Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (B)

April 29, 2012

Text: Ps. 23; John 10:11-18

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

Jesus Christ our Lord is our Good Shepherd, precisely in this way: He lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15). He lays down His life as our Substitute. The Good Shepherd is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your sin, and mine. In this way, He is the Shepherd par excellence, the Shepherd who gives meaning to all other shepherds. The Latin word for “shepherd” is pastor. And so this is what I mean: Jesus is the Good Pastor who gives meaning to all other pastors. Jesus is THE Good Shepherd. All others are only under-shepherds. Jesus is THE Good Pastor. All others are only under-pastors. And then there are the hirelings that Jesus mentions in our text. They are the unfaithful ones who are only in it for the money or the honor or the whatever. They say they care for the sheep, but in reality, they only care for themselves. Not only will they NOT die for the sheep, but when the wolf comes prowling, the hirelings flee.

Not so, Jesus. It is the mark of the Good Shepherd, our Good Shepherd, Jesus, that He lays down His life for the sheep. No less than five times out of eight verses in our Gospel lesson does Jesus make this point, that He lays down His life for the sheep. He lays it down because it is the will of the Father to save the sheep in this way. And no one forces Him to lay it down. At any moment Jesus could have called the whole plan of salvation to a halt, commanded the holy angels to annihilate His enemies, sent us all to hell, right into the jaws of that old wolf, the devil, and Himself gone back into heaven. But that’s not what He does. Instead, He willingly gives Himself into the hands of His enemies. He willingly submits to the death of the cross. He willingly lays down His life. For the sheep. For you. For me. For all people. For our forgiveness, life, and salvation. And then He takes His life back up again. He has authority to do so, authority from God the Father. He has the authority to lay down His life as payment for our sins, and authority to rise from the dead for our justification and eternal life. That is our Good Shepherd, Jesus.

You and all believers in Christ are the sheep, beloved. Luther says in the Smalcald Articles, “Thank God a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd [John 10:11-16].”[1] You are the sheep. The sheep-fold is the Church. Our crucified and risen Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has appointed under-shepherds to tend His sheep in His stead and by His command. These are the Christian pastors. By means of their ministry of preaching the Word, baptizing, absolving, and distributing the Supper, the Lord Jesus Himself tends His sheep. But some are not true under-shepherds. Some are only hirelings. And of course, the problem is, you can’t always tell who is a true under-shepherd and who is a hireling. The distinction only becomes evident when a pastor has to put his life on the line to do battle with the wolf. Hirelings avoid that battle. So when the wolf, the devil, comes along with his false teachings, his lies, his seductive question, “Did God really say?…” then the hireling is all too willing to capitulate. The hireling jumps on the bandwagon so that he doesn’t put his own job or his own neck at risk. The people like the false teaching. They seek out teachers who will scratch their itching ears (2 Tim. 4:3). Hirelings do what is popular and profitable, successful in the eyes of the world, even if it ultimately puts the sheep in mortal danger. A pastor should never do that. If he is to be a faithful under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, your pastor also must be willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Your pastor should always preach and teach the Word of God in its truth and purity, even when it’s unpopular, even when it turns people off, drives people away, is reflected negatively on the bottom line of the offering plate. Your pastor should preach the Word of Jesus in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with complete patience and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2). And your pastor must not only teach you right doctrine. He must also expose false doctrine and condemn it for what it is, even when it’s not politically correct to do so. Beloved, the plain fact is, your pastor should be willing to be beaten, imprisoned, put to death in the battle against the wolf. For you. Because that is what the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, has already done for your salvation, and that is what the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, calls His pastors to do.

Of course, no pastor in the holy Christian Church ever measures up to Jesus. Pastors, including and especially this pastor, are poor, miserable sinners who are selfish and weak and incompetent, but who, by God’s grace alone, without any merit or worthiness in them, have been called by God to tend the flock as under-shepherds, who are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ that forgives all their sins, and who are not sufficient in themselves to claim anything as coming from themselves, but whose sufficiency is in God alone (2 Cor. 3:5). Weakness in a pastor is not what makes him a hireling. Every pastor is weak. God uses the weak things of this world to accomplish His mighty will (1 Cor. 1:27-29). What makes a pastor a hireling is his false teaching, by which he feeds the sheep poisonous weeds and betrays them into the hands of the wolf. Strength in a pastor is not what makes him a true under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd. Pastors have no strength in themselves. What makes a pastor a true under-shepherd of Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit, working by God’s Word in the pastor to keep him in the one true faith of Jesus Christ and to keep him faithful in doctrine and life, so that he may tend the flock.

The same Holy Spirit, working in the same Word of God, and in the holy Sacraments, has made you sheep in the flock of Jesus Christ. And this is what it means to be a sheep in Jesus’ flock (our beloved Psalm 23 says it so well): With the Lord as your Shepherd, you want for nothing, for all things are yours in Christ Jesus. He makes you to lie down in the lush green pastures of His holy Word, to rest in the Scriptures and preaching as you meditate on your Lord’s Word to you. He leads you beside the still waters of your Holy Baptism, where you were made a sheep of the flock in the first place. He restores your soul by leading you in the paths of His own righteousness, which God credits to your account. This is called justification: Christ’s righteousness counts as yours. He does all this for His Name’s sake, because His Name is on you in Holy Baptism, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Christian. So now here is the promise: Even though you have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death (and we all have to walk through that valley… Every one of us will die physically unless the Lord returns first), still, we don’t have to fear, because Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who has already walked through that valley and come out the other side alive, will guide us through when it is our time to pass through the valley, and bring us out the other side alive. You won’t go it alone in death. He is with you, comforting you with His rod and staff. And in the meantime, He prepares a Table before you, the Table of His true body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, right here in the presence of your enemies, the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh. It is a foretaste of the feast to come, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom. He has anointed you with the Holy Spirit and filled your cup to the overflowing. So you know that the goodness and mercy of the Lord will follow you all the days of this earthly life, and that you will dwell in the house of the LORD for all eternity, because in Jesus Christ, your Good Shepherd, you have eternal life.

