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 29, 2009

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Fifth Sunday in Lent (B)
March 29, 2009
Text: Mark 10:35-45

The disciples are always concerned about who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. They do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. If they had in mind the things of God, they would understand that Jesus is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. He is the greatest, not just because He is the Son of God, although that would be enough. He is the greatest because “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; ESV). Greatness in the Kingdom of heaven is not measured by success or power or glory, but by death to self for the sake of another. Greatness in the Kingdom of heaven is measured by depth of unselfish, self-giving love. Greatness in the Kingdom of heaven is measured by crucifixion. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus is the One who above all others lays down His life for His friends. He has no selfish motivation. He does not crave the glory it will bring Him. He seeks only the benefit of those for whom He suffers, those for whom He dies. And so He is the last who becomes first, the least who becomes greatest. Jesus Christ is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven, for He came no to be served, but to serve. And He came to serve in this way, that He gave His precious and holy life into death on the cross for many, for all humanity in fact, for you.

James and John get it all wrong. They come and ask their Teacher, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37). Matthew tells us that it is actually the boys’ mother who makes this request, but this is certainly on behalf of the boys and they probably add their own pleas to hers. It is their desire for glory that leads them to make this request. But they do not know what they ask. What they think they are asking is to be exalted above their brother apostles, indeed, above all other believers. And it’s not as though they didn’t have a basis for this request. James and John were, along with Peter, Jesus’ closest friends, most trusted, privileged to see what the rest of the Twelve were not given to see. But they’ve missed the very essence of the Christian faith: what it means that Jesus is God in the flesh come to suffer and die for the sins of the world. The glory of God, the glory of Jesus Christ, is manifested in His death on the cross for the salvation of sinners.

To be glorified, as Jesus is finally glorified, is to drink the cup He drinks to its very dregs and to be baptized with the baptism with which He is baptized. This is not what James and John mean when they ask Jesus to sit at His right and His left in His glory. James and John and the rest of the disciples up to this point do not understand what this cup and this baptism are. The cup is the cup of suffering and death. On the cross, Jesus drains the cup of God’s wrath to its very dregs. Jesus takes all the wrath of God that should be directed at our sin, at us sinners, and directs it toward Himself. The cup is hell itself. He who knows no sin becomes sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). He is baptized in His own blood, the blood that pours from His thorn-crowned head, His pierced hands and feet and side. Can you drink the cup He drinks? Can you be baptized with the baptism with which He is baptized?

Jesus says to James and John, “you will” (Mark 10:39). Jesus says to you this morning, “you have!” For all of you who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death. That means you were crucified with Christ. That means that God counts Jesus’ suffering and death as if it was your own. Your sins are paid in full. You have been baptized in Christ’s own blood and all your sins have been washed away. And you drink the cup, indeed. You drink it, only Jesus’ death has made it no longer the cup of God’s wrath. Now when you drink the cup of Jesus’ blood, the cup of His death, it is a cup of grace for you. It reddens your lips with the blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

But there is another aspect of this. When Jesus says to James and John, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” (v. 39), He is speaking about their own suffering for Jesus’ sake, and in the case of James at least, even martyrdom. The disciples of Jesus Christ will have to suffer as well. As Jesus sacrificed Himself for us all, gave up His life for us all, so now we who are disciples of Jesus Christ are called to give up ourselves, to die to ourselves for the sake of others, as a testimony to Christ. We are here not to be served, but to serve, and to give our lives. Not to pay the ransom for anyone. Jesus has already done that. But because Jesus has ransomed us, we give our lives and give them joyfully, knowing our true life is in Christ Jesus. Because Christ Jesus has given His all to redeem us, we can give ourselves, into death if that is what it takes, to confess Christ to others. Because Christ Jesus has given His all to redeem us, we can give ourselves and all we are and possess to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, granting shelter to the homeless, visiting those who are sick and in prison, and providing for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in our midst. Because Christ Jesus has given His all to redeem us, we can have mercy on our neighbor, even die to self to such an extent that we forgive the neighbor who has sinned against us, no matter how grievously; even confess our sins and ask forgiveness of our neighbor when we have sinned against him. This takes God-given humility. This does not come natural to us. This is not how the world works. “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (vv. 42-44).

We don’t like that language. We don’t want to be servants, and we certainly don’t want to be slaves! By nature, we don’t want to give ourselves for the sake of others. We hold back what we believe is rightfully ours. We hold back our money and our food and our time, not to say anything about our very lives. And forgiveness? Giving forgiveness? Asking for forgiveness? Confessing our sins? That is asking for too much. Beloved, repent. Jesus gave Himself for you; His very life! He drank the cup for you. He was baptized in blood for you. He suffered all hell for you. He died for you. Selflessly, for your benefit alone, to buy you back from hell, to pay your debt to God, to restore you to the Father who loves you, to give you His good Spirit. As your great High Priest, He did not exalt Himself, but undertook the ministry to which the Father called Him, to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the people, once, for all, in His body on the cross. Jesus gives His all for you to possess, and His supply is inexhaustible. So don’t think that by giving of yourself and your earthly possessions you could ever lack any good thing that God intends you to have. All things are yours in Christ Jesus. Don’t think that even if you are called upon some day to give your life for Jesus’ sake and for the Gospel that you could ever lack the life eternal and abundant that Jesus has won for you. You are baptized into Christ! You are God’s own child. You are invited each week to sup at Jesus’ Table, to drink the cup of His blood poured out for the sins of the world, for your sin, for your healing, for your life. All things are yours in Christ Jesus. And you will find that the more you give of yourself in the Name of Jesus, the more the gifts of Christ will overflow and abound. Whoever would be great must be servant. Whoever would be first must be slave.

Mystery of mysteries, Jesus came not to be served, but to serve you. How can this be, that God in the flesh has come as slave to humanity? In God’s great love for us, He sent His Son to pay our ransom, to give His life on the cross, to sacrifice Himself for our sin, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. He becomes the least. He becomes the last. And in this way He is the first and greatest in the Kingdom of God. This is the measure of greatness in the Kingdom of heaven: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45). “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). In His great love for us, Jesus has called us friends, and laid down His life for us. He has come to serve us and give His life for our ransom. And He still serves us, even this morning, with His Word and Supper. How great is our Lord Jesus Christ! Indeed, so great is He that we cannot help but join our voices with the saints in heaven: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12). Worthy indeed is He who made Himself least for our sakes, for He is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And we are baptized into Him, to bask forever in His greatness. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Annunciation of Our Lord

"Thus there is nothing more important for us than for God Himself to reveal how mankind could be reconciled with Him. This way of reconciliation was revealed in the incarnation. Scripture says that God became man in order to save fallen mankind and to make it pleasing to Him. Was this means unworthy of God? Certainly not! God Himself became a man in order to be able, by His suffering and death, to blot out the sins of all people and redeem them so all who believe can be saved. In the redemption of man, God revealed His holiness and His love, the magnitude of which is incalculable. How inviolable must be the holiness and justice of God if He could first forgive man only after the endurance of all the punishment their sins merited. And how unthinkably great must be His love, which caused Him to lay upon His only-begotten Son all of mankind's sins and to give Him up in disgrace, suffering, and death upon the cross to pay the penalty no creature was able to bear...

"In the mystery of the incarnation, God appears as a being of incomprehensible wisdom, of the highest holiness, and of eternal and all-encompassing love. What mystery could therefore be more worthy of God?"

