Cruce Tectum

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

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Lenten Midweek 2

Lenten Midweek 2: “The Miraculous Earthquake”[1]
March 23, 2011
Text: Matt. 27:51b: “And the earth shook” (ESV).

What does it mean when God shakes the earth? Is there a meaning, or is an earthquake simply a random event and a natural phenomenon? The science of earthquakes is fascinating, the results, devastating as we know all too well from recent events, especially after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Our text this evening suggests that earthquakes are not just meaningless natural disasters, but indeed, carry a message from God. The earthquake that took place in the moment of our Savior’s death on the cross was once again the physical manifestation of a spiritual and theological reality, and that spiritual and theological reality can be read out of every other earthquake before or since. God is calling our attention to the reality of His presence in majesty, a majesty that includes His wrath and His mercy. He is calling our attention to the reality that the wrath of God that should rightly have been poured out on us has instead been poured out on His Son on the cross. Jesus suffers God’s wrath in our place. This is God’s merciful deliverance. Thus every earthquake is a call for all men to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

In the Scriptures, earthquakes always indicate God’s presence. When the LORD passed by Elijah in the cave, His presence was preceded by a great earthquake (1 Kings 19:11ff). When Isaiah prophesied the siege of Jerusalem, he declared, “you will be visited by the LORD of hosts with thunder and with earthquake and great noise” (Is. 29:6). This was a fearful visitation. When Ezekiel was called as a prophet the words that were spoken to him sounded like a great earthquake (Ez. 3:12). Later God spoke through this same prophet: “For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare, On that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field and all creeping things that creep on the ground, and all the people who are on the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence. And the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground” (38:19-20). There was, in fact, a great earthquake in the days of Uzziah, King of Judah, which occurred in 760 BC, and is attested by the prophets Amos (1:1) and Zechariah (14:5). This earthquake was so destructive that it was known in the ancient world simply as “THE earthquake,” even several centuries later.

In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that earthquakes are a sign of the end, when He will return visibly to judge the living and the dead. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matt. 24:7-8). In the Book of Revelation, the judgment of the earth was accompanied by peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightening, and earthquakes (Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18). Clearly the Scriptures indicate that earthquakes are a sign of God’s presence, and particularly His presence in wrath, punishing sin and calling all men to repentance.

But in this way, an earthquake is also a reminder of God’s great mercy to us. For when the earth quaked in the moment of Jesus’ death, it was an indication that God’s wrath had been poured out in full on His own Son on the cross. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath to its very dregs (Is. 51:17). He did so for us and for our salvation. Now the cup is filled with mercy. Now the cup is filled with the very blood of Christ, shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.

We must exercise great caution in interpreting events outside of the Scriptures, natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The Japanese people are no more, nor any less, sinful than you and I. God was not punishing them specifically for some specific sin that they committed. The truth is, we really can’t say why God allowed this great tragedy to happen. That remains concealed from us in the wisdom of God’s hidden will. We can say what the Scriptures say, however. In the Japanese earthquake, and in every other natural or manmade disaster, God is calling us all, every last one of us, to repentance, lest we likewise perish (Luke 13:1-5). He is reminding us that He is not a God far away, but a God who is present. In this way He was present in the flesh of Jesus Christ on the cross, suffering for the sins of the world, for your sins and mine. He was present in wrath, pouring out the punishment for our sins upon Christ Jesus. He is present in mercy, even in the midst of great trials and tribulations, present in the flesh of Jesus, speaking His forgiving Word over us, washing us with baptismal water, feeding us with the very body and blood of the Son of God. Earthquakes are a call to faith, as we will see in three weeks when the Roman soldiers standing at the foot of the cross see the earthquake and miraculously come to faith, confessing, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:54). Earthquakes are a call for us to remember the greatest miracle in the history of the world: God dies for man in the flesh of Jesus Christ! God dies for you in the flesh of Jesus Christ. And upon that earthshaking fact rests the salvation of the whole world. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the thought contained in this sermon come from Miracles of Lent (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).

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