Jesus Breathes on Us and Gives Us a New Life. Quasimodo Geniti 2020

Quasimodo Geniti—The Second Sunday of Easter

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. John 20:19-31

April 19, 2020

Jesus Breathes on Us and Gives Us a New Life

 

Jesu juva!

 

Alleuia!  Christ is risen!

 

Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost.  We are indeed cut off.  (Ezekiel 37:11)

 

Imagine the despair in that phrase.  The house of Israel was in Babylon at that time.  The temple had been torn down.  They were trying to maintain themselves as a distinct people while living as captives in a foreign land.  They were there seventy years—away from their land, away from the worship God had outlined in the Law of Moses, living as captives.  Nobody had believed it was going to happen to them.  They didn’t think God would let it happen.  When it did, some thought God would bring them back quickly.  He didn’t.  And by the time of Ezekiel many had given up.  “We are cut off,” they said.  That means, “God has cut us off as His people.  We’re not going back to the promised land.  God has excommunicated us.  We’re not His people anymore.  We’re dead.”

 

God doesn’t argue with them and say, “You’re not really dead.  Don’t worry.  It’s not that bad.”  They truly were dead.  They couldn’t bring themselves back together as God’s people.  They couldn’t bring themselves back to the temple and to their land.  It was their sins that had brought this punishment upon them.  They were like bones bleaching in the sun.

 

God didn’t argue with them about whether they were dead.  He sent His prophet to announce His Word, to speak His Word to the dry bones of the house of Israel.  So Ezekiel spoke and there was a rattling, and the bones came together, and the sinews came upon them.  And then skin covered the bones, and then hair and eyelashes.  But the bones that had been raised up were not yet alive, because there was no breath in them.  So God said to Ezekiel: Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.  So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.  (Ezekiel 37:9-10)

 

The people of Israel were cut off and dead, but God sent His prophet to speak His Word, and God’s breath entered them.  They were given a new life and a new hope.

 

I.

And that is a picture of the Gospel reading on this second Sunday of Easter.  Quasimodo geniti means “like newborn babies.”  In this Gospel Jesus gives His disciples a new life.  They enter into a new life as He breathes His Spirit on them.

 

But they too were cut off before this.  Days before when they saw their Lord crucified and buried, they were crushed and cut off.  What were they going to do now?  What had become of their faith that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah?  It had either been snuffed out or had become a smoldering wick.  They were sitting locked in a house, scared that they would be killed.  They nursed the wounds of their sins—abandoning Jesus, denying Him.  But what future did they have since Jesus had been crucified and buried?  If you think about this, you realize how terrible things were for them.  There was the grief over Jesus’ death.  They were in fear for their lives, because now they would be hounded by the Pharisees as heretics and followers of a false prophet.  And they could not have a good conscience before God, because if Jesus was not the Messiah and the Son of God, they were all guilty of leading people astray and perverting God’s Word.

 

And then, suddenly in that room where they are locked in, cut off, and condemned, Jesus appears in the midst of them and shows them His hands and His side.  He is showing them that He is not a ghost or a vision or a figment of their imaginations.  He is a man with flesh and blood, the same one that had been placed in the tomb, the same one that had ragged holes torn in His hands by the nails driven through them into the cross and that had a spear head driven into His side, leaving a gash wide enough for a man to fit his hand in.

 

That same man is alive from the dead and standing in their midst.  And He says to them, Peace be with you. 

 

And after He shows them His hands and His side, and the disciples rejoice, He does what God did to the dry bones in Ezekiel’s prophecy: He breathes on the disciples.

 

Jesus comes out of the tomb into their midst with a new and living hope.  He comes with His peace, not the peace of the world, and gives it to them.  And He breathes on them a new life.

 

The false hope of the disciples had been that Jesus was going to make them kings on earth.  But now by appearing among them from the dead, showing not only that His Spirit was alive but that His body had risen, He gave them a new hope that cannot perish.  The life, wealth, and pleasures of this life are short.  They fade like the spring flowers we are seeing will fade.  But because Jesus lives forever, we have a living hope.  Our hope is that our body will be raised imperishable and become like His glorious body.  We will become like Him and our bodies will not get old and fade; they will not grow weak and sick; they will not be corrupted by sin.  They will participate in God’s life and glory and holiness.  That is our living hope.

 

Jesus also gave them peace.  He pronounced it twice—once before He showed them His hands and His side, and once after.  That was probably so they wouldn’t be frightened when they saw Him, but also it was to teach them where this peace came from.  Jesus had peace with God the Father Himself, but He had offered Himself to suffer in order to establish peace with God for us.  And now that peace had been established, fully and completely, for the sinful disciples and for us.

 

The disciples had been seeking peace before this.  But they were seeking a worldly peace.  They hoped that when Jesus was crowned King in Jerusalem he would then crush the Romans and all other sinners.  There would be peace not through His wounds and His suffering and death, but through Jesus’ power.

 

They also were after the kind of peace that comes when everyone praises you, when you are wealthy and prosperous.  That is worldly peace.

 

But the peace Jesus bestowed on His disciples is a peace that does not depart when money is gone, a peace that is still there when people speak evil of you and hate you, a peace that stands firm even when you have enemies that want to destroy you.

 

Jesus has won this peace for us with God through His agony and death for our sins.  And His resurrection is the announcement of that peace even if Jesus doesn’t say it.  It is God announcing that Jesus has made full payment for all human beings’ sins, and that God the Father is satisfied.  He is at peace with sinners through His Son.

 

Now whoever believes in Jesus has this peace with God.  And it produces tranquility in us, so that we are not disturbed by the devil and the enemies of the church when they threaten our lives or our livelihood or our good name.  This peace with God gives us inner peace also.  It makes us able to be at rest even in the midst of pandemics and all the other sufferings of the present time.

 

Jesus gave them a new life.  He breathed His Spirit on them, just like the breath entered the once dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision.  And with the Spirit came the authority and the commission to forgive sins and hold them unforgiven.  The disciples had failed and ruined everything when Jesus was handed over by Judas.  But now He gives them a new life from the one they had before.  He sends them out with His Spirit and authority to forgive sins.

 

II.

Jesus also breathes His Spirit on us today.  So we are no longer “clean cut off.”  We have a new life from Jesus, like newborn babies, that He breathes out on us.

 

Jesus appeared to His disciples because they were going to be His witnesses.  It was never God’s plan that Jesus should appear risen from the dead to everyone.  He was going to appear to a few.  And they would be sent out to bear witness to His resurrection and to hand on His teaching.  And as they did that, Jesus would come and proclaim peace to sinners through them.  Through the apostles and those called to preach the apostles’ word Jesus breathes His Spirit on us.

 

That’s why He breathed on the apostles and gave them the Holy Spirit.  Instead of appearing personally, Jesus would visit and give life to those locked up in unbelief through the witness of the apostles and their word.  Through the holy ministry Jesus would breathe on us.

 

So when the pastor baptized you, you were given new birth into a living hope of the resurrection.  You were made a sharer in Jesus’ resurrection.  You were given the pledge that your body that you live in right now will be raised from the dead and be made like Jesus’ glorious body.  You are given a hope greater than all the things people hope for in this world.  Right now people are hoping that this lockdown will end.  That’s not certain, is it?  You hear different things every day.  But even if it happens, what then?  Before this lockdown happened, it’s not as if everyone was perfectly happy.  People were mostly unhappy.

 

But you have been given the hope that you will rise from the dead, no more to get sick, die, suffer or sin.  And this hope is not a reed blowing back and forth in the wind.  It is a certain hope.  Jesus died for your sins.  He dealt with them once and for all.  He dies no more.  And you were born by water and the Spirit into Jesus’ death and resurrection, so that you might walk in newness of life until you finally rise with Him.