--C. F. W. Walther, God Grant It: Daily Devotions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 902.

"I give thanks to You, Jesus Christ, only Mediator and Redeemer of the human race, that in the fulness of time You united to Yourself, personally, a true human nature, and You deigned to be born of a virgin [Gal. 4:4]... Now You can never forget me because You have engraved me on the palms of Your hands [Isa. 49:16]. For Christ's communion with humanity daily and continually makes You mindful of me. Now You can never forsake me, since You, by the closest bond of personal union, ordained to join the human nature to Yourself. However much, therefore, my sins hinder me from coming to You for mercy, nevertheless, the communion of the two natures in Christ will not allow me to be driven away. I will depend totally upon You, who totally assumed my totality, Amen."

--Johann Gerhard, The Daily Exercise of Piety, Matthew C. Harrison, trans. (Malone, TX: Repristiniation Press, n.d.) pp. 35-36.

Lent Midweek 4

Lent Midweek 4[1]

March 25, 2009

Text: Matt. 27:27-31 (ESV): 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Jesus didn’t look like a King. The soldiers would have some fun with this One. He probably wasn’t the first to come before this battalion of Roman soldiers in Jerusalem claiming to be King of the Jews. The soldiers would teach this One a lesson. Stripping Him of His own clothes, they put a scarlet robe on Him, the color of royalty, the color of blood. Of course every King needs a crown. They twist together a crude crown of thorns to pierce His sacred head. They give Him a reed for a scepter. They bow down before Him and worship Him in mockery. They take His scepter from Him and beat Him on His head. “Hail, King of the Jews!” they cry. Little do they know that in their mockery, they confess the truth. Jesus is the King of the Jews. And the scarlet blood that pours from His sacred veins is more fitting a garment than any royal robe of scarlet or purple. Though they mock Him now with sham worship, the truth is that the day will come when, at the Name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11). It will be a Day of great vindication for Jesus and His followers. It will be a dreaded Day of wrath for those who in this life rejected their King to the bitter end.

Jesus bears the wound of mockery for us and for our salvation. Isaiah prophesied it hundreds of years before: “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). Again, “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’ (53:2-3). So also the Psalmist, King David, sang of our Lord: “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!'” (Ps. 22:7-8). Our Lord Jesus bears this cruel mockery in silence. In one moment, in the twinkling of an eye, He could have annihilated the Roman soldiers and every sinner on the face of the earth. But He does not. Love compels Him to bear the injustice; love for the soldiers, love for you, love for me, love for every son and daughter of Adam and Eve.

The soldiers beat and mock Love incarnate and unwittingly confess the truth: Jesus of Nazareth is King of the Jews. He is enthroned on the cross, lifted up in suffering, lifted up in glory. For what looks like defeat, a beaten, bloodied corpse nailed to a tree, is, in fact, the victory of the Son of God over sin, death, and the devil. And from His wounds pours the scarlet robe of His blood, covering Jesus the King, covering His Church, covering you, making Kings and Queens out of the very sinners whose mockery nailed Him to that crude throne. “Hail, King of the Jews,” is absolutely right. Hail, King, not only of the Jews, but of all people, of all the universe, of heaven and earth, of all that is, visible and invisible. Let His blood be on us and on our children. For the life is in the blood. Life everlasting is in the blood of the Son of God, the blood that cleanses us from all sin.

The cross is the standard of Jesus’ royal court. That is to say, you must know, O you who would follow Him, that you will have to bear the cross as well, that you will bear in your bodies the stigmata of Jesus. The world will mock you as well. You know this already. The world, our culture, our society, is hostile to Jesus and to His church. And they mock you. “You don’t really believe in a six day creation, do you? Everyone knows evolution is true. You don’t really believe all this virgin birth and resurrection stuff, do you? Come on, how can you believe such ridiculous assertions?” And you may suffer more than mockery. Like your Lord Jesus, the day may come when you have to suffer arrest and even death. So be it! A disciple is not above his Master. If they hated Jesus, they will hate you. But Jesus bore the wound of mockery, the wound of rejection, the wound of death and the wound of hell for you and for your salvation, for your forgiveness, for your life. So now you can bear mockery, if that is the cross the Lord calls you to bear. You can bear all things. You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. For Christ is risen. And love compels you; love for your risen Lord Jesus, love for those who mock you and persecute you, love that hopes and prays that they, too, would come to confess—not in mockery, but in sincerity—that Jesus of Nazareth is King of the Jews, King of all people, their King and their Savior.

And in the end, you will be raised, too, just as Jesus is risen. In the end, none of the mockery you have to bear will matter, for Jesus will take you into His glorious Kingdom, a new heaven and a new earth. And that is the Day you will be vindicated. That is the Day when every knee will bow to Jesus and confess what you already know about Him, that Jesus is Lord, the Son of David, the Son of God, our King. In the mean time, wrap yourself in the scarlet robe of royalty He has placed upon you, His holy, precious blood, which He continually gives to you in His Word, His Baptism, His Supper. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] This year’s Lenten series is based on the book, Sacred Head, Now Wounded (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009). The sermon is my own, but the theme and many of the ideas in this sermon come from the book.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Fourth Sunday in Lent (B)
March 22, 2009
Text: John 3:14-21

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16; NKJV). We often think of the beginning of this verse in these terms: God loved the world so muchSo great was God’s love for the world, beyond measure, beyond human understanding, that this is what He did: He gave His only-begotten Son into death to save it. Now there is nothing wrong with what I just said. It’s all very true, and greatly comforting to a people otherwise in bondage to sin and death and hell. God really does love the world so much. But I would like to propose this morning a slightly different translation of the beginning of this popular verse, less touchy-feely to be sure, but that perhaps gets more at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The “so” in “God so loved the world,” could better be translated “in this way,” or “in this manner.” “God loved the world in this way: He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Now I’m certainly not asking you to throw out the way you memorized this verse. I’m just asking you to consider what is really the force of that word, “so.” It’s really an Old English way of speaking, to say that God “so” loved the world, and if you said this in Old English, probably quoting your King James Bible, you would mean something along the lines of God “thusly” loved the world, or “in this way” loved the world, which is really what the Greek says. Here is a literal translation of the Greek: “For thus loved God the world, so that the Son, the only-begotten One, He gave, in order that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have life eternal.” In other words, there was and is no other way for God’s love for the world to be realized than in the death of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, on the cross. It’s not just that God was so warm and fuzzy about the world that He went to such a great length to save it. There is, in fact, no greater love than God loving the world in this way, that He sends His Son to partake of our flesh, to be our substitute, to perfectly fulfill the Law on our behalf, give us His righteousness, and in exchange take upon Himself the whole load of this world’s sin, take it into His body and nail it to the cross. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13; ESV). That is the way, the manner, in which God loves us. And there is no other way.

There is no other way, because, as Paul says, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Eph. 2:1-2). There is no other way because there is nothing within us that makes us loveable to God. Outside of God, we are filthy and dead sinners. Outside of God, we follow the course of this world and the prince of the power of the air, the evil spirit now at work in the sons of disobedience. Outside of God, we live in the passions of the flesh, the wicked and self-serving desires of the body and the mind, making ourselves our own gods and rejecting Him who has created and redeemed us. By nature, we are enemies of God. Thus to confess that we are poor, miserable sinners is to confess that the only way we can be loveable to God is that He pronounces us so. And that is what He does in sending His Son. God makes a decision, a decision having nothing to do with warm and fuzzy feelings or the lack thereof, God makes a decision to love us who are unlovable. And He does so in this way: He sends His only-begotten Son.

