Devotion: 1 Kings 10. Something Greater Than Solomon

Tuesday of Easter 4

May 10, 2022

1 Kings 10

Something Greater than Solomon

The 72nd Psalm tells us that the Messiah’s kingdom will be like the kingdom of Solomon we read about in this chapter.  May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render Him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!  (Psalm 72:10)  

Just as the Queen of Sheba journeyed from Ethiopia to hear Solomon’s wisdom and paid him tribute, so the kings of the earth will come from the four corners of the world to pay tribute to the Messiah.  In our liturgy we pay tribute to Him ourselves when we sing in the words of the Revelation of St. John:

                Power, riches, wisdom and strength

                And honor and blessing and glory are His…

                For the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign…

But in Revelation there is also a false Christ who fabricates the glory of the true Messiah’s kingdom.  He puts a mark on all his servants—666, the same number as the talents of gold that Solomon received every year in tribute.  And when the city from which the antichrist reigns is cast down, the merchants of the earth mourn since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls…all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood…(Rev. 18:11-12).  The antichrist’s kingdom sounds a lot like Solomon’s in terms of outward glory and riches.

On the other hand, Jesus and the kingdom He established seem to have little in common with the glory of Solomon’s realm.  He had no silver and gold in His purse, and there was none in the hands of His disciples.  He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him (Is. 53:2). 

And yet Jesus says: The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here (Luke 11:31).  What wisdom and splendor does Jesus have that surpasses the wealth and wisdom of Solomon?  He dies stripped even of His clothes, naked and cursed on the cross!

He has a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  (1 Cor. 2:7).  This secret and hidden wisdom is Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23-24). 

When the all-wise, all-glorious God and Creator, who made the world by His wisdom, died the foolish and shameful death of the cross, He gave to us fools and beggars a wisdom hidden from the wise and learned.

With our wisdom and strength we could never find and open the gate to paradise.  Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified, is the something greater than Solomon that is here.  By His divine wisdom He opened the gate of paradise to sinners, becoming sin for us on the cross. 

He alone has the words of eternal life and imparts the hidden wisdom of the justification of the ungodly.  This glorious heavenly wisdom comes from His lips to us in the Divine Service, where He declares that the record of our debt has been nailed to the cross.  He opens to us His treasures: the baptism of new birth, His body in which is all the fullness of God, His blood that sprinkles our hearts clean from an evil conscience (Hebrews 10:22).  He imparts what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined—the free forgiveness of sins and eternal life through His cross.

Wisdom’s highest, noblest treasure

Jesus, is revealed in You. 

Let me find in You my pleasure,

And my wayward will subdue,

Humility there and simplicity reigning,

In paths of true wisdom my steps ever training. 

If I learn from Jesus this knowledge divine,

The blessing of heavenly wisdom is mine.  Amen.  (LSB 536 st. 3)

Lent 5 Midweek Vespers: Jesus’ Body Enables Us to Serve God in Our Bodies

Wednesday of Judica

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Passion History V: Calvary

April 6, 2022

Jesus’ Body Enables Us to Serve God in Our Bodies

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me. 

In burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.

Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God,

As it is written of me in the scroll of the book.”  (Heb 10:5-7)

God was not pleased with the burnt offerings at the temple, the lamb immolated on the altar every morning and evening.  He was not pleased with the bull or goat whose blood was sprinkled in the holy place or poured at the base of the altar to atone for unintentional sins.

Something else had to be done to fulfill God’s will.  So Jesus came.  The Father prepared a body for His Son in the virgin’s womb by the Holy Spirit, and in that body Jesus served God acceptably, fulfilled His will.

The Scriptures testify that we are not able to do the will of God in our fallen human bodies by our will alone.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God, says Romans 8.  And in chapter 7: So then, I myself serve the Law of God with my mind, but with my flesh the law of sin.  (Rom. 7:25)

Lutherans are taught this explicitly and regularly, so much so that many misconstrue it and think, “Since I am not able to be without sin in the body, I shouldn’t try to serve God in the body at all.  It is impossible.” 

But this is not right, because

Jesus’ body enables us to serve God and please Him in the body,

as a holy priesthood.

1.

But it is true that in ourselves, in the flesh, we can’t serve God. It isn’t just that in our bodies we serve Him imperfectly.  It’s that apart from Jesus’ body we can’t and don’t serve God at all.

What do we serve then?  Our passions and lusts, Scripture says.  For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work (G)in our members (H)to bear fruit for death. (Rom. 7:5) 

We serve sin as slaves, and in serving sin, we serve the lord of sin, its author, Satan.  The spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:2-3).

There is a reward for this service to the devil and sin that we perform in the flesh, a wage.  And the wage is death, the eternal death of the body in hell.

It’s not just a sad, unfulfilling, disappointing thing about us that we can’t serve God in our fallen bodies.  It is a terrifying announcement of doom, a poison in the conscience of everyone who is aware of it. 

In the reading we heard and saw something of this grim reality in the words of one of the criminals crucified next to Jesus.

Do you not fear God since you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are getting what we deserve for what we have done.  But this man has done nothing wrong.

The criminal says: Our punishment is just.  We deserve this, to have nails driven through our hands and feet; we deserve to hang naked and bleeding from these crosses until we suffocate, or until they show us kindness and end our misery early by smashing our legs with clubs.

That is what criminals deserve in this life—death, pain, shame.  But those who spend their lives not serving God, serving sin, serving Satan as obedient slaves, deserve much worse.  Eternal agony in body and conscience together, eternal condemnation by God.

2.

But Jesus in His body has come to do the will of God.  The Father prepared His son a human body for this purpose. 

In His body He saves us from the wrath and condemnation of God that is due to us for our service to evil.  By His service, Jesus makes our lives in the body acceptable and pleasing to God.  We who are sold as slaves to sin serve God as priests in our bodies.  We enter His presence in our bodies without fear.  We do not die but live and are holy before God in our flesh.

That is why it is fitting, more than fitting, that we should not only have a cross front and center in the church, but a cross with Jesus’ body on it. 

It is by the service Jesus performed in His body on the cross that we enter into God’s presence and serve Him forever.  It is through the suffering of Jesus’ body on the cross that we become servants of God in our bodies.

See how before Jesus was crucified they offered Him wine mixed with gall to drink, but He would not drink it? 

He would not drink it because gall was a poison that would end His suffering early.  Myrrh, which they put in the wine too, was an anesthetic.  He did not want to avoid the pain.

But He also did not drink it because He was offering priestly service for us, and God commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron: Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting.  (Lev. 10:9)  Since He was doing priestly service on the cross, He abstained from wine.

But it does not appear to be priestly service He is doing.  They crucified Him.  They nailed Him to the wood and suspended Him in the air.  He was suffering as an evildoer, a lawbreaker, even though He had done nothing wrong.  Be that as it may, it does not look like the service of a priest Jesus is offering.  He is wearing no ephod, no robe, no miter, no breastpiece.  He is naked.  His only covering is blood and wounds. 

The crowds scoffed at Him: You who were going to destroy the temple and raise it up in three days, save yourself! 

The crowd believed whatever lie the powerful seeded in their brains, which is the way of crowds.  In this case the lie was that Jesus had come to destroy their temple, to blaspheme their God.  But they think that Jesus’ crucifixion is proof that He has not accomplished what He set out to do. 

But on the contrary, this is the work Jesus came to do from heaven.  This is the work for which the Father prepared for the Son a body in the womb of His mother.

By the eternal Spirit He is offering Himself to God (Hebrews 9:14), as the Epistle reading said Sunday.  By the eternal Spirit He is offering Himself to God without blemish, in order that your conscience might be purified to serve the living God.

As the criminal next to Him said, He has done nothing wrong.  He is receiving the reward of the wicked, the reward of a person who served sin. 

Hanging from the cross, pierced through His hands and feet, bleeding.  But not only this.  To some degree we can imagine the pain of nails and suffocation.  But the Lord cries out about another pain that we would not otherwise know if we did not hear Him shout it from the cross.  “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

That is the everlasting wage of sin that is owed to us for serving sin in the body—to be forsaken by God.

But by His service in the body on the cross Jesus has received that wage for you.  He has taken it away from you forever so that you are free from it.  Free to serve God acceptably in your body with a pure conscience.  Your body in which you feel sin is nevertheless the place in which you serve God through faith in Jesus.  He is pleased with your service to Him done in your fallen body through faith in Jesus’ body nailed to the cross.

That is why it is good to have His body displayed on the cross, above the altar, as Lutherans did until the mid 20th century.  Good the way Good Friday is good.

It’s not the bare cross, the empty cross, that makes peace with God for you, but the body that hung on the cross, Jesus’ body suffering on the cross.  Jesus’ body dead on the cross. 

The body of Jesus gives us certain peace.  His body nailed to the cross seals to us that there is no more wage due us for sin.  His body makes us acceptable to God.  It makes us servants of God.  Paul says of himself and other ministers, “This is how men should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  But just as Paul could call himself a servant of God, so can you, even though you know you often serve yourself instead of God.  But through Jesus’ service God is pleased with you and you are a servant of God even in your sinful body.

After Jesus experienced the wrath and abandonment of God for our service of sin in the flesh, He takes a drink.

He has completed His priestly service and now may drink of the fruit of the vine that He would not drink earlier.  When He drinks it, He says, “It is finished,” commends His Spirit in to His Father’s hand, and dies.

St. Paul says: The death He died He died to sin once for all, but the life He lives, He lives to God.”  (Romans 6:10). 

Having given His body into death, He will never die again.  He will never make a sacrifice for sin again,  because God’s will has been done, and sin is removed forever.

3.

This means you today, now, who believe this, serve God acceptably in your body.

When Jesus died, the curtain of the temple was torn and the dead were raised.

Your old life in the body, dead in sin, sold as a slave to condemnation, came to an end.  Just as John became the son of Mary at Jesus’ cross, and Mary became the mother of John, even though they were in the same bodies, and Mary had not given birth to John.  But His death changed their relationship to each other.  They received new lives.  So with you who believe in Jesus.