 

And Jesus proclaims peace to you.  You don’t see Him, but when the one who holds the office He instituted forgives your sins, Jesus is announcing that God is well-pleased with you.  When the pastor forgives your sins, publicly using the power that Christ gave to His church on earth—the authority of Jesus who paid for all sins is at work to give you peace.  Just like all the disciples’ cowardice, denying, and unbelief evaporated when Jesus said, “Peace to you” and showed them the marks in His body, so all your sins dissolve when the pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Then what the apostle says applies to you: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.  Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2).  When you believe the absolution, you believe that Jesus has forgiven all your sins through His death.  And then you have peace that does not shift with viruses and accidents and wars and persecutions, all the trials that come to us in this world.  God has forgiven you, Jesus is risen.  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).  God has released you from condemnation in raising His Son from the dead.  And Jesus speaks His peace to you through the pastor in the absolution.  And that peace does not change; it stands firm against the world, pandemics, death, and your own weakness.

 

And finally Jesus breathes on you in His Word.  He breathes on you and gives you a new life, free from your past and your failings.  He sets you free to live in the world as a witness to His resurrection.  Now we all know a million reasons why if we go out and start preaching to other people we will feel like hypocrites.  We all know that we continue to fall short of God’s law and of what both we and others expect of Christians.

 

Jesus breathes on you and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

 

The children of Israel were like dry bones because of their sins.  “We are clean cut off.”  But God told the prophet to prophesy to the breath, and the breath came and entered the dry bones and they lived.

 

When Jesus sends us the Word of the apostles, whether through the pages of the Scripture or through faithful preaching—He breathes on us.  He announces our freedom from our sins and our past.  He announces His resurrection from the death worked by our sins.  He announces the removal of our sins.  And He sends us into a new life where we bear witness to what He has done—whether that life is spent in the ministry, or in customer service, or in retirement, raising children, being married.  We have been raised to a new life.  We do those things as people raised from the dead, people with a certain hope of resurrection, people who have been given peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The New Normal. Easter Wednesday 2020. (Readings For Easter Monday)

Easter Wednesday

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 24:13-35

April 15, 2020

The New Normal

 

Jesu Juva!

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Although Wednesday night services are a thing we were doing before the virus, I wanted to invite everyone to this one, even if it is remotely, because I knew I would be reading the Gospel after which our church is named, about the risen Lord visiting the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  It seemed especially appropriate because we at Emmaus were just beginning our walk together, really, with me as your pastor.  Then Covid-19 came and has rained on our parade, spoiled our plans.  The very first Sunday in March, you remember, we had a meeting to talk about reaching out with the Gospel.  I started going to chamber of commerce meetings to get to know people in the community.  Things were very different a few weeks ago.

 

Now things have changed.  On the news they talk about “the new normal”.  Everything is going to be different now, but we aren’t sure what it will look like—for us personally, for us as a church.

 

This reading is actually the reading for Easter Monday or Easter Evening, because it was on the evening of the first Easter Sunday that it happened.  What was “the new normal” for the disciples of Jesus on Easter Sunday?  Well, before this they had their Lord with them.  He ate with them, drank with them, taught them.  He was with them all the time and their lives were connected to Him.  Where He went, they went.

 

Also, they had big hopes for their life together with Him.  In the Gospel, the disciple named Cleopas tells incognito Jesus: We had hoped that He was going to redeem Israel.  And what they had in mind by that was He was going to establish a glorious kingdom.  That’s why on the night before He was arrested John and his brother James were trying to arrange to sit on the left and right hand of Jesus in His Kingdom.

 

But the new normal was that those hopes were gone.  Jesus was dead on Good Friday and laid in the tomb.  And even if on the morning of Easter the women came back reporting that His body was gone and they had seen an angel saying He was risen, nobody else had seen or heard anything from Jesus.  So these two are adapting to the new normal, or what they think is the new normal.  No Jesus with them, so rather than stay locked down with the other disciples in Jerusalem, they decide to leave and head out to Emmaus, a town maybe two miles away.  Possibly they figured it was safer there, away from the other disciples.

 

In a certain way they were right.  Things had changed.  Those high hopes they had had when Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem were over, if they thought Jesus was going to drive out the Romans and extend David’s Kingdom to the end of the earth and rule like Caesar over all the Gentiles.  And they weren’t going to sit on thrones next to Him in Jerusalem.  And they weren’t going to avoid the cross and its shame.

 

On the other hand, they were wrong.  The new normal was not going to be that once they had Jesus with them, living with them, eating with them, teaching them, and now they would no longer have Him.  Once their whole lives were lived in His presence, now He would be gone.

 

Because the women who went to the tomb were right.  Jesus had risen from the dead.  And although He had not gloriously appeared to His enemies and set up a kingdom like Cleopas and the other disciple wanted, He was going to be with them.  Their whole life would continue to be lived in fellowship with Him.  He would continue to teach them, dwell with them, and eat with them, even though it would be different from the way it was before.

 

That’s how it is with us at this Emmaus, too.  I don’t know exactly what the new normal will be after “the curve has flattened” and this initial wave of infection has passed.  But I do know that Jesus is really with us.  Our lives are really lived in fellowship with Him.  He continues to be with us to teach us and to eat with us.

 

Often in my life I have wished, “If only Jesus were here!”  Of course I knew that He is here.  But not like in the Bible.  The disciples would ask Him a question, He would answer them.  Someone would bring their sick brother to Him and He would heal them.  If Jesus were here like that I would not be preaching to you right now.  I would be first in line with my list of ways that I need to be healed, counselled, and forgiven by Him.

 

But that wish is really unbelief.  Jesus is really with us to heal, counsel, teach, lead, and forgive us. And not just in some merely “spiritual” way that provides no comfort.  When He was with those two men on the road to Emmaus, He was with them in flesh and blood, but their eyes were kept from recognizing them.  He asked them what they were talking about, and they unloaded on Him their fear, their sorrow, their despondency and despair, their unbelief.  It was the same Jesus they talked to as they walked in the dust around Galilee and then down to Jerusalem.  It was the same Jesus who sat down on a mountain and taught them.  The same Jesus who slept in the boat with them.  The same Jesus they saw lay hands on the sick.  The same Jesus who fed them with five loaves and two fish.  The same Jesus who graciously invited tax collectors and sinners to share His table and theirs.  The same Jesus they saw arrested.  The same Jesus they saw led out whipped, bloody, wearing a purple robe and a crown of thorns.  They same Jesus they saw pierced through His hands and feet.  The same Jesus whose side they saw pierced and blood and water streaming out, because He was dead.  The same Jesus they saw wrapped in linen cloths and put in the tomb and the stone rolled to shut Him in.

 

That same Jesus was talking to them as they went despairing to Emmaus.

 

They were in despair because they thought their Lord had left them unredeemed.  I can imagine that some of you have felt that way about this Emmaus.  Problem after problem, conflict after conflict, and you wondered if the Lord had left you even though you understood intellectually that could not happen.  You aren’t alone in having felt that way about your church.  Gloom is frequently on the faces of Christians.  This is a gloomy world.

 

We should not despair or lose hope in Jesus, no matter what affliction we find ourselves in or what sins we have fallen into, because He is our redeemer from our sins.  And yet we do.  We lose heart, we doubt.  Sometimes we are tempted to despair and think the Lord has abandoned us.

 

But we have Jesus walking with us in flesh and blood.  The same Lord we read about in the gospels is present with us, only we don’t recognize Him.

 

But as the Scriptures are interpreted to us, as Jesus is proclaimed to us from the Scriptures, Jesus is walking with us, teaching us, lifting up our hearts from despondency to the joy of His resurrection.  As Jesus is proclaimed from the Scriptures as having suffered for our sins and then risen from the dead into His glory, the real and true Jesus is with us, teaching us, forgiving our sins, giving us His life.

 

And when the bread on this altar is given to us, Jesus is with us, the same Jesus who took the five loaves and gave thanks and distributed it to the five thousand.  The same Jesus who shared the table with tax collectors and Pharisees alike.  The same Jesus who took the bread on the night He was betrayed and said, “This is my body, which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of Me.”

 

In our unbelief we wish we could have the Lord Jesus with us to teach us, counsel us, eat with us, console us.  But He is with us.  The new normal after His death and resurrection is: I am with you always, to the very end of the age—as you make disciples, baptizing and teaching everything I commanded you.  He is with us, kindling our hearts as He opens the Scriptures to us, as He breaks that living bread and feeds us spiritually with Himself as the one who was crucified for our sins and rose again for our justification.  He is with us, making Himself known in the breaking of the bread.