The only way you can know with certainty that God loves you is to look to the cross of His Son. That is the revelation of God’s love. Every sermon, every Bible class, every devotion, ought to point you to the cross of Jesus Christ, for God loves the world in this way. The living and active Word of God in all places is ultimately the Word of the cross, for that Word of God pours out God’s love upon you, His mercy, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. From the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ flows God’s pure grace. It flows to us through the Word. And it is free. It has nothing to do with our works or worthiness. Grace cannot be bought. Grace is the unmerited favor of the God who has pronounced you righteous and loveable on account of Christ Jesus. Thus Paul writes, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (vv. 8-9). That means that forgiveness really is God’s free gift to you in Christ Jesus. Salvation itself and eternal life really are God’s free gifts to you. Not that they didn’t cost anything. They cost God everything. They cost God’s blood and God’s life on the cross in the flesh of Jesus. But they are free to you, free for the taking, because God loves you in this way.

You receive all of these free gifts by faith. Faith is trust. Faith is the receiving hand of the beggar who has nothing but that which his benefactor places in that hand. Faith is the receiving hand of us who are nothing but beggars, and have nothing but that which God graciously and freely places in our hands. And He places everything in our hands; everything, including forgiveness of sins and His victory over death and hell; everything, including heaven itself! God loves the world in this way, that He sends His only-begotten Son into death on the cross, and whoever believes, whoever looks to Christ crucified in faith, trusting that that death is for Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life.

For “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14). When the children of Israel became impatient in the wilderness and started to grumble against their gracious God and against Moses, God sent fiery serpents, lethally poisonous, and they bit the people so that many in Israel died (cf. Num. 21:4-9). The people confessed their sins and prayed that God would take the snakes away. But instead of taking the snakes away, God made provision in another way. He told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it up on a standard, and God attached His promise to the serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness, that anyone bitten by a snake could look at this bronze serpent and he would live. He would not die. He would be healed. Those who took God at his word looked at the bronze serpent and lived. That’s faith. They took God at His Word. They trusted that God’s Word was for them, and so they lived.

This is nothing less than a foreshadowing of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross. All who have been lethally bitten by sin, and that includes every one of us descended from Adam, can look to Jesus Christ lifted up upon the cross and so be healed and live. A snake is raised up on a pole to cure those bitten by snakes. The death of God is raised up on a pole to cure those under the curse of death. The snake on the standard is a picture of Christ on the cross. One commentator puts it this way: “The brazen serpent of Moses had the form and appearance of the poisonous reptiles after which it was modeled, just as Jesus was revealed in the form of our sinful flesh, had the needs and ways of an ordinary human being, was finally punished as a criminal. Just as the brazen serpent, however, had no poison, was altogether harmless, so Jesus, though in appearance like unto sinful men, was without sin, holy, harmless, undefiled… And… just as he that looked at the brazen serpent in faith remained alive, so also every sinner that has been poisoned by sin in its various forms, but now looks up to Jesus, the Savior, in simple, trusting faith, shall not perish, shall not be punished with everlasting destruction, but have eternal life. For in Christ all sin has been conquered, all guilt has been taken away: there is complete redemption in Him.”[1]

God loved the world in this way, that He sent His only-begotten Son to pay the price of our redemption. All who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. What a gift! But of course, no one is forced to believe. That would not be love. So all who do not believe, Jesus says, are condemned already (v. 18), and hate the light and do not come to the light lest their deeds be exposed (v. 20). Such prefer walking in the darkness and death of their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-2). The end of those who reject Christ and His light to the bitter end is eternal death in hell. Let this be a warning to any here present who have rejected Christ in their hearts. But all who believe walk in the Light. Jesus Christ is the Light which has come into the world. To walk in that Light means to live in the knowledge that you will not perish, that you have eternal life in Christ Jesus, that God loves you in this way, that He gave His only Son for you. And so walking, your deeds are carried out in God, all sin having been forgiven, your life hidden with God in Christ Jesus, ready to be revealed on the Last Day. Let this be a comfort to all here present who believe and trust in the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, God loves the world so much, and this is very comforting. But His love is manifested in this way: Your Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins. He is risen, lives, and reigns to all eternity. Thus God has pronounced you righteous, loveable, and so He loves you with an everlasting love. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament, Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, n.d.) p. 423.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up

"The brazen serpent of Moses had the form and appearance of the poisonous reptiles after which it was modeled, just as Jesus was revealed in the form of our sinful flesh, had the needs and ways of an ordinary human being, was finally punished as a criminal. Just as the brazen serpent, however, had no poison, was altogether harmless, so Jesus, though in appearance like unto sinful men, was without sin, holy, harmless, undefiled... And finally, just as he that looked at the brazen serpent in faith remained alive, so also every sinner that has been poisoned by sin in its various forms, but now looks up to Jesus, the Savior, in simple, trusting faith, shall not perish, but have eternal life. For in Christ all sin has been conquered, all guilt has been taken away: there is complete redemption in Him."

-- Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament, Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, n.d.) p. 423.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lent Midweek 3

Lent Midweek 3[1]

March 18, 2009

Text: Matt. 26:69-75 (ESV): 69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Peter is in a tight spot. Jesus has just been arrested by an angry mob and brought to mock trial before the chief priest in the dead of night. All of the disciples, save Peter and John up to this point, have fled for fear that they, too, would be arrested, and perhaps even executed. While John goes in for a closer look, Peter warms himself by the fire in the courtyard. That’s when it happens. A servant girl recognizes him. “You also were with Jesus the Galilean” (Matt. 26:69). Peter denies it. You have to understand that for Peter to admit he was with Jesus the Galilean might mean that he would have to die with Jesus. And despite Peter’s boasts earlier in the evening in that upper room on the night Jesus was betrayed, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away… Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (vv. 33, 35), despite all of these claims, Peter is consumed with fear for his own safety. His concern is no longer for his Lord, his Savior, his friend, but for himself. He denies knowing Jesus, not only once, but the second time with an oath, “I do not know the man” (v. 72), and the third time calling down curses upon himself, “I do not know the man”! (v. 74; emphasis added).

And then a rooster crows. Luke tells us that the Lord turns at that moment and looka at Peter (Luke 22:61). How agonizing that look must be for Peter. Jesus knows exactly what Peter has said. Jesus had predicted, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (Matt. 26:34). Peter remembers all of this. The sound of the rooster and the piercing gaze of His dear Savior cut Peter to the heart. He goes out of the courtyard and weeps bitterly.

So it is that our Lord bears the wound of denial. He bears it for us and for our salvation. For beloved, you and I are no better than Peter. How many opportunities to confess Christ and speak of His love have you let slip through your fingers? Why are we so afraid to speak the Word of Christ to our family members, friends, neighbors, and those whom God places into our lives? It is because, like Peter and the other disciples, we are more concerned with our own safety and welfare than we are for our Lord and for those who need so desperately to hear about Jesus and His Gospel. We are afraid we will be rejected, as Jesus is rejected. We are afraid our confession of Christ may end friendships and cause tension among family members. We are afraid we might lose respect in the community. Others may think badly of us. We are even afraid to speak the Gospel to total strangers because they might tell us they are not interested, and that would bruise our ego. We want to be liked above all else. Our culture is no fan of Jesus Christ, and neither is it a fan of those who confess His Name. It’s easier to be silent, even like Peter, by our words and actions to deny that we know Jesus.

