to fall into the pit of hell (Matt. 15:14). They threaten to persecute those who receive sight from Jesus, but they themselves are blind. “For judgment I cam into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). Not only is the healing of Jesus Christ messy, it does its work by revealing to us just how messy sin has made us.

But it gets even messier. The Pharisees confront the man born blind once again, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner” (v. 24). This, of course, is blasphemy against the Son of God. But all the man born blind knows is that he once was blind, now he sees. He has been given sight by Jesus of Nazareth. In the face of persecution, he confesses the healing he has received from Jesus. “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind” (vv. 31-32). Come on, you Pharisees, are you really that blind?! Surely you must see the handwriting on the wall. If Jesus were not from God, how could he do such miracles? The man whom Jesus had given physical sight was beginning to receive from Jesus also spiritual sight. And this got him thrown out of the Synagogue. The seeing blind ones reject the blind man who sees.

Jesus does not reject him, however. He seeks out the man born blind to finish the job of giving him spiritual sight. Remember, this has been the purpose of his physical blindness from the beginning. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (v. 35), asks Jesus. Do you believe in the Christ, the Messiah of God? The man is confused, but he knows that this One who has given him sight would not mislead him. He wants to know who this Son of Man is. He wants to receive spiritual sight in the same way he has received his physical sight. “‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you’” (vv. 36-37; emphasis added). At that moment the man born blind, the man born spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God, came to faith in Jesus Christ. His spiritual eyes were opened. He received eternal life. Being justified by faith, he received peace with God through his Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).

Our lives, too, are messy with sin, and we need the messy divine healing that only Jesus can give. The problem is, we, too, are blind. We, too, are born spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. And if we fail to confess our blindness, we are like the Pharisees. If you say to yourselves and to others, “‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (v. 41). But if you confess your sins, God is faithful and just to forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. If you confess your blindness, God is faithful and just to give you sight by the power of His Holy Spirit, so that you may see Jesus, whose blood cleanses you from all sin. Don’t be like the Pharisees. Humble yourselves and be like the man born blind. Confess your blindness. Jesus will open your eyes so that you see Him, the Son of Man, the Christ, and despite the rejection of the whole world and the persecution of the devil himself, Jesus will never reject you. Those who have eyes to see, let them see. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. Jesus died for you, for your forgiveness. His blood is the medicine for your sin. It is the medicine for all that ails you. It is the medicine that restores you. Its messy. You have to know that going into it. Its messy with the blood and death of the Son of God. Its messy because it confronts messy sin head on. It doesn’t excuse sin or sweep it under the rug. It obliterates sin with the forgiveness Jesus has won for you on the cross. And its messy because this medicine doesn’t come in the way we might expect. Jesus could just tell us to be healed, but he doesn’t. He has that authority, but instead He chooses to use means. Just as He used mud and spit to heal the man born blind, He uses the means of grace to heal us: His holy Word, the cleansing water of Baptism, a sinful pastor to speak His holy Word of forgiveness over sinners, the bread and wine which are His true body and blood. Its hard to believe these things are the vehicles of God’s grace in Christ. But they convey to us the very medicine of immortality, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

What is the mess in your life? What havoc has been wrought by your spiritual blindness? Sin has caused your mess. But whatever your mess is, Jesus alone can give you sight, and Jesus alone can clean up the mess. Perhaps it is substance abuse. Perhaps it is sexual impurity. Perhaps it is a broken relationship. Perhaps it is laziness at work, greed, covetousness, lust, and any combination of these things. Whatever it is, Jesus comes before you this morning to give you the medicine of immortality, to clean you up, to heal you, to forgive you, to set you right again with His forgiveness and life. His death and resurrection are your healing and power. Jesus says to you this morning, “I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them” (Is. 42:16). Jesus’ Word is a lamp for your feet and a light for your path (Ps. 119:105). Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome, the light that gives light to every man. He has made you children of the light, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). He has given you the light of faith and salvation. There is nothing left to do but confess Him before men, bear the cross of rejection, and walk as children of the light, knowing that you belong to Christ, who will never reject you, even if He has to get dirty to clean you up. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.