 

And just as the disciples lived with Jesus, in fellowship with Him every day of their lives, so do we.  We are in fellowship with Him by faith in Him.  But that faith is nourished and sustained as we gather together and He is in the midst of us.  Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

 

Whatever the “new normal” is after all this, it will include us gathering together with Jesus in the midst of us, opening the Scriptures, breaking the bread.

 

That’s why Cleopas and the other disciple, when they realized what had happened, ran back to Jerusalem and the other disciples.  They had to let the others know that their Lord had risen.  They couldn’t keep it to themselves.  But the others already knew.  Jesus had appeared to Simon Peter also, who was stuck in sin and despair and fear, and told him He was forgiven, He was redeemed by Jesus’ resurrection.  So the disciples from Emmaus and the ones who stayed in Jerusalem shared the joy of the risen Lord together.

 

That is what the Lord Jesus will do with us.  We have problems and fears and dangers we don’t even know surrounding us.  That is not going to change.  But Jesus has overcome the world and the devil, and He will be in the midst of us, opening the Scriptures, revealing Himself in the breaking of the bread.

 

That is why it’s a joy and delight when the church meets often for worship and prayer.  When there is no virus sometimes Lutherans say “it’s too Catholic” to have church too often.  May it never be!  To have Jesus in the midst of us often is not something that belongs to the Pope.  We may not always recognize Him, but He comes to us together as we hear His Word together and break the bread.  When we pray to Him, Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide—he answers us as He did those first disciples at Emmaus.  He comes into this house and He breaks the bread and gives it to us.  He gives Himself to us, crucified and risen, and joins us together as one holy communion.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

Forth Today the Conqueror Goeth. Easter 2020

The Resurrection of our Lord—Easter Day

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Mark 16:1-8

April 12, 2020

Forth Today the Conqueror Goeth

 

Jesu juva!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Forth today the Conqueror goeth,

Who the foe, Sin and woe,

Death and hell, o’erthroweth.

God is man, man to deliver;

His dear Son  Now is one

With our blood forever.  (TLH 77 stanza 2)

 

That was a Christmas hymn that we sang a few months ago.  But there are no more appropriate words to speak at Easter.  Today our Lord goes forth, ahead of His disciples, to Galilee, and out of the grave.  His disciples are terrified and scattered and weak.  They are in hiding.  But their Lord is the conqueror.  He goes ahead of them, and He calls them together.

 

It’s not hard to see how our Lord’s disciples were frightened.  Look, the women come out to finish preparing Jesus’ corpse for burial.  That took some bravery because there were armed guards in front of His tomb.  Nevertheless, the women are still scared.  They fret.  Do you hear them?  “How will we roll the stone away from the tomb?”

 

Then they see the tomb is open and the stone is rolled away, and they become even more alarmed.  Who rolled the stone away?  Did someone come to steal His body?

 

And then when they enter the tomb, they become terrified.  There is a young man sitting in a white robe on the right side of where Jesus body had been laid.  It would be frightening enough to stumble upon a young man sitting where he was not supposed to be, in a dark tomb, but this is not an ordinary young man, but a heavenly messenger, an angel.

 

The women were afraid who came to the tomb, and the other disciples of Jesus were all afraid too.  They were hiding in a locked house, fearful that they would be arrested and crucified next since the chief priests had been successful at putting their Master to death.

 

Should they have been scared?  No, they shouldn’t have, because Jesus had told them, right after they had eaten the bread that is His body and drunk the wine that is His true blood—You will all fall away, for it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.  But after I am raised I will go before you to Galilee.  (Mark 14: 27-28)  But the disciples had not paid careful attention to His Words.  And when they saw Him taken by His enemies and crucified, they lost hold of them.

 

Were those first disciples the only ones who were fearful on Easter?  No, we are too.  Outwardly we are more like the disciples at the first Easter than the Church has been at any time in recent memory.  I read several places this weekend that this is the first time in the history of the United States that Easter Services have been suspended.

 

And Jesus’ disciples are afraid—of death and sickness, of the future of the church.  There are those saying that things will never go back to normal, that quarantines could go on for months or years.

 

But today the Conqueror goes forth.  Jesus is the Conqueror who has become one with our blood, with our humanity, forever.  He goes forth today as the Conqueror of death, sin, devil, and hell.  By His resurrection He gives us a living hope that cannot be shaken or moved.  He goes ahead of us, His Church, a mighty, invincible conqueror and calls us to follow after Him to where we will see Him.

 

  1. (Jesus Conquers Our Enemies and Gives us a Living Hope)

 

John Gerhard, a Lutheran theologian from long ago, drew attention in one of his Easter sermons to the fact that the angel who announced Jesus’ resurrection to the women was sitting down.  At Christmas when the angels appeared to announce Jesus’ birth they appeared in the air, a great company of the heavenly armies, because their master and general the Son of God had come down into the manger to enter combat with the devil and his kingdom.  But now the angel that speaks to the women is dressed as a civilian and is sitting down, because the victory has been won.

 

When two men “take it outside” to fight, and only one comes back in, you know which man won.  And Jesus, when He went to the cross and was laid in the tomb, was clearly in a fight.  He fought with death.  And if He fought with death, He was also fighting with sin, because sin is the cause of death.  If Jesus fought sin, then He also fought the devil, who introduced sin into the human race.  And if Jesus fought the devil, He also fought hell, which means eternal condemnation.

 

When we saw Jesus nailed to the cross, and before it, when we saw Him sweat in the garden, and when we saw Jesus removed from the cross, wrapped in linen cloths, and laid in the tomb, we saw Him wrestling and fighting death, sin, the devil and hell.

 

And for whom was Jesus fighting these monsters?  For Himself?  No, clearly not, because in Himself He had no sin.  And since He had no sin, death had no power over Him.  And what power could the devil have over God the Son, since God the Son created him?  And how could eternal death and condemnation lay hands on the Righteous One?

 

When Jesus suffered and died, He was wrestling with death, sin, hell and the devil for you and for me and for all of us who have flesh and blood.  That by itself is enough good news to end the sermon.

 

But it is not the end of the good news of Easter.  The good news does not end with Jesus fighting for us.  It goes on to tell us that He fought and won this battle against sin, death, and hell for us.  He conquered.

 

And how do we know this?  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, announces the angel.  He has risen.  He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him (Mark 16: 6) 

 

Death fought with Jesus and seemed to have won, because Jesus gave up His Spirit.  They plunged a spear into His side to ensure He was really dead, and the blood and water that spurted forth down from the cross testified that He was not asleep or passed out.  He had died.  And they placed Him in the tomb.  Death attacked Jesus and took Him.

 

But now Jesus is not here.  He has risen.  It was impossible for death to hold Him.  Jesus fought with death.  Death laid a blow on Him and He went down.  And then He rose up again and struck death down.  There is nothing more death can do to Jesus or to those who believe in Him.

 

When He rose from the dead, Jesus also went forth in victory over sin.  When death attacked Jesus, it came upon Him as the One who had presented Himself as the sin-bearer.  Jesus was the paschal lamb who died so that God’s people might go free.  He was the ram Abraham found in the thicket that God provided for him to sacrifice instead of Isaac his son.  When Jesus came to the waters of the Jordan among all the sinners coming to John to have their sins washed away, He was offering Himself as the substitute for all humans, to fulfill all righteousness and bear their sins.

 

When He goes forth from the tomb, He rips the ropes of your sins that came upon Him, like Samson.  He leaves your sins torn up on the floor of His tomb.  He is the conqueror of your sin.

 

And so He is also conqueror of the devil and hell.  We have been seeing all through Lent, up until the time of the quarantine, that Jesus was in combat with the devil—first in His temptation in the wilderness, next in casting out the demon from the Canaanite woman’s daughter.  Then He declared that He was the stronger man who had come for the purpose of fighting the devil, defeating him, tying him up, and robbing him of his treasure.

 

That is what has now taken place.  The devil could not hold Jesus in sin or in death.  He not only lost hold of Jesus, He lost hold of all human beings with Jesus.  Satan has no more accusations he can make against you.  Point to the empty tomb and say, Look, God released me from everything.  God absolved me when He raised His Son.  You are defeated.

 

Like the hymn says:

The foe in triumph shouted, When Christ lay in the tomb

But lo, he now is routed—His boast has turned to gloom.