Beloved, repent. Repent as Peter does in our text. Peter’s bitter tears are tears of repentance. Unlike Judas, Peter does not despair of his life, but turns to the Lord for forgiveness and salvation. Peter would come to place all his trust in Christ and His innocent suffering and death for forgiveness. He would go on to write, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). Peter knew that Jesus’ blood covered even his sin of denial. And so also, dear brothers and sisters, the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, covers all of your sins, including your sins of denial, your fear of persecution, your inability to confess Jesus Christ and His Gospel before men. By His death and resurrection, Jesus has brought you to God, having suffered for your sins and given you His righteousness. It is appropriate that, especially during Lent, but even all throughout this short life, we cry our bitter tears of repentance. But we do not do so without hope. We know that Jesus died for us, and that He is risen, and that all who believe in Him have forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.

This helps us also in our weakness in the face of persecution. It strengthens us to confess Christ no matter what the consequences. Unlike Peter and the other disciples, and many throughout the history of the Church, thus far you have not been called upon to shed your blood for Jesus Christ. The persecution you face is much more subtle than that. But no matter how bad the persecution gets, whether you lose friends or are estranged from family members, or even if it comes to the point where you may face imprisonment and even death on account of Jesus and His Gospel, remember our Lord’s promises: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). And remember that Christ is risen. He has conquered sin and death. So whatever the persecutors do to you, they cannot rob you of eternal life. “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4).

Take courage, dear brothers and sisters, knowing that your sin of denial has been forgiven in the blood of Christ, and that Jesus Himself wipes your bitter tears away. Thus you can confess Christ with renewed vigor, resting in His forgiveness when you fail, seeking consolation in His Word for all your fears, remembering that you have been set apart for this task in your Baptism, which has also washed you clean of all sin. When you die, whether it be at the hands of persecutors, or simply because this is the way of all flesh, your Lord Jesus will receive you into His heavenly mansion. On the Last Day, He will raise you and all the dead and give eternal life to all believers in Christ. Until that Day, as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26). In coming to His altar, you confess Christ before men, receiving strength to continue in your good confession, and strengthening your brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ to do the same. May the Lord graciously keep us all unto salvation, even as He kept Peter, and may He grant us faithfulness that we confess our Lord in all the world. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] This year’s midweek sermons are based on the book, Sacred Head, Now Wounded (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009). While the sermons are my own, the themes and many of the concepts come from the book.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Third Sunday in Lent

Third Sunday in Lent (B)
March 15, 2009
Text: John 2:13-22

It was King David who first desired to build a Temple for the LORD. God did not command Moses to build Him a Temple for His dwelling place. He commanded Moses to build Him a tent, the Tent of Meeting, or the Tabernacle (cf. Ex. 26). This Tabernacle was the dwelling place of God among His people Israel. The glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle wherever the people of Israel came to rest in their wilderness wanderings. This is how Moses reports it: “Then a cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle… Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and the fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (Ex. 40:34, 36-38; ESV). The Tabernacle was thus the portable Temple. It was the place of sacrifice and the site of the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, which housed the Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat of God, where God was graciously present to rule and guide His people.

But hundreds of years later, King David was bothered that, while the people of Israel had occupied and settled the Promised Land and made permanent dwellings for themselves, the LORD still dwelt in a tent. “Now when David lived in his house, David said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Behold, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you’” (1 Chron. 17:1-2). What was in David’s heart was to build a Temple for the LORD God, a permanent version of the Tabernacle in Jerusalem. But it was not to be, not by David anyway. That very night the LORD came to the prophet Nathan and declared, “Go tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in. For I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up Israel to this day… When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever” (vv. 4-5, 11-14).

David’s son Solomon thought God was talking about him. Thus Solomon built the great Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem and brought up the Ark of the Covenant to be housed in the Most Holy Place, and it is true that the LORD graciously promised to dwell in the Temple for His people, to receive their sacrifices and hear their prayers. But this is not the Temple the LORD promised David’s Son would build. It was but a foreshadowing of that eternal Temple. In fact, Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 587 BC when the Babylonians took the people of Judah captive. A new Temple was built on that site by Ezra and Nehemiah and the Jews who returned from captivity, about 537 BC, but even this Temple wasn’t permanent. King Herod replaced this Temple with his own, more magnificent rendition about 19 BC as one of his many building projects. Needless to say, for Herod, the building of the Temple was not a testament to his faith, but a feat to stroke his ego and gain favor with the Jews. But alas, even this Temple was not permanent. It, too, was destroyed, this time by the Romans in AD 70. What Jesus prophesied about this Temple came true: “Truly I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:2). To this day, all that is left of the Temple precincts in Jerusalem is the wailing wall. This Temple was destroyed and never raised again.

But if the Jerusalem Temple is not the house God promised David’s son would build, what is? Jesus answers this very question in our Gospel lesson this morning. The Jews miss it, but thanks to the Apostle John, we do not. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up… he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:19, 21; emphasis added). He is speaking, of course, about His death and resurrection. Jesus is the promised Temple of God! Jesus is the dwelling place of God with men! It is no wonder that John writes, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (1:14; my translation). Jesus is the fulfillment of Tabernacle and Temple, for in Jesus of Nazareth God dwells in the flesh. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9; ESV). God graciously dwells with His people in the person of Jesus Christ. And though they destroy this Temple of God, namely, on the cross, they cannot destroy it forever. Jesus raises it again in three days. For He “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). The perfect sacrifice for sin, once, for all time, for all people, is offered up in this Temple made without human hands. Jesus is both Temple and Sacrifice. “Not all the blood of beasts On Jewish altars slain Could give the guilty conscience peace Or wash away the stain. But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb, Takes all our sins away; A sacrifice of nobler name And richer blood than they” (LSB 431:1-2). Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is the Sacrifice for your sin. In Him, all your sins have been forgiven, covered by His blood shed on the cross. And in Jesus Christ, God graciously dwells with you.

So it is Jesus Christ, the Son of David, who builds a house for God. And it is His throne that God promises to establish forever. Thus when Jesus enters the earthly Temple during Passover, He has the authority to clean it out of all the filth and greed and false worship that has so contaminated it. He drives out the merchants and the money-changers with a whip of cords and overturns their tables. “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” the Jews ask (John 2:18). In other words, what gives you the authority to come in here and disturb this sacred shopping mall? Jesus points to His body. Jesus is the real Temple. So certainly He can come into the earthly Temple, His Father’s House, and clean things up. Zeal for God’s house consumes Him. The Jews have made the religion of YHWH a mockery. They have forsaken their God, preferring the burdensome sacrificial system and commandments of men to the fulfillment of all sacrifice, Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Those who worship the Father in the Temple that is Jesus Christ worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Beloved in the Lord, Jesus’ work of cleansing the Temple continues to this very day. For St. Paul calls you a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). You are a temple of the Holy Spirit because you are united by baptism and faith to the very Temple of God, Jesus Christ. You have been baptized into His death and resurrection. Remember what He said, “Destroy this temple, and after three days, I will raise it up.” It is to this Temple, crucified and risen, that you have been united. Thus you are a temple of the Holy Spirit. You have been washed clean of filth and greed and false worship and every other sin in Baptism. Actually, in Baptism, you were destroyed and raised to new life. You were drowned, killed, crucified with Christ, and raised to be a new creation, to live before God in righteousness and purity. And Jesus continues to cleanse you, speaks you clean in His Word and Absolution, and continues to unite you to Himself, to the true Temple, by feeding you a priestly meal, the very Sacrifice that sets you free, His true body and blood. You, a temple of the Holy Spirit, come here to the Father’s house to be united with the very Temple of God, Jesus Christ, destroyed and risen again in three days for your forgiveness and justification.

