Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan
- Name: Rev. Jonathon T. Krenz
- Location: Dorr, Michigan
Sunday, February 28, 2016
February 28, 2016
Text: Luke 13:1-9
Why do bad things happen? It is the unanswerable question every one of us asks at some point in life. For some of us, the question plagues us like a bad penny. For some of us, the question is very pertinent, and very personal. For the question, “Why do bad things happen,” all too often takes the form of “Why has this happened to me?” The temptation here is to provide an answer where God has remained silent. That was the issue in Job. Job was afflicted by the devil. Everything was taken from him: His livestock, his servants, his children, and finally his health. His wife encouraged him to curse God and die (Job 2:9). Now, all of this was the work of the evil one. But God was complicit in the affliction, also. He allowed, and even encouraged it. Job wants to know why. His less-than-helpful friends all offer their own answers. “Obviously you’ve sinned, Job. That is why this has happened. God is punishing you. You just need more faith, Job. You just need to totally surrender yourself to God’s will.” Well, to be sure, God has His reasons, but these suggestions miss the mark. By a longshot. So much so that God is angry with Job’s friends. They have spoken where God has not. Nor does God finally answer the question for Job. Sarcastically, God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” (38:4-5; ESV). In other words, God tells Job, “It’s none of your business why I allowed this. I’m God, and you’re not. So like it or not, you’re just going to have to trust me, that I know what I’m doing, and that I’m working all things together for your good, because that’s the kind of God I am.” God does not answer the “why” of Job’s suffering. But He is with Job in the suffering, and He does something about the suffering. He restores Job. He repays Job double what he has lost in his afflictions, twice as much as he had at the beginning. Except for the sons and daughters. Seven sons and three daughters died. Job is given seven more sons and three more daughters. Because, in spite of all appearances, Job did not lose the previous 10. They are with the LORD. Job has them still, in the Communion of Saints. And now he has all twenty children with him for all eternity in heaven.
Our God works all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Even the afflictions. That is the promise. Though it is hidden under suffering and the cross. He does not answer your question, “Why do bad things happen? Why has this happened to me?” Instead, He points you to the cross. The cross, and His crucified Son, this is His answer to your suffering. God does not tell you why you suffer, but He does tell you what He has done about it. He sent His Son. He sent His Son to die. For you. And in that death all the suffering of all the world, and the root cause of all the suffering of all the world, namely, sin, is drowned in the holy Blood of Christ and done to death.
Some who are with Jesus in our Holy Gospel tell Him tell Him about a great tragedy. Some Galileans were in the Temple, sacrificing to God. Pontius Pilate, for reasons unknown to us, sends his soldiers right into the Temple precincts, to the sacred place of sacrifice, and the soldiers mow them down. Blood everywhere. The blood of the sacrifices. The blood of the Galileans. All together slaughtered as animals. It would be like our own government ordering the army into the Church to slaughter us at the altar during Holy Communion. Our blood would mingle on the ground with the Blood of the Sacrifice, our Lord’s Blood in the Chalice, shed for us, for the forgiveness of sins. This was blasphemy against God, this assault on the Galilean worshipers. It was tyranny. A terrible abuse of power. A blatant disregard for all things sacred. And the question implied but left unasked, the question on everyone’s mind, what they really want to know from Jesus, is why? Why these people? Why this terrible thing that happened? It hits a little too close to home, they think, because it could have been any one of us. Unless… Unless these people somehow deserved it. And there is the temptation to which Job’s friends fall prey. To speak where God has not spoken. To assign a specific tragedy to a specific sin. To rationalize why a bad thing has happened, as if we could know. The disciples fall to the same temptation when they ask Jesus regarding the blind man, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). And we fall to this temptation, too, when we assign the blame for a tragedy to some sin of which the sufferer is guilty. It comforts us to do it, because that means it won’t necessarily happen to us. And it makes us feel superior, because it didn’t happen to us, so we must not be as bad as those people. Well, you know that is foolishness. Pat Robertson lets his mouth run about 9/11 being a punishment for the decadence of citizens in New York City, or Katrina being punishment for the sinful licentiousness of the City of New Orleans. And you see that it’s ridiculous on the face of it. But then you go and do the same thing when you see a guy pulled over by a cop and you think, “That guy had it coming!” (David Scaer). But the reality is, the moment you saw the red and blue lights, you hit the brakes. Because you had it coming, too. Repent.