For Christ again is free, In glorious victory

He who is strong to save

Has triumphed o’er the grave (LSB 467 st.2)

 

And when Jesus left the tomb, He left as the Conqueror of hell.  Hell wants to swallow human beings into eternal damnation.  And deep down in human hearts is the knowledge that there will be a judgment and a condemnation for those who have broken God’s Law.  Though we suppress this knowledge, few people are totally able to extinguish the voice of their conscience.  It even speaks to Christians, telling us that we have deserved eternal damnation for our sins.

 

But Jesus goes forth as the Conqueror of hell.  He has beaten it because He has broken open death and destroyed sin.  He has overcome and bound the prince of hell, the devil.  Hell cannot claim Jesus and it has no claim and no power over any sinner who believes the good news that Jesus has conquered it for us.  That is the seal and pledge of your baptism—you are now a son of God through Jesus’ resurrection, no longer a child of hell.

 

Now hell, its prince, the devil

Of all their pow’r are shorn;

Now I am safe from evil,

And sin I laugh to scorn.

Grim death with all its might

Cannot my soul affright;

It is a powerless form,

Howe’er it rave and storm  (LSB 467 st. 4).

 

Since our Conqueror has gone forth leaving death, sin, Satan, and hell prostrate behind Him, we have confidence.  We have a sure hope that goes ahead of us to where He has gone.  He didn’t conquer those enemies for Himself but for us.  Will He then leave us to them to have them overcome us as we follow Him where He has gone?

 

Certainly not.  Even though, like the disciples on the first Easter, we are weak and fearful and have fallen, we should be filled with confidence.  He told them, You will all fall away, but after I have risen I will go ahead of you.  We should be confident that He who conquered our enemies will see it through that we enter into His victory, that we stay in the true faith until we die, like we pray to Him in the 6th and 7th petitions of the Lord’s prayer.

 

That hope is what holds us up.  In 1 Peter the Scripture says that God has given us new birth into this hope through Jesus’ resurrection.  We have a certain hope that we will attain eternal life not because we are faithful or strong, but because He is the conqueror.  That hope is what Paul describes in Romans chapter 8 when he says, Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died, more than that, who was raised, who indeed is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Rom. 8:34). 

 

He did not conquer the devil, sin, and death in order to lose us.  He intercedes for us at the right hand of God and will not let us be torn out of His hand.  He has won us in his victory over the devil and hell.

  1. (The Conqueror Goes Ahead of Us and Tells Us We Will See Him)

 

So what now?  Our Conqueror has gone forth from the tomb.  He told the women on that first Easter to remind the scared and sinful disciples what He had told them before—I am going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Me.

 

In the midst of their fear, their Lord and Master had conquered and was leading them.  He had not just beaten sickness, paralysis, demon possession.  He had defeated death itself, and sin, and its Lord, the devil, and the eternal condemnation that hung over our heads.

 

And now He was alive to take care of them, even though they couldn’t see Him.  He was going ahead of them, to lead them and guide them into the work He had appointed for them.  And He promised they would see Him.

 

So He says to us.  This was not how we planned to spend Easter.  It is true that there are dark clouds around us like there were for the disciples.  But the Conqueror of sin, death, and hell has gone forth.  He announces His victory on our behalf to us.  He is leading us out of the tomb, and He promises that we will see Him together on that day when our Easter is completed.

 

Now I will cling forever

To Christ, my Savior true;

My Lord will leave me never,

Whate’er He passes through.

He rends death’s iron chain;

He breaks through sin and pain;

He shatters hell’s grim thrall;

I follow Him through all.  LSB 467 st. 6

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

King of a New Truth. Good Friday Tenebrae 2020

deposition raphaelGood Friday Tenebrae

Emmaus Lutheran Church

John 18-19 (John 18:37)

April 10, 2020

King of a New Truth

 

Jesu juva!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Governments lie.  Sometimes we get incensed when they lie.  But lots of times we like it.  We demand that they lie to us.

 

One of the ways most people demand lies from the government is this—we want the government to tell us it can fix problems that it can’t fix.  Few people want to hear that the government can’t solve our nation’s problem with drug addiction or with poor student outcomes, because those problems need to be solved by individuals or their families.  They want the government to fix it, or at least tell them it is going to fix it or it has already fixed it.  When the Great Depression happened, the United States didn’t elect the guy who thought it wasn’t the federal government’s place to provide direct assistance to the unemployed.  They elected the guy who promised “a new deal for the American people.”

 

People often look to government to save them.  That’s how we got kings and lords.  In Europe, most of us had serfs for ancestors.  Our ancestors were bound to the land of their lord and owed him a certain amount of work in his fields.  They weren’t quite slaves, but they weren’t free.  How did they get this way?  They wanted someone who could guarantee them protection and food.  They became serfs because their lord was able to protect them and enable them to raise crops and animals to eat.  Or at least he convinced them he was able to.  Whatever else lords had going for them, they had to be able to fight and kill and get a group of fighting men to listen to them.

 

People are willing to put up with a lot and give up a lot to a ruler or a government that can provide them with food and luxuries and that they think will protect them.  People rally behind American presidents during wars and crises.  There’s even a scientific name for this: the “Rally round the flag phenomenon.”  Is it surprising that rulers and kings carefully manage what they let people see and know, and that they even outright lie?  Is it surprising that kings used to wear crowns and ermine fur and carry scepters and display majesty, wealth, power, and dignity?  We demand this of our rulers and kings.  We want them to protect us and keep us safe and provide for us.

 

But the truth is that kings and governments are limited in their ability to protect and provide.  Skillful rule can increase prosperity, and bad rule can impoverish a nation, but many things rulers and governments have no control over.  Yet politicians know that people often expect the government to do what only God can do, and so they lie.

 

Tonight Pontius Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king.  If Jesus claims to be a king, that creates a problem, because Pilate is Caesar’s representative, and Caesar does not allow rival kings in Roman territories.  But Jesus tells Pilate: My Kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  By my kingdom is not from the world (John 18:36). 

 

Pilate presses, “So you are saying you are a king, then?”

 

Jesus responds: You said it.  I am a king.  For this purpose I was born, and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.  (John 18:37)

 

Kings and rulers are not in the business of truth, not in this world.  They are in the business of maintaining order, of exercising power, of governing people, ultimately with force.

 

That is not the kind of Kingdom I have, says Jesus.  I am a different kind of King.  I come to bear witness to the truth.

 

So Pilate scoffs and says, “What is truth?”  Pilate’s job is not to decide debates between philosophers or to proclaim the right way to worship God and be saved.  In fact, a king who is concerned about questions of sin and forgiveness and everlasting life and the right worship of God seems like no kind of king at all to Pilate, so he no longer is concerned about Jesus.  Jesus is no threat to Rome.

 

And the way Pilate looks at Jesus is the way the world looks at Christianity today.  Sometimes we do in the church also.  Many people think if the church is not involved in political activism, speaking out on behalf of the poor or other social issues, the church is not doing anything at all.  If all the church is doing is preaching the Word of God and saving souls, it is basically not doing anything.

 

However, Jesus is the king of truth.  Even though he is not concerned about earthly power and earthly honor or earthly riches, even though he is not here to make people wealthy and solve all their problems on earth, He is certainly doing something.  He is bringing His Kingdom of truth, of a new truth, that the kingdoms of the world with all their power, cannot accomplish.

 

1.

First, by His very presence and His Word He reveals the ugly truth that we try to bury under our national myths and the pomp and splendor of the state and the fine robes of priests and governors and kings.

 

What ugly truth is that?

 

Look at how Jesus’ presence exposed the greed and treachery in Judas.  Judas decided there was no profit in being Jesus’ disciple.  He was never going to get rich or famous as a disciple of Jesus.  Jesus was not the Messiah Judas had hoped for after all.

 

And then, in the end, Peter felt the same way, even though he didn’t sell Jesus for money.  He was ready to fight those who came to arrest Jesus with a sword, but when it turned out Jesus didn’t have that kind of a Kingdom, and He was going to allow Himself to be arrested and abused, Peter was afraid and ashamed of his Lord and denied being His disciple.

 

And the rest of the disciples all abandoned Jesus and fled for their lives.