Even though you are in the same body in which you were born, in which sin has been raging like a fire all your life, you are a holy priest who enters into the presence of God through the death of Jesus, through faith in Him.

You serve God acceptably through faith in Jesus’ death, because He has done the will of God on the cross.  By faith in Him you also have done God’s will and pleased Him.

St. Paul says this so beautifully: I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  (Gal. 2:20)

In the flesh we can do nothing but serve sin.  By faith in Jesus we can do nothing but serve God in the body.  We live no longer under the Law, but by faith in Christ.  We live by the Spirit of God through whom Jesus offered Himself and serve Him with a pure conscience, with a conscience assured that the Father is pleased with us.

That is what the water and blood streaming from Jesus’ side in death witness to us.

The water of Baptism bears witness that we share in Jesus’ death and are pure before the Father in all we do.

The blood streaming from Jesus’ heart in death flows into the cup on the altar that we drink.  There Jesus witnesses with His blood that we poor sinners are cleansed and purified, clean forever to serve God as priests.

God was not pleased with the burnt offering morning and evening at the temple.  He was not pleased with the goats and bulls whose blood was sprinkled before the holy place or poured on the altar.

He is pleased with the body of His Son offered up on the cross.  And He is pleased with you who believe in Him, are baptized into Him, eat His body, drink His blood. 

He is pleased with you and with your service before Him.  And what offerings do you bring? 

Not bulls and goats.  Not a sacrifice to offer for sin, for that is finished.

I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Rom. 12:1

With your conscience cleansed by the offering of Jesus’ body, you offer up your body to the Lord to serve where He calls you, as a mother, father, son, daughter, pastor, parishioner. 

Rejoice!  God receives your service in the body.  It is holy to Him, holier than any animal burning on the altar before the temple.  Your body is holy and acceptable through the body of Jesus Christ offered on the cross.

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

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

He Made Himself Nothing. Judica, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2022.

Judica, the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. John 8:46-59

April 3, 2022

He Made Himself Nothing

Jesu juva

In the Name of Jesus.

1.

This past week the Church received some good news.

The bishop of the Evangelical Mission Diocese in Finland, Juhana Pohjola, and a medical doctor and longtime member of the Finnish Parliament, Paivi Raesaenen, were acquitted March 30th.  They had been on trial for a pamphlet written by Raesaenen in 2004 and published under the bishop’s authority, which outlined the Biblical, historic Christian view of marriage, that it is between a man and a woman, that homosexuality is a sin.

For this they were put on trial.  The prosecution wanted their statements on social media suppressed and for the to be fined, but the court dismissed the charges.

For that small victory for the Lutherans in Finland we give thanks to God.

But that the small remnant of Christians in Finland who believe the Bible should still be allowed to say, with their small voice, that homosexuality is sinful, without being fined—is not the victory we hope for.

What do we hope for?  That sinners of all kinds would be saved from their sins, from death, from everlasting damnation. 

For this to happen, it is of course necessary that we proclaim God’s Law and expose the sin from which we need to be saved.

But when the Church does this, or when you do it, as an individual Christian, what happens?  People say: “Who are you to tell me that I am sinful?  Who do you make yourself out to be?”

Even if you try to avoid talking about sins that are political minefields, and you try to only talk about Jesus’ love and salvation, people will still say: “Who are you?  Who do you make yourself out to be?”

This is what they said to our Lord in the Gospel reading today.

He spoke beautiful words of pure grace to the crowd around Him.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”  (John 8:51)

What was the response of His hearers?  They said, “Who do you make yourself out to be?  Do you think you’re greater than our ancestor, Abraham?  Do you think you’re greater than the prophets, that whoever keeps your word will never see death?”

So when you speak God’s Word to your neighbors and loved ones, as I know many of you do.  You do this because you love them very much and you want them to be saved eternally.  But they say: “Who do you make yourself out to be?”  They may not say it in a hostile way.  But they are saying: “You say Jesus saves us from death, from sin, from eternal condemnation.  But what makes what you think better than what I think?”

And then we feel helpless.  Maybe we feel intimidated intellectually.  Because our answer is: “The Bible says this.”  And we know what the answer will be.  “Why should I believe the Bible?” or “That’s just your interpretation of the Bible.  Lots of people think it means something else.”

“Who do you make yourself out to be?”  That is the question the world asks us when we confess God’s Word.  But before the world asked that of us, it asked it of Jesus our Lord.

Jesus answered the question in a bold and truthful way, but also an exceedingly kind and loving way, because Jesus is more kind and loving than even we who believe in Him can begin to understand. 

His answer is twofold:

1.  It’s you who make yourself something, because you don’t know God.

2.  But I make myself nothing so that you may know God.

2.

“It’s you who make yourself something because you don’t know God.”

Jesus says this repeatedly to the crowd around Him.  “The reason why you do not hear God’s Words is that you are not of God.”  (v. 47)  “It is my Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’  Bu you have not known Him.  I know Him.  If I were to say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and I keep His Word.”  (v. 54-55)

When you proclaim God’s Word to people and it convicts them, they frequently come back at you and say, “Who are you?”  We do this too.  If someone proclaims God’s Law to us and convicts us of being sinners, our impulse is to find fault with the proclaimer. 

Why do we do this?  If God’s Word exposes me to be a sinner, why do I immediately try to find a way to escape it by attacking the one who speaks God’s Word? 

Because I want to be something.  I want to make myself something I am not.  I want to make myself not guilty, able to stand before the judge of this world and not be condemned.

But you can’t do this.  You can’t be a law to yourself and make your own way.  You can’t stand before the Creator of this world and not be condemned.

So you and every other human being begins to make things.  They use the creativity that God placed in human beings to create things that they should not, things that are untrue, that are lies.

We by nature make new laws that are not God’s Laws, laws that declare us righteous, virtuous and good.

We remake ourselves as good, holy, and virtuous when we are sinners who deserve condemnation and death.  We don’t actually make ourselves good, but we pretend we are.  And we try to force or bribe everyone else into saying we are good.

And then we make gods in our own image.  Gods who will tell us we are good and virtuous, gods we think will save us.

In days gone by people actually worshipped idols formally.  They set up statues in temples or in sacred groves and did rites to honor these false gods.

Now the idols are different.  They usually are not physical images.  And they are not honored with formal religious ceremonies. 

But the point is that human beings are constantly making.  We make ourselves out to be what we are not, and we make false gods.  And Jesus says—we do this because we don’t know God.

3.

On the other hand, Jesus says, “I do not make myself anything.”  He is saying a very mysterious thing in the Gospel for this Sunday.

The Jews say to Him: “Are we not right in saying you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”  The Jews accuse Jesus of what is true about them.  They say Jesus is possessed by a demon, because, in actuality, they are under the control of the devil.

But Jesus replies, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.  Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge.”  (John 8:49-50)

A few verses later Jesus says again: If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing.  It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say: “He is our God.”  (John 8:54)

The Jews say: “You are making yourself out to be somebody.  You are making yourself into something you are not.”

They say that because that is what human beings are always doing since the fall.  Exalting ourselves, claiming what we have no right to.

But Jesus says, “No, I am making myself nothing.”  This is a profound mystery in the Gospel reading.

At the end of the reading they say: “You are not yet 50 years old, and you have seen Abraham?”  And Jesus says: “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” 

“I AM” is God’s name that He said to Moses from the burning bush.  Israel learned that this was God’s Name after He brought them out of Egypt.  At Mount Sinai, when God spoke the ten commandments from the fire on the mountain, He began by saying, “I Am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the house of slavery.   You shall have no other gods before me.”  (Exodus 20:1-3)

Jesus is saying in the clearest way possible to the Jews that He is their God who saved them from Egypt. 

And yet He says: “I do not seek my own glory.  If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing.  It is my Father who glorifies Me.” 

What is He saying?  Jesus is acknowledging that although He is their God, to their eyes He is no different than them.  He is a human living among humans.  And He is not going to try to make Himself more than that.  He is not seeking to appear like more than another sinful human being.  He is not trying to exalt Himself over them.

He is their God, but He has made Himself like them and like us in every way, except sin.  He has emptied Himself of power, honor, and splendor.

He is not making Himself anything.  He has made Himself nothing so that we who do not know God by nature might know Him.

So when you tell your loved ones or neighbors God’s Word—His Law, or the good news of His salvation—and they say: “Who are you?  Who are you making yourself out to be?”

We hate that.  We want to prove that it isn’t us saying it, but God.  But we can’t. 

There are certainly arguments that can be made for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection or that believing the Bible is true is not the same as believing Norse myths.

But these are only human arguments.  When they asked Jesus to prove that He was God, He did not prove it by arguments primarily.

He proved that He was God by not making Himself anything, by making Himself nothing.  He spoke the truth; He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM!”  But He made no effort to glorify Himself, to take the divine honor that was His as the Son of God.

He was content to be one of us and to be attacked for who He was.  People tried to get rid of Jesus, to prove He wasn’t God by destroying Him.

They are still trying to do that.  In a small way that was what the trial in Finland was about.  In a place where Christianity was the state religion for hundreds of years, now attempts are being made to punish people for being Christians and speaking the word of Christ.

It’s the same as in the Gospel reading.  The temple was the dwelling place of Israel’s God.  Jesus comes into the temple, the Son of God, and says the Name of God, and they try to kill Him right there in the temple.

But rather than make Himself something God has made Himself nothing.   He has made Himself one of us, lowly and weak so that we can treat Hi this way.

He has done it so that we may know Him and live.

Human beings make themselves into what they are not and make false gods because if we stand before the true and living God we will die.  We can’t stand before His Law because it condemns us.  So we are born making idols and not knowing the true God because we can’t bear to know Him.

But here He is, that we may know Him and live.  That we may keep His Word and not see death into eternity.

He reveals Himself by making Himself nothing.  By suffering and being mistreated for what we do.

Next week on Good Friday we will hear as He is brought before Pontius Pilate.  The priests say, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”

He did not make Himself God’s Son; He is the Son of Go.  When they put Him to death as the one who only pretended, who made Himself the Son of God, they revealed who He was.