The dwelling place of God is with men in the flesh of Jesus Christ. St. John describes it this way in the Book of Revelation: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’… And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:3-4, 22). This Temple can never again be destroyed. God has established His throne forever. Because God dwells with us now in the flesh of Jesus Christ, we will dwell with Him in the New Jerusalem for all eternity. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lent Midweek 2

Lent Midweek 2[1]

March 11, 2009

Text: Matt. 26:36-45 (ESV): 36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

When one of us is suffering, our friends and family members surround us with their love and concern. They care for us. When a loved one dies, the neighbors bring food to the survivors, shovel their walk, or mow their lawn. When one is in the hospital, friends and family members visit and bring “Get Well” cards and flowers. This kind of caring is so important because it reminds us in the midst of our suffering that we are not alone, that the people who love us are rooting for us, praying for us, that they are there to meet our physical needs and speak words of encouragement.

Apathy is the opposite of caring. You would be apathetic if you found out your son was in critical condition after a horrendous car wreck, and instead of going to the hospital to be with him in his suffering, you went to bed. Apathy is the “absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement.”[2] When we fail to be compassionate toward the suffering, we are showing ourselves to be apathetic. When we sit through the evening news, cocktail in hand, shrugging our shoulders at genocide, hunger, poverty throughout the world, we are showing ourselves to be apathetic. St. James describes the apathy of many Christians this way: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). To have that attitude toward a brother or sister in need is to be apathetic.

Jesus was greatly troubled in spirit when He arrived with His disciples at the Mount of Olives. He didn’t want to be alone. Going aside to pray, He took with Him His three closest friends, Peter, James, and John. He confided in them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matt. 26:38). By “watch,” Jesus meant, “Stay alert with me, pray for me, pray for yourselves, pray that God will strengthen us in this hour of suffering.” Thus leaving His three dear friends with this simple request, Jesus went about a stone’s throw away and fell down on His face. So great was His suffering, His dread of the hell He was about to pass through for us and for our salvation, that His sweat became as great drops of blood. Earnestly He prayed to His Father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (v. 39). He then returned to His friends for their encouragement, to be strengthened by their company, perhaps that they might pray together. And what did He find? They were asleep! They were not watching! Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ closest friends, had apathetically abandoned Him in His suffering.

You know the story. Three times Jesus goes to pray and three times He returns and finds His disciples, His friends, asleep. “[C]ould you not watch with me one hour?” (v. 40). So it is that Jesus sustains the wound of apathy for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus has resolutely set His face to go to the cross, to be crucified for the sins of the world, for the sins of His disciples, for the sins of Peter, James, and John, and His disciples are uncaring, apathetic; they have abandoned Him in His hour of need.

It’s easy to be hard on the disciples. “How could they forsake Jesus in this way? If I were there, I would have stayed awake!” we might boast. But what is true of the disciples is also true of us, dear brothers and sisters. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We must watch and pray, that we not fall into temptation. For in spiritual matters, we, too, are apathetic. “Do we really have to go to church every week? During Lent, do we really have to go twice a week? Do we really need to spend so much time and energy in Bible class on the 16 chapters of Romans? Do we really have to go to Bible class at all?” Apathy, brothers and sisters! This is apathy! “Could you not watch with me one hour?” asks Jesus. The question is directed at you and me. Could we not spare five minutes to do our daily devotions? Could we not stop what we are doing for even thirty seconds to say a prayer for a friend in need? Is it really all that burdensome to lose an hour of sleep so that we get to church on Sunday morning? What is that hour in comparison with the eternity of salvation God wants to give us here in His house as He distributes His gifts? Repent, beloved. You, too, are apathetic. And so am I. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is ever so weak.

Jesus bears the wound of apathy for the forgiveness of your apathy. Your apathy nailed Him to the cross. The blood that pours from His pierced body covers you and cleanses you of your apathy. It cleanses you of your lack of love and concern for your neighbor. It cleanses you of your lack of desire for communion with God, your lack of desire for His saving gifts in Word and Sacrament. Indeed, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you of all sin. It restores you to communion with your heavenly Father, who did not take the cup of suffering from His Son, but out of love for you sent Jesus to drink it to the bitter dregs on the cross for your salvation. Jesus drinks the cup of God’s wrath for you, that you might drink the cup of His grace, His very blood shed for your forgiveness, and eat His very body given for your forgiveness, right here at this altar.

Thus His blood strengthens you to watch and pray that you not fall into temptation. It strengthens you so that you do not despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it. It strengthens you so that you exclaim along with the Psalmist, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (Psalm 122:1). And so also it strengthens you to show love, care, and concern for your neighbor in need. The sin of apathy is a spiritual enemy and a weapon of the devil. Thanks be to God, our Lord Jesus Christ was and is never apathetic. He has always loved you and cared for you. His love for you took Him all the way to the cross. Behold in His wounds the extent of His passion for you. Jesus Christ is risen, and He still loves you and cares for you. He never leaves you alone in your hour of need. In fact He is here with you now with His good gifts and Spirit, bespeaking you righteous in His Word. And He is here once again to touch your lips with His cleansing blood. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let us Pray:
O Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth or You had created the heavens and the earth, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. You turn man to destruction and say, “Return, you children of men.” For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past and as a watch in the night. The days of our life are but seventy years, and if by reason of strength they be eighty years, yet their strength is full of labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Enter not into judgment with us, O God, and deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

O most merciful Savior, forgive our innumerable sins and shortcomings. So impress us with the constant thought of the vanity of the world, the certainty of death, and the judgment to come that we may mortify more and more the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, and be prepared at all times for the coming of the Son of Man. Keep us mindful that we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, and give us grace to look for the city above, following those who have overcome the world and inherited the promises through faith and trust in You. Help us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, that we may die in the peace of Christ, who shall change our vile bodies and fashion them like His own glorious body.

O Lord God, lover of mankind, we most earnestly beseech You to bless all Your people, the flocks of Your fold. Shed abroad the peace of heaven into our hearts, and grant us also the peace of this life. Enliven us with Your loving-kindness, that we may keep and hold fast the testimony of Your mouth and not continue in sin. Deliver all who are in trouble, for You alone are God. In mercy pardon those who have erred, and bring them back from their wanderings.

Impart the consolation of Your heavenly grace to all the sons and daughters of affliction and sorrow. Enable us to finish our course in faith and so make us worthy partakers of the inheritance of all Your saints in light; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.



