Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Fifth Sunday in Lent (A)

April 10, 2011

Text: John 11:1-53

“For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling” (Psalm 116:8; ESV). Beloved in the Lord, you’ve been mortally wounded. Sin has done this to you. In fact, the situation is even worse than simply a mortal wound. You’re stillborn. You are born in sin, and therefore you are born spiritually dead. And there’s nothing you can do about it, anymore than a dead man can raise himself. You can’t decide to come to life. You can’t even “try really hard” to come to life. This is what we mean by “the bondage of the will.” In spiritual matters, you have no freedom of the will to choose God, to choose to believe, to choose life. There is no life in you to choose. You are of the flesh, and your sinful flesh is bound. St. Paul writes, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). A dead man is bound to death. Life must come from outside of you. And here is the great good news for you. Your Lord Jesus Christ says to you this morning, “Come out of the tomb! Come out of death! Be unbound from the graveclothes! Come out and live!” And so life comes from outside of you, from Jesus. Faith comes from outside of you, from Jesus. He alone can give such life and faith. And here is His promise to you this morning: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

Lazarus was bound to death. For four days he laid in the tomb decaying. He could do no other. There was no life in him. He was bound with the linen strips of death and a great stone sealed his tomb. If Lazarus is to live, if there is to be a resurrection, the Lord of life must speak. The Word of God bestows life. Jesus speaks, cries out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out” (v. 43), and look what happens. Lazarus comes out of the tomb. The Word of God bestows freedom. Jesus speaks: “Unbind him, and let him go” (v. 44), and look what happens. Lazarus is unbound, alive, and free. Life and freedom are bestowed by the Word made flesh as that Word is preached. As this Word is preached to you this morning, the Word made flesh cries out to you: Live and be free!

Jesus imparts life and freedom, and it is His very nature to do so, for He is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (v. 27). Only God has life in Himself, and the life that we have comes from Him. So the fact that Jesus bestows life demonstrates that He is the life-giving God in the flesh. And as for freedom, well, again, we’re bound. And men in bondage cannot bestow freedom. God alone has freedom within Himself, so the fact that Jesus bestows freedom demonstrates that He is the freeing God in the flesh. And notice that this has always been God’s plan for humanity. He did not will that we should fall into sin and thus be bound to the devil. He did not will that we should fall into sin and thus be bound to death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. This is why Jesus weeps at the tomb of Lazarus (v. 35). It was never supposed to be this way. God created Adam and Eve to live eternally with their offspring in His “very good” (Gen. 1:31) creation, basking in His love, loving one another, and joyfully tending the Garden in praise of the God who created them and breathed the breath of life into them. When our first parents fell by the serpent’s beguiling, the relationship with God was shattered. Creation was subjected in bondage to the curse. Adam and Eve and all their children, including you and me, were cursed. We died in Adam’s sin. The moment the forbidden fruit touched our ancestors’ lips we died spiritually. We became hostile to God, blind, dead, and God’s enemies. And we were consigned to eternal death in hell. And in that moment, for the first time, Adam and Eve began to age, to decay. Physical death was but a symptom of the spiritual death that had already set in. From the moment we’re born, we’re dying. If you wear glasses, it’s because you’re dying. If you have aches and pains, it’s because you’re dying. If you’ve ever had to fight off a common cold, much less cancer or heart disease or a life-threatening injury, this is a sign of your impending death. Sin has mortally wounded you. Pretending otherwise won’t help. You were born dead, and you live in death.

So what are we to do? Can these bones live? God only knows! He knows and He acts. He speaks. He speaks and there is life. The Word of the LORD must be spoken over the dry bones if they are to be clothed with flesh and spirited with the breath of life (Ez. 37:4ff.). God does not leave us in death. God does not leave us in bondage. Already in the aftermath of our first parents’ demise God spoke the promise: The woman’s Seed would crush the serpent’s head, but only in this way, by taking the mortal poison of the snakebite into Himself. In crushing the serpent’s head, His heal would be crushed (Gen. 3:15). Jesus can give life to Lazarus because He is God, and because He has come in the flesh to undo the curse. Jesus can give life to Lazarus because He has come as the woman’s Seed to take the curse of death into Himself. What wondrous love is this? “O love, how deep, how broad, how high, Beyond all thought and fantasy” (LSB 544:1). That God, the Son of God, should take on our frail flesh that He may be stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted in our place, as the punishment for our sins; that He be wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; that upon Him may be the chastisement that brings us peace; that by His stripes we be healed (Is. 53:4-5), made alive, raised from the dead, forgiven, free.

And don’t miss the tragic irony here, that raising Lazarus from the dead leads directly to Jesus’ death by crucifixion. As High Priest, Caiaphas ignorantly prophesies: indeed, it is better that one Man should die for the people, than that the whole nation, the whole world, should perish (John 11:50). And so with envy and great bitterness, the chief priests and Pharisees unwittingly capitulate to the divine plan of salvation: “from that day on they made plans to put him to death” (v. 53). In hostility to God and the bondage of the will, unbelieving man cannot do otherwise. But don’t miss the divine irony here either: In putting to death the Lord of life, eternal life comes to all who believe. These bones can live, when the Lord speaks, and by His Word grants life and faith to those who are dead in their trespasses and sins. Those living in bondage to sin can be freed when the Word of the Lord forgives them, looses them from their sins. There is new life and freedom in Christ, the life-giving God.

And what does this mean for you? You are baptized! That means that God has spoken! “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is the Name written on your forehead. You’ve been marked with the sign of the holy cross. Your name has been engraved on the pierced hands of God. You belong to Him. He has not left you in death. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). In Baptism, the Old Adam in you, the old sinful flesh, has been drowned along with all sins and evil desires, and you’ve been raised to new life, new life now, though hidden, and you’ve been sealed for the resurrection of your body on the Last Day. God gives life to you in Baptism, because in Baptism, God has spoken. And there is no mistaking the fact that He has spoken to you directly, because the water was poured on you. God has spoken, and He cannot lie. You are His, alive, and free.

This also means that temporal death, though always tragic, even for Christians, because it was never meant to be, nonetheless takes on a new cast. We regard death from a new perspective. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:8). Baptized into Christ, united to Christ by faith, though you die, yet you live. For Jesus is the resurrection and the life. In Him, you never die. When your body expires, it goes into the ground to await resurrection, and your soul rests with Jesus in heaven. But that isn’t the end. On the Last Day your body is raised from death in an even more glorious resurrection than that of Lazarus. You are raised, and unlike Lazarus, you will never die again. Your soul is reunited to your body and you will live eternally in your body in a new heaven and a new earth. Your body will be like Jesus’ resurrection body: Perfect, sinless, glorified. We don’t know yet what that will be like, but we know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is, and that is enough for us (1 John 3:2). And knowing that, we face death with confidence, regarding it simply as a peaceful sleep from which we will soon awaken.

Beloved in the Lord, Jesus says to you this day, “Come out of the tomb! Live and be free!” And at His speaking, you live and are free from all bondage, for you are forgiven, and you have eternal life. He has delivered you from death. He wipes every tear from your eyes. And He sets you on the sure foundation of His own death and resurrection. “I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Dear Christian, come out of the tomb and live. Your Lord has spoken. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 Comments:

Blogger Sister Shaina said...

Thanks for posting your sermons!

1:17 PM  

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