He is God’s Son who dies for all we have made.  Dying to destroy our idols.  Dying for what we have tried to make ourselves.  Dying to destroy the death and hell we have brought on ourselves.

This is why I said Jesus is kinder and more loving than even we in the Church understand.

Jesu stands there telling them: You don’t know God.  But I, your God am here, like you in every way, so that you may know me.

So that I may make you able to stand before Me without making yourself anything.

“When someone asks you, ‘Who are you to speak God’s word?  Who do you make yourself?”

The answer is—nothing.  I am nothing.

The authority is His who made Himself nothing for us.  He was crucified for us and made nothing.  And He made nothing of sin and nothing of death for all who keep His Word. 

Amen.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

Jesus’ Body Enables Us To See God in our Flesh. Wednesday of Laetare, 2022

Wednesday of Laetare

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Passion History IV: Praetorium

March 30, 2022

Jesus’ Body Enables us To See God in Our Flesh

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  Job 19:25-27

When Job suffered—the death of his children, the loss of his possessions, the sickness of his body—he couldn’t see God.  Neither could his friends.  They could see Job’s suffering, though.  They could all see that God’s hand had struck Job.  For Job’s friends, the arithmetic was simple.  God has struck you.  God is just.  Therefore He is punishing you for your sins.

But Job maintained that even though God’s hand had struck him, things were not as they seemed.  After God had given him over to death, He would raise Job again, and Job would see God’s glory in his own body, in his own skin.

That is strange logic.  God is punishing me, but even so He will give me the reward of the righteous.  He will let me see His glory. 

Ever since Adam, though, people have not been able to see God in their bodies.  Adam and Eve were exiled from Paradise.  God told them they would suffer and would not see His glory.  Adam would see thorns and thistles sprout from the ground his blistered hands had worked.  Eve would not see God’s glorious face, but pain and anguish in childbirth, and the face of her husband ruling over her.  Then they would both see death, exiled from God’s glory.

What hope did they have in their life of exile from paradise? Only a promise they could not see—that the seed of a woman would bruise the serpent’s head and free them from their curse. 

But since Adam human beings have wanted to escape the cruse of God by escaping their bodies.  Job believed that in his flesh he would see God, even though his flesh was cursed by corruption.

But in the eastern religions people try by various techniques of meditation to escape their bodies and see God directly.  Merge with the divine.

Greek philosophers thought that death and escape from the body would enable the soul to return to God.

Our reason tends in the same direction.  Not only are our bodies subject to pain, not only are they lowly and disconnected from others, but our bodies, corrupted by sin, prevent us from seeing God.  Isn’t that what God told Moses on the mountain?  “No man can see my face and live?”  How can we praise God and be thankful for our bodies when they are not only corrupted by sin, pain, and death, but in them we are separated from seeing God’s glory?  Doesn’t St. Paul say: “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord?”  (2 Cor. 5:6)

Paul does say that, and yet without the body we cannot see the Lord or His glory.

Apart from the human body we cannot see God.  Because God is found in a human body and cannot be separated from it.

When Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple early in His ministry, they asked Him, “By what authority do you do these things?”  He answered: “Tear down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Bu the temple of which He spoke was His body.  (John 2)

Jesus’ body—flesh, veins, skin, bones, blood, hair, teeth, eyes, ears, hands lips, nose.  Fingers, feet, arms, legs.  A human body and soul created in the womb of Mary, a human woman.

This flesh, blood, bones is the temple of God.  It is the holy abode of God.  “For in Him all the fullness of the Deity dwells bodily.”  (Col. 2:9)

Pontius Pilate calls out to the crowd: Do you want me to release for you Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called Christ?”  The crowd shouts for him to release Barabbas. 

“What then,” Pilate asks, “shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?  With the one whom you call the King of the Jews?”

They all cry out, “Crucify Him!” 

But instead Pilate has the dwelling place of God punished.  He is flogged.  Stripes open on His back, blood streams, tears run from the eyes, the eyes turn red, the throat perhaps screams in pain.

Then they fashion a crown of long thorns and press it on His head and hit Him on the head with a reed.

Adam was sent forth from Paradise with his wife.  They could no longer see God.  Adam saw thorns rise up when he worked the soil.  The thorns said, “You are cursed, Adam!  God’s curse is upon you.”

If Adam listened to his eyes, he would have sang with King Hezekiah: “I shall not see the Lord, the Lord, in the land of the living.”  (Is. 38:11)

Instead Adam looked on the promise of God.  A woman’s seed would bruise the serpent’s head. 

A man would be born without pain.  He would not rule over His wife with harshness but lay down His life for her.

He would raise the dead from the dust of the earth.

He would takeaway the cruse from the ground, remove the briars and thorns.

Pilate now leads Hi out, wearing the crown of thorns, bearing away the curse from the earth.  Dying for His bride.  “Behold the man!”  says Pilate.  Here is the man promised to Adam, whom Adam looked upon by faith when he saw the thorns and his fall.

In His body we see God.  And through the suffering of His body we are permitted to see God.

By the flogging and thorns and mockery and death God removes the curse on our bodies.  The Scripture says: Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all the things written in the book of the Law, to do them.

But God has come to remove the curse from Adam.  He shows us this by wearing Adam’s curse.

And if He now bears the curse Adam received when he was exiled from God’s presence, it means that God has come to bring us into paradise to see God’s glory.

But already He enables us to see His glory, through a mirror darkly.

Pilate sees it, though He refuses to accept it.  “Pilate was utterly amazed,” the evangelist tells us, because Jesus makes no effort to save His life, to answer the charges laid against Him by the priests.

The priests want Jesus to be crucified.  Pilate and Jesus both know this.  Yet Jesus will not say a word to defend Himself.  Pilate is amazed by this the same way the crowds are amazed when Jesus casts out demons or makes the blind see.

He is amazed because He is seeing Jesus’ glory.

Not the glory of brightness, or a cloud, or a pavement like sapphire under His feet.  But the glory of divine love.  That God has come to His fallen creation, not to demand vengeance, but to serve us and restore us to His presence.

He hasn’t come to reign over us the way Eve was cursed to be ruled by Adam, but to love us and give Himself up for us, to wash us from every spot and blemish.

Glory is in the bloody stripes on His back, glory in the crown of shame.  Glory in His exposure in shame before the crowd.  The glory of God, because God is love.  Perfect love casts out fear, and God’s love turns shame into honor.

Now our lowly bodies are also temples.  We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones, Paul says.

And therefore our bodies will be like His glorious body, and after our skin has been thus destroyed, in our flesh we will see God.

He has redeemed our bodies at a price, the price of His blood.  So that in them we might see His glory, His love, not in a mirror, but face to face.

But while our bodies have not yet been made like His, and are still sinful, corrupt, and mortal, they are His.

He claimed us when He was brought out bearing Adam’s curse and shame.  Even if our bodies are shameful, they are His.  He bought them so they might bear His glory. 

To show your body is His own, He baptized you and gave His spirit to dwell in you.

His body that was beaten is God’s holy temple in which all the fullness of God dwells.

But your body, weak and sinful, as it may be, is also His temple, because you are baptized into Him and believe He suffered for you.

Your lowly body, even now, is the dwelling place of the Most High.  You are a member of His body.  We are members of His body together, a holy temple in the Lord.

Not because we see His glory on us.  But like Adam looked past the thorns to the second Adam who would remove them, we look not at our infirmities but at the blood on Jesus’ back and face.  We see the glory of God, the boundless love of God, there taking away the curse from the sons of Adam.

Amen.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

Laetare, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2022. Recognizing Jesus in the Bread

Laetare, the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. John 6:1-15

March 27, 2022 (reworked from 2020)

Recognizing Jesus in the Bread

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

In the passage of Scripture from which our congregation takes its name, the Lord Jesus appears to two of His disciples on the road to a village called Emmaus after His resurrection from the dead.  They do not recognize Him until He comes to the place where they are staying, takes the bread they are going to eat, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them.

In doing that, Jesus made Himself known in the bread.  By breaking the bread, giving it out, He made Himself known.  That passage of Scripture teaches us where we find Jesus after His resurrection and ascension to heaven.  We find Him where the Scriptures are read, taught, and expounded to reveal Him.  And we find Him in the breaking of the bread, the Supper He instituted, where He took the Passover bread and said, “This is My Body, which is given for you.”

We need to know where to find Jesus when we are in a crisis, like we are in now.  We need Him to make us sit down on the grass like sheep, we need Him to feed us and make us lie down like the Good Shepherd.  But we need not only to recognize Jesus when He comes, but also to recognize and know who He is.  And that knowledge of faith does not come all at once.  Learning the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, so that we can say, “Jesus is the Son of God, true God and true man, and our Savior”—that can come relatively quickly.  In another way learning to recognize Jesus as true God and true man often comes slowly.  The Holy Spirit teaches us to know Jesus as true God and man by experience, by testing us.  We can see Him doing this with the children of Israel in the Old Testament reading today and with the apostles in the Gospel reading.  But He is also doing it with us.

We are being taught to recognize Jesus in the bread also.  We are being taught by the Holy Spirit to recognize Jesus in our daily bread.  And we are being taught to recognize Jesus as the bread of life, the bread from heaven that God gives for the life of the world.  We see Him in our midst in the bread that we receive from this altar.

  1.  

The Holy Spirit is teaching us to recognize Jesus in our daily bread.

Throughout the Old Testament God reveals Himself as the giver of bread.  When He cursed Adam after Adam fell into sin, God said, Cursed is the ground because of you.  In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground (Gen. 3:17-19)  Adam had to work, but his work and sweat did not make the bread.  God gives the bread that keeps Adam alive. 

Then when the children of Israel went down to Egypt they went there because that was where God provided them bread.  When He led them out, He told them to make unleavened bread and carry it with them.  And when the bread they brought with them from Egypt ran out, and they began to grumble that God was trying to kill them in the desert, He provided the manna that covered the ground of the desert of Sinai.  And throughout the Old Testament God again and again shows Himself the giver of bread. 