[1] This year’s Lenten series is based on the book, Sacred Head, Now Wounded (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009). The sermon is my own, but the theme and many of the ideas in this sermon come from the book. Cf. the companion volume, William Cwirla, Sacred Head, Now Wounded: Daily Devotions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009) p. 20, for more of the ideas used in this sermon.
[2] Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (New York: Random House, 1991) p. 64.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Second Sunday in Lent

Second Sunday in Lent (B)
March 8, 2009
Text: Mark 8:27-38

Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, is an offense to the world. He is a scandal. He is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23). Why is that? Because this bloody Roman instrument of torture and death, the cross, as a means of salvation, cannot be otherwise to unbelieving hearts. Nor does our Old Adam, that which clings to every one of us, the old sinful flesh even of Christians, much like the sight of the cross, especially not when there is a corpse belonging to God nailed to it. Even we Christians must admit that the cross is, by nature, an offense to us. I think sometimes we Christians are oblivious to the offense of the cross simply because we’ve seen it so often that we take it for granted. Crosses and crucifixes are everywhere in church, and many of us even wear them as jewelry, which is very appropriate, by the way, for Christians to wear the death of Christ around their necks. But imagine for just a moment that you saw someone wearing a piece of jewelry depicting a limp body hanging from a noose. Offensive! I bet you would be offended. I certainly would. And so you can perhaps begin to understand just what is so offensive about the cross of Jesus Christ. But there is something even more offensive about the cross than just that it depicts a death. The cross of Jesus Christ is offensive because it depicts the death of God in the flesh for the salvation of all people. It depicts a death. It depicts the death of God. It depicts the death of God in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. And it proclaims, in a sort of picture sermon, that this death of God in the flesh alone accomplishes the salvation of all people.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus teaches His disciples and us that it is divinely necessary, that it is the Father’s plan, that Jesus go up to Jerusalem to suffer many things, to be rejected, to be killed, and after three days, to rise again (Mark 8:31). This is why Jesus came. This is why God became flesh. This is what it means that Jesus is, as Peter confesses, “the Christ” (v. 29). But even Peter, who has just made this astounding confession on behalf of himself and the other disciples, is offended, scandalized. He takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him (v. 32). Peter does not want a Christ who suffers and dies on the cross for the sins of the world. Peter wants a Christ who saves by a great display of power and glory. “Lord, with one word, with one motion of your hand, you could defeat Satan and all our enemies and take us to heaven. Far be it from you to do such a thing as to submit yourself to death at the hands of the Romans.” Peter has such good intentions here. We certainly understand Peter’s reasoning. He is trying to spare his Lord the great anguish of Calvary, spare Him from death itself (apparently Peter wasn’t listening to the rising again after three days part). But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the old cliché goes. Let this serve as a warning to all of us, beloved. Sincerity is not the same as truth, and good intentions get no one into heaven. By Peter’s good intentions he becomes an instrument of Satan himself. “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus rebukes. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 33; ESV). Peter was tempting Jesus to forsake the cross, to go the way of glory, to take the easy way out. And we understand. We almost want Peter to win the argument, and we feel the sting of our Lord’s rebuke as well, as I’m sure the rest of the disciples did also. But the cross is necessary, divinely necessary. “[T]he Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (v. 31). Unless our Lord suffers and dies, there can be no resurrection. Unless our Lord suffers and dies, He cannot conquer death forever. Unless our Lord suffers and dies, He cannot pay for our sins. God, who is just and holy, must mete out the punishment of our sin. In His mercy and great love for us, He does so on the cross of Jesus Christ, that all who believe in Him might not perish, but have eternal life.

There is no other Jesus than the one who dies on the cross, and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). What a scandal! This is why so many in our world, including many well-intentioned Christians, seek a Jesus who is more user-friendly. They hide the crosses and especially the crucifixes in their sanctuary. They want only songs and sermons and Scripture lessons that make them feel good. They want a Jesus who will lead them in the way of monetary prosperity, keep them safe from danger and disease, give them resolve to quit smoking, give them ten steps to strengthen their marriage and raise well-rounded children, and in general, be their buddy. They want anything but the Jesus of the cross. But beloved, this is a lie of the devil. Have you ever been tempted to seek this Jesus? Repent! Do not be deceived. This user-friendly Jesus will hold your hand all the way to hell. The only Jesus who saves is the Jesus who is crucified and risen again for you, for your forgiveness, for your life, for your salvation. Do not be ashamed of this Jesus. “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). Do not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ crucified, for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe it (Rom. 1:16). Do not be ashamed of our crucified God and His Gospel, but cling to Him by faith. Hang on His every Word. Be cleansed by Him, be fed by Him. For His blood covers all your sins. In Him you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and by His wounds you are healed. It is necessary that the Son of Man suffer and be rejected and be killed, and after three days, rise again. It is necessary for you and for your salvation.

It isn’t easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ with all this talk about cross and suffering. But Jesus takes it even another step. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). That means that if you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, mark my words, you will suffer for it. Satan will not let you have any rest. He will attack you from within and without using every means available to him. The world, with its hatred for Christ and the cross, will hate you as well. It will mock you for your Sunday School faith, your prayers, and your confession that Christ crucified and risen is the only way of salvation. It will persecute you, maybe even imprison you, take all your possessions away from you, and perhaps even put you to death for Christ’s sake. And your flesh won’t leave you alone either. For even though you’ve been redeemed by Christ the crucified, and even though you’ve been given the Holy Spirit, you still have the old flesh wrapped around your neck. You will still be tempted and you will still sin and you will still doubt. But all of this, beloved, is the cross Jesus calls you to take up as you follow Him. The cross is, ironically, a gift of God. It is any suffering that conforms you to the image of Jesus Christ, the cruciform image of our Lord. The cross is suffering baptized. It is suffering sanctified for the good of the Christian. God gives the cross. You don’t seek it. It finds you without you seeking it. And you aren’t saved by it. You are saved by Christ crucified alone. But God gives you the cross for your good. It drives you to your Lord Jesus alone for help and salvation. It drives you to prayer. It causes you to deny yourself, to lose your life, that you might find it in Jesus Christ. It drives you to die to all things that try to take the place of Christ in your life, the things you make into idols. Even if it were possible for you to gain the whole world, all the honor, all the riches, all the power, what good would it be if in the end you went to hell? None of those things could buy your salvation. Jesus Christ alone can buy your salvation, and He has. He has purchased you out of sin and death and hell at the price of His blood on the cross. The crosses that you bear remind you of, and focus you upon, His cross, and the salvation that is in Him alone.

Jesus’ cross gives meaning to your own cross and suffering. And God has not left you to bear your cross alone. While you bear the cross, He bears you. You have been justified by faith. You have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. You have access to God by faith into this grace in which we now stand. Jesus won all of this for you on His cross. So now you can rejoice in the crosses you bear. You can rejoice in your sufferings, knowing that through these God is forming you, conforming you to the image of His crucified Son. For as Paul writes in our Epistle lesson, we know “that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5). God is molding you into the Christian He would have you be through the cross He places upon you. He is driving you to Christ’s cross, from which flows your salvation. You stand before Jesus' cross in Word and Sacrament. The cross is pronounced upon you in the Word. You eat and drink the body given and the blood shed by our Lord on that cross whenever you come to the Lord’s Supper. When you need strength to bear up under the cross, you go to Christ’s cross, and you can only get Christ’s cross here in His means of grace. For “we preach Christ crucified,” writes St. Paul (1 Cor. 1:23). And we are not ashamed. We seek no other Jesus. The cross may be a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But for those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, male and female, slave and free, rich and poor, young and old… for all who are called, for you, Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation. Be not ashamed. The cross of Christ is your life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Church is for Children, Too!

Church is for Children, Too!