And Pilate?  He shows us how often rulers and others in positions of authority use the authority given them by God not to protect the innocent and punish the guilty, but to grease the skids and make things easy for themselves.  Pilate knows Jesus is innocent, but he has Jesus beaten and mocked and humiliated and brings him out before the crowd, hoping they will decide to let Him go.  And then the priests tell him, “This isn’t enough!  He has to die, because he said he was the Son of God!”

 

And Pilate is scared because his conscience tells him—it is true.  This man, now bloody, beaten, slapped around, crowned with thorns and robed in purple—is the Son of God.  Yet He has Jesus crucified anyway, trying to appease his conscience by blaming the Jewish mob.

 

Jesus exposes the ugly truth about the people around Him—they are willing to put God’s Son to death.  Some out of bitter malice, some out of greed, some out of the desire to save their own skin.

 

But all of them are willing to put Jesus to death, to disown Him and cast Him behind them, in order to gain protection for themselves, to provide for themselves.

 

He reveals this about us, too.  This is what we have done our whole lives.  We set Jesus aside when He stood in the way of the things we wanted in this world.  And we set Jesus aside when we were afraid because the only way to go on with Him was to the cross.  Jesus’ word and presence reveals this about us.  His cross is a sword that passes through the soul and reveals thoughts of many hearts, just as Simeon prophesied when He picked up baby Jesus in His arms at the temple.

 

He reveals the sin of Adam in us, who allowed himself to be persuaded that God was withholding from him what was good.

 

That is the ugly truth that this King reveals about us on Good Friday.  We also have sold, denied, forsaken, and condemned the Son of God in order to take for ourselves what was His.

 

2.

This truth we bury in our world.  We brag about our good qualities and deeds and we worship great men.  But when Jesus exposes the ugly truth of our sin, it is not really news.  It is what we always knew to be true, deep down.  You are the man.  You are Peter, or Judas, or Pilate, or Adam.

 

But what can be done?  If only there could be a new truth about us!  How many times we have hoped that, only to experience once again what it is to be Peter and hear the rooster crow, or to be Pilate trying to wash your hands!

 

You said it; I am a king, Jesus said.  For this purpose I was born, and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.

 

Jesus is King of a new truth.  Not just the truth of our sin, but a new truth—the remission of our sins.

 

He Himself is the truth.  He is the Son of God, the Maker of all that is.  He is the Son of I AM, the truth.  Everything that exists exists through Him.  He made the world by His Word.  What He declares is unfailingly true.

 

And the Son of God, through whom all things were made, has come to make something new, to do a new thing.

 

When He hangs on the cross, steeped in death and God’s wrath, John tells us He knew all things were now finished and said, “I thirst.”  He was creating a new thing as He hung on the cross.  He was working, and now that His work was finished, He became thirsty.

 

What was He finishing?  A new truth about you and every sinner.

 

Not the old, ugly truth of your guilt and condemnation.  A new truth, the truth of your forgiveness and justification.  The new truth that your guilt and punishment is finished, because Jesus has experienced it.

 

A new truth that death and darkness and the devil are not your masters.  You have a new king.  You belong to Him who was taken down from the cross and wrapped in spices and laid in a new tomb.

 

You belong to Him, and so does Peter and the other disciples who fled.  And He had a place also for Pilate who condemned Him, and the soldiers who whipped and pierced Him, and the high priests, and even Judas.  He finished a new truth for them too, even though they rejected it.

 

The new truth was being brought forth as Jesus was handed over, whipped and mocked, condemned, abandoned, nailed to the tree.

 

And when they punctured His side and His heart with the spear, and water came streaming out with blood, it was the testimony that the new truth about you was accomplished.  Because Jesus was truly dead, the old ugly truth about you was swallowed up in a new truth.

 

The truth that your sins are put away by God.  They are destroyed and a new truth has come into being with the death of God’s Son—you are justified before God.  You are righteous.  You are a new creation.

 

He is the king of this new truth about you; and He lives to speak and declare it over you, as the light shines forth in the darkness.

 

Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Ad Te Levavi, the First Sunday in Advent 2019. Join the Triumph of Our King.

December 2, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus triumphal processionAd Te Levavi—The First Sunday of Advent

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 21:1-9

December 1, 2019

Join the Triumph of our King

 

Jesu juva!

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

God the Father was His source

Back to God He ran His course

Into hell His road went down

Back then to His throne and crown.

 

For You are the Father’s Son

Who in flesh the victory won;

By Your mighty power make whole

All our ills of flesh and soul  (LSB 332 st. 5-6).

 

In the town I grew up in the Lutheran Church of our synod worshipped in a building not much bigger than this one.  I hope no one from that church would be offended by my saying that it was not the most beautiful building in Christendom.  It was functional.  But I distinctly remember, despite its plain appearance, Palm Sunday in that church, when all the children would process to the altar with palm leaves in their hands.  I understood intuitively then what I later learned formally in seminary as I paraded into church with the other children in clip-on ties and barrettes: that Jesus Christ was there in that Divine Service, just as really as when He sat on the back of the donkey and rode into Jerusalem among the crowds who scattered cloaks and branches on the road before Him.  In flesh and blood, though invisibly, our King comes to us in this church too, 2000 miles from the church I grew up in, 2,000 years after the first Palm Sunday.

 

Our King comes to bring you with Him in His triumphal procession.

1.

Even though I sensed that Jesus was present in the Divine Service on Palm Sunday decades ago—at least that’s how I remember it—more often I am not really fully awake to the coming of our King.  I am half-asleep when Jesus comes, more often than I want to admit, both in the Divine Service and outside of it.  And it is the same with you.

 

Hasn’t that been the case with you too, in your life?  Jesus came to you.   He came to you as your King, but you didn’t recognize Him.  You weren’t prepared to fall down before Him and honor Him.  Perhaps you were a young child or a teenager in church and Jesus came to you and was warning you to watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.  But you did not heed Him.  When temptation came, you fell into sin.

 

Or perhaps you committed no great sin, but year after year you were complacent.  You did not serve your King with your whole heart.  You brought little or no fruit to maturity, because the cares and worries and pleasures of this life occupied you and not Christ Jesus the King.

 

But see what kind of King visits us.  He does not ride a war horse or a chariot; He doesn’t bring a sword or a gun.  But His knowledge and His might subtly make themselves known like a concealed weapon.  He directs two disciples: “Go over into the next town and you will find a donkey tied up with its colt.  Untie them and bring them here.  If anyone says anything, just tell him, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and right away he will let you take them.”

 

Normally we call borrowing someone’s donkey without asking “stealing.”  But it is not stealing when everything on earth is yours, when not only the donkey and her colt but also the man who owns them are yours.  Jesus is Lord by right over the donkey and its owner because He is God their Creator.  And He proves that by His knowledge.  Who but God would know what animal is tied up in the next town and what the owner will say when His disciples arrive to take it?

 

That is who the King who comes to us is.  He is all-knowing and all-powerful, even though He does not make a display of His knowledge or His power.  And everything belongs to our King.  All of you.  All of your thoughts, all your time, all your money, all your property, everything He has given you belongs to Him and should be put to His service. And He knows and sees everything.

 

So He knows how you have used your body and mind, time and possessions.  Sometimes you have simply served the devil with them in a way that was obvious to you and filled you with shame.  More often you simply behaved as if your time, life, body, possessions were yours alone, and you did not think of Him when you used them.

 

And He is coming.  This is why Paul calls out in the epistle: Now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we [first] believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light. (Rom. 13:11-14).

 

Salvation is nearer than when you first believed in Jesus because the day of His return to judge is nearer than it was when you were baptized.  Then, His knowledge from which nothing in creation can hide, will be unveiled.  Then also His omnipotent power will be visible, to the terror of those who rejected Him as King.

 

2.

But He is coming now as well, not only in unveiled knowledge and might on the last day.  When He comes now, it is not in terror, but as He appeared on Palm Sunday, and also as He appeared on the first Christmas.

 

Matthew quotes the old prophecy from Zechariah chapter 9: Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey; on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.  (Matt 21:5)

 

He says, Look at how this mighty King comes.  He knows everything.  He has all power in His hand.  Everything belongs to Him.  He sees our disobedience, our self-serving, our rebellion against Him—all the things we hide in the closets of our conscience so that even we ourselves forget about them—for awhile.