In John 14, there is a famous passage where Jesus tells the disciples He is going away, but that they know the way to the place He is going.  I am the way, and the truth, and the life, He says, no one comes to the Father except through Me.  (John 14:6)  But then Philip, one of His disciples, says, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”  We can probably relate to Philip’s request.  If we could see God, wouldn’t it make all the pain we have in this life go away?

But Jesus’ answer to Philip is shocking.  Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know Me, Philip?  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?  (John 14:9-10)  Jesus is saying, “When you see Me, you see the Father.”  Not that Jesus is the Father, but He is “the radiance” of the Father, and the “exact imprint of His being” (Hebrews 1:3). 

Philip did not fully recognize that the man that had lived with them for three years was the Maker of the dry land and the green plants, the giver and sustainer of life.  He didn’t recognize that Jesus was one substance with the Father because Jesus looked like an ordinary man.

This is what Jesus had been trying to teach Philip in today’s Gospel reading, when He looks up and sees the great crowd coming to them.  He asks Philip, Where will we buy bread to feed all these people?  He is testing Philip to see whether Philip has learned yet that Jesus’ power is not limited to casting out demons and healing sick people.  He is also able to provide daily bread.  He is able to run the creation so that it provides for us.  He is able to intercede with His Father for us and His Father will always say yes.  It’s impossible to speak adequately of the power present in the man who spoke with Philip, because He is the eternal God.  But Philip hadn’t come to recognize it yet, not fully.  And even after they saw Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes, they still hadn’t come to recognize it.

The same slowness to believe is with us too.  We do not see Jesus’ power and majesty with our eyes either.  We do not even see Him with us in human form.  What we see is His Word being proclaimed in our midst.  We see it being spoken over the bread and wine and the bread and wine being given us to eat and drink.  None of things look like the majesty of God, the power of God to give life and sustain life.

But if we were not slow of heart to believe, we would recognize that the One who comes to us here is also the One who created the heavens and earth, who makes the sun rise and set and the rain fall, who makes the earth fruitful, and provides us with the bread we need to live in this world.

So the right way to use today’s Gospel is to learn to recognize Jesus in your daily bread.  When you have food on the table, when you have clothes and a roof over your head, when you are in good health, when you have what you need for this life, recognize Jesus in your daily bread and give thanks.  Remember him taking the five barley loaves of that boy and the two little fish and giving thanks and giving them out.  That is what He does and will do for you.  He will provide you what you need for this life. 

And if you lack anything, learn what it took Philip so long to learn.  Don’t stand around counting how much money it will take.  Bring your need to him.  So now we hear that fertilizer prices are rising.  Some are predicting that food prices may increase to levels not seen in most of our lifetimes.  Perhaps we may learn, some of the first time, what it is to be hungry.  But with us is the giver of bread, the giver and sustainer of life.  If only we recognized Him!  If only our neighbors and our country did!

2.

The Holy Spirit is also teaching us to recognize Jesus as the true bread from heaven, the bread that gives eternal life.

It is an amazing thing when a baby is born.  For weeks, mom and dad stare at this gift of life God has given them.  The child’s coming into the world is a joy to everyone around him or her.

But although the labor of birth is a great travail, everything is not settled once the baby has been born and its life has been brought into the world.  No, the child has to be sustained.  It has to eat.  First it lives from its mother’s milk.  But after awhile it transitions to adult food.  And then, the rest of our lives, whatever else we’re doing, we have to eat.  We have to have bread if our life is going to continue.

Jesus is not only the one who causes us to be born again.  He is not only the One who heals and saves our lives from hell and death.  He is our bread that we eat and live.  He is our spiritual bread, the bread from heaven that God gave to the world that whoever feeds on it may live.

So you should not only recognize Jesus in your daily bread, as the one who supports your life here.  You should see Jesus as your bread, the one who sustains you in true life, in life that does not end. 

You feed on Him daily, if you are a Christian.  You live from Him.  How? 

Every day of your life you live before God by His death.  A Christian writing from the first centuries of the Church says that as bread from countless grains becomes one loaf of bread, so we Christians become one body through our union with Jesus.  But grains don’t become bread until they are first crushed by a mill and ground into flour.  Then they are baked in an oven and become bread that can be eaten and give life to others.

That is what happened to Jesus and how He became our bread.  He was crushed and broken by the millstone of God’s wrath and anger against sin.  When He sweat blood in the garden of Gethsemane while He prayed, He was being crushed for our transgressions.  When He was whipped and mocked with a crown of thorns and the crowd shouted that He should die, He was being ground into flour for us.  When He hung on the cross, pierced through His hands and His feet, and the sun was darkened, and He cried out that He was forsaken by God, He was being baked in the oven of God’s fierce anger against your sins. 

And the way you eat this bread and live from it is, you believe that Jesus did this for you.  When you are heavy hearted or despairing in your struggle with sin, this bread strengthens your heart when you believe that Jesus’ suffering and death removed from you the guilt of your sin and its penalty.  You eat this bread each day when you see the affliction of Jesus and believe that by His death You have peace with God.  You break this bread and are filled with it when you believe that you are righteous because of Jesus’ suffering and death and that He has fulfilled the Law for you. 

That is what Jesus wants you to do.  That is what the Scriptures are for—to give you this bread—God’s Son in the flesh.  He alone wants to be your bread and satisfy you so that you are not hungry anymore and you have life. 

That’s why Jesus left when the crowds wanted to make Him King by force.  He did not come to be an earthly King and have earthly glory.  He came to feed us.  He came to be the bread that God drops down on us from heaven so that we may live.

If you are a Christian, you already believe in Him, and yet the Holy Spirit is teaching you again and again to recognize Him as the bread that gives everlasting life.  No doubt in the troubled times in which we have been living the Holy Spirit is testing us so that we learn to feed our spiritual hunger and slake our spiritual thirst in Jesus.

Now in a moment I will hold up a little disc of bread and the cup of wine and say, “The Peace of the Lord be with you always.”  Here Jesus is not multiplying just bread.  He is uniting us to His living body.  He is giving His body to us as our bread that sustains us in the new life He has given us. 

Lord Jesus Christ, life giving bread,

May I in grace possess You. 

Let me with holy food be fed,

In hunger I address You. 

Prepare me well for You, O Lord,

And, humbly by my prayer implored,

Give me your grace and mercy.  (LSB 625 stanza 1)

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

Soli Deo Gloria

Lent Midweek 3, 2022: Jesus’ Body Restores Purity and Honor To Our Bodies

Wednesday of Oculi

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Passion History 3

March 23, 2022

Jesus’ Body Restores Purity and Honor To Our Bodies

Jesu juva

In the Name of Jesus.

1.

Something we struggle with from the Old Testament: the concept of impurity.

It seems unfair to us: a woman with her monthly flow of blood was unclean.  She couldn’t go to the temple.  If she had contact with anyone in the house they also would be unclean.  Lepers had to live outside the town and cry out “Unclean, unclean” when they came near anyone else so they wouldn’t be defiled.  And lepers could also not approach God’s dwelling place.

Another struggle for us is the concept of honor and dishonor.  In the Bible and also in ancient cultures there were honorable and dishonorable people, honorable and dishonorable professions.  If you were dishonorable you couldn’t have much to do with honorable people.  You see this with the tax collectors and sinners in the Bible.  We understand that if they were sinning they were guilty, but it just seems mean that people wouldn’t have anything to do with them. 

But even a few decades ago in America, your parents would not allow you to hang around with kids that were lower class than you. It was partly because they might corrupt you, but it was also because it was considered unseemly for someone from a good family to be around people who were “lowborn.” 

But to us it seems like that was just hypocrisy.  After all, all men are created equal.  God doesn’t make these distinctions between noble and common, clean and unclean. 

Or does He?  He seems to make some people smarter than others, some people better looking than others, some people richer than others, and some more influential than others.  Whether or not we have “good families” anymore that don’t associate with lower ones, everyone figures out that there is a hierarchy in life one way or the other.  The most beautiful people marry other beautiful people and won’t give ugly people the time of day, unless the ugly person has money or connections or something else.

We don’t have ritual purity laws, but we still acknowledge purity and impurity.  No one wants to live next to a sewage treatment plant.  Most people still don’t want to eat maggots or bats.

Today people don’t bear dishonor because they were born out of wedlock or because they were born to a dishonorable profession, like being a tanner or a hangman.  But we still live with dishonor.  Maybe your ancestor owned slaves, or did some other disreputable thing.  Maybe you were born ugly or with a deformed body.  Or just an average one.  It doesn’t matter that people say you shouldn’t be ashamed because you experience it anyway when you compare yourself to others.

And even though we no longer have purity laws we still experience the impurity of our bodies.  Our desires and thoughts, scrutinized by God’s law, are unclean and propel us to acts that defile our bodies.  And as we experience sickness and death the impurity of our bodies manifests itself.  Coughing, discharges, bleeding.  Finally we die, decompose, become food for worms.

2. 

But it wasn’t always this way.  Adam our ancestor and Eve were created in the image of God.

So he had dignity and honor.  Out of all the animals God made Adam the bearer of His image.  Adam knew God and reflected Him out into the creation.

And Adam was pure and clean.  There was no hint of sin or defilement in him.  There was no disease, decay, or death in his members.

3. 

Then Adam and Eve gave way to temptation.  And with sin came impurity and defilement.

Impurity entered the souls of Adam and Eve because they listened to a word that was not the Lord’s.  They served another god, trusting and fearing another than the One who gave them life. 

When the Bible uses the word “unclean”, it means “defiled.”  Something unclean in the Old Testament sense means something loathsome because it is connected with filth, corruption, or death.

When Adam and Eve listened to the devil. Their souls became unclean.  They became loathsome and the Lord left them.  Then their hearts became filled with every kind of impurity.