Perhaps the greater tragedy is when you fall to this temptation in the other direction. When you think that you are suffering some affliction because of some sin you have committed. When you think God is out to get you. I have cancer because God doesn’t love me. My son died because I was promiscuous back in college. God took my husband too soon because I don’t pray enough. This, too, is foolishness. But the devil is pretty good at getting you to believe it. Now, it is true that in general, all the suffering in the world is a result of sin. If we weren’t sinners, if our first parents, Adam and Eve, never sinned, and if this weren’t, as a result, a fallen world and we fallen people, then there would be no suffering. And it is also true that some bad things happen as a direct result of a bad thing we do. Drunk drivers often crash and kill people and go to jail as a direct result of their drunk driving. Robbers go to prison for robbing. Drug addicts overdose. Promiscuous people get STDs and children die in abortion because of the sin of their parents. You get the point. These things are consequences of bad behavior. But you have to understand, God is not punishing you for your sins. All the punishment for all your sin, God’s righteous wrath against all your iniquities, is poured out on Jesus on the cross. It is completely swallowed up there, on Calvary. There is none left. God isn’t out to get you. He already got you, in His Son. His wrath is spent. All that is left, as far as you are concerned, is love.
What, then, of suffering and tragedy? Jesus tells us these crosses and trials, the terrible injustice suffered by the Galileans, those on whom the tower of Siloam and the Twin Towers in New York fell, the sufferings of our own Barbara Edwards, cancer, marriage troubles, death itself… these crosses and trials have a very specific purpose. They are a call to repentance. They are a call to faith in Christ alone. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5). The point is, it could have been any one of you. The recent shootings in Kalamazoo are evidence of this. Dear people minding their own business, enjoying a meal at Cracker Barrel of all places, gunned down for no good reason. It could have been you. You are never safe. And the idea here is not that if you just repent sincerely enough, you’re guaranteed it won’t be you. The perishing Jesus is warning against is of a much more serious and permanent nature than tragic physical death. He is echoing His warning to Adam and Eve in the Garden. Repent, or the death you will suffer will not only be physical, but also spiritual (a breaking of fellowship with God), and eternal (the eternal suffering of separation from God in hell).
Repentance is a turning from sin, a turning from unbelief, a turning from all that is not the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), to the God who reveals Himself in the flesh of His Son, Jesus Christ. That is the call of God in every tragedy, in every bad thing that happens. It’s a reminder of mortality. It’s a reminder that Judgment Day is coming. It’s a reminder that we need saving, that we need a Savior. It is the ultimate preaching of the Law. And in these times, the Lord Jesus holds out His pierced hands to receive us into His saving embrace. He will shelter us in the time of trial. He will gather us under the outstretched arms of His cross, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. When a tragedy occurs, in your personal life or in our life together in the world, the thing to do is get yourself to Church. Confess your sins. Be absolved. Hear the Gospel. Pass through the font to the altar, to be fed with the Body and Blood of the Lord. That is repentance in action. That is how Jesus protects you, how He leads you not into temptation, but delivers you from evil, and from the evil one. Why do bad things happen? Why have bad things happened to you? The only answer you’ll get from God is Jesus. It is Christ crucified and risen for you. God doesn’t tell you why. That’s His business. But He does tell you He will be with you in the suffering. And He tells you what He’s done about it. Jesus. That is where He is with you. In the pierced flesh of Jesus. That is what He’s done about it. He sent His Son, Jesus. To die. For you. And in the death of God’s Son, you have life. And that is why God does all that He does. That you live and be saved. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Second Sunday in Lent
Second Sunday in Lent (C)
February 21, 2016
Text: Luke 13:31-35
Rejection of preachers is nothing new. Prophet after prophet was sent by God to Israel, preaching repentance, preaching a returning to God, and prophet after prophet was rejected, exiled, imprisoned, tortured, executed. Preaching the Word of God demands a high price of the preacher. It demands self-sacrifice. But it is God who sends the preacher, and God who places the preaching into the preacher’s mouth. The preacher is to preach whatever God sends him to preach, and only what God sends him to preach, no more, and no less. And so a preacher preaches whether the message falls on deaf ears or finds reception in open hearts. The preacher preaches whether the seed of the Word falls on rocky ground or good soil, even at risk of the seed being picked off by birds or growing up only to be choked by thorns or scorched by sunlight. The preacher preaches the Word of God, Law and Gospel, bitter and sweet, life and death, because that is what he is called to do. The preacher preaches repentance and the forgiveness of sins. He preaches Christ. And woe to him if he fails to do it.