 

He does not come to excuse our sins, as though we really are justified in having served ourselves instead of Him.  But He does not come as an enemy to take vengeance.  He comes humble, gentle.  He rides a yoke animal, the lowly beast they tied to a cart to drag loads too heavy for men to carry, the animal they bound to a mill to turn the giant stone that grinds grain.  You can’t dig your spurs into a donkey and charge your enemies.  You go slowly on a donkey, because you are not riding a military animal, but an animal meant to labor and carry burdens.

 

That is how Your King comes.  All His knowledge, all His strength are bound to your service.  Jesus rode the donkey, and her colt came with.  But that was not how it was with Him.  He was separated from His mother to carry the immeasurably heavy burden of your sin.  You have lived as if everyone should serve you, as if you were king.  Jesus came to carry the burden of your guilt with his great strength.  He carried it like the lowly beast of burden that carried him when he carried the cross out of the city gates and was crucified.  And there on the cross He carried the guilt, shame, and wrath of God that was yours into the grave and death.  Away from God’s sight and away from you forever.

 

He came to serve you.  This is how your King still comes to you.  There is no doubt about His power and majesty and glory.  He is the living God.  But He comes in gentleness to bear the burden of your sin, and to serve you so that you are healed of it.  He will come as a terrible judge to His foes, but His gentleness toward troubled sinners is as great as His might.

 

He comes to be your King, to take you captive, that is true.  He wants all of you, and He keeps coming to you until you are all His and He is all yours.  But He doesn’t abandon you when you fall or even when you are an unripe fig tree for years and years.  He comes gentle, meek, on a beast of burden, to help you.

 

Now His lowly donkey is the preacher.  You could look at the pastor’s vestments that way.  They are like the cloaks the apostles put on the donkey before Jesus sat on it.  When the pastor preaches and teaches the teaching of the apostles, he is Jesus’ donkey with the apostles’ cloaks covering him.  Then Jesus comes to you through the pastor—lowly, humble, gentle, to serve you, to take your sins away, and bring you with Him in his triumphal procession.  When the pastor baptizes and absolves you and feeds you Jesus’ supper the way He said to do it, according to His direction, then Jesus the King leads you out of the nations among which you have been scattered into His Kingdom.  Then the King leads you into His chambers, brings you into His banqueting house, and His banner over you is love (Song of Solomon 1:4, 2:4).

 

Just as they laid the branches in the road before Jesus, so this righteous branch appeared not as a glorious King but as a little branch trampled down in the dust.  Yet this is where His might accomplished wonderful things.  Driven into the dust by those who hated Him, He tore the whole human race out of the power of the grave and the curse of Adam—you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  His gentleness and meekness made us great, as His ancestor David wrote in the eighteenth Psalm (Ps. 18:35).  This little branch with no splendor or beauty became our righteousness in His death, and in His resurrection opened for us a Kingdom with no end.

 

3.

 

He comes to us and calls us to awake and receive Him, to cast away the works of darkness, because the day is almost here.  To receive our King who comes to serve us.  To let His Word expose the darkness in us and then proclaim to us the light of His righteousness for us.  He calls us to join Him in His triumphal procession.

 

And already, at least in our word and singing, we do that in every Divine Service.  We sing: Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!

 

The words of the Divine Service tell us “The King is coming; Jesus is coming, just like on Palm Sunday—to us!”  They proclaim this just before we eat the bread that is His Body and drink the wine that is His blood.  There He gives us His righteousness and the forgiveness of our sins.

 

And in heaven, in the highest place, the angels and victorious saints echo our hosannas.  They join in our praise of the King who is coming to save us.

 

These are not idle words.  The angels shouted Hosanna with the crowds as Jesus entered Jerusalem to die.  They do so now when Jesus comes here to give us the body and blood He gave for us in Jerusalem long ago.  They rejoiced then and they rejoice now as they see the King come to us in salvation.

 

And yet His Kingdom didn’t come in a way that made sense to the people in Jerusalem.  The crowds expected paradise to begin that day or soon after.  Here we have high hopes too for what Christ will do among us now that, after years of vacancy, God has sent you a pastor.

 

But Jesus does not bring His kingdom in a way that is comfortable or sensible to human wisdom.  He brought it through His death on the cross in Jerusalem.  He brings it to us through the strange means of bread, wine, water, and preaching.  And as He comes in this way He no doubt will work in us and lead us in ways we cannot understand.

 

But as Advent returns our King does not tell us we need to understand what He is going to do.  He calls us to recognize Him as He comes in His Word and Sacraments and to join Him in His kingly procession.  Follow Him with hosannas to this altar.  Ask Him to visit you with His Spirit this Advent and show you where He would have you serve Him.  Go with Him to your brothers in the church and those who are apart from our king, and serve them with Him.

 

How blest the land, the city blest

Where Christ the ruler is confessed!

Oh peaceful hearts and happy homes

To whom this King in Triumph comes!

The cloudless sun of joy is He

Who comes to set His people free.

To Christ the Savior raise

Your happy shouts of praise!  (LSB 340 st. 3)

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Thanksgiving for Others. Thanksgiving Day 2019

November 28, 2019 Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Day

Emmaus Lutheran Church

1 Timothy 2:1-4

November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving For Others

 

Jesu Juva!

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

The English Puritans were in the habit of holding public services of thanksgiving whenever they received a special benefit from God, whether a victory in battle or a bountiful harvest.  According to my brief research the Pilgrims did not hold a thanksgiving service like this until 1623, when a ship came from England with supplies and more settlers.  But what we think of as the first thanksgiving, which happened in the fall of 1621, was more of a harvest festival.  A couple of the men went out “fowling,” bird-hunting—and got enough ducks, geese, turkeys, grouse, and quail to feed the whole colony for more than a week.  But when they returned to Plymouth town, which was just a few houses, they had a visit from around ninety Wampanoag Indians.

 

Yet instead of this turning into a battle, which the Pilgrims probably would have lost—since there were only around fifty men, women, and children left, about half having died during the winter of 1620—instead of bloodshed there was a feast.  They drank beer, ate game birds, seafood, and venison, and a peace was forged that lasted about seventy years.

 

That first feast is the illustration of the theme I want to present to you, taken from the Epistle reading.  The theme is that Christian thanksgiving is the kind St. Paul describes: First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Tim. 2:1).  Christian thanksgiving is a priest’s thanksgiving.  We don’t merely give thanks for ourselves but for “all people”, for those even who do not know God, even who are enemies of God, and cannot and do not give thanks to Him for the blessings they have received.  In Christian thanksgiving, we serve others who cannot enter the presence of God by entering His presence on their behalf.

 

Thanksgiving entered American lore and became a holiday because people saw in it God’s providence.  They recognized that it would have been very easy for the Pilgrims not to have survived in the new world.  But they survived because God showed them mercy and had a plan for them and their descendants.  And so it became a holiday because for a long time many Americans believed God had chosen this country, and it was necessary to recognize His hand in creating and preserving it by giving Him thanks.

 

But in my lifetime the place of Christians in this country has been very complicated.  We are in a similar situation to the one the Puritans and Pilgrims experienced in England; we feel ourselves to be a minority with limited political and cultural power, facing a rising intolerance from the broader culture.

 

St. Paul also experienced something similar; but the weakness of the Church politically and the hostility of the surrounding culture in his day were far greater.  And Paul’s words in the Epistle reading remind us of the most powerful way we can respond to our nation and our neighbors when they appear to us to be hostile to Christ, the Church, or to simple morality.

 

He urges that our first work after having received the grace of God is to act as priests on behalf of “all people,” to serve our neighbors by bringing them before God in supplication, prayer, intercession and thanksgiving.

 

Let us examine

  1. These four types of prayer mentioned by Paul and
  2. Why this prayer pleases God.

 

1.

Having heard this reading many times, I always assumed that supplication, prayer, and intercession were all basically the same thing, and that in this passage Paul was simply urging us to pray.

 

In reality, each of these four words used by Paul indicate a specific type of prayer that he urges that the church in Ephesus offer on behalf of “all people” and particularly “kings and all in high positions.”