Because He laid down His life for you. He shed His blood for you. Having paid such a high price for your salvation, He who died and has now been raised from the dead will never let you go. He will never surrender you to the wolf. And even if your pastor turns out someday, God forbid, to be a hireling, know this: Even when a pastor turns out to be faithless, Jesus Christ, your Good Shepherd is ever and always faithful to you. It is He who shepherds you in His Word and Sacraments. It is He who has restored you to the Father by His death and resurrection. You know His voice. Listen to Him. Follow where He leads. For where He leads is always for your good. And He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] SA III XII:2, McCain.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

In Memoriam +Zachary A. Moushegian+

In Memoriam +Zachary A. Moushegian+

Wayland Union High School Fine Arts Center

April 21, 2012

Text: Psalm 27

Beloved in the Lord, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1; KJV). The opening verse of Zack’s favorite Psalm in his beloved King James Version, a theme verse for a man who knew great God-given joy in this earthly life, and was himself a God-given joy to many as we see here today, but who also faced great adversity, not the least of which being the death of his dear wife Judy a little over a year and a half ago, and his significant health problems and physical challenges. He endured this adversity always with these words of faith on his lips, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Zack knew he had a Savior he could trust, to whom he could commend every fear, every hurt, every sadness, every sin, death itself: Jesus Christ, who was crucified for the life of the world, and who has now been raised from the dead. That Lord is Zack’s light and salvation, a Light shining in the darkness of sin and death in this world, a Light of which the Apostle, St. John, writes that the darkness could not overcome it (John 1:5).

That Light, Jesus Christ, whom Zack once knew and confessed by faith, he now knows and adores by sight. The Psalm goes on to say, “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4). The verse is first of all a prayer to remain, by God’s grace, in the holy Church all the days of this earthly life, but it is also a prayer to spend eternity in the heavenly house of the Lord, beholding Him as He sits on His glorious throne. Zack prayed these words in his earthly life knowing that he was baptized into Christ and thus a member of His Body, the Church. Zack prayed these words in his earthly life knowing that by virtue of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for him, and by virtue of his Baptism into that death and resurrection, he already possessed eternal life. Zack prayed these words knowing that the moment he closed his eyes in death, he would open them to see this Light, this Salvation, this Savior face to face. And that’s not all. Zack prayed these words knowing that even as his soul would be in heaven with Jesus when he died, so also that same Lord Jesus would call Zack and all believers out of the grave on the Last Day, in their bodies, made perfect like Jesus’ resurrection body, to live forever with God in a new heaven and a new earth. Because Jesus says so. He promises it. “I am the resurrection, and the life,” says Jesus. “(H)e that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

That’s an amazing promise for us who have come to mourn the death of our dear brother. “Though dead, not dead,” says Jesus. “Alive in Me. And this body will rise from the dead.” Now, some of you I know, most of you I don’t know. And I don’t know, you may believe this, you may not believe this. But you should know that Zack believed it, and now he knows it without a shadow of a doubt, that on the Last Day the risen Lord Jesus will raise his own body from the dead. It was just this past Easter Sunday that Zack confessed it with his own lips: “He is risen!” Zack said. “He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” “I look for the resurrection of the dead,” he confessed in the Creed, “and the life + of the world to come.” And then with those same lips he received the body and blood of the risen Christ in the Supper. Now he joins us with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven from the other side of the altar. Though he’s dead, he lives, you see. Because of Jesus, his Light and salvation, the resurrection and the life. It says it right there in the Psalm, by the way, verse 13: “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” That’s a confession of heaven and the resurrection. Zack sees the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. He lives. He is not dead. And his body, too, will live once again on the Last Day.

So, now we know Zack is taken care of. His pain and tears are at an end. He rests and rejoices in the presence and light of Jesus. But what about us, who shed our tears now and grieve our dear brother in Christ, your father, your teacher, our friend? Zack’s favorite Psalm has something to say about that, too. It is the last verse of the Psalm: “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD” (v. 14). It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to grieve. Death is not how it was supposed to be. We were supposed to live forever with God. Sin brought death into the world. It’s a great evil. We should cry. But even as you cry, be of good courage. The Lord has done something about sin. The Lord has done something about death. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, to die your death for your sin and to be raised so that you can have eternal life. He walked through the valley of the shadow of death and came out the other side alive. And He will do the same for you, and for Zack, and for all believers in Christ. So wait on the Lord. You can wait with patience and good courage for the Lord Jesus Himself to dry your tears. He has already done so for Zack. He will do it for you. He is your light and salvation. This can be your theme verse, too. You need never fear again. For Christ is risen, and death has been swallowed up by death. It’s sting is lost forever. Alleluia. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Second Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter (B)