Now, this congregation has shown love to this preacher and his family in many and various ways. But what I’m getting at here is a very real spiritual danger that has afflicted (and continues to afflict) many congregations and could at any time afflict ours, a danger that has troubled the Christian Church throughout her history, and that is a constant battle in the heart of every sinful saint: Rejection of the preacher and his preaching. We see it in our Scripture readings this morning. Jeremiah is rejected by the priests and the prophets, the religious elite of Judah, who want to kill him for his preaching (Jer. 26:8-15). Paul speaks of many who once walked in his own example, but who now walk as enemies of Christ (Phil. 3:17-18). And finally, our Lord Jesus is rejected by Herod, by the Pharisees, by Jerusalem, by the very people for whom He came to die (Luke 13:31-35). Why are preachers so often rejected? I’m not talking about legitimate reasons for fleeing a preacher or removing him from office, such as the preaching of false doctrine, or leading a manifestly sinful life. Why are even faithful preachers rejected, not only by the world, but by the people of their congregations? There are many superficial excuses… His personality rubs me the wrong way. I can’t understand him. I don’t like the way he conducts the liturgy. I don’t like the liturgy. I wish he preached more “uplifting” sermons. I don’t like how he always talks about sin and death and crosses and forgiveness. Why does he always harp on me about attending church and going to confession and absolution and receiving the Sacrament? I wish he would concentrate less on doctrine and more on what is relevant to my life (as if the doctrine, the teaching of Jesus, could ever be anything but relevant to you). I’m sure there are many other reasons given for rejecting a preacher. And maybe you’ve had some of these thoughts yourself. But in reality, when a preacher is rejected, it is for the Word He preaches. That is to say, what is rejected is the preaching of repentance, and the preaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus said to His disciples: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16; ESV). When a faithful preacher is rejected for preaching the Word of Christ, it is, in reality, Christ Himself who is rejected, and so the Father who sent Him.
Sometimes the preaching is rejected outright, as the priests and prophets rejected Jeremiah, and as Jerusalem rejected our Lord, both seeking to kill the preacher. We think of so many Christian martyrs throughout the centuries who were tortured and killed for their faithful proclamation of Christ. Often pastors are removed from their pulpits because they refuse to scratch the itching ears of their congregation. More often, the rejection is subtle, a matter of the heart. I know this because I’ve done it myself: We nod and smile as the pastor preaches, but in our hearts we reject what he’s saying. Beloved, repent.