Where the soul is defiled, the body becomes unclean also.  The evil lusts in the soul move the body to defile itself.  Paul talks about this with regard to the homosexuality that was so prevalent in his day.  But he also calls it uncleanness when a preacher preaches out of a desire to get money or control over his hearers. 

Whether we realize it or not, we are defiled and unclean in body and soul.  If we don’t experience it by exposure to God’s law in our lives we experience it in dying, as our bodies that are corrupted by sin reveal the impurity within them in sickness and then in dying.  This is probably  a reason why we have ceased to bury our dead.  It’s one of the many ways we have contrived to avoid facing death and the fact of our impurity.

4.

St. Paul says this about the burial of Christians’ bodies in 1 Corinthians 15:42-43: “So it is with the resurrection of the dead.  What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.  It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.”

Human beings make distinctions between the honorable and dishonorable.  That is unavoidable in this life.  But before God all human beings are dishonorable.  The evidence of our dishonor is that we who were created in the image of the living God are given over to death and corruption.  Our bodies return to the dust from which they were taken.  We were created to live forever and bear God’s glory like a crown.  Instead we wear the form of a slave to death. 

Just as God is pure and cannot be present in impurity and uncleanness, so God is honorable, noble, and glorious and can’t dwell with those who are given over to dishonorable passions.

Just as an honorable person can’t have fellowship with a liar and a cheat, so God’s honor and glory is incompatible with the shame and dishonor of our sin.

5.

If we grasp this, we begin to grasp the incredible miracle of the incarnation of the Son of God. 

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment,” says the prophet Isaiah (Is. 64:6).

And He says in the verses leading up to his description of Jesus’ passion: “Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; …purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord.”  (Is. 52:11)

If those who carried the vessels of God’s temple were supposed to be pure and separate from uncleanness, how much more holy and pure must God the Son be?

The same prophet when he saw the Lord and heard the angels crying, “Holy, holy, holy” said, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  (Is. 6:5)

Isaiah was certain that his defiled, unclean body could not survive his encounter with the utterly pure, holy God.

And he was right.  The holy God must either be separate from us or destroy us, the way bleach kills germs, or light annihilates darkness.

Yet the pure and holy God cam in a body like ours and restores purity and honor to our bodies.

This is the tremendous mystery.  When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan His holy body took upon Himself the impurity of our bodies and souls.  He took the uncleanness of our birth, of our thoughts and passions, the impurity of our deeds.

He also took on Himself the shame and dishonor of our fall and our death.

You remember how in Luke’s gospel the woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with the hair of her head?  What did the Pharisee say?  “If this man were a prophet, He would know what kind of woman is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”

He meant—no holy person would allow such a defiled person to touch him, because God’s holiness will not be defiled by uncleanness.  No person who shares in God’s glory would let himself be touched by a person dishonored by sin.  God would not allow one who shares His glory to have contact with an unclean person.

But the Pharisee was wrong.

Not because sinners are not impure and dishonorable.

But because the pure God has come to bear the impurity and cleanse it with His blood.


Jesus doesn’t tell the Pharisee, “We’re all sinners.”  He says, “Her sins have been forgiven.”

They were forgiven because this seemingly impossible thing had happened.  The holy God took a body like ours in order to purify our uncleanness, cleanse our corruption, and lift us up from our dishonor and death.

This is why He stands now with His hands tied, being falsely accused.  Spit and blood, brought forth by the fists of Caiaphas’ men, dishonor His face. 

The all-glorious God has taken our dishonor.  Adam and eve were blasphemers, pretending to be God.  Now God is going to cover their dishonor and the dishonor of our bodies.

Our hearts and bodies are impure.  Full of self-love and self-seeking.  God who is pure and holy has come to wash away our impurity in His blood.

Isaiah, who surely knew something about God, could see nothing except death in front of him when he saw the Lord in an unclean body. 

But the Holy One has come to remove our uncleanness by suffering for us in His body.

That is why He makes no answer to the accusation of blasphemy.  He is not a blasphemer.  He is God.  But He has come to pay for our blasphemy and cleanse our uncleanness and cover the dishonor of sin in our bodies. 

He is content to be condemned.

When they put Him under oath, He says the truth.  “I am the Son of the Blessed.  And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God’s power and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

Meanwhile Peter is denying Him.  He is ashamed of Him, because he does not realize Jesus is bearing Peter’s dishonor.  And cleansing Peter’s impurity.

This is how we react too when Jesus leads us into dishonor and suffering.  We become frustrated and ashamed with Christianity and with Christ. 

But He has taken away our dishonor and the impurity of our bodies.  He ahs raised our flesh and blood to the right hand of God.  

And He joins us to His exalted body in Baptism.  He gives us His body to eat and gives us to drink of His blood.  Every last bit of your body’s uncleanness is cleansed, and you appear before His throne when you kneel at this altar. 

When you then go out from here and bear shame and dishonor in the world, it is really not dishonor.  The dishonor of sin and death has been carried for you by Jesus Christ.  When you bear reproach and pain  in this world, you are really sharing in Jesus’ honor.  Peter didn’t understand it before Caiaphas, but he understood it later.

We too are learning to understand the honor Jesus has given us by taking up a body like ours.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Oculi, the Third Sunday in Lent, 2022. Possession

Oculi, the Third Sunday in Lent

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 11:14-28

March 20, 2022

Possession

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

1.

Jesus cast a demon that was mute out of a man.  When the demon was gone, the man began to speak. 

And the crowds were amazed at what Jesus had done.

But some began to say, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.”

Beelzebul means “Lord of the flies.”  It is another way of saying “Satan”.  Flies buzz and swarm and feed on death and filth.  Flies and swarms of flies zigzag and move erratically.  Now here, now suddenly over there, with no apparent reason, like crowds of people driven by hysteria.

This spirit possesses Jesus, they say.

In response Jesus teaches us about possession by the devil and possession by the Triune God.

There are at least two types of demonic possession.  There is bodily possession, where a person loses the power to do as he wills with his body, at least for periods of time, because a demon controls him.  This does not happen to every human being.

On the other hand, there is another type of possession, wherein the devil holds people captive spiritually, even while they retain control over their bodies.  This type of possession the devil maintains over all people who do not believe in Jesus Christ.

Jesus has come to conquer the devil and take people out of the devil’s possession.  That is what He teaches here today.

2.

Now in most cultures throughout history, bodily possession by spirits was not an unfamiliar occurrence.  You see it frequently in the Bible.  If you read, you hear about it occurring in ancient Greece and Rome, in Africa, Latin America, Asia, in the past and present.  And in Europe and America it was common enough even into the 18th century.

But now I would venture to guess that none of you consider possession or oppression by demons to be a major problem or concern in your life.  And probably none of your friends or neighbors do either.

Is that because demon possession or oppression has gone away?  That seems unlikely.  It seems more likely that we are unable to recognize it.  In attempting to get away from the sort of superstitious behavior that led to witch hunts and so on, we now find another explanation for demonic activity.

The Scripture says, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).  The apostle is telling us that when a preacher or a prophet speaks, a spirit is speaking.  Right now, a spirit is speaking, according to the apostle.

The question is, which spirit is it?  Is it the spirit of God?  Is it an unclean spirit, the spirit of antichrist?  That is what you are supposed to test.

But we don’t think a spirit is speaking to us when we hear a preacher.  We see the man speaking, and our senses tell us that is all. 

Spirits, of course, don’t only speak from pulpits and men in robes.  A spirit spoke to Adam and Eve through a snake.  And their failure to test that spirit led to death and hell.

If a spirit can speak through a snake, can a spirit speak through a university professor?  A government official?  A newscaster?  Many newscasters, all saying the same thing?

Ah, now the pastor is drifting into conspiracies.   Maybe.  Or maybe this is why we don’t recognize demonic oppression or activity, because we have gone from seeing demons everywhere and blaming demons for everything, like perhaps Christians once did, to seeing them nowhere.

When I was a new pastor, some huge number of the youth in the church was cutting themselves.  I don’t hear about it as much anymore, maybe because I am older.  I know there was a psychological explanation given for it.  There was one young girl who wore coverings on her arms all the time because they were covered with scars.  Scripture tells us that the man possessed by a legion of demons lived in the tombs and cut himself with stones. 

Maybe we don’t see demonic possession or oppression as a problem because we don’t recognize it, and we don’t recognize it because we rely on our reason and senses and what the authorities and experts tell us and not on the word of God.

3.

But if it is hard for us to recognize bodily possession by demons, it is impossible for people to recognize the other kind of possession that Jesus talks about today.

He says: 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 

The strong man Jesus is talking about is the devil.  He guards his castle, the world, and his possessions are safe.  His possessions are human beings. 

Although he doesn’t cause all his possessions to levitate and speak in strange languages, he keeps them in spiritual bondage so that they serve him instead of God and so that they perish eternally.

How does the devil do this?  He deceives people so that they believe that they are free.

You can see an example of this in the Gospel reading.  Jesus casts out a demon, and these people immediately begin slandering this miracle.  “He is doing it by the power of Satan.”  Others say, “We need a better sign, a sign from heaven, if we are going to believe in you.”

Jesus calmly explains what in their hearts they already know.  Satan doesn’t drive out Satan, otherwise his kingdom would collapse.  Besides, some of your own people cast out demons.  Are they all doing this by the power of Satan?  No, what you are seeing is the finger of God.  Just as the magicians of Pharaoh recognized that the plagues being performed in Egypt could not be coming from magic like theirs, but a much greater power, the power of the living God, so Jesus’ exorcisms show that God Himself has come to liberate His people.  The Kingdom of God has come upon you.

Now shouldn’t all the people have rejoiced at that?  They should have, but instead they fought against it.  It was like they didn’t want to be free.

That is exactly the way the devil possesses the whole world that does not believe.  They think they are free, but they are under the power of the devil. 

When they hear the good news that Jesus has come to save us, they reject it.  Some reject Jesus because they think that Jesus will make them do things they don’t want to do and believe things they don’t want to believe.  They reject Jesus because they think they are free and Jesus will make them slaves.