April 15, 2012

Text: John 20:19-31

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

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead brings the peace of sins forgiven into lives that are anything but peaceful. You are simultaneously saint and sinner, simul iustus et peccator, as the theological phrase goes in Latin. That is to say, in Christ, who died for your sins, and who has been raised from the dead to give you new life, all your sins are forgiven and God declares you perfectly righteous with the righteousness of His Son. But at the same time, in your fallen flesh, you continue to sin. You continue to rebel against God and His commandments. You continue to live as if God did not matter and you mattered most.[1] Your Lord’s Name you have not honored as you should. Your worship and prayers have faltered. You have not let God’s love have its way with you, and so your love for others has failed. There are those you have hurt, and those whom you’ve failed to help. Your thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin. And this troubles you deeply. Sin prevents peace, because it separates you from God. Sin prevents you from being reconciled to God. In fact, sin makes it impossible for you to come to God, because it renders you blind, dead, and an enemy of God. And that is why the Word of the risen Jesus is so important for you this morning: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19; ESV). It is an Absolution, a declaration that your sins are forgiven. It is an enlightening Word, imparting the Holy Spirit to bring spiritual light to your blind eyes. It is an enlivening Word, bringing you to faith in Jesus Christ and giving you new life in His resurrection. It is a reconciling Word, performing what it pronounces, that you now have peace with God through Jesus Christ His Son.

The Apostles had no peace that Easter evening. They had only fear. The doors were locked where they were for fear of the Jews, fear for the future, fear of persecution and death. They did not understand the crucifixion of their Lord. They did not understand their Lord’s resurrection. There were the reports of the women. There was the report of Peter and John. What did it all mean? It was confusing. It was frightening. Human reason is incapable of comprehending the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Only those who have been made new by the Holy Spirit in the Word of Jesus Christ can comprehend it. And even then, there is the struggle between faith and doubt that we all experience in this fallen flesh. The Apostles cannot comprehend it there, locked away for fear. They cannot come to the risen Lord. So He comes to them. He comes to them with His Word of Absolution that is the end of fear: “Peace be with you.” And then, as a direct result of that proclamation of peace, He institutes the Office of the Holy Ministry and Holy Absolution: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld’” (vv. 21-23).

The forgiveness of sins is the business of the Office of the Holy Ministry. In other words, Jesus instituted the pastoral office to bring you peace. And your pastor is to bring that peace right to the place where fear does its worst to you: Your conscience. Your conscience accuses you. And rightly so. You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Your conscience, thus having accused you, binds you with the chains of fear, because the wages of sin is death and eternal condemnation. But the forgiveness of sins, administered to you in the Gospel and Sacraments, cleanses your conscience before God, and drives out all fear. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (v. 9). For in the Gospel of the risen Lord Jesus you have eternal life and salvation. Jesus instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry for no other reason than to distribute the forgiveness of sins in Gospel and Sacraments. Everything a pastor does as pastor: preaching, teaching, baptizing, communing, visiting, studying, counseling, meetings, Higher Things youth conferences with the youth group, congregational potlucks, and even the retaining of the sins of the unrepentant, it all has as its ultimate goal the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. That’s the reason Jesus gave the Office. That’s the reason Jesus calls sinful men to that Office through you, His people, that the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments can go on in this place, where the Holy Spirit is active in these means of grace to connect us, and to keep us connected to Jesus, who has reconciled us to the Father by His blood and death. The forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, that’s the business of the Holy Ministry.

And we have the promise that Jesus Himself is present, really and substantially, in these means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. When the Holy Scriptures are read, when the pastor preaches, when your sins are absolved, that’s really Jesus speaking. It’s His actual Word, spoken specifically to you. When there is a Baptism, it is Jesus doing the Baptism, calling you by name and placing God’s Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit upon you. When you come to the Sacrament of the Altar, it is Jesus Christ Himself who is your Host, thus we call it the Lord’s Supper. And of course, He is the holy food you consume, for the bread is His true body and the wine is His true blood, which you receive in your mouth for the forgiveness of all your sins and the strengthening of your faith in Jesus. And then you hear the words: “Depart in peace.” Because Jesus has come to you with His peace. “Peace be with you,” He says to you, and you know that you are reconciled to God because all your sins are forgiven.

Thomas was a man with no peace in the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. He was not present with the others that first Easter when Jesus appeared to them behind locked doors. Thomas refused to believe the rumors about the resurrection. He even refused to believe the word of his fellow apostles. His human reason was incapable to comprehending the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Sin had blinded him. He was an unbeliever. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). Thomas could not come to his risen Lord. So Jesus came to Him. A week later, the Sunday after Easter, what we’re observing today on the Church calendar, Jesus once again appeared in their midst where they were locked away for fear, and once again, Jesus spoke the peace of His Absolution: “Peace be with you.” And then He offered Thomas His wounds. Go ahead, Thomas. Poke them. They are real wounds. Suffered for you. And yet here I am, risen from the dead. “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (v. 27). And at the Word and wounds of Jesus, he who was once an unbeliever, “Doubting Thomas” as we call him, believes and confesses, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).