The problem here is the hardness of the human heart. To the natural man, to the unconverted person, and even to the believing Christian insofar as every one of us is still a sinner, the preaching of Christ and His cross is an offense (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:14). For outside of Christ and His life-giving Spirit, my will, your will, is bound. The bondage of the will is not a popular article of doctrine, and too-little taught and preached. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin, the human will has been bound to choose only sin, only death, only that which is opposed to God. This is why you can never say you made your decision for Jesus. A slave cannot choose which master to serve. You are born into the service of sin and unbelief, of death, and ultimately, the devil. That is what it means to be lost. You cannot choose to serve Jesus when you are bound by the chains of the evil one. And what really gets us about the idea of this bound will is that there is nothing you can do about it. If you are to be rescued from this bondage, it must come from outside of yourself. It must come from God. It can only come from God. All of this is simply to reaffirm what we confess in the Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The only way that anyone ever comes to accept and believe Jesus Christ and His Word and His preachers is by the Holy Spirit working through the divinely appointed means of grace, the Word and Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You don’t choose Jesus, He chooses you! It is by grace. Faith is not your work, it is the gift of God. But that doesn’t mean that faith is easy. Our Lord Christ has covered our sin with His blood, forgiven us poor sinners, but we still sin. We are at the same time saints and sinners, and so it is always a struggle with this sinful flesh to believe the preaching, to hear the preacher, to allow the Law to do its painful work on us, to look to Christ alone for help and salvation.
What great compassion our Lord Jesus has for those who reject the preaching, reject the prophets, reject Him and the salvation He alone brings. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34). When there is danger, when there is a predator, like a hawk, seeking to eat the chicks, or when a fire threatens her brood, a hen will shield the little ones with her own body. She will die for the sake of her offspring, to save them. In the same way, Jesus suffers the cross for us. He dies for us. He dies for the sins of the whole world. He suffers our punishment. His wings are outstretched on the cross, and He would gather all people under them, gather all people to Himself, under His cross, in His holy Church, for safety and shelter. Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem for that very purpose, that He may die for all humanity, and gather a Church unto Himself: “I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” (v. 33). Why can’t Jerusalem see the salvation that comes to her in Jesus? Why do the people not bow down in homage to the One who would pay so high a price, His blood and death, for their forgiveness and life? The answer is here in our text, in the lament of our Lord: “you would not!” (v. 34). It’s the bondage of the will. Jerusalem “would not,” willed not to be thus gathered to our Lord in faith, because her will is bound to choose everything and anything other than our Lord. It is not a lack of love or willingness on God’s part that leads to the eternal death of the sinner. It is the stubborn human heart that rejects the preaching, rejects the Gospel, and so rejects Jesus, rejects God, rejects salvation.
Beloved in the Lord, there is nothing within us that led the Holy Spirit to convert us, to turn our heart in repentance to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not by our merit or worthiness or any effort on our part that we came to faith. It is all by grace. Do not torture yourself with the question why everyone else is not converted. It is a futile question, a seeking to look into the hidden will of God, things that are not given us to know. We can only say what Scripture says, what our Lord says in our Gospel lesson this morning: How God longs for every sinner to be gathered to Christ and be saved, and how only the stubborn, hard heart of man, his bound will, is responsible if he is lost. God does not force anyone to believe. There is no such thing as “irresistible grace.” But there is unimaginable grace.