Others reject Jesus because they think the Gospel is a deception.  How can I be saved without works, by grace alone, through faith alone?  That is too easy.  Salvation can’t be that easy. 

See, the devil holds people in slavery this way.  He convinces people that they are basically free and basically good.  Sure, you have some problems that you need to overcome, but if you try harder you will be perfectly free and perfectly good.  Or at least, perfect enough.

But that is not how it works.  You are either free from sin, or you are dead in sin.  You either belong to God or you belong to the devil. 

This is what Jesus has come to do.  He has come to free us from being Satan’s possessions.  He has come to overcome the strong man, take his armor, and divide his spoil.

But Jesus is going to attack and overcome the devil in another way that can only be spiritually discerned.

He is going to attack the devil and overcome him by being nailed to the cross.

Scripture says: 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.  (Heb. 2:14-15)

Through His death Jesus brings to nothing the one who has the power of death, the devil. 

How does death on a cross overcome and bring the devil to nothing?  Crucifixion was the death of a slave, of someone who was weak and powerless and whose body was controlled by others.  It is the last thing you would think would overcome the powers of this world, the spiritual powers of evil over the evil we see among human beings.  How does a slave’s death overcome all this?

Death is the wages of sin.  When Jesus, the Creator, dies as a sinner, He receives the wages of our service to the devil.  Those wages can no longer be paid to you who are baptized into Jesus and believe in Him.

So when this is preached, when Jesus’ death is preached, the finger of God comes upon you to drive out Satan, to bring you into the Kingdom of God and keep you in it.  This preaching is not from Beelzebub or from a human spirit.  It is the Spirit of the Lord delivering you from the strong man, the devil.  It overcomes and binds him.  It makes us the possessions of the Holy God.

And as a pledge that you are God’s possession, that you have been declared innocent of sin through Jesus’ death, Jesus comes into our midst with His very body under the bread and His precious blood. 

His body was given for sinners on the tree to attack and overcome Satan, so that he might no longer claim our bodies as his own.  Though he may afflict our bodies, even oppress them, Jesus’ body given for us has won us, body and soul, to be God’s possession and dwelling.

Jesus’ blood streamed out from Him in death to purchase us and redeem us from our sin, from darkness and the power of the devil.  He gives it to us with the wine and pledges that our sins have been forgiven once and for all by God.  We are clean in His sight.  We belong to Him and not the devil, even though we see sin and uncleanness in our bodies.  Yet Jesus’ blood cleanses us of all sin.  We are His possession, and we share in the spoils of His victory—eternal life, blessedness.

And also the work of His kingdom, the joyful work of loosing sinners and making them free. 

In the midst of us Jesus is present, risen from the dead, with the authority to loose and to bind, to forgive and retain sins.  Despite our sin and weakness, He places this awesome authority into our hands, to declare forgiveness to sinners and to bind those who do not repent. 

We ought to be conscious of our weakness and sin, aware of our susceptibility to being deceived by the devil.  But we ought not to listen to Satan’s slander of us because of our sins.  We are sinners, but Jesus has won the victory over our sins, and He has given to this congregation His authority to declare His judgment and His forgiveness.  Therefore we can be confident that when the pastor announces forgiveness it is God’s forgiveness.  And when he speaks the word of Jesus on the night of his betrayal, Jesus’ words do not lie.  This bread is my body, given for you. This wine is my blood, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.  You are my possession, and I am coming to redeem your lowly bodies that they may be like My glorious body.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

Lent 2 Vespers: Jesus’ Body Enables Us To Rejoice in Our Sufferings

Wednesday of Reminiscere

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Passion History 2: Gethsemane/ Hebrews 2:10-18

March 16, 2022

Jesus’ Body Enables Us to Rejoice in Our Sufferings

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

When Christ came into the world, He said, “Sacrifices and offerings you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.  Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.”  (Hebrews 10:5-7)

God commanded that a whole lamb be slaughtered and burnt on His altar every morning and every evening.  Other animals were sacrificed for unintentional sins and still others for other reasons and on other days.  God commanded their deaths and their offerings, but He didn’t desire them.  These sacrifices didn’t please Him, though He commanded them. 

What did God the Father really desire?  What would please Him? 

That His Son, begotten from eternity, take a human body.  Sacrifices and offerings you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. 

God the Father desired something from eternity, willed something from eternity.  His will and desire from eternity was that His only-begotten Son should join to Himself a human nature, take upon Himself a human body and soul, just like yours.

This is a mystery.  Part of the mystery is this: our life in the body is full of pain.

When you were babies you cried all the time, because your body hurt.  You were hungry.  You were lonely.  Things hurt you and you didn’t even know what they were. 

You got older and gradually learned not to cry, even though you felt like crying maybe.  Other kids hurt you with their words.  Your parents hurt you when they spanked you and when they weren’t as good as they should have been at being parents.

And we know very well we don’t have as much pain as other generations and people who live in other places.  We don’t know what it’s like to be hungry, really, or to be cold because you don’t have good clothes or a roof over your head.  And still living in the body is painful.

And it only gets more painful as it goes along.  You get old and you get more pain.  Bones ache.  Neuropathy.  Grief over loved ones and friends dying.  This is what we are born into when we are born into the body.

And the Father willed from eternity that His well-beloved Son should join to Himself a body like ours, with all its pain.

The pain just described is unavoidable, but just as it’s true that human life in the body is full of pain, it’s also true that human beings live their lives fleeing from pain.  Some do it more and some do it less, but all do it. 

To live your life according to God’s commands—trusting Him and loving your neighbor—brings pain with it.  You heard the disciples all tell Jesus they would die rather than deny Him.  And they wanted that to be true.  But they were not strong enough to follow through on their promises.  When they were threatened with beatings and crucifixion, they fled and abandoned Jesus. 

Their failure to suffer with Jesus in the hour of His death was linked to their inability to suffer with Jesus here in the garden of Gethsemane.  And it is the same with us.  When we deny Jesus in the great and obvious sins of our lives, it sometimes comes as a surprise to us.  “How could I have done that,” we ask ourselves. 

The answer is found in all the little ways we try to avoid pain.  We eat too much, we sleep too long, we pray too little and watch too much television and internet.  Why?  We are trying to avoid pain as much as we are trying to enjoy ourselves.  But to obey God’s commandments in this world almost always comes with pain.  It is impossible to serve God and avoid pain, yet in the flesh we are always trying to do just that.

2.

Now tonight in the garden of Gethsemane we see the Son of God wracked with pain.  He tells the three disciples: My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch with me.

And lest we think Jesus is being metaphorical about “sorrow to the point of death,” as He begins to pray, His sweat becomes like great drops of blood pouring off of His face onto the ground.

Jesus has not yet begun to have pain inflicted on Him from without.  No one has struck Him or spit on Him.  No scourge has torn His skin yet.  No thorns have been pressed onto His head. 

Yet sorrow and anguish press blood from His skin into His sweat as He prays to His Father that “the cup” might be taken away from Him.

It is strange that Jesus should pray this way.  Since the very beginning of His life He has understood that it was necessary for Him to drink this cup.  He even said, “Get behind me, Satan” to Peter when Peter suggested these things would never happen to Him.  But now when the time approaches for Him to drink it He asks for the Father to find a way to take it away.

What is the cup that causes Jesus such anguish that He is near to death?  It is the cup of the wrath of God.

He knows that in addition to whips and fists and nails, He will be forsaken by His Father in heaven.  That is the cup Jesus must drink, or it will not pass away from Him.  That is what causes Him to be sorrowful to the point of death—that He will be abandoned by His Father.

Yet after He has prayed, He submits to the will of His Father.  He goes out to meet the gang that has come to arrest Him with swords and clubs and torches.

He goes out to have His skin torn by whips, His eyes blackened by fists, His heart broken by lies and reproaches, His hands and feet pierced by nails.  He goes out to be forsaken by His Father.

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me…I have come to do your will, O God.” 

3.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us why this was the Father’s pleasure from eternity, that His Son take a body and suffer.

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.  For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.  That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers (Heb. 2:10-11).

The Son was begotten of the Father from eternity.  His brothers are those whom the Father chose in Him from eternity, the elect.  Both the sanctifier, Jesus, and His brothers, all have one source—the Father who begot the Son and who chose the elect in Him before the foundation of the world.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery…Therefore, He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God

Because God’s children have flesh and blood, the eternal Son had to take these things up in order to free us from slavery.

We saw how the disciples lived out this slavery.  When they were confronted with death, they fled and abandoned Jesus.  It didn’t matter how much He had loved them and cared for them.  Their fear of death and suffering took over and they dropped Him like He was something loathsome.

But by His suffering not only the physical brutality of the cross, but also the spiritual and physical anguish of being abandoned by God for our sins, Jesus brought the devil to nothing. 

Now death cannot harm you, because there is no condemnation for you.  That suffering, the suffering of being condemned and damned for your sins, Jesus endured.  That was why He suffered in the garden as He contemplated it.  Why His sweat became like great drops of blood.  But for you there is no condemnation.  And if hell has been taken away from you, death can’t harm you.  Pain can’t harm you either.  They help you. 

Death brings you to God.  Jesus endured abandonment by God, but you are brought near to Him in death.

And pain can’t harm you either.  Pain, even though it hurts, can’t separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

4

Jesus’ body makes us able to rejoice in our sufferings.  That’s not to say that we like pain and it starts to feel good because we are Christians.

But through the suffering of Jesus’ body God redeems His children that He chose from the foundation of the world.  Through the suffering of Jesus’ body He sanctifies us and makes us holy.

Through Jesus’ suffering you are set free from slavery to fear of death.  By nature we run from pain and death, not only because it hurts, but because we are terrified of condemnation. 

But through Jesus’ draining of the cup of God’s wrath, we are freed from condemnation and from the power of the devil.

This is how the same apostles who abandoned Jesus later died deaths like His.  They later acted like sons of God.  They did not serve the devil or cower before Him.  They confessed the Son of God and endured death for it.

If all they had had was their flesh they would have run.  But they were set free from slavery, because the Father made them confident that they had been loosed from death and condemnation by the resurrection of Jesus.