We are often hard on Thomas. But the truth is, his story is our story. You and I are by nature incapable of believing in the resurrection. We’re trapped in sin. We’re trapped in fear. We cannot see Jesus with our physical eyes. Nor can we make sense of His death and resurrection by our own reason or strength. We cannot come on our own power to our risen Lord. So He comes to us. He comes to us in His means of grace and calls us to faith by His Spirit. We hear His voice in His holy Word. These things “are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (v. 31). We behold His wounds as His body is given into our mouths and His blood poured out for us from the chalice in the Supper. In this way, by God given faith, we see and hear Him. And Jesus speaks the blessing upon us: “Peace be with you.” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 28). Blessed are you, beloved. You have peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ. Because He says so. And the proof is the risen Lord Jesus who comes to you today to distribute His peace to you in His Supper. It is the end of fear. As Jesus’ body and blood are placed in your mouth, you simply confess with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” And you rest in peace. For “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). And He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Cf. "Individual Confession and Absolution" in Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 292.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Resurrection of Our Lord

The Resurrection of Our Lord (B)[1]

April 8, 2012

Text: Mark 16:1-8

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

This is a Word of hope for the hopeless. This is a Word of hope for those who have to stare death in the face. This is a Word of hope for you. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. He is no longer in the tomb. Go ahead and look. You won’t find Him there. He is risen, just as He said. That was the angel’s word to the women when they had come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices, wondering who would roll the stone away for them. They came to find the stone had already been rolled away, and there was no body for them to anoint. Just a strange man dressed in white, an angel of the Lord sent to proclaim to them a strange and wonderful Word of the Lord, that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.

As the women came to the tomb in the early hours of that Sunday morning, they were hopeless. Their Lord had been crucified. They saw it with their own eyes. The nails, the crown of thorns, the sign above His sacred head proclaiming Him King of the Jews, the two criminals crucified on either side of Him, His beaten and bruised body suffering with every futile gasp for air, His giving up the ghost, the water and the blood flowing from His pierced side. They watched as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid Him to rest and sealed the tomb with the giant stone. Buried. It’s over, they thought. So much for our hopes that He would save Israel, that He would be the Messiah sent from heaven. They beheld all of this, our Lord’s suffering and death for sinners, but they didn’t understand it. They were hopeless. And now, early in the morning, they were coming to stare death in the face, to anoint the dead body of their Teacher, to face up to their own death, from which they expected no deliverance.

We keep up a good appearance, you and I. We deceive others and delude ourselves into believing that all is well for us, that we’re living life to the fullest, seizing the day, and all that. We’d like others, we’d like ourselves, to believe that we have it all together. And when it becomes evident that we don’t have it all together, when our lives fall apart through tragedy or sickness or whatever, we spin the situation so that we appear to be the noble martyr. The plain truth is, we don’t have it together. Our lives have all fallen apart. Because we’re sinners. Sin alienates us from God. The wages of sin is death. The punishment for sin is eternal death in hell. It’s a problem we don’t want to face, because it’s hopeless. And the reminders of our hopelessness are relentless. “A loved one dies. There’s a sickness that just won’t go away. The economy. Jobs. School. Divorce. Fighting at home.”[2] On the face of it, it seems as though death and Satan are winning. This is a fallen world. Our flesh is fallen flesh. Hopeless. If we’re really honest, we stare our own death in the face every day.

And that is why the empty tomb changes everything. Because there is One who has passed through the valley of the shadow of death and come out the other side alive! It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And He now has the power and authority to guide us through that valley and bring us out on the other side alive. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the end of hopelessness. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the end of despair. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is God’s answer to your sin and death and to all that afflicts you in this earthly life as a result. It is true that beholding your Lord Jesus Christ bloody and crucified upon the cross, you stare your own death in the face. But even so it is true that beholding the empty tomb and hearing the Word of the Lord that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, you behold your own resurrection, a resurrection that has taken place spiritually already in your Baptism into Christ, a resurrection that will take place in your body on the Last Day.

Sickness? It cannot finally harm you. You will be raised from the dead. The economy? Depression? Broken relationships? These things hurt now, to be sure. Commend them all to Christ. He will make all things right again in the end. So you can live as though they are right again now. For you will be raised from the dead. You see, it changes everything that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. This is not just optimism. This is not just some pious attempt to make lemonade out of life handing you lemons. This is a sure and certain hope based on a historic fact. The tomb is empty. Christ is risen. There are eyewitnesses who saw Him alive. St. Paul points them out in our Epistle lesson (1 Cor. 15:1-11): Peter, the Twelve, more than five hundred brothers at one time who could verify the truth of what Paul had written, then James, the Lord’s brother, and finally Paul himself who saw our risen Lord on the Damascus road. That’s a lot of eyewitnesses. And these eyewitnesses died martyr’s deaths for their confession of the resurrection. In other words, they weren’t lying. Who would die for a lie? As a matter of fact, with the wealth of evidence in primary and secondary literature, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is as verifiable as any other event in history. But all of that aside, the point is this: Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and this is a Word of hope for you from God Himself. Sin is dead. Death has been defeated. Hell is vanquished. You will be raised from the dead.

The women fled from the tomb with trembling and astonishment when they heard this news. There is something startling about all this. A resurrection like this has never happened before. It goes against all our experience in this fallen world, staring death in the face. Perhaps you tremble with astonishment, too, when you ponder this great miracle. At the same time, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the end of fear. St. Paul writes later in 1st Corinthians 15 (vv. 54-57): “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV). Do you want to know why you can dare to hope when hopeless things are going on all around you? Because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. And He gives you His victory over all things, including death itself, right here in His Church as Sunday after Sunday and every time we come together your risen Lord Himself comes to you, in the flesh, to nourish you with His Word and Supper. The forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, hope, all given to you right here and now by Jesus Christ Himself. He can do that, because He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year’s Lenten/Easter series are from God’s Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).
[2] Sample sermon from God's Gift of Forgiveness.