Pastor’s Window on March, 2009

Church is for Children, too! That means your children. Whatever their age, whatever their ability to comprehend, your children should be in church, participating in the liturgy to the best of their ability. That is why the cry-room should be viewed as an extension of our sanctuary. When parents need a place to take their children to calm them down, the cry-room offers a place where children can learn how to participate in the Divine Service. To facilitate this, we want the cry-room to look “churchly,” not like a play room.

Berthold von Schenk was pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church and School in the Bronx, NY. While a few of the things von Schenk wrote and taught may have been suspect, in 1954 he wrote a very insightful introduction to a booklet explaining the Divine Service to children called The Little Service Book (New York: The School Press, Our Savior Lutheran School, n.d.). What follows is an excerpt from that introduction:

“You should know it is very important for you to be present when believers in the Lord Jesus Christ come together on the Lord’s Day to relive the Life of Jesus. Jesus wanted children about Him when He was on earth nineteen hundred years ago. He said, ‘Let the little children come unto me, and hinder them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.’

“When we Christians come together on the Lord’s Day to relive the Life of our Lord, this is the Church in action. This coming together of the saints is also called the Body of Christ. Each member, young and old, is important, for we are all members of the Body of Christ. If we are not at the Church Service we cripple the Body of Christ.

“The Church Service, or the Liturgy, is like a beehive. The bees all have their work to do. They all work together to form one hive under the rule of the Queen. Each has his part to do, but he must do his job together with others. When we come together it is very much like that. Jesus, the Head of the Church Body, is present and bestows His gifts upon the members.

“When we come together to ‘do this,’ as Jesus told us, we do not only commemorate the great deeds which He did for us and for our salvation. It is not like a Fourth of July celebration, for we are really there. We are there at Bethlehem when we meet at Christmas. We hear the very words of the angel: ‘To-day is born to you a Saviour.’ We are there on Easter morning, when we hear the angel say to us: ‘To-day is Christ risen from the dead.’ We are there at all the other events of Christ’s Life. Always we show forth the death of Christ.

“When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem many years ago on that Palm Sunday, the children joined in singing praises, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.’ We sing this same song every Sunday. We also sing other songs, like the first Christmas hymn, ‘Glory to God in the Highest,’ and the Sanctus, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth.’

“It is so wonderful to hear children and grownups, all praising the Lord in chant and hymns.

“When Jesus was a lad, His parents thought that He had been lost in the city of Jerusalem. Finally, they found Him in the Temple. He answered His Blessed Mother: ‘Must I not be about my Father’s business?’ Coming together on Sundays is God’s business. That means it is your business.”

Pastor von Schenk’s words are especially appropriate in the season of Lent. Church is for children, too! That means Sunday morning. That also means the Lenten midweek services. Because when we come to church, in the Word and the Sacrament, we actually stand before our Lord’s cross and are cleansed by His blood. You can do nothing more important for your children than making sure they don’t miss this! You don’t miss it either! Jesus is here for you.

Pastor Krenz

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Lent Midweek 1

Lent Midweek 1[1]
March 4, 2009

Text: Matt. 26:20-25 (ESV): 20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

If things had been different, if instead of despairing and taking his own life Judas had repented of his betrayal of our Lord and turned to Jesus for forgiveness, could even Judas Iscariot have been saved? You’d better believe it. You’d better believe it, because as hard as it is to hear, Judas’ story is your story… at least the betrayal. “Is it I, Lord?” you ask (Matt. 26:22). Yes. You are the man. You are the woman. For every sin is a betrayal of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a betrayal of our Lord unto death. Just like Judas, your betrayal nailed Jesus Christ to the cross. Jesus died for every falsehood proceeding from your lips, every lustful glance of the eye, every quickening heartbeat of exaltation in the misfortune of your neighbor, every evil thought, bitter word, wicked deed, and every failure to do what your gracious God commands. That is to say that you called for His crucifixion just as surely as did the Jewish crowds. You nailed Him to the cross just as surely as did the Roman soldiers. The wound of betrayal is inflicted upon our Lord not only by Judas, but you and me.

There is little that stings like the wound of betrayal, especially betrayal on the part of someone close to you, a friend or a loved one. Betrayal can be the most difficult sin to forgive, and the guilt of betrayal the most overwhelming. To call someone a Judas, a Benedict Arnold, a traitor, is perhaps the most severe insult. Betrayal of country, high treason, is punishable by death. Betrayal of friendship usually spells the end of the friendship. Betrayal among family members can lead to the breakup of the family, the shunning of the betrayer, and maybe even the betrayed. And all this is because betrayal destroys a relationship at its core. It obliterates any possibility of trust. It is the very opposite of love. It aims at the downfall of one who considered the betrayer a friend. “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me,” says Jesus (v. 23). “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heal against me,” lamented King David, foreshadowing Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (Ps. 41:9). Betrayal breaks Judas’ relationship with Jesus. “What you are going to do, do quickly,” (John 13:27). For thirty pieces of silver, Judas betrays His Lord and Savior into the hands of those who want to kill Him. It is true, Judas later realizes he has betrayed innocent blood and throws the 30 pieces of silver back into the temple, but don’t mistake this for repentance. Judas despairs of any possibility of forgiveness and takes his own life, hanging himself in the potter’s field and consigning himself to hell. “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matt. 26:24). This is not a statement of hatred, but of love. Our Lord so loved Judas that it broke His heart when Judas went to hell. It would have been better for Judas never to have been born than to suffer eternally where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The love of Jesus Christ for those who betray Him is so strong, pure, and true, that it leads Him all the way to the cross, for Judas, for you, for me.

And dear brothers and sisters, this is our comfort and our sure hope. Like Judas, we have betrayed our Lord in our sinfulness. But do not despair, as Judas did. Jesus goes to the cross for you. His suffering, His death is for you. It is for your forgiveness. In the dramatic twist of the ages, the betrayal of Jesus Christ to death on the cross accomplishes the salvation of those who betray Him. The blood of Jesus Christ was shed for the forgiveness and salvation even of Judas! The tragedy is that Judas rejected that forgiveness, rejected the love of his Savior. Because of Jesus’ holy, precious blood, because of His innocent suffering and death, He whom you betrayed has forgiven you. In a supreme act of love, He has saved you from yourself, from your sin, from death, from hell. His wounds heal you. Your relationship to God and to His Son has been restored. On the cross, Jesus has made friends out of His betrayers. What love! What grace! All for you.

This evening our crucified and risen Lord Jesus invites His forgiven betrayers back to the Table to break bread with Him, the bread that is His body, and drink of the cup of His blood. The meal He established on the night He was betrayed is for His betrayers, for their forgiveness, renewal, and strengthening. Dear brothers and sisters, come again to the Table of your Savior this evening. Hold no malice in your hearts. Forgive those who have betrayed you. Forgive them, for Christ has forgiven you, and nothing they have done against you can compare with what you have done against Christ. Nor does the death to self that your forgiving requires compare with the death to self that Jesus had to undergo for you. Jesus sets you free from the guilt of your betrayal. So also you set those free who have betrayed you. Come to the Table of your Lord this evening in repentance, freed from anger and bitterness, freed from fear of God’s wrath. Christ’s body is given for you, His blood is shed for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins. “Is it I, Lord?” You have said so. You have betrayed Jesus unto death. But the Lord also has taken away your sin. His death is for your forgiveness. And the fruits of His cross are here on the altar for your healing and restoration. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] This year’s Lenten series is based on the book, Sacred Head, Now Wounded (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009). The sermon is my own, but the theme and many of the ideas in this sermon come from the book.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent (B)
March 1, 2009
Text: James 1:12-18; Mark 1:9-15

Immediately after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, He is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. Immediately after His Baptism, Jesus is assaulted by the devil. The devil seeks to thwart His divine, saving mission. For forty days, Jesus is tempted. He does not eat. He has no friends to keep Him company. He is in constant peril, being surrounded by the wild animals. And the devil is ever present. The devil tempts our Lord Jesus with bread, fame, and power. Now of course, as God, Jesus cannot be tempted. But that is why He had to become Man. He had to take our place. As Man, Jesus is subject to every temptation with which the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh attack and assault us. And during His forty days in the wilderness, the temptation is intensely concentrated beyond what you or I could even begin to bear. Jesus is tempted in the place of all humanity to do what humanity could never do. Jesus is tempted to do what Adam did not do. Jesus is tempted that He might resist the temptation, that He might win a decisive victory over Satan, and so as our second Adam, the new head of all humanity, set right what Adam messed up for all of us when he ate the forbidden fruit. “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:18-19; ESV). “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).