This is what Jesus is teaching us through our sufferings; He is teaching us to believe and cling to the truth that Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath, and we are set free from death and the power of the devil.

Through our sufferings He teaches us to believe that we are sons of God, that we have one source with Jesus, that God has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Cor. 12:10). 

When we suffer in the body, He is making us like our elder brother, Jesus, who suffered for us.

Amen.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

Prevailing over Christ. Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent, 2022.

Reminiscere, the 2nd Sunday in Lent

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Matthew 15: 21-28

March 8, 2020 (reused, slightly modified March 13, 2022)

Prevailing over Christ

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

On the first Sunday in Lent we saw Jesus prevail over the devil.  On the second Sunday in Lent we see a Canaanite woman prevail over Jesus.  She overcomes Jesus, so that He gives her what she prayed for with the praise: “O woman, great is your faith!”  Surely, amid all the things we are worried about, and all the things we think we want, all the anxieties that tear at our hearts and our minds, nothing could be greater than to have the Lord Jesus commend us in this way and speak this way to us, “Great is your faith.”  He makes it clear that the woman’s faith in Him pleases Him and gives Him joy.  It overcomes Him so that He gives her whatever she asks of Him.

It may be that the early church put this lesson in Lent because during this time the catechumens were being prepared for Baptism.  As part of their preparation they would receive exorcisms, where the devil would be ordered to release them from his influence.  This was a lesson to the catechumens and to the congregation of baptized alike – that of ourselves we have no strength.  We are not able to just walk out of the devil’s power.  Nor are we, the church, able to set others free.  We preach the word of God and administer the means of grace – we plant the seed and water it – but it is the Lord’s work to give the growth of His kingdom.  The catechumens needed to learn this as they approached their Baptism.  And they needed to learn that, once they were baptized, they would not be able to accomplish anything in His kingdom except by prayer to the Lord who has the power and the strength to undo Satan’s kingdom.

This is a lesson we learn not once or twice, but again and again.  “Of ourselves we have no strength.”  That applies not only to the forgiveness of our sins, but also to our lives as Christians and our callings.  Of ourselves we have no strength.  Therefore the Lord must do everything.  He must forgive our sins.  He must give us strength to fulfill His will.  In the Epistle Paul tells us that the will of God is “our sanctification.”  God’s will is that we abstain from sexual immorality, and more generally “that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the  Gentiles who do not know God.” (Thess. 4:3-5)  That means not just restraining impure sexual desire but all the bodily desires – the desire to eat too much, to sleep and rest and have pleasure.  It refers to the control of the tongue also, so that we don’t gossip or fly into a rage.  And what do we learn?  As Christians we repeatedly learn that “of ourselves we have no strength.”  Not to drive out demons.  Not to make other people believe.  We also lack the strength to control our body and its desires.

We have to learn this.  The Lord is already fully aware of it.  We learn it when we are taught God’s word from the time we are children.  We also learn it by painful experience when we are overcome by the devil and our flesh.

That feels terrible – to experience that you have no strength.  It is a painful experience when you are overcome by your sinful flesh repeatedly.  It’s also exceedingly painful when we experience our utter lack of strength regarding the church.  There is nothing more intoxicating than being part of a church that is growing.  Although to be honest with you I have only had this experience one time in a Lutheran church.  All the others – the first church I served as Pastor, the church I grew up in, the church I went to in Seattle when I was in college – all of them were either just holding their own or they were declining.  People like to be part of churches that are growing because the success feels like God’s presence in the church.  And sometimes that is the work of the Holy Spirit.  But the Holy Spirit may also very well be at work in us when we watch our church struggle and suffer; when conflict threatens to tear the church apart and we just can’t seem to get it to stop.  When the church doesn’t grow, or membership declines year in and year out.  How can that be the work of the Holy Spirit?  He may not be working to cause the churches decline, but when we experience that of ourselves we have no strength, then the Holy Spirit may be at work to teach us that for the church to prevail and prosper requires Christ’s power.

So today you are here and perhaps you know what it is to be overcome, to have no strength.  In fact it is very likely that you are here with something like this in your life.  If it is not so, it is probably just a matter of you not recognizing it.  But the Holy Spirit has brought you to this place of being overcome or having been prevailed over.  You are probably not demon-possessed and don’t know anyone who is but you have experienced the lack of power this mother felt when she saw her daughter in the grip of an evil spirit.  But the Holy Spirit is at work in this just as He was at work, leading Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan.  He wants you to prevail over Jesus.  He wants to bring you to new life at the end of this season of Lent.  He wants to lead you to prevail upon Jesus for an answer to your prayer.

Martin Luther wrote somewhere that when God wrestled with Jacob it was like a father wrestling with his son.  To the child it doesn’t necessarily feel like a game, even though it is to the dad.  The dad wants to let his son win but not right away.  When the angel of the Lord wrestled with Jacob, no doubt it did not feel like a game to Jacob.  He was in fear for his life and the life of his family.  So he sends his family away and then, in the middle of the night, the angel of the Lord comes and wrestles him.  Jacob knew that he was going to face Esau in the morning, and he knew he had done wrong to his brother.  He had deceived his father Isaac and taken the blessing of the firstborn son.  Jacob knew very keenly that he did not deserve to have God’s blessing.  He knew he was an imposter when he went in to his father Isaac’s tent dressed like his brother Esau.  And now in the middle of the night God comes to wrestle with him.  How easy it would have been for Jacob to think – God is coming to judge me, to condemn me for the sin I committed long ago.  In the Introit for today, David said the same thing to God: “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.” (Ps. 25)

“Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love for they have been from of old.  Let not my enemies exult over me.”  David could easily have felt like an imposter too, when he prayed to God at the end of his life.  But Jacob refused to let God go until God blessed him.  As he grappled with the angel he also fought against the memory of his sin and the hostile appearance of God with the promises God had made him.  When Jacob left the promised land, he had a dream at Bethel of the angels going up and down the ladder, where God promised to be his God and be with him wherever he went.  And he took the visit of the angel as an opportunity to claim God’s blessing.  The wrestling match was an opportunity to overcome God and receive a blessing.

That’s how the Canaanite woman treats Jesus’ visit to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  Everything about her and about Jesus’ behavior makes it seem impossible that Jesus is going to help her.  First of all, Matthew goes to great lengths to point out to us she is a Canaanite.  That was one of the 7 tribes the Israelites were supposed to exterminate when they came into the promised land.  How easy it would have been for her to say: “God wants us wiped out because of our sins.  It was because the Israelites were unfaithful that I even exist.  Why should the King of the Jews help me?”  Instead she called Jesus the Son of David, the Messiah, and asked Him for mercy.

Then, as you heard, Jesus said nothing when she cried out to Him for her daughter.  It was as if He was deaf to her.  How easy it would have been to despair and say, “Jesus walked right by as though I didn’t exist.  I cried to Him, and He acted as though He couldn’t hear me.”  Maybe you have felt that way when you prayed for a long time and seemed to receive no answer.  When we feel that we often lose heart and our prayers falter.

Hers did not.  She kept crying out, so that at last Jesus’ disciples said, “Send her away.”  Her cries were disturbing them.  But Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  If she heard this, it would have been an icepick though her heart.  It is as if Jesus were saying, “Even if I wanted to help her, I am not allowed to.  God sent Me to the Jews to gather them – not to all the nations.”  His apostles would go to all the nations after His resurrection and ascension, but the time was not yet.

But if she heard it, she did not let His words scare her away.  Instead she came and threw herself down at His feet.  “Lord, hear my cry!” she said literally.  Stop blocking your ears to my crying.  You see how she is convinced Jesus will not send her away empty.  But Jesus tells her: “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and give it to the little dogs.  Or puppies.”  Which is true, isn’t it?  Puppies are cute, but it would be wrong for your kids to go hungry, for you to feed your dogs with their food.  And even though all nations were created by God, He had made a covenant with the people of Jacob; they were the people He had claimed as His own. 

But the Canaanite woman doesn’t argue with Jesus about whether or not she is a dog.  She agrees that she is.  But she says, “Even dogs eat the crumbs that the children drop under the table.”  You don’t have to give me their bread, just their crumbs.  Even a crumb of your power and mercy will heal my daughter. 

Just like Jacob, she wrestles Jesus and conquers Him and receives a blessing. 

This is what Jesus wants to teach us to do.  You can’t really beat Him in a wrestling match; you can’t overcome Him, just like you couldn’t beat your dad in a wrestling match when you were a kid.  But your dad wanted to let you beat him.

That’s the way it is with Jesus and us.  But very seldom are we ready to overcome Him.  What He wants to teach you to do to wrestle with Him and overcome – He has already done.  In Hebrews it says: “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to Him who was able to save His soul from death, and it was heard because of His reverence.”  Or, “His Godly fear.” (Hebrews 5:7)  This week, Wednesday night, we will hear Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He sweats blood.  “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”  He was like Jacob the night before going to meet Esau.  He was, however, looking at the cross and the wrath of God against the sins of our youth and all the guilt that haunts us.

And Hebrews says, “He was heard because of His reverence.”  He drank the cup, but the Father saved Him from death.  Death could not hold Jesus.  He prayed to the Father and offered His life for us, and He prevailed.  After He offered death for our sins the Father raised Him from the dead.  And in accepting our Lord’s prayers and the offering of His life, God the Father accepted us.  We are fully pleasing to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus overcame with the Father for us; the Father accepted  the Son of Man into heaven’s throne room and had Him sit on His throne to reign. 

So now we are to learn to boldly go with Jesus our great high priest into the Father’s presence and receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  We are to enter in behind the curtain and lay hold on the eternal salvation that Jesus overcame and won for us.

So take your helplessness, your lack of strength, and come.  Take your loved ones who are lost and come to Him.  Take your lack of holiness, your failure to control your body, even your sexual impurity and come to Him.   Take your unbelief and your coldness toward prayer and bring that to Him too.  Bring it to Him and like the woman in the Gospel, let nothing dissuade you that He will allow you to prevail over Him.  Let the fact that you are a little dog, or an imposter like Jacob, propel you to take hold of His promise to be your God.