Easter Sunrise

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Sunrise

April 8, 2012

Text: 1 Cor. 5:6b-8; John 20:1-18

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

The empty tomb changes everything. That’s the point St. Paul is making in our Epistle lesson. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. Nothing like it has ever happened before. The consequences of this event are staggering. This means that death has been defeated. This means that hell has been vanquished and the devil no longer has any power over us. This means that God has accepted our Lord’s sacrifice for sin on the cross. Our sins are forgiven. We are no longer in bondage to sin and unbelief. This means that we have been reconciled to God, that we have eternal life, that Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead, will likewise raise us from the dead on the Last Day, never to die again.

Well, that changes everything. St. Paul contends that this fact, that Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed, and that He has been raised from the dead, should make an actual difference in our life now. Paul is addressing sexual immorality in 1st Corinthians Chapter 5. We can apply what he says regarding this specific case to all manifest sin. His point is this: Don’t you know that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, to atone for you, to pay your debt, to reconcile you to God? Don’t you know that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, victorious over sin and death, that the resurrection is the Father’s divine seal of approval over the sin-atoning work of the Son? Since that is the case, sweep out the old sins that hold you captive. You don’t just say, “Well, I’m sorry that it is the case that I’m a sinner, but thankfully Jesus loves to forgive sins, He died for me, and I can go on sinning as I please.” No! It’s true that Jesus loves to forgive you. It’s true that Jesus died for you. The response to that is not to go on sinning. It’s to knock it off! It’s to fight against the sin that still plagues you in your old sinful flesh. It’s to repent when you fall, and to get back up with God’s help and fight again. It’s to strive to do, to make a beginning of doing, what God commands for your good. That’s the thankful Christian life. And this is a Word of God that is sorely needed in our contemporary culture and in the contemporary Church. To return to the original context of St. Paul’s words, understand this: It is unacceptable for a Christian to live in sexual immorality, in spite of what the media and the entertainment industry would have you believe. For some reason we’ve forgotten that. Time to repent.

St. Paul calls the works of the flesh “the old leaven” (1 Cor. 5:7; ESV). In the Scriptures, leaven is a symbol of false doctrine, or, as is the case in our text, manifest sin. Just a little bit of leaven in a lump of dough works its way all through the lump, causing the whole loaf of bread to rise. This is good for those of us who love bread. But it is not good when a little bit of false doctrine or a little bit of manifest sin works its way through the Christian Church, or through your Christian life. Just a little bit of this disastrous leaven infects the whole thing. At Passover, the Israelites were to get rid of all the leaven in their cupboards and then sweep the house clean in case any of the leaven got on the floor. Only unleavened bread was consumed during Passover. In one sense this was a practical concern… no time to wait around for the bread to rise when we’re gearing up for the Exodus from Egypt. But the spiritual meaning was this: No false doctrine, no idolatry, no manifest sin is to infect God’s people. Sweep it out! Get rid of it. Not because God is some kind of almighty kill-joy, but because it’s harmful. Because God loves you and wants what is best for you and knows what will hurt you. He’s your Father. Just as earthly parents know what is best for their kids, and what will hurt them, so your heavenly Father knows what is best for you. His commandments are given for your good.

We have not kept those commandments. So Jesus had to die. He had to die on the cross for us. And in Him there is full and free forgiveness of all our sins: Forgiveness for our sexual immorality, forgiveness for our idolatry, forgiveness for our failure to call upon His Name and our despising of His Word, forgiveness for our failure to love our neighbor as ourselves and to serve our neighbor in every need. Thanks be to God for the forgiveness of sins that we have in Christ Jesus, who died for us, and who has been raised from the dead. Since that is the case, let us not go on in sin as if nothing happened. As St. Paul writes, “Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (v. 8). Because the empty tomb changes everything. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. He has triumphed gloriously over His enemies. He has delivered us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. In Christ, we are free. And we have eternal life.

Beloved in the Lord, what sins still afflict you? Confess them to Christ and believe that His death and resurrection are for you. He says to you this morning, “I forgive you all your sins.” He is not lying. Cling to His Word of forgiveness. And come to His Supper, His victory feast, to be strengthened for your life in this fallen flesh. The Day is coming when Jesus will return visibly, and then there will be no more struggle. Just as He is risen from the dead, you will live before Him in your body, in perfect righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. No more leaven. Only the perfect bliss and righteousness of your blessed Lord Jesus. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Good Friday Tenebrae

Good Friday Tenebrae Vespers: “Divine Forgetfulness”[1]

April 6, 2012

Text: Psalm 130

Psalm 130 is my favorite Psalm. It is my favorite because in it I find the story of my life. Many have said the same. While Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”) is the sentimental favorite, Psalm 130 is loved for its terse and brutal honesty. Psalm 130 is a confession of sin. It is a confession of the profound sinfulness of the one praying the Psalm, the utter corruption of the sinful nature, the abominable actual sins of thought, word, and deed that we commit against our Lord and against one another in this fallen flesh. “Out of the depths…” (Ps. 130:1; ESV), De Profundis in Latin, deep, profound, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!” Out of the depths of sin and all the misery it has caused. Out of the depths of pain and suffering. Out of the depths of disease and injury. Out of the depths of depression and broken relationships. Out of the depths of death itself. Out of these depths I cry to you, O LORD! Because you will hear my voice.