What great grace that God gave His sinless Son into death for us sinners. What great grace that God has gathered us here, by Baptism, under the wings of His Son’s cross, into His outstretched arms, into His nail pierced hands. What great grace that God has gathered us here to His Church, where we receive all the benefits of the death and resurrection of Christ, including His very body and blood in the Supper. What great grace that here God has placed a man into the preaching office, of himself unworthy, flawed, weak, sinful, but called by God to speak Jesus into your ears and hearts, to forgive your sins, a mere instrument and mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit. What great grace that we can come every Sunday, and so many other times during the week, and we will always find our Savior here in the preaching, and in the Sacrament. For the preacher is called to preach God’s Word, preach Jesus, and woe to him if he does not do it. God grant that this preacher, and every Christian pastor, always proclaims Christ and His Word faithfully, no matter the consequences, even if it be rejection, even if it be death. But what great grace that our Lord has not left us orphans. He comes to us (John 14:18), here, in Word and Sacrament. And even as we gather around His altar to receive His true body and blood, really present, received in our mouths for our forgiveness, we sing these words, the words Jerusalem sang as our Lord came into the city to die for her, for us: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 13:35). And so we see Him in the Supper, just as we hear Him in the preaching. Rejection of the preacher is nothing new. What is new is you, your heart released from bondage, forgiven of sin, freed by the Spirit, brought to faith in Christ by the same Spirit. What is new is the life you have in Christ crucified, the open ears and hearts that hear and cling to His Word. “Therefore, my brothers” and sisters, “whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Phil. 4:1). Stand firm by hearing Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
First Sunday in Lent
February 14, 2016
Text: Luke 4:1-13
The great temptation behind all the temptations in our Holy Gospel, is that Jesus would bypass the cross and claim His glory as the Son of God apart from suffering... which is to say, apart from saving us. The choice is this: To follow the Holy Spirit in the wilderness (Luke 4:1), or follow the devil in rebellion. We made our choice in the Garden, as our first parents took and ate of the forbidden fruit. And ever since we’ve been enslaved by the devil, sin, and death. We have no choice to make. Our will, in spiritual matters, is bound. But our Lord is not infected with our mortal disease, original sin. He is unbound. He is righteous. He is faithful. And He, Himself, fights for us. Jesus goes in the Spirit into the wilderness as our Champion, to face the evil foe. For us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected. And it is all-out war. Where Adam, where we, have failed, our Lord goes on to win. He is delivered into temptation, that by His victory over it, we be delivered out of it.
But the devil knows what is at stake. If he could just lead Jesus to believe that there is an easier way, that there is a better plan than that of His Father, that all this cross and suffering could be avoided, and that the Father maybe doesn’t love the Son so much after all… Then, Satan would convince our Lord, they could both be happy. The devil would get us, and Jesus could still be exalted as God. And after all, why give these puny, worthless, rebellious humans what the Father is not giving You, Jesus? You gave Israel manna in the wilderness, and quail, and water from the rock. You give these rebels each day their daily bread. What about you? Just command these stones to become bread. Why suffer hunger and want when you are Almighty God? Forsake suffering. Eat, and be filled… Look at all the kingdoms of the world magically displayed in a moment of time. Just bow down to me. Just one little bend of the knee, and I will give You the world. They can be Your slaves. The Father will not give them to You unless You suffer, but I, I will give them here and now… The Father is holding out on You. What is that promise in Psalm 91: He will command His angels concerning You to guard You and bear You up, to keep You from all harm? Where is that protection when You need it most, when You encounter the cross? You can have it now. Throw Yourself down. The angels will catch You. The people will be amazed. They will worship You now, without all that suffering and sacrifice. Yes, Jesus, there is an easier way, and I know just the ticket. So the great temptation is to bypass the cross and have the glory now.
Well, that is the great temptation for you, also, is it not? Greed, covetousness, lust… It’s all about having everything now. Why be faithful and have to suffer under the cross? Why take up your cross and follow Jesus? Get what you can, while you can. It’s all ripe for the taking. Scratch that itch. Tickle that fancy. Buy that item you know will make you happy. Step on others to get your way. God’s rules simply get in the way of your own fulfillment. He’s holding out on you. Maybe He doesn’t love you, after all. If He loves you, why does He withhold the things you want? And why must you suffer? Hunger, sickness, heartbreak, terrorism. There must be a better way. The devil knows your ego. He appeals to your pride. You can be like God, knowing good and evil. You can determine it for yourself. Faithfulness to God is a chain that binds you. Who says what you want is evil? God? He just doesn’t want you to be happy. He wants to keep you dependent on Him so you’ll be His slave. Go ahead. Take what you want. Seize the moment… Before you know it, you’ve taken and eaten. Beloved in the Lord, repent. Do you not see this is all a lie? Do you not see there is death in what the Lord withholds? You don’t. You’re blind to it. Unless the Lord gives you eyes to see. Unless He gives you His Spirit in the wilderness, to lead you and feed you and protect you from the serpent, to bring you into the Kingdom, the Promised Land.