Jesus represents all humanity when He is tempted in the wilderness. He represents Adam and Eve. He represents you and me. Immediately after Jesus is baptized, He is tempted by the devil. And isn’t this a picture of our baptismal life? For the devil cannot leave the baptized alone. He would have no one be saved. He cannot stand it when a child of God is made by water and the Word. Even so I tell you there is much cursing in hell over one sinner who repents. Thus when we are baptized into Christ, we can expect no rest from the devil and his demons. In league with the world and with our own sinful flesh, our “Old Adam” as we call it, the devil seeks by means of temptation, and then accusation, to destroy the baptized, to rob us of our faith in Jesus Christ and bring us down with him into hell. In his “Baptismal Booklet,” Martin Luther writes of the seriousness with which we, and especially those who serve as baptismal sponsors, ought to take this threat of the devil over against the baptized:
"Therefore, you have to realize that it is no joke at all to take action against the
devil and not only to drive him away from the little child but also to hang around
the child’s neck such a mighty, lifelong enemy. Thus it is extremely necessary to
stand by the poor child with all your heart and with a strong faith and to plead with
great devotion that God, in accordance with these prayers, would not only free the
child from the devil’s power but also strengthen the child, so that the child might
resist him valiantly in life and in death. I fear that people turn out so badly after
baptism because we have dealt with them in such a cold and casual way and have
prayed for them at their baptism without any zeal at all."[1]
At our Baptism, as Luther says, we make a lifelong enemy out of the devil. Thus there will be temptation. And temptation will never be easy.

To be tempted is to be allured or enticed to evil. The devil tempts you by making sin and evil look desirable. When the devil tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, he led her to believe that “the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,” and so “she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6). Notice here that while the devil is active in the tempting, it is the desire within us that produces the temptation and the acting upon that temptation. This is what St. James says in our epistle lesson when explaining how temptation works. He writes, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). The point St. James is making is that ultimately we have no one to blame but ourselves when we give in to temptation. The sinful desire or temptation grows roots in our very own flesh and gives birth to actual sins, which when they get a hold of us lead to death, perhaps physical death, but certainly spiritual death, and finally, without repentance, eternal death. We only have ourselves to blame for this.

But we always want to blame others for the bad things we do, or our failure to do the things we should. We always want to blame others for our actual sins. “It’s because I had a hard childhood. It’s my parents’ fault.” Or, “I’m really the victim here. If so and so wouldn’t have done such and such, then none of this would have happened.” Besides, sinning comes so naturally. It feels good. And we come programmed to sin. We should always follow our hearts, after all, right? At least that’s what our culture would have us believe. God made us this way, we think, which becomes the excuse for all manner of sin and vice. “God made me to lust after women.” “God made me homosexual.” “God made me covetous.” “God made me glutonous.” Of course, God didn’t make you any of these things. This is really just a manifestation of the disease of original sin, inherited from Adam, which gives birth to all actual sins. But we always want to blame anyone but ourselves for our sin, and primarily we want to blame God. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12).

But “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). The devil tempts. This sinful world tempts. And your own sinful flesh alone is to blame when you fall into temptation. God does not tempt to evil. Repent of your weakness. Repent of your desire to blame anyone but yourself. And know this: Not only does God tempt no one to evil; He alone can deliver you from temptation. That is why you pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” in the Lord’s Prayer. “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”[2]

Our Lord Jesus Christ faced the temptation of the devil, the worst the devil could throw at Him, and our Lord was victorious. He was victorious in our place. He stood in for us in the battle with Satan. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life” (v. 12), writes St. James, and he’s talking about Jesus here. He’s also talking about you and me because we are in Christ Jesus. Because we are baptized into Christ, Christ’s righteousness, His victory, is ours, and so we are blessed. Jesus’ victory is yours, dear brothers and sisters. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). And indeed, “because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18). He is able to help you when you are tempted. Not only has His victory over temptation and Satan been credited to your account, so that when God looks at you He sees only the righteousness of His own dear Son… Not only has Jesus taken upon Himself, into His very body, all your sins and weaknesses, all those times you have given in to temptation, and nailed them to the cross for your forgiveness and salvation… Not only is the proof of Jesus’ victory over temptation, sin, death, and the devil in His bodily resurrection from the dead… Not only is all this so, but so also He helps you in your weakness. He helps you as you struggle with temptation. He does not leave you to face the devil alone, for the devil would obliterate you with one breath. Jesus Christ fights for you. And He gives you His Spirit to fight in you so that you resist temptation and sin. What a great comfort it is, as Paul says, that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). You have that promise from God.

Not that any temptation will ever be easy. Not by any means. In this life, there will always be temptation, and in this life, we will often falter. We will often fail. We still struggle with sin. That is why it is so important that we hear the voice of Jesus in His preaching this morning, for after He had faced the temptation of the devil in the wilderness, He went into Galilee “proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). When you face temptation, and when you give in to temptation, when you sin, know that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, therefore, which is to say, turn from your sin, and believe the Gospel, that your sin is covered by Jesus’ blood. You are forgiven and set free. The devil cannot harm you anymore. The Kingdom of God is yours, for the Kingdom is wherever Jesus is with His grace and power, and He is among you today with His grace and power in Word and Sacrament. Here He places the Gospel in your ears and on your tongues. Here He gives you His victory over Satan. This is God’s gift to you in Christ Jesus.

Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17), including the gift of divine help in times of temptation and Jesus’ victory over temptation. God cannot be tempted. While there may be variation in the sun, moon, and stars, or shadow that blocks their light, this is not so with God who is the Father and Creator of light. His light always shines for you in Christ Jesus. God cannot be tempted to do otherwise. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. Rather, He has overcome the darkness for you. He has made you His firstfruits, brought forth by His Word, set apart for God (v. 18). And so now He gives you the power to overcome the darkness in your life, or at least make a beginning of overcoming it. He gives you the power to resist sin, to reject temptation, to turn a deaf ear on the devil. And when you sin, He is your Advocate. He forgives you all your sins. You are baptized into Christ. His victory over the devil is your own. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial”… Blessed is the man who is baptized into Christ, for in Christ Jesus “he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (v. 12). Blessed are you, dear Christian, for God loves you, and the crown is all yours. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Baptismal Booklet, The Small Catechism, in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, Eds. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000) 372:3-4.
[2] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).