You will hear my voice because I am baptized into Christ, Your only-begotten Son. Your ears will be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy (v. 2) because I am clothed with Christ and His righteousness, covered in His blood, which He poured out for me on the cross, for the forgiveness of my sins. In Baptism, His death is my death, His resurrection is my resurrection. Your ears will be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy because in hearing me, You hear Your Son Jesus Christ, and You cannot turn Your ear away from Him.

It is true, I am a sinner, and out of the depths of my sin and degradation I cry to You. If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand (v. 3)? No one! Certainly not I. But… But! With You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared (v. 4). With You there is forgiveness, because my Lord Jesus Christ cried out to You from the depths of a sin not His own, as He was suffering in the depths of hell on the cross as payment for my sin and the sin of the whole world.

So I wait in hope for the LORD to deliver my soul out of the depths. It is a sure and certain hope with which I wait because it is founded on the sure and certain Word of the LORD (v. 5). As a watchman on guard against the enemy through the dark night eagerly looks for the first light of morning, so my soul waits for the LORD and His deliverance (v. 6). He will come. He will deliver. Because He didn’t abandon my Lord Jesus to the grave. He who suffered death for our sakes could not by death be contained. This Good Friday we wait. We wait for the first rays of light on Easter morning proclaiming what we know to be true. Jesus Christ has paid for all our sins in His death. In so doing He has conquered sin and death and the very devil. Now it is just a matter of time. The Third Day is coming, the Day God delivers His Son out of the depths of the grave. We will say it with great rejoicing, soon. We will say the word we have hidden in the depths of our heart throughout the penitential season of Lent. God raises His Son from the dead on Easter morning. We know this even as we behold Him this night hanging upon the cross. And since that is true, and since we are baptized into Christ, and into His resurrection reality, we know that in Him we have deliverance from the depths of our own grave on the Last Day, and from sin, death, and the devil now.

O Israel, O Church of God, hope in the LORD (v. 7), even on this dark night of our Lord’s suffering and death. For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. He will redeem His Israel, His Church, from all iniquity (v. 8). He has done so by this ignominious death of God the Son on the cross. Easter is coming. Wait. Shed your penitent tears tonight for the price that won your ransom. Confess your sins. Cry out for God’s mercy. But do so in confidence. Because the LORD surely hears your voice. There is no depth too deep for Him to hear you. He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all will not abandon you. There is forgiveness with Him for the utter corruption of your sinful nature, for your every actual sin of thought, word, and deed. Out of the depths of the wounds of Jesus Christ, comes your deliverance. It’s the story of your life. God remembers your sins no more. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year’s Lenten series are from God’s Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).

Good Friday Tre Ore

Good Friday Tre Ore

Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan

April 6, 2012

Text: Matt. 27:45-46: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (ESV).

Jesus is praying Psalm 22. And fulfilling it. For you. In your place. You see, what is happening here is that Jesus is suffering hell for your sins. To be forsaken by God, that is the definition of hell. We can’t begin to imagine what it really means to be forsaken by God. That would be the utter absence of all that is good, because God is the source of all that is good. Even in our greatest suffering, we do not experience the utter absence of all that is good. In this life, God makes His sun to rise on the good and the evil, and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). When God forsakes a person in hell, when God is present only in divine wrath and justice, well, that is a hopeless, unrelenting, torturous existence that can only be called eternal death because we lack the words to describe it. When Jesus cries out in the bitter anguish of body and soul, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” it is the high point of His suffering on our behalf. The Father has forsaken the Son. God has forsaken God. How can that be? It is a ponderous mystery. It is a divine necessity. Because if God is to be just, He must punish sin. He cannot simply excuse it, or sweep it under the rug. He must deal with it. And so, if you are to be saved, dear sinner, God must do the unthinkable. He must send His Son to take your place. And that is what He does. He sends His Son. Jesus comes willingly to take your place. He is nailed to the cross for you. He is forsaken of the Father for you. He suffers hell for you. So that all your sins are forgiven, and you have eternal life.

When we suffer profoundly in this life we may be heard to say, “I’m going through hell,” or “God has forsaken me.” Well, we know that’s wrong, but let’s not dismiss the sentiment too quickly. There is real and profound human suffering in this fallen world, in our fallen flesh. And it can seem as though God has forsaken you in your suffering. That’s the point of Psalm 22, and so many other Psalms. It’s right there in the prayer-book of the Bible. Even though these words are first and foremost about Jesus, the Holy Spirit wrote these words for you to pray, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Because it so often seems as though He has. The Prophet Isaiah said it this way: “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (Is. 45:15). God’s peculiar people Israel were suffering greatly at the hands of other nations. It seemed as though God had forsaken them. Isaiah accuses God of hiding. And yet, in the very same breath, he confesses this God as the Savior of Israel. And that is the key for the Christian who suffers. Though God is hiding, though He is silent, though it seems that God has forsaken you, you know He hasn’t. You know He is the Savior. You know He will do something to save you, because He said so in His holy Word, and He cannot lie. Jesus, who suffered a hell beyond what any of us can begin to imagine, confessed His faith even in His bitter cry. He cried, “My God, my God, why?” I don’t know why, God. But I know you are my God. And that is enough. You will save me. You must. Because You said so. And You cannot lie.