In the wilderness, we fail. We fall. God help us. He does. He sends His Son to fight. Jesus goes into the wilderness in our place! And how does our Lord win the victory over the devil? He holds to the Word of God. Now notice, He doesn’t engage the devil with theological arguments. Not that He couldn’t win, but He doesn’t want you to think you could win. The devil knows the Holy Scriptures better than you do, and besides, the minute you start reasoning with the devil, he’ll reason your weak and gullible mind and will right into his trap. Jesus simply takes refuge in the Scriptures, which, by the way, He knows by heart. Which is a good indication that you should know Scripture passages and the Catechism by heart. He takes refuge in the Scriptures and simply quotes them against the flaming arrows of the evil one. “Man shall not live by bread alone” (v. 4, ESV; Deut. 8:3). “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (v. 8; Deut. 6:13). “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (v. 12; Deut. 6:16). And with the last one, our Lord gives a command to the serpent. Jesus is the devil’s God, whether he acknowledges it or not, and he shall not put the Lord Jesus Christ, his God, to the test. So he must leave until an opportune time. This is extraordinarily comforting for us. Jesus is the devil’s God. The devil cannot win against Jesus. He cannot convince Jesus to be unfaithful to His Father. He cannot convince Jesus to forsake the cross and His mission to save us. And as a result, He cannot pry us from our Lord’s pierced hand.
What does this mean for you when you are tempted? After all, you are not Jesus. How do you resist the devil when he is a mighty angel, an evil one to be sure, but an angel with all the powers that entails? How do you resist the world, which seems to get along just fine without the Lord, which seems to be so happy in its godlessness and materialism and unbridled sexuality, in its mockery of the Church and her Lord? How do you resist when your own flesh betrays you? When your own ears would rather listen to the siren song of the world than the Word of God? When your members ache for union with the forbidden pleasures of the flesh? Don’t try to win an argument with evil. Don’t try to reason your way out of temptation. You’ll lose every time. You can’t do it! But Jesus can. And He did. He won. He won for you. He won you for Himself. And now you have a Mighty Fortress in which to take shelter: Your God, your Savior, Jesus. You have His Word, and as He did in His battle in the wilderness, you wrap yourself in Scripture in the day of temptation. You take shelter under the wings of His cross, under His mighty arms outstretched and nailed to the wood, under the shower of blood and water flowing from His riven side, the font of Holy Baptism, the Chalice of the Supper, His Body, His Blood, given and shed for you. And what if you fail? What if you fall? You will. I’m not going to lie. The Lord will strengthen you to fight against sin. The Spirit leads you in the wilderness. And you will successfully resist temptation. But then you won’t. You will sin. You will not be completely free of sin in this earthly life. The Old Adam daily rears his ugly head. So, back to the font. Back to your Baptism. Which is to say, to Confession and Absolution! Back to the Scriptures. Back to the Church. Back to the Supper where the Lord Himself feeds you, where He feeds you Himself. The life of the Christian in the wilderness of this world is a life of daily repentance. And it is a life of faith in the Christ who did not despise the suffering and shame of the cross, but died for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and so gives you eternal life.
When you are tempted, run to Jesus. Wrap yourself in His prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Sing hymns. Recite Scripture. And incidentally, do this out loud, so the demons can hear, and flee. Call your pastor, who will not be surprised at your weakness, but will fortify you with the Word and prayer and the Holy Absolution. Hang a crucifix in the places you’re most vulnerable, or carry one in your pocket or hang it ‘round your neck, that you always have before your eyes the death of the Lord Jesus, by which you live. This is war, this struggle with the forces of evil, and these are the weapons of our warfare. But we tremble not, we fear no ill. The war has already been won by Jesus. By embracing the cross, Jesus won His glory. The Kingdom is secure. And for now, “when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, Steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong” (LSB 677:5). For the Lord Jesus, who died, is risen from the dead. And the devil cannot have you. For you belong to the Crucified. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, February 07, 2016
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
The Transfiguration of Our Lord (C)
February 7, 2016
Text: Luke 9:28-36
Your heavenly Father underscores the point for you in no uncertain terms: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35; ESV). Jesus of Nazareth, born of the Virgin Mary, is the Son of God, begotten from all eternity. He is the One anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit at His Baptism in the Jordan to undertake the divine mission of salvation. Jesus alone is your Savior. Jesus alone is your righteousness. Jesus alone is your eternal life, your death and resurrection. He is your God. And to Him alone you shall listen. For faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). And you are saved through faith alone in Christ alone. It is by grace alone. The Father makes sure you don’t miss it. He glorifies His Son there on the mountain, the divinity radiantly shining through the humanity and the voice from the cloud. This is it. This man is your salvation, your God. Look nowhere else. Listen nowhere else. Listen to Him.
The trouble is two-fold: There are so many voices that are not Jesus competing for your ear. And your sinful flesh is willing and eager to hear any and every voice that is not Jesus. What are some of these voices vying for your attention? Well, if you’re anything like me, it is at this point in the sermon that you start to wonder what’s for lunch. Tuning out Jesus, in your mind, you go over the menu and your plans for the afternoon. Who is that sitting three pews ahead, and what is she wearing? I wonder what this week will bring at work or school. Your mind wanders, and before you know it, you hear, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And it’s all over. (It’s not actually all over yet… We’ve only just begun.) But there are even more sinister voices vying for your attention. The information age is a blessing in so many ways, but the constant barrage of media that relentlessly assaults you on screens and over speakers and through the phone in your pocket has you distracted and hypnotized. And hopefully you already know this, but if you don’t, take careful note: The media’s agenda is that of the unbelieving world. Most of the content is ungodly. This is not the voice of Jesus. To be sure, the Church can use various media to proclaim Christ to the world, and we should. But in general, what is the message with which we’re saturated day-in and day-out, morning, noon, and night? Lust. Greed. Covetousness. Selfishness. “You deserve it.” “You can’t live without it.” It’s actually the voice of the old serpent from the Garden. “God is holding out on you. He doesn’t want you to have any fun. Be your own determiner of right and wrong. Decide for yourself what you want and need. Be like God. Worship self. Just look at that fruit: Pleasing to the eye and good for food.” Before you know it, you’ve taken and eaten. And you’re naked. And you’re dying. You are, in fact, dead.
Jesus takes three men in your same condition, Peter, John, and James up on the mountain to pray. As is their custom, while Jesus is praying, these three fall asleep. We’ll see them do the same thing on the night Jesus is betrayed. Just like you and me. A three hour football game or a movie can rivet our attention, but a few minutes with Jesus (you know, the living God who saves us from death and hell) and our eyes get heavy and our heads start to nod. It’s a defense mechanism against God’s Word. We tune Him out. Still, Jesus takes these three with Him for this occasion, just as He takes you and me with Him here, for this occasion, to meet Him in His Church. There are the three, snoring away, failing to watch and pray, only to wake up to a glorious sight. God the Son is shining His glory through His flesh and even His clothing so that there’s no mistaking it: This man is the Son of God. This man is the Savior. Two other men appear with Him, to bear witness to this truth, Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, representatives of the whole Old Testament. The Scriptures are fulfilled in Jesus. They talk with Jesus. And here we find out why it’s so important for us to listen to Jesus. The whole content of their discussion is about Jesus’ departure. That’s the word our English translation uses, but it’s difficult to get true sense of the word in English. The word really is “exodus.” They talk with Him about His exodus, His journey. Here we call to mind Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness, to the Promised Land. Jesus is leading us in exodus from our slavery to sin, death, and the devil, through the wilderness of this fallen world, across the Jordan, the valley of the shadow of death, to the Promised Land of eternal life and resurrection. His exodus is the journey to the cross to make atonement for our sins, His burial in the grave, His resurrection on the Third Day, and His ascension into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. That’s what they’re discussing. That’s what the Scriptures are about from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22. We preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23). That’s the Word to listen to. Because in that Word there is life for the dead. There is life for you.
And just so you and Peter, John, and James don’t miss it, the Father envelopes the whole crowd in a cloud (God is always appearing in clouds throughout the Scriptures) and He speaks: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And then all at once it’s over… “when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone” (Luke 9:36). Because He’s all you need. Having Jesus, you have the Father. Having Jesus, you have the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and all the Scriptures. Having Jesus, you have the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life. Listen to Him and you have Him, and having Him, you have all you need.
If only we could see what Peter, John, and James were given to see. And yet, glorious visions have a limited shelf-life. As we mentioned, these three would fall asleep again on another mountain, the Mount of Olives, very shortly. They would fail again and again to listen to Jesus. They would all desert Him. Peter would even deny Him. In fact, they really didn’t understand this whole event at the time. Remember, Peter wants to stay on the mountain and build three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Luke tells us He didn’t even know what he was saying (v. 33). When they came down the mountain, they kept silent about the whole affair. It was just too strange. It wasn’t until later, after the resurrection, after Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, that the three began to speak of what they witnessed, and finally they understood it. God had given them this experience to strengthen them for the events of Holy Week, and to strengthen us through their witness to bear up under our wilderness wanderings, trusting in Christ who will lead us home to God in heaven. It is tempting to think we want a glorious experience like the apostles. But Peter, much later in life, when reflecting on this experience writes that we have all we need in the Holy Scriptures. “For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:17-19). Do you hear what Peter is saying? You have the same benefits he received witnessing the Transfiguration, even more sure and certain, in the Holy Scriptures, which enlighten you as a lamp shining in a dark place. You have not been given to see the glory of Jesus with your physical eyes, as the three apostles were. But you have been given ears to hear. You can hear Jesus in His Word. Listen to Him.
The fact is, glorious experience or not, you can’t stay on the mountain. Jesus has a cross to bear for us men and for our salvation, and you and all the disciples of Jesus have crosses to bear in your life, because this is, after all, the wilderness portion of the exodus, life in this fallen world, in your fallen flesh, which gets sleepy and distracted by other voices vying for your attention. Repent. That fallen flesh must be crucified. You must die so that God can raise you from the dead by the Word of the living Lord Jesus. By grace, the Lord Jesus brings you here to His Church, sleepy as you are, to pray and to see something amazing. This place, the Church, is your Mount of Transfiguration. By faith you hear the living voice of Jesus in His Word, and hearing Jesus, you hear the Father. By faith you see the Divine Nature shining through the Body and Blood of the Savior under the bread and wine of the Supper. The Father says to you, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” And by God’s grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you do.
Lent is a time for listening to Jesus. On this last Sunday before Lent, we’ve been given a glimpse of Jesus’ glory to strengthen us for this holy time. It’s a time for deep meditation on our Lord’s Word and His Passion, for repentance and confession of sins, for disciplining the body and the soul and putting the old sinful flesh to death. We put our alleluias away for a time, to help us focus, only to take them up again forty-some days later at the Easter Feast. Christ is risen, but first the cross and our Lord’s suffering for our sins. Receive your Lord’s gifts this Lententide. Be here, beloved. God wake you from your sleepiness. There is no other place more important for you to be. There is no other voice more important for you to heed. There is no other voice that can give you life. The Father has called you to faith in His Son. He’s given you His Word in the flesh. Listen to Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.