 

Supplications are prayers asking God to help in a certain need, a certain trouble.  St. Paul urges as of first importance that the Christian churches carry the needs of their neighbors (and rulers) to God.  It’s important to realize that rulers in Paul’s day were quite likely to be more hostile and dismissive toward Christians than judges and authorities in our time—even though it is evident that some are very unfriendly today.  Also many of the neighbors of the Christians in Paul’s time would have been unfriendly.  Many Gentiles hated Jews because they denounced all their idols and separated themselves from Gentile society, and most Gentiles in Paul’s day would have seen the Christians as a sect of the Jews.  On the other hand, Jews saw Christians as heretics and apostates.

 

But Paul says that it is of first importance that supplications be offered by the church on behalf of their neighbors, particularly rulers.  So whatever trouble or calamity the churches saw their neighbors in, even when those neighbors were hostile, they were to carry that trouble or need to God as if it were their own.

 

Why was this so important?  Because Christians, then and now, have access to God through their faith in Jesus.  And just as Jesus used His access to God the Father on our behalf, by praying for us, by teaching us, and by dying for us, so the Church carries out His work with Him in this world by interceding on behalf of all people.

 

The second word Paul uses is prayers.  The word can mean many things, but in this setting it probably refers to prayers for the general welfare and prosperity of our neighbors and rulers.  Even when you don’t know what need your neighbor might have, you can still pray for God’s blessing on his work, his family, his children and grandchildren.  You can pray that God would prosper him financially and in every other way.  We often pray this way for ourselves.  But here Paul is teaching that we identify with our neighbors and pray for their blessing in this world, that we use our access to God to seek their blessing.

 

Third Paul urges that intercessions be made.  This refers specifically to prayers for forgiveness of sin.  Oftentimes in the church and in society we become aware of someone’s sin.  Our inclination is to get angry, to indulge in self-righteous anger.  This is particularly the case when we are dealing with politics.  This or that ruler is doing something wrong, proposing legislation that would take away our rights or harm us.  We get indignant.  It happens in the Church just as often.  Leaders in the church push false teaching, or they abuse their authority.  Members of the congregation engage in behavior that harms others.  What do we do?  Often we vent our spleen to those who will listen.  We divide into parties.  But when God makes us aware of someone else’s sin He doesn’t do so so that we can defeat them or so that we can exalt ourselves over them.  He makes us aware of it so that we can do as Jesus has done with our sin.  He took it upon Himself and made it His own.  We cannot carry our neighbor’s sin and make atonement for it, because Christ has done that already.  But we can take it upon our heart, mind, and conscience, and intercede with God for their forgiveness.  And God will hear us, because He has given us access to His throne by clothing us with the righteousness of His Son.

 

Finally Paul urges that thanksgivings be made for all men.  Sometimes we become envious when God blesses other people—especially when those people seem as though they do not deserve it to us.  But Paul urges that we not only pray for the needs of our neighbors, but also give thanks for their blessings as though they were our own.

 

If you practice praying in this way as a Christian, you will find how powerful it is.  This is our most powerful work—prayer.  Because God has given us access to Him through faith in Christ, we have access to His power to work not only on our behalf but on behalf of those around us.  We often wonder and worry about why the Church and its preaching no longer seems to touch our neighbors.  The proper response to this is not to wring our hands, nor first brainstorm ways we can make Christianity more appealing to the world, but to carry out the calling God has given us as priests, and carry our nation and its leaders, our neighbors in the community, our families and loved ones, to Christ and to His Father in prayer, just as when Jesus walked on earth people brought their sick relatives to Him so He would heal them.

 

2.

Why should we do this?  Paul says, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (1 Tim. 2:2-4)

 

The first reason is that we may lead a peaceful, quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  We should not be troublemakers.  The Word of God does not bring peace, Jesus tells us, but a sword.  There will be uproar when His Word comes.  But there should not be uproar because we live in a way that causes people offense—because we are rude and contentious, or because we are insubordinate and unwilling to submit to authority God has instituted.  But if we are carrying our neighbors and our rulers to God, asking Him to bless them, to help them out of trouble, to prosper them, to forgive their sins, and giving thanks when they receive benefits, how can we be seeking to harm them?

 

And the second reason is because prayer for our neighbors and the result—a godly, dignified life—pleases God.  It pleases Him specifically because He wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

It is not hard for you, if you are honest, to recognize that it is God’s pure mercy that you can say, “I am saved.”  It is not because you have done well and earned it.  It is because God did not look on your sin, your trouble and need, and say, “They are getting what they deserve.  I wash My hands of them.”  Instead God got dirty; He became a man born of the dust.  He went beneath the dirty waters of the Jordan River and identified Himself with all the sin of all men.  And then He shed His red blood for your sin.

 

It was because Jesus did not turn away from us and our debt of sin that the Father declared Him His beloved Son.  Paul says it was because Jesus humbled Himself to death, even the death of the cross, that the Father exalted Himself to the highest place.

 

But now He has saved you and given you a holy calling, to be a priest in His priesthood.  He has called you to join in His ongoing work as a priest, praying for the salvation of the world and the blessing of the world.  That is what we are here in this world to do, even as we carry out our holy callings as father, mother, pastor, hearer, citizen, ruler.  We have works to do with our hands, but before we do those, He calls us to come to Him in prayer—and to do so not only for help for ourselves but for our nation and its rulers and its people, our church, our families—especially those most in need, the fallen, the enemies of God.

 

Paul probably had a special reason for wanting this done.  He was a persecutor of the church, and no doubt it was through the prayers of the church that Paul was saved.

 

God wants all people to be saved.  What wonderful news that is!  No matter how far our country has fallen, no matter how far our synod has fallen, or someone in our family, God desires their salvation.

 

So let us carry out our callings as priests and carry our nation, church, neighbors, and families to God through Christ.  Let us pray for their salvation and their blessings in earthly things and give thanks when they receive them.  Let that be our first work.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

The Best Thing You Never Did. Last Sunday of the Church Year 2019.

November 24, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus crucifixion criminalsLast Sunday of the Church Year

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 23:27-43

November 24, 2019

The Best Thing You Never Did

Jesu Juva!

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Zion hears the watchmen singing, And all her heart with joy is springing,

She wakes, she rises from her gloom.

For her Lord comes down all glorious, The strong in grace, in truth victorious,

Her star is ris’n, her light is come.  (LSB 516 stanza 2)

 

Imagine watchmen singing?  You would expect a soldier to cry out with a hoarse and ragged voice; but Zion’s watchmen sing, according to the old Lutheran hymnwriter.  The watchmen of Zion, God’s city, sing out when her king approaches, because Zion is a city of song and of joy, and especially so when her king appears.  Then the city of God’s heart leaps for joy.

 

The season of the church year that is coming next Sunday—you could say it is the “dress-rehearsal” season for the coming of Jesus.  Advent is like a “preparedness drill”, like the military or first responders might do.  We prepare to enter into the joy of our Lord’s first appearing in the world as a baby in the manger; we also prepare for His coming in glory as King and judge.

 

And today, the last Sunday of the church year, is also a day for remembering the Lord’s coming in glory to “judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

 

Yet the Gospel reading for this Sunday does not show our King appearing in royal splendor or dressed in the authority of a judge.  Instead He appears in shame, weakness, and humiliation.

 

In our country judges wear black robes that signify the gravity of their office and the authority to apply the power God has given the state to punish the guilty.  In Europe the judges even wear white wigs and ruff collars, the clothing of centuries past, to show that they are representing traditions of law in that country that go back beyond our great-grandfathers.

 

But Jesus has no garb, no splendor to mark Him as a judge or King, as one who bears an office.  He has no clothing at all.  He is naked.  And after they strip Him and nail Him to the cross and lift Him up naked, they cast lots for His clothes.

 

It’s hard to picture our Jesus in such indignity.  Most of us have called Him Lord and God since we were children.  And rightly so; in the Epistle reading St. Paul writes that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created….And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together…For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  (Col. 1:15-19)

 

But the One in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell is now emptied of glory, stripped of dignity; naked, pierced through hands and feet, hung up to die on a tree between two wicked men.