When it seems as though God has forsaken you, when God is hiding, here is the comfort. Jesus really was forsaken by God on the cross. Jesus was forsaken by God so that God will never forsake you. Jesus was forsaken in your place so that you may be united with God for all eternity. That is the truth of your Baptism into Christ. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us (2 Cor. 5:19). In Holy Baptism, you are clothed with that very same Christ. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). That means you are clothed with Christ’s righteousness, even as He has taken your sin into Himself and nailed it to the cross where it has been put to death forever. That means that you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus, through faith (Gal. 3:26). You are God’s own child, you gladly say it. And what does that mean? God did not leave His Son in death. God will not leave you in death. God will not leave you in suffering. He will not and cannot forsake you, because you are in Christ, and Christ was already forsaken once and for all, for you.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We cannot always answer the question, why?, when it comes to our suffering. But Jesus knew the answer to His. He was suffering for you, to claim you as His own. The writer to the Hebrews says that for the joy set before our Lord Jesus, he endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12:2). You are the joy set before Him. He did all this, willingly, for you. He was forsaken of the Father, willingly, for you. That you may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom. And that makes all the difference in your own suffering. Even as you pray Psalm 22 with your Lord, you also pray with Him, as we will hear shortly, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). For the Psalm continues: God “has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (Ps. 22:24). God does not despise you. He has heard your cry. His answer is Jesus, for you, hidden under suffering and the cross, hidden in your suffering, revealed in His Word. Jesus is the end of God-forsakenness. Jesus is the end of death. Jesus is your deliverance and your eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday: “Delivered”[1]

April 5, 2012

Text: Psalm 116; Catechism: What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?

“For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling” (Ps. 116:8; ESV). The LORD delivers His people. That is what it means that He is our Savior. He saves us. He delivers us from bondage and affliction. We see this in the history of God’s people, Israel. They were slaves in Egypt. For 400 years they had cried out to God for deliverance. And the LORD heard their voice and their pleas for mercy (v. 1). He sent Moses to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea. You remember the history of the ten plagues the LORD inflicted upon Egypt when Pharaoh would not allow God’s people to go free. The tenth plague was the most severe. God sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn of all Egypt. Pharaoh’s own son was a casualty of this plague. But God delivered His people Israel from death. They were, each family, to kill a lamb, and paint that lamb’s blood upon the doorposts and lintels of their dwellings. The blood of the lamb would save them. The angel of death would pass over, thus the Jewish feast, Passover. Safe inside their blood-stained homes, the families of the children of Israel would eat the flesh of that sacrificial lamb, along with unleavened bread and ceremonial wine, and bitter herbs as the symbol of the tribulations from which the LORD here delivered them. Fully dressed, they would eat in haste, ready at any moment for their exodus, their deliverance from bondage by the almighty hand of the LORD.

The LORD delivered the children of Israel by a lamb that was slain and a sacred meal. The lamb, the meal, are a foreshadowing, a type, a picture of our true Passover Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ, who was slain on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He frees us from our slavery to sin and death and the power of the devil. His blood is painted upon the doorposts and lintels of our hearts, so that the angel of death passes over us. In this blood-stained house we eat the bread that is His true body, and drink the wine that is His true blood, even as He delivers us from our bitter tribulations in this life. We eat fully dressed in the garment of Baptism, Christ’s righteousness, ready at any moment for our exodus from this fallen world, for the LORD to call us home, be it in our death (for “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” [Ps. 116:15]) or in His coming again to judge the living and the dead.

The LORD delivers His Israel, His Church, you, by a Lamb who has been slain, even our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and by a sacred meal, the Lord’s Supper, in which Christ feeds you His body and gives you to drink of His blood. Here He gives you the greatest of all gifts: His very self. Why? Why do you come to this meal? Or, as Luther phrases it in the Small Catechism, “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?” Beloved, please turn to the inside front cover of your bulletin and recite this with me: “These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”[2] Why do you come to this meal? Because here you receive the forgiveness of sins. All that your Lord Jesus won for you in His sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, here distributed to you by our Lord Jesus Himself in His body and blood. Because He says so. “This is my body… This is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins” (cf. Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). And, as Luther notes, if you have the forgiveness of sins, you also have eternal life, which is to say, you will go to heaven when you die, and be raised from the dead in your body on the Last Day. And if you have the forgiveness of sins, you also have eternal salvation, which is to say, your enemies: the devil, the world, your own sinful flesh, these can no longer make a claim upon you. They cannot hurt you anymore, for Jesus has delivered you from their power once and for all.

The LORD delivers you by His Lamb who has been slain to take away the sin of the world, and by a meal wherein you eat that sacrificial Lamb. You eat the body of Christ. You drink the blood of Christ. It is the very body given into death, the very blood poured out from the cross, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. What are we to do with this? “What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?” (Ps. 116:12)… The Psalmist gets it right. “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD” (v. 13). We praise the LORD not by doing something for Him, as if there’s anything He needs that we could possibly provide. We praise the LORD by lifting up the cup of salvation, receiving the gift He here gives us in His body and blood, and believing what He says of it, that it delivers forgiveness, life, and salvation to us. And we call upon Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. Then we go out from this place and love and serve our neighbor, as the Lord Jesus taught His disciples on this night in the upper room when He stooped down as their servant to wash their feet. We go and do this, not to repay the Lord. We could never do that. But because His benefits are so wonderful. Because He is so good to us. And then we return again and again and again to His Table to be fed and nourished by His Word and Supper. This do, says Jesus. Often. He does not say how often. He says often. Because it is impossible to do it too often. And the gifts that flow from His wounds to you in the Supper can never be extinguished.

So, beloved, let us do this. Let us lift up the cup of salvation and call on the Name of the Lord. Come to the Supper. For “Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful” (v. 5). He has delivered our soul from death, our eyes from tears, our feet from stumbling (v. 8). He has heard our voice and our pleas for mercy (v. 1). His answer is Jesus. His blood now marks our door. Faith points to it, death passes o’er. And Satan cannot harm us (LSB 458:5). Nor can anything else in all creation. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year’s Lenten series are from God’s Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).
[2] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion (B)[1]

March 25, 2012

Text: John 12:12-19; Mark 14:1-15:47

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Jesus enters the Holy City to shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13; ESV), and by Friday He is crucified between two criminals outside the city, having been convicted in Jewish and Gentile courts of crimes He did not commit. At any moment, Jesus could have answered the false accusations of his accusers. At any moment, Jesus could have spoken a word, given a glance toward heaven, made a simple appeal to His heavenly Father, and at once more than twelve legions of angels would have been at His disposal, to fight for Him and annihilate His captors. He does not do that. Willingly, He allows Himself to be betrayed by one of His own, Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve. With a kiss, no less. Willingly, He allows Himself to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and led to the high priest, where the chief priests and elders and scribes have gathered for His trial, having predetermined their verdict. There many bear false witness against Him, though their testimony does not agree. It could not be more obvious that this is a set-up, a mockery of justice. The Savior remains silent. He makes no answer. Finally, the high priest, Caiaphas, stands up, exasperated. “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you? … Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed” (Mark 14:60-61). “I am,” Jesus answers, YHWH, the Name of God, Jesus claiming it for Himself, “and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds out of heaven” (v. 62). Now you judge me, dear Caiaphas, but the Day is coming when I will come on the clouds to judge you and all the living and the dead.

Now, we know that Jesus is telling the truth. But His Words earn Him the judgment of death. No mere human claims to be God. Such a claim is blasphemy, and the punishment for blasphemy is death. “And the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving of death” (vv. 63-64). Unfair! Jesus is innocent! He’s telling the truth! He’s God! He can’t possibly be blaspheming!

“The strange thing is that this judgment, the most unjustified verdict ever given on earth, was at the same time the most completely just verdict ever given. Jesus kept secret something that the high priests knew nothing about—He carried the sins of the whole world. He took the burden of guilt for the whole world upon Himself and made it His own. From where He stood, in front of His accusers, He was responsible for their sins also, for their envy and lust for power, their deceit and heartlessness. He took upon Himself all the trespasses of everyone in the past, in the present, and in the future. That sin warranted death. Without knowing it, Caiaphas sentenced his own sin, and all our sin, to the punishment that since the beginning of time had been waiting to deal with the wickedness and selfishness that said no to God’s love: that death must die.”[2]

St. Paul says it this way: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Martin Luther called it the happy exchange. Jesus gets all our sin. We get all His righteousness. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, becomes THE sinner, that He might take the place of sinners to receive God’s justice, God’s punishment. As a result, we sinners are covered with the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. God no longer looks at our sins, for He has nailed them to the cross, and buried them forever in Jesus’ tomb.

The Jews mock Jesus, beat Him, and spit on Him. And then they hand Him over to Pilate. Pilate finds nothing in Jesus worthy of death. But the crowd wants blood. “Crucify him,” they cry (Mark 15:14). How different is this from the shouting that accompanied His triumphal entry. It is not the just thing to do, but Pilate wishes to satisfy the crowd. A murderer, Barabbas, goes free, while Jesus is handed over to be crucified. And yet, the strange thing is, this is all God’s plan. Jesus is murdered on the cross, precisely so that all of us murderers can go free. Jesus is scourged as we deserve. Jesus is mocked and beaten as we deserve. Jesus is put to death as we deserve. And all this He allows to happen, willingly. Because He loves us.

They lead Him out to Golgotha, the Place of a Skull, where they nail Him to the cross and lift Him up. Behold, the King of the Jews. Behold, your King, beloved. His sacred blood flows for you. The three-hour darkness marks His death in your place. His bitter cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 34), is His suffering the hell that you deserve. He is forsaken by God so that God will never forsake you. He is damned so that you will never be accursed, but have eternal life. The punishment that brings you peace is upon Him, and with His stripes, you are healed. He is punished, that you may be forgiven.

And then, when it is all over, when the sins of the whole world have been paid in full by the sinless Son of God, He utters a loud cry and breathes His last. And of all people, a Roman centurion is the first to get what it is that has happened here. “And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (v. 39).

Of course, we’ve barely touched on the details of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ as we read it in its entirety from the Gospel according to St. Mark this morning. But know this about all that we have heard and witnessed with the eyes of faith here today. All of this is for you. All this your Lord Jesus Christ did willingly, for you, because He loves you. He did this that you may be His own. Beloved, this Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion marks the beginning of Holy Week. This week, let us stay awake and alert, and watch with Jesus, and pray, that we not fall into temptation. Come to the Holy Week services. Hear the Word of the Lord. Receive the holy Sacrament of His Body and Blood. Because in this way the Lord gives to you what He has won for you in His sacrificial death for your sins. The Lord Jesus Himself comes to you this morning and throughout the week in the flesh with His good gifts and the Holy Spirit. Faith strews palm branches before Him and receives Him with great delight, to the shouts of “Hosanna! Save us now, O Lord! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" Let us not sleep. The events of our Lord’s Passion for us unfold before our very eyes. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The concept for this sermon comes from Bo Giertz, To Live with Christ (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008), pp. 257-58.
[2] Ibid.