When Jacob’s wrestling match was done, the Lord asked Jacob’s name and gave him a new one.  His new name, Israel, means, “He wrestles with God.”  Then Jacob asked God’s name, but God did not give it to him.  He gave Jacob one blessing, but did not tell His name.  But God has given us His name.  His name is Jesus – Savior.  Through Him we know the Father and Spirit, the name into which we have been baptized.  He has not only told us His name, but called us by His name.

That name is our shield against every arrow Satan fires at us to make us falter in prayer.  God has given us His name, given us the right to call Him Father and pray together with His Son Jesus.  In that name we will prevail and receive everything we need from our Father’s house until we prevail and sit down at His right hand.

And in that name we approach this altar and His right hand to receive the bread of His children – the body which He gave for the life of the world. 

Amen. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Lent 1 Vespers 2022: Jesus’ Body Heals The Lowliness and Loneliness of our Bodies.

Wednesday of Invocabit

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Passion History: The Lord’s Supper

March 9, 2022

Jesus’ Body Heals the Lowliness and Loneliness of Our Bodies.

Jesu juva

In the Name of Jesus.

When the Lord called to Adam in the cool of the day, when the wind was blowing, He said, “Where are you?”  Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”  (Gen. 3:10)

But that is not exactly true.  Adam was not naked.  He and Eve had sewed fig leaves together when they first ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  So Adam had a covering.  But he still felt naked and afraid before the Lord.

Before he ate from the tree he did not know that he was naked.  He did not understand what the word “naked” meant.  Before he ate from the tree of knowledge he didn’t know evil.  Since he didn’t know evil, since he was innocent, he had no notion of covering himself up.  Why would you cover yourself if there was no evil in you and you bore the image of God?

He had no consciousness of anything being wrong with His body, no notion that someone might look down on him or despise him.  Eve had no idea that if she was naked someone might mistreat her. 

But when they ate from the tree their eyes were opened.  They became afraid of their nakedness, afraid of one another, and afraid of God.  

And when God calls for Adam, Adam doesn’t say, “I hid because my soul was stained.”  He says, “I was afraid because I was naked.”  Something is wrong with my body, Adam says. 

Something was wrong with Adam’s soul too, but his body is what he noticed. 

Before this he and his wife, our father and mother Adam and Eve, were naked and without shame.  There was nothing for them to be ashamed of; their bodies were full of life and beauty.  There was no evil, no sin in them, and no shame. 

But when they ate, when they sinned, shame came.  Their bodies became mortal.  Death went to work in them.  Their beauty faded, their strength failed.  But more so they lost the beauty of holiness and righteousness.  They lost the glorious image of God that had been in them and on them.  The lowliness and vileness and corruption we see in our bodies began working in them.

And what did they do when the image of God departed from their bodies?  They hid and covered up.  They built walls of fig leaves to protect their bodies from one another.  They ran and hid from God.  Lowliness in their bodies led to loneliness.

2.

We live in a world where our neighbors have gone to extremes to assuage this sense of the lowliness of our bodies.  The ruling class in our country has been preaching for ten years or so that we should embrace it as normal when people intervene with hormones or surgeries to make their bodies conform to the sex they choose instead of the one they were given at birth by God. 

How has this happened?  On one hand whenever people reject God’s Word, they give themselves over to shame and blindness.  We hand ourselves over to Satan and the demons to be led into increasingly deep darkness.  When people in America began to reject the Scripture as God’s revelation, claiming to be wise, they became fools.  Now many have convinced themselves that they are their own makers and creators.  If they declare themselves another sex, it is so.

But what we see in our neighbors, some of whom may be our own family, is not unique to them.  It’s no different than what Adam and Eve did when they stretched out their hands and claimed to be God.  Then they were ashamed and began to try to cover the lowliness they saw in their bodies.  That is what the attempt to change your sex is—fig leaves to cover what they find lacking in their bodies. 

And it isn’t unique to those outside the Church.  We have experienced the lowliness and corruption of our bodies as well.  When we were young and looked in the mirror,  what did most of us see?  Too fat, too skinny, acne.  Often we tried to cover our lowliness with fig leaves.

We still experience the lowliness of our bodies.  We look in the mirror and see wrinkles, fat, gray hairs.  We pick up a drink, eat too much, zone out, to cover our lowliness—if not from others, than from our selves. 

But the physical defects and the marks of aging are not just accidents.  They are physical signs of the corruption and death that comes from sins.  Our bodies are subject to death and lack the glory of God because  we are born His enemies.  WE are born desiring to do what is against God’s law, the very things our conscience tell us deserve death.  It is the same with us as with those who try to obliterate their sex.  We refuse to acknowledge that the corruption of our bodies is the result of our guilt.

But in order for us to cover up the lowliness of our bodies and the sin that causes it, we have go hide.  From other people, from God, even from ourselves. 

How can I hide the lowliness of my body from myself?  If I close myself off from other people and from God’s Word, I can sometimes convince myself that my flaws are actually beautiful.  My vices are really virtues.  This happens all the time, even more often than a man convinces himself he is a woman.  That’s why the fairy tale about the queen asking her mirror who the fairest of them all rings so true.  People frequently cut others out so that they can maintain their illusions.

But this hiding and self-deception creates loneliness.  If I am around others I will not be able to hide the defects of my body, but I will also not be able to hide my character flaws, my sins forever either.  So rather than let other people see us, we hide.  Better that than let people use our weakness against us or make us look at our vileness and our sin.

This is why it has become common to interact with people on the internet and not in real life.  And it turned out to be relatively easy to get people to stay home from church during Covid and watch it on the screen.

But we weren’t meant to be alone.  We were meant to be part of one another.  Our bodies were meant for other people and for the Lord.  We were created in such a way that we lived the first nine months of our lives in the body of another person.  We were created to become one flesh with a person of the opposite sex.

3.

But Jesus’ body heals our bodies’ lowliness and loneliness.

Tonight we hear in His passion how Jesus took in His hands the feet of His disciples and washed each one in a basin of water, drying them on a towel wrapped around his waist.

Dirty feet are a perfect example of the lowliness of our bodies.  Of course there are much worse things that can be wrong with your body than that your feet get dirty.  But stinky, dirty feet are gross.  Most of us would prefer to hide this part of our bodies from others, particularly Jesus.  Washing feet had to be done in the middle east, otherwise when you reclined at the table the dirt from your sandaled feet would get all over the pillows.  But washing your dirty feet is gross.  Your feet are one of the most unclean parts of your body, especially if you walk around in sandals in the dust.  That’s why the custom was to either give you water to wash your own feet, or perhaps to have a servant wash the guests’ feet.

But Jesus does this lowly service to the bodies of His disciples.  In doing it He puts Himself beneath them.  Their bodies are corrupt and lowly, subject to the curse of death and decay.  But Jesus stoops down and washes away the dirt from their feet so that they can eat His supper.  He shares in the lowliness of their bodies so that they do not need to be ashamed and hide from God and each other.

Just as He washes away the dirt from each of their feet with His own hands, so He is about to wash away the lowliness and shame of their bodies and ours.  He takes our mortality and corruption on Himself, along with the source of it, our sin.  He takes it on His own body and washes it away forever in the streams of His blood, in His pain and agony, and His death on the cross. 

And having done this service to us in His body, He continues to do physical, bodily service to us in the Divine Service.  At the first supper He went to each disciples and washed their feet with His hands, so He cleanses us personally and bodily. 

He returns us to the bath we received in water and the name of God by pronouncing our sins forgiven in the absolution.

Then He feeds us with His own body under the bread, His body in which is eternal life and the glory of God.

He not only shed His blood to wash away our impurity and corruption once on the cross.  But He comes and gives it to us to drink in the cup.  Even though we continue to live in lowly bodies, marked by death and corruption, in which God’s glory cannot be seen—nevertheless we are cleansed of impurity, cured of corruption, and glory and immortality are restored to us.

And if our lowliness and shame is cleansed, our loneliness is also healed.  He also restores us to God and one another in His body.

In Eph. 2 St. Paul writes: “He Himself is our peace…who has broken down the wall of hostility…that He might…reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross.”  (Eph. 2:14-16)

In His body He fulfilled the law which condemned us and kept us separate from God.  And in one body He united all who believe in Him.

When He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink, He makes each one of us a member of His body.  We share in His death and in His life.  He is ours and we are His. 

But if we are members of His body, participants, communicants in His body, we are participants and communicants in one another.

We are not really alone and separate from one another.  We don’t bear our weakness and shame alone, nor are our good things ours alone.  Jesus has brought you to Himself, to His Father, and into an innumerable company of holy ones, angels and saints, who love us.

You, the little community of disciples here, are part of that great company.  Jesus loves you.  God the Father loves you, because He gave Jesus for you and you receive Him.  The saints in heaven love you, because they love Jesus, and He is in you.  You are not alone.

But do we love one another? 

Don’t we shy away from one another?  We don’t trust each other fully.  Who on earth can you really trust?  We are still afraid of one another.  If you see my shame, how will you not use it against me?  Maybe Jesus deals with us like this, but will the church on earth?

The disciples had this same problem.  They were still trying to fight about who was the greatest.  But Jesus made them all sit there while He washed their feet, one by one.

Then He commands them to do the same, and love one another as He has loved them.  “By this all men will know you are my disciples.” 

When He commands us to wash one another’s feet, it is also an invitation.  Just as the Sacrament of the Altar is both a command and an invitation.  When you eat His body and drink His blood, Jesus is telling you: “You are not alone.  I am with you.” 

And when He commands us to wash each other’s feet, He is inviting us to come out of our loneliness. 

We are lonely because we try to hide our weakness and sin, even though it is forgiven.  We are lonely because we deny our sin and condemn the faults of others.

Instead of hiding and trying to protect ourselves, Jesus invites us to recognize one another as members of His body, and serve each other, and no longer be alone. 

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

Soli Deo Gloria

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