 

Yet you can see that, despite His humiliation, Jesus continues to speak like a man with authority, like a man in a position of power.  As He is being led away to the place called Skull he tells the women who follow Him, wailing over Him, to wail over themselves and their children instead.  When they crucify Him, He prays to His Father to forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).  Even though He is nailed to the accursed cross, He prays as the One who has God’s ear.  And then He promises paradise to one of the men hanging on the cross next to Him.  Though Jesus is stripped naked, nailed to a cross, lacking every visible sign of authority and God’s favor, He behaves as the judge of the world—even on the cross.

 

He behaves that way because that is who He is, even hanging on the cross.  On the cross itself He judges the world, condemning it as He is crucified, and also pardoning it.

 

And because Jesus has already condemned and pardoned the world on the cross, repentant sinners who believe in Jesus can and should greet the day of His return and rejoice as the watchmen sing out His nearness.

 

Jesus condemns the world from the cross.  It isn’t that Jesus pronounces condemnation on the world from the cross.  Pay careful attention to the fact that even while He hangs bleeding and accursed, He gives a guilty man paradise.  Even as they are driving nails into His hands Jesus prays for the forgiveness of His tormenters to His Father.  Note this.  Jesus does not want to condemn the world.  Jesus does not want to doom the sinners of the world to hell.  He wants to save us all.  Even the ones who hammer nails into His hands.  Even the leaders who falsely accuse Him and hand Him over to be put to death.

 

But Jesus’ presence draws out of the world its own condemnation.

 

The world hates God.  Human beings hate God by nature.  We hate God because He interferes with us doing as we wish.  He not only makes us feel guilty for cursing, for getting drunk, for lusting, for seeking revenge, for coveting—He condemns us to die.

 

So we run from God.  We run so far we forgot we ran from Him.  Then we complain that He seems so far away.

 

But what if God came near to us?  What if He came near to us and made Himself like us so that He wouldn’t overwhelm us, terrify or destroy us?  What if He made Himself weak enough that we could harm Him?  What would we do then?  Would we come back to Him?

 

Jesus told a parable about this right before He was arrested to the priests; in His parable there was a vineyard hired out to renters, and the renters saw the son of the owner coming to collect some of the wine of the vineyard.  What do they do?  They say, “Look, this is the heir.  Let’s kill him and the vineyard will be ours.”

 

And that’s what the human race did when God came near to us, in peace, to reconcile us, to bring us back.  We killed Him.  Yes, it was the Roman soldiers who beat Him and drove in the nails and the spear; yes it was Pontius Pilate who gave the order.  And it was the leaders of the Jews who handed Him over to Pilate with false accusations.  But they were only doing what you have done every time you knew God’s will and did what was contrary to it.  And every time too that you sinned in ignorance.  You wished there was no God who commanded you to obey your parents, to pray and learn His Word, or not to hate, or to be chaste, or to not speak evil of your neighbor.

 

People have been doing that ever since Adam and Eve first hid from God.  But at the cross of Jesus, human beings did the worst thing they ever did.

 

People have done lots of horrible things in the thousands of years we have been on earth.  There have been genocides.  There have been oppressions, powerful and rich holding down the weak and the poor.  And there have been the countless personal sins that haunt our lives—the lazy man who doesn’t support his family, the husband who abuses wife and children, those who cheat at business, those who lie their whole lives.

 

But the worst thing human beings ever did was humiliate and put to death God’s Son when He came to save them.  God gave His dearest treasure and mankind killed Him.  This is why Jesus prayed for us as He was being nailed to the wood.  This is God’s beloved Son, in whom He is well-pleased.  As the crucified criminal said, He has done nothing wrong.  Neither toward His Father, nor toward His brothers in flesh and blood.  He came for one purpose only—to help us and reconcile us to God.

 

Of course you will say, correctly—It was God’s will that He die for our sin.  It was written before it happened.  And that is true.  But that doesn’t make it a good work on our part.  It is the greatest act of wickedness on the part of the human race, to treat shamefully and kill God’s Son.  Our guilt is exposed in Jesus’ naked, crucified body.  His shame is really our shame.  If there was anything good in the human race, would we have nailed the firstborn of all creation to a cross?

 

But we could not avoid it.  His presence exposes our sin.  Either He must die, or we must.

 

Son on the cross we see the condemnation of mankind and each of us exposed already—that we killed the Son of God.  And you have your share in this too, because by your thoughts words, and deeds, you have rebelled against this King.

 

That is the worst thing human beings ever did.  It is the worst thing you ever did.

 

 

2.

 

But Jesus the King also accomplishes another judgment on the cross.  He justifies the ungodly (Romans 4).  Or as St. Paul wrote in Colossians, He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into His Kingdom.  (Col. 1:13-14).  He gave us His Kingdom.

 

This, again, is difficult.  A man naked on a cross, stripped of everything, bestows on us a Kingdom.  A man condemned to a cursed death between two criminals lifts us up to Paradise.

 

But what is more difficult still is that we killed this King sent to save us.  This is the worst thing we have ever done, the crowning evil atop the heap of human evil.  How can He now call us righteous and give us a Kingdom?

 

3 successive people or groups of people mock Jesus’ claim to be the anointed one, the King.  The first are the rulers, who say, “If He is the Christ, let Him save Himself like He saved others.”  The second group is the soldiers, who offer Jesus sour wine to drink and say, “If you are really the King of the Jews we have heard about, if you are the One who will rule all nations, even Rome, save yourself from this cross.”  Both of these groups don’t ask Jesus to save them: they ask Him to save Himself, and prove that He is Christ.  Because obviously a King who is going to defend and deliver others first has to be able to save Himself, right?

 

Finally one of the other hanged men rails at Him: “Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”  He seems to think Jesus has the ability to come down from the cross, and he is angry at Jesus for not saving himself (and the criminals as well).

 

But the last criminal doesn’t talk like this.  He says, “We are getting what we have deserved for our deeds.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he turns to Jesus and asks for a gift: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

 

The last criminal rightly recognizes that his deeds brought him to the cross.  His own works brought him to die shamefully, painfully, and under a curse.

 

Our works brought the Christ, the chosen one of God, to be crucified.  Our works crucified God’s beloved, the One who came to rescue us.  There is no refuge for us in our works.

 

Bu this man asks Jesus to remember Him when He comes to His Kingdom, and Jesus says: Yes, today.

 

Because He didn’t come to save Himself; He came to give Himself.  He freely bestows His Kingdom on those who believe in Him.  Not on those who have treated Him well, because none have.  But on those who believe in Him.  Though Jesus is dying in humiliation, naked, He has a Kingdom He is about to enter.

 

He enters it as He emerges from the tomb, not only the firstborn of creation, but firstborn from the dead.  He is the firstborn of those who die because of sin and are raised by God with sin and death underfoot.  He is the firstborn of those made new, entering paradise.

 

That is Jesus Kingdom.  He came to give it to us.  And even though our wickedness was so total it drove us to put Him to death, it was not great enough to prevent His Kingdom from coming.

 

Now He freely promises it to you as He did the criminal hanged with Him.  Look at that man hanging next to Jesus, you who are troubled by sin, and realize—there was never an unlikelier candidate for paradise.  But Jesus said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

 

He made you the same promise—when He baptized you, and when He absolved you this morning and in that absolution put you back in your baptism.  “I forgive you all your sins…”  That was the sound of the stone rolling away.

 

That is why when the watchmen sing to you that He is near, you should know that the joy is meant for you, the burdened one, the dying one getting what your deeds deserve.  Yes, but now you are going to receive the reward of the best thing you never did, the thing Jesus made of your worst.  He is not coming to destroy you on the last day.  He is coming to give you a kingdom.  Not even your worst could stop Him.  When He comes He will simply announce in glory what has already been accomplished in His weakness on the cross.  “The Kingdom is yours.  I am for you.”

 

That is what He now says hidden under the bread and wine, giving you His body to eat, His blood to drink.  “I am for you.  Take and eat.”  And at the altar, today we are with Him in paradise.

 

Now come, Thou Blessed One,

Lord Jesus, God’s own Son,

Hail, Hosanna!

We enter all

The wedding hall

To eat the supper at Thy call.  (LSB 516 st. 2)

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

%d bloggers like this: