Holy Easter Day
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Mark 16:1-8 (1 Cor. 5:6-8)
April 16, 2017
He is Not Here
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Jesus is risen from the dead!
During the weeks of Lent we have seen Jesus our Lord without form or comeliness, with nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He has been humiliated, cursed by man and God. Crowned with thorns, beaten and bruised, spit upon, rejected, pierced by nail and spear, forsaken by God, embalmed and entombed.
But now, here on Easter morning in the church, we see splendor. Our women have adorned and beautified the sanctuary and the altar just as Mary Magdalene and the two others went to honor and care for His body. Beautiful easter lilies cover the altar. The processional cross which was veiled last week, just as Jesus’ face was hidden under bruises, spit, and blood—now it is uncovered. We see Jesus on it, ascending in majesty.
But in the Gospel reading we see no Jesus.
We see through the eyes of the three women who have come at the break of day on the first day of the week to anoint the corpse of Jesus. They are worrying as they walk. “Who will roll away the stone from the tomb?”
But as they walk past the place where Jesus was crucified on Friday, where they saw Him die, into the garden nearby that held the tomb where they laid Him, they look up and see: the stone is already rolled away. Someone has opened Jesus’ tomb. Was it in the night? Did grave robbers come? But how would they have gotten past the guards that were placed there?
Then entering the tomb, the dark cave cut out of the rock, they see that Jesus’ body is gone. No Jesus! Instead there is a young man sitting there on the right side, dressed in a white robe.
You can imagine why they were startled!
The young man begins to speak to them. “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. Look and see the place where they laid Him.”
It is empty. The women see, and we see. Jesus is not lying there like He should be.
“Go,” the young man tells them. “Say to His disciples, and to Peter, that He is going ahead of you all to Galilee. You will see Him there, just like He told you.”
So we are left this morning smelling the lilies, seeing the gold on the altar, but not seeing Jesus. We are not shown the glory that replaces the shame of His crucifixion. We don’t see the power that replaces His former weakness, the life that replaces the death that claimed Him. We do not see. We only hear, “He is not here. He has risen.”
Even if we read a passage from one of the Gospels where Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, we would be hearing, not seeing. We would not see Him alive with our own eyes. We would not see His majesty, power, His glory that He now has in place of the weakness and shame in which we saw Him die.
So let us talk about what we don’t see.
The women came by the place Jesus was crucified, Golgotha, on their way to Jesus’ tomb. They had to walk by “the place of a skull.” You might easily see why they would want to avoid that place, not only because of its grim name, but because of the suffering inflicted on them there as they watched their hope die. But they could not avoid it, just like we cannot avoid death. The tomb in which Jesus was buried was there in a garden nearby.
But at this very place named after the symbol of death, the place of a skull, death has been struck a mortal blow. We do not see Jesus. The women fully expected to see Him and weep when they saw Him. They expected to see His body lying still and cold beneath linen cloths. They do not find Him. Instead they find a messenger waiting for them to proclaim that He has come forth from death.
It’s true; but instead of telling them Himself, Jesus sends a messenger, an angel to announce it. That is how Jesus does it now too. A messenger tells you. A messenger in a white robe is there, not a heavenly being, but a pastor—at the grave of your loved ones, at the birth of your children into this world of death, in the middle of the joy of this life where, nonetheless, like the ancient hymn says:
In the midst of life we are in death:
From whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord,
Who by our sins are justly angered.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and Merciful Savior,
Leave us not in the bitterness of eternal death.
Jesus is not there in the tomb. He is not here either, not visibly, like He was before. The reason there is a messenger telling you, and not Jesus Himself, is because Jesus is no longer in sin and death, in humiliation and weakness. And so He sends a messenger.
He is risen, and so He does not do what He did before. Before this He lived in this world that is filled with graves and tombs. One day, your grave will add to the number. This is the world that Jesus came to live in with us. He was one of us in every way, except without sin. And He came in our appearance, not in the glory which was His, which a man cannot see and live. He looked like us—not glorious, but earthly, not above pain, weakness, and humiliation, but subject to it. He lived here and carried out the task of a preacher. He looked like a preacher, like all the ones who have stood before you in white robes; some you liked, some you didn’t, some were talented, some less so. But all of them were of the dust, of the earth. Jesus looked just like that. He went to town after town and preached that the Kingdom of God had come upon them. Some believed Him; most were only interested in His miracles. Many not only rejected His message but hated Him. And finally they succeeded in putting Him to death.
Jesus doesn’t do this anymore. Before He came in the form of a servant. Though He was God in the flesh, He laid aside the glory of God, which was His from eternity. He came in our image and likeness, shared our hunger, thirst, weariness, weakness, our pain. He shared our obligation to obey God’s Law. He was subject to death even though, unlike us, He had not earned death. He preached and people were able to reject Him, turn away and laugh, or turn toward Him with clenched teeth and stones in their hands.
This can’t happen anymore. Jesus can’t die anymore, or suffer anymore. He cannot be rejected in His own person. He no longer shares our weakness. He isn’t subject to death. He still allows people to reject Him, but only as they reject His preaching through the ones He sends. But He will not share our mortal life, our humiliations, our guilt and our death anymore. When He wants to speak with us, He sends messengers in our image and likeness. He does not come Himself now with the glory that a man may not see and live.
Why does Jesus no longer share this life and speak to us visibly? He has done it already, and it is finished.
He shared our image and likeness, and the suffering, death and weakness that covers us because He came to be the true Passover lamb, who was slain so that God’s judgment would pass over us, so that we would go free from His judgment, from death and hell. Now He has been exalted, raised up to the highest place, to sit on the throne of God in His flesh and blood. He reigns over death, over hell, over all things for us, binding them through the message of His resurrection. He won’t and can’t dwell among us in lowliness, in the form of a servant who bears the sin of the world, because it can’t be done again. It is already done. He has already borne that image to its end—to the cross and the grave.
When Jesus was humiliated, cursed, and crucified, when He died and was buried, God was striking and plaguing Him for our sins, for your sins. He suffocated and burned in the torment that belongs to us for eternity, which we have earned from the time we were conceived in sin. He hung naked before this anger of God against us on the cross. He had no defense against it; no excuses in His mouth. He was silent like a lamb before its shearers and did not open His mouth. He had no power to push this burning anger away, because He had laid His divine power aside to become like us. He had laid aside His innocence by which He could have been scared God’s wrath and plunged Himself into the flood of our transgressions. The guilty conscience of the whole world was upon Him. He sank in the depths of sin where there is no foothold, no ground on which to stand and cry out to God for help, only the full awareness that we have deserved God to cast us away. On the cross, Jesus was thrown into the depths of this sea, like Pharaoh was thrown into the depths of the Red Sea, like the whole world outside of the ark sank in the deeps of God’s flood. He did not say, “Father, I did nothing wrong. Take me down from the cross!” He had taken our wrongs as His own.
And the Father punished those wrongs with agony of soul and body until He gave up His Spirit, died and was buried.
So look now. Jesus is not here in this grave any longer. We cannot see Him, because He has entered His glory. We see only a young man in a robe sitting in the empty tomb, waiting for us with a message. When we enter the young man looks up and says, “He has risen.”
And because you are not out of your mind with fright like the women that morning, you can reflect on the message that is spoken to you, what it means to you.
Jesus is free. Every week you say: I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…who was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.
What does that mean for you, that Christ rose again, and is not seen in the tomb, not seen walking among us in our lowly appearance? What does the message of the messenger mean for you, “He has risen?”
It means that He has been released from the punishment He received from His Father for your sins. He has been released from the sentence of death, and therefore from the grave, the sentence He received because He offered Himself to bear our sin.
The Father did not release Jesus until He had tasted death. Jesus had prayed, “Take this cup from Me.” The Father did not; He had to be crucified and forsaken by God. He had to die and be buried. It was clear. The Father would not let Jesus go until He had paid the full measure of our debt.
But now Jesus is free. In releasing Jesus from the chains of death, the Father is making a declaration. The debt Jesus went to Golgotha to pay is now paid in full. Jesus is released from death. The debt is paid.
Your debt is paid. The Father releases you with Jesus from the guilt of sin, from His wrath against you, from the grave, from the fire of hell.
Our sins are no longer there to hold Jesus chained in death. If they were still there, Jesus would still be in the tomb. Or Jesus would still be among us as He was with His disciples, in the form of a slave. He would still be serving us as our slave, with His glory put aside, and our guilt and lowliness and death still upon Him.
But He is not there in the tomb. He is free. And so are you. Unless you despise this. Unless you refuse to believe it.
Victory has been won over the powers that ruled us and kept us chained; the old serpent has been crushed under the heel of the virgin’s Son. The empty tomb of Jesus is the battlefield from which the enemy has been put to flight.
It is the courtroom, now empty after it has been adjourned, where the Father tried you together with all people, and announced His verdict: Not guilty. Or: “I find the world to be righteous and just. Set them free.”
It is the prison cell in which all people were held as condemned criminals, awaiting the order that would carry out their sentence. But now, no one is there. There is only a man in a white robe saying, “You are all free.” He doesn’t say those words, of course. He says, “He has risen.”
Paul says the same thing to the Church at Corinth. “You really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The Corinthian Church was doing some very impure things. A man married his father’s wife; and the Corinthians, instead of calling this man to repentance, bragged about how he had done this. Yet Paul says, You really are unleavened, not permeated with the yeast of wickedness, but pure. The reason is because the Passover Lamb that bears our sins has died and blotted them out.
At Passover, Jews were required by God to take all the yeast out of their houses before the Passover lamb was slain.
Even today, observant Jews do this. They search the house for any place there might be yeast, where crumbs of bread might have fallen. They scrape out the dark places under the cupboards and the oven to get rid of every last bit of yeast that might leaven the unleavened bread they eat during Passover.
Christians also do this by daily repentance; we “cleanse out the old leaven” of the sinful nature in which we were conceived. But trying to purge out your sins is not enough to cleanse us, as anyone who has tried it knows very well.
God must put away our sins.
And He has done it through the blood of Jesus. Jesus has cleansed the old evil leaven of our sinful natures out of us. He has buried it. God has forgiven it, which means, God has released us from it. Our sin no longer stands before Him. He does not count it, or impute it. This is what we mean when we say that God “justifies us.” It means He counts us righteous for the sake of Christ. He counts Jesus holy obedience and righteousness to us, just as truly as He imputed our guilt to His Son. This teaching is the central teaching of the Christian faith. It is, according to our Lutheran Confessions, the article of the faith “on which the Church stands or falls.” This is what the Reformation that began 500 years ago was about. Whoever has this teaching and believes it is righteous before God and saved from hell, even though he remains a sinner. Where this teaching is lost, human beings are lost. Because there is no other way that human beings can be righteous before God than for Christ’s sake.
This cleansing that happened by Jesus’ death and resurrection also becomes effective in you. We sang about it in Luther’s hymn:
Then let us feast this Easter day
On Christ, the bread of heaven.
The Word of Grace has purged away
The old and evil leaven.
Christ purged human beings of sin before God; but the purging away of sin within us happens through the Word of the messenger of Jesus. Through that word, God works faith that Jesus has purified us. And God counts that faith as righteousness before Him; and at the same time, He gives the gift of His Spirit, who each day purges away the sin that remains in us, so that it no longer works through the whole lump of our bodies, families, congregations, but goes into remission.
The angel said, “Christ is risen.” Go tell His disciples and Peter.
But to you the Word comes differently. It says, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It says, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I forgive you all your sins.”
When the pastor says these words, he is just proclaiming the same word as the angel; he is announcing what God has done for you and to you in raising Jesus from the dead. He is saying, “God has released you, together with the whole world, from your guilt. God has justified you.”
God has not done this only for believers, and this message is not to be proclaimed only to those who already believe and are righteous. It is to be proclaimed to the unrighteous who grieve because of their sins. It is to be proclaimed also to Christians who have fallen from Jesus. “Go tell His disciples and Peter,” says the angel. Peter had denied he knew Jesus; his own voice had condemned him. He had said, “I am not a disciple of Jesus.” You may be here this morning and have done the same thing, by your words or actions. You may have said, “I am not Jesus’ disciple” by willfully doing what you know to be sinful. And you may be thinking, “Now that I have denied Jesus and bathed in the mud, and made myself unclean with Jesus’ name on me, how can I become pure and clean again? How can I undo my falling away?” You may not be thinking this, and yet you may be one who should think this!
You cannot undo the shame of turning away from Jesus, and allowing yourself to be filled again with the leaven of malice and evil. But the angel specifically says, “Tell Jesus’ disciples, and Peter.”
Perhaps Jesus would have the whole congregation of St. Peter hear these words as His Word to this St. Peter.
Tell Peter: “He is risen. God has justified Him. God has let these sins go; they are paid for, the bonds of those sins are broken. The guilt is removed. The shame wiped away.”
Let us believe the word of whatever angel comes to you from Jesus with this message, for it is Jesus who sends the message to all who are bound by the chains of sin and hell.
Let us rejoice that we no longer see Jesus bearing our weakness. That means our sins have been removed forever, once and for all.
And if we grieve over the weakness we still bear, let us receive Jesus’ pledge that we share, even now, in His glory, as our glorious, risen Savior gives us the foretaste of our resurrection. Let us eat His body and drink His blood which have purged away the old, evil leaven from us. See, His blood now marks our door, faith points to it. Death passes oer. And Satan cannot harm us. Alleluia!
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
Good Friday Tenebrae (7 pm)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Psalm 88:8-14 (John 19:38-42)
April 14, 2017
“Died and was Buried”
You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of
But I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
Around this time on that Friday almost two thousand years ago, Jesus was buried. Imagine. Someone had to climb up on the ladder and remove the nails from Jesus’ hands or wrists. As that man did so, He would have had to look into Jesus’ face. It would have been covered with blood from His wounds, covered with bruises.
After the nails were removed, Nicodemus and Joseph would have carried Jesus. Maybe they washed His body before they wrapped it in the linen sheet with the seventy-five pounds spices, myrrh and aloes.
They buried Jesus quickly and rolled a large stone in front of the door to the tomb.
And just like at our funerals, it seemed like it was all over. All that was left was loss.
We know that death is the way of this world. That doesn’t help it become easier when your mother dies, when your child dies. It doesn’t help that everyone dies when you are lying in the ICU in pain, dying, or sitting in the nursing home, wondering when death will come. If you have been sick and in pain for a long time, you may accept death simply because life has been too painful. But otherwise, we don’t want to die. We think of what else we wanted to do in this world.
When death comes we feel attacked, blindsided. We are right about being attacked, at least partly. Death doesn’t just happen, the way rust happens. Death comes from God. It is—judgment.
Many of the readings and Psalms tonight express this thought of being attacked by God. King Hezekiah, suddenly dying, says of God, Like a lion He breaks all my bones; from day to night you bring me to an end (Is. 38:13). Jeremiah mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem, which has happened because God is punishing them for rejecting Him as their God. God is using the foreign enemies as His rod. Our pursuers are at our necks, says Jeremiah; we are weary and given no rest (v. 5). And the Psalm I quoted, Psalm 88, which we will sing in a moment, says, O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? (Ps. 88:14)
Those words remind us that the subject of the Scriptures, both old and New, is Jesus Christ. In them we can hear the echo of Jesus’ fourth word from the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?
Jeremiah’s people were forsaken by God because of their unfaithfulness; they were cast away because they cast God away. And the same thing could be said of everyone whom God casts away, everyone He attacks, everyone He slays. Hezekiah was one of the good kings, and there weren’t many. The writer of Psalm 88 was Heman the Ezrahite, who was a grandson of Samuel the prophet, and was a prophet himself. Yet Hezekiah was a sinner; so was Heman the prophet, and so was Samuel, his father. Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you, says another Psalmist to God (143:2).
Yet God does enter into judgment with us, or so it seems. He casts us down and puts our mouths in the dust. We are struck with illness and the sentence of death. Our congregation becomes like Jeremiah’s Jerusalem: How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed! The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street…the tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst (Lam. 4:1, 4)…Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners (Lam. 5:1-2). The families that once were members of this congregation are now the parishioners of congregations where the body and blood of Christ is not confessed, churches where infants are not baptized, or members of no churches at all. And those that are left no longer grow up in the house of God or are taught the Word. The day is drawing near, it appears, when there will no longer be Good Friday services here in this Church.
When we think about this, how do we not feel that God is striking us, attacking us because He is displeased with us? And like Hezekiah, Heman, or Jerusalem, are we righteous before Him that He should not judge us?
Let God be true and every man a liar, as St. Paul says. Or with the thief on the cross, let us say: We are getting the due reward of our deeds.
Then let us look away from our suffering, like the thief did, to Jesus. This man has done nothing wrong. There was no deceit in His mouth. He never displeased His Father. He never spoke lies. He is the man Psalm 24 speaks about:
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up His soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of His salvation. (Ps 24:3-5)
Jesus’ hands are clean and so are His lips. His heart is pure. Even crucified, in great agony, as He is attacked by the Father and His soul is cast away, He says, “My God!” He trusts God not to forsake Him. He commits His soul, dying, into His Father’s hands.
Jesus is forsaken by God, attacked in His wrath, humiliated before His foes, brought about before bloodied, spit upon, dressed like a king. The Father gives Him into their hands, and allows them to have their way with Him, to crucify Him, to make Him die on a tree, of which the Law says, Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. He does not intervene to save His Son from receiving a portion with all sinners in death.
We come around again to Joseph and Nicodemus burying Jesus, and sealing the tomb.
You know why Jesus is ambushed and attacked by God. It is for you, to win God’s favor and grace for you. Even while God casts Him away like an unclean thing, Jesus goes on trusting His Father. He breathes out His soul in death and His last words are “Into your hands I commit my Spirit.” How thoroughly He trusts His Father with all that He is, even when His Father seems to hate Him, seems to not know Him! Makes Him suffer!
How pleased the Father is with His Son’s trust and obedience! How much He loves it!
He loves it so much that He is pleased with you and all who believe in His Son, believes that through His Son’s obedience He will be gracious to them!
We deserve suffering and death because of our sins. But God doesn’t give it to us because He hates us in His wrath and we are getting what we deserve. The Father no longer recognizes the sins of anyone who believes in Jesus Christ. The Father is not stupid or kidding Himself. He knows our sins, but He also knows the ransom His Son paid to release us from God’s wrath against our sins. He will not lie or go back on His Word. It is, as the readings from Hebrews will soon say, Jesus’ last will and testament. It can’t be altered, and God is not a liar. He will not impute sin, count sin, to anyone who believes that Jesus has made payment for his sins. That means you, even with your weak faith.
Instead, He imputes His Son’s pure heart, His perfect, unfaltering trust, His holy obedience even to death, to all who believe in Jesus. That is His unfailing promise in your baptism, and in the Holy supper of His body and blood.
When we die and are attacked by God (so it seems), we are not being brought into judgment, dealing with a God who is going to destroy us in His wrath and never build us up again.
We are dealing with a God who counts us to have clean hands and a pure heart, who says of us, He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of our salvation.
We are dealing with the God who desires to build us up, to raise us again; that is why Hezekiah sang O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit…behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness, but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.
Today He cast our sins behind our back. Jesus said, It is finished.
Psalm 88 asks: Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Is Your steadfast love declared in the grave, or Your faithfulness in Abaddon (that is, destruction?)
The answer is: yes. For today God’s beloved Son joins us in the tomb, among the dead, making it holy, a place of rest. When we lie down as Christians, we go with Jesus, who remains the eternal God, whose battle has ended, whose righteousness and victory will be revealed in us.
Good Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 19:28-30, 34 (John 18-19, Is. 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor. 5:14-21)
April 14, 2017
Why is this Friday “Good”?
My son asked me—last Sunday, I think it was: “Why is it called ‘Good Friday’? It doesn’t seem good.” We sit here in a church stripped bare, in darkness, hearing the agony of our Lord Jesus read out loud, hearing the reproaches of God against us a little on from now, praying prayers asking God for mercy. It indeed does not seem good. When we look at the mockery of Jesus, think of the shame and wounds He endured, and consider also that God looked with anger and wrath on His Son as well, because He was carrying the sin of the world, like the scapegoat in the Levitical Law—it is not good. The sin we were born in, the sins we have committed knowingly and unknowingly, the sin we often excuse, tolerate, continue in and think we can repent later—not good. Here we see it unmasked for what it is: sin brings death. Sin brings God’s anger and punishment. God will not leave sin unpunished.
The word “good” in Good Friday probably originally meant something different than we think when we hear it. It probably meant something like “holy” or “godly.”
Yet it is right to think of Good Friday as being “good” in the way we normally use the word. Good Friday is good because on Good Friday (together with Easter) Jesus fulfilled or “finished” the Gospel, the “Good News.” He finished the message that His apostles would later proclaim, and that the Reformation began to proclaim again after it was lost. He finished the good news of our justification before God, our being accounted righteous, as Isaiah the prophet put it, our being “released from sin.”
On this day Jesus “finished” the content of the Gospel.
- It is recognized as good news only by helpless, condemned sinners, terrified by God’s Law;
- But to them it is very good, because it proclaims that Jesus finished our sin and God’s wrath on the cross, and that through His Work alone, received by faith, we are accounted righteous, or justified.
The world doesn’t receive the preaching of Jesus’ suffering and death as good news. There are plenty of people who understand intellectually what we preach, that Jesus suffered for our sins so that we might not be condemned—as St. Paul writes: For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew know sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:17). There are plenty of people who understand this with their minds. Some—many even—profess to believe this. Yet their faith goes no deeper than their mind and intellect; it is not a faith worked by the Holy Spirit, giving salvation, on which a person stakes his life and eternity.
Such a person doesn’t really regard the death of Jesus as good news. The suffering and death of Jesus, after all, doesn’t seem like anything to rejoice in. A man dying in shame and mockery a horrible death seems weak and useless to the world, not joyful, happy news.
The agony of Jesus, the death of Jesus, is good news, whether a person realizes it or not. But most people do not. There are many people who come to church occasionally who hear the death of Jesus proclaimed, but it appears to make no impression on them. It does not lead them to renounce their sins, hear God’s Word more frequently, be baptized, live a life that is by faith in the One who died for them. Even on those who regularly come to hear the Word of Christ preached and receive His body and blood, there are many for whom it does not appear to be particularly good news.
That’s because although it is good news for all people, although it is the best news there is—it is only recognized as good news by the people the Bible refers to as “the poor”. It is recognized as good news by people who have been brought to a knowledge of sin, who as a result are terrified and afflicted.
A person comes to this knowledge through the Law of God. The more we look into God’s Law, or hear it, the more we become conscious of our guilt before God, and the seriousness of His anger against those who disobey His Law. This is one of the reasons why you are so often encouraged and exhorted to learn the Small Catechism by heart and to read the Bible. When you do, the Holy Spirit will often convict you of your sin before God. You don’t get very far in the Bible before God starts commanding things and you realize you haven’t done them. You can’t read the Bible very long before you are confronted with an example of God threatening or punishing sinners, and realizing that you are guilty of the same sins that caused Him to send the flood, or drown Pharaoh, or reject Saul. The words of Psalm 5 are an example: For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with You. The boastful may not stand before Your eyes; You hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men. (v. 4-6) Is there anyone here today who has never spoken lies?
Those who are brought to a knowledge of their sin become frightened by words like these; we become conscious of the guilt we bear before God and His anger against us as sinners, and we look for how we can become free from sin. Because we are Lutherans, we learn that we are to take the guilt of our sin to Jesus, who atoned for the sins of the world.
But even as Christians, we find that sin remains with us. Even if we don’t know it from experience, we can look at the example of St. Peter and see just how much evil and weakness remains even in Christ’s disciples. Peter said, “I will die with you,” and couldn’t keep his pledge for a few hours. We are not able to do “our part” to be faithful Christians. We can’t keep ourselves from falling into sin.
In fact, we are not even able to produce the faith that takes hold of Jesus and saves us. The more you see your sin, the more your heart trembles in fear of God, or in anger against Him at putting you in this impossible situation of trying to please Him when you can’t. The more you see yourself fall, the more difficult it becomes in the flesh to believe that God has really forgiven you.
This is a terrible feeling to those who have experienced it. Such a person feels forsaken by God.
But even if a person has not experienced this so intensely, only those who have come to the knowledge of their sin through God’s Law hear the death of Jesus as good news. A person may not have felt God’s wrath in their hearts so intensely, or felt forsaken by God. But all Christians believe testimony of the Word of God, that there is nothing good in them, that born in the sin transmitted by Adam to his descendants, they are by nature spiritually dead, enemies of God. And all Christians know that God is angry at sin and will certainly punish it with suffering in this life, with death, and with eternal torment in hell.
And in the cross and death of Jesus we see this. Jesus was born without sin and never committed sin. The result was that He was immortal. He was not subject to death, and certainly not to God’s anger, certainly not to His condemnation.
Yet today, on Good Friday, we see Jesus die. We hear Him cry that He is forsaken by God. We see how angry God is with our sins, that He would not spare His Son, when His Son was carrying all the sins of the world, but punished Him, turned His face from Him, allowed His Son to die and, while dying, to experience His condemnation and curse.
We also see in the Passion of Jesus that it is not just a human being who is suffering and dying on the cross. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, God of God, light of light. He tells Pilate “my Kingdom is from another place.” And when Pilate hears that Jesus has declared that He is the Son of God, Pilate is afraid. It is fearful to think that not just a man suffers the mockery, the agony, and death of the cross. It shows not only how wicked human beings are, that His own people would reject Him and demand Him to be put to death. It shows how serious our sins are in God’s sight, that He would require nothing less than the suffering of God in the flesh to atone for them.
When the rebellious people of Israel were thirsty in the desert, God caused water to flow out of a rock and quenched their thirst. He refreshed them, even though they were rebellious and unfaithful. But His faithful Son, there is no refreshment. Jesus is given sour wine to drink and no water, which is a picture of how the Father did not turn away His wrath from His Son. He did not relent, but gave Jesus the cup of His wrath, which belonged to us. It had to be drained to the bottom.
All that is very bad news. If you take it to heart you will be troubled and distressed, because you realize that Jesus’ agony is a picture of the agony you will endure in hell unless your sin and guilt is removed.
But how can that happen, when we continue to be sinners?
This is the good news that Jesus finished on Good Friday, the good news of the pure Gospel:
We cannot purge away our sins, not even with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that God will no longer be angry with us.
Our sins must be “put away”. We must be “released” from them. Our sin must be covered, as the 32nd psalm says.
This is why Good Friday is rightly called good, because this is what Jesus does today. He covers our sins and makes us to be accounted righteous, as Isaiah 53 said.
When the stripes are laid open on Jesus’ back by the whip, we are healed, and peace with God is being made for us.
When He is mocked and scorned as a King with a crown of thorns, and a jeering crowd calls for Him to be crucified, God is leading Him like a lamb to be slaughtered for our sins; and Jesus does not open His mouth to protest.
He is being oppressed and afflicted by God; God the Father’s will is to crush Jesus, so that we may not be crushed, but be accounted righteous, be declared not wicked but righteous and without sin.
Jesus is “reconciling the Father to us” as He is nailed to the cross and lifted up to hang there under His curse. He thirsts and is forsaken by God, so that we will not be forsaken, or thirst for God and not have our thirst be quenched. God does not let us thirst because His anger is removed from us. He is reconciled to us and at peace. “The chastisement that brought us peace was upon Him.”
That is why Isaiah says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied, by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Is. 53:11)
Jesus made us to be accounted righteous by God. Not as a fiction, a lie. But really making payment sufficient for God to count our sins to us no longer, so that we are really righteous and just and without sin through faith in Jesus alone.
“It is finished,” says Jesus. What is finished? The atonement for our sins; God’s reconciliation with sinners, the forgiveness of our sins. It is finished. Nothing is to be done but to receive this Word of Jesus and believe that, as great as your sins are, Jesus has paid the sufficient ransom to set you free from them.
Paul says, God committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. He means the ministry of preaching this Gospel. This is why God invented the pastoral office and why He still sends men out to preach His pure Gospel.
It is to bring you good news, so that you may not thirst and get sour wine, so that you may not thirst like the rich man in hell, longing for a drop of water in the flames but never receiving one. Instead you are to receive the water of the Gospel for your thirst. That water does not come from nowhere. It comes from Jesus’ death.
Just as His body was pierced and water and blood poured, so God pours on You His grace. Announces your justification and His reconciliation with you, that He has put all your sins on His Son. Releases you from sin in the absolution. Purifies you in His sight, burying and resurrecting you with Jesus in Baptism.
Giving you His flesh to eat and blood to drink.
This streams to you from Jesus’ death, here and now.
So we call it “Good Friday,” because Jesus finished the good news on this day. Good like God said His creation was very good before the fall. Now God says all who believe in Christ are good like that; spotless, pure, holy, through faith in Jesus alone—a new creation.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
1 Corinthians 11:23-32
April 13, 2017
“The Blood of the Covenant”
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. 5 He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
(Gradual/ Tract for Maundy Thursday: Psalm 111:4-5)
“Karl, wilt thou have Angela, here present, to be thy wedded wife? Wilt thou love, honor, and cherish her, and keep with her this bond of wedlock holy and unbroken till death you do part? If so, declare it before God and these witnesses by saying, I will.”
Angela, wilt thou have Karl, here present, to be thy wedded husband? Wilt thou love, honor, cherish, and obey him, and keep with him this bond of wedlock holy and unbroken till death you do part? If so, declare it before God and these witnesses by saying, I will.
I Karl, in the presence of God and this assembly, take thee, Angela, to be my wedded wife, and plight thee my troth in every duty, not to part from thee, till death us do part.
I Angela, in the presence of God and this assembly, take thee, Karl, to be my wedded husband, and plight thee my troth in every duty, not to part from thee, till death us do part.
Those words are not the exact words that we said when we were married. They are from the old version of the hymnal. You may have said them when you were married.
What do we call those words? Vows. They are oaths taken before God by which we enter into marriage, into a relationship with this other person. We ask God to witness our solemn promises, whether we keep them or not. On other occasions we make different kinds of vows.
The people of old had a term for this kind of promise before God and the new relationship established by that promise. They called it “a covenant.” (How covenants were entered: witnesses, solemn pledges before God (maybe with a visible or written monument to the pledge). An animal’s blood would be shed to seal the covenant, often. And there was often a meal between the two parties, signifying fellowship, peace. The two would become like brothers, bound by blood.
People entered covenants out of need for assurance. People cannot be trusted simply to keep their word. We know that too well. In fact, people cannot even be trusted, many times, to keep the pledges they make before God. Marriage vows are broken. So are the vows we make at Baptism and confirmation. Pastors take vows before God when they are ordained. None of these vows can be lived up to perfectly by any sinful human being. Yet often people disregard them entirely; and then these institutions of God are no longer held in high regard.
In the Bible, however, the true God does a remarkable thing—He enters into covenant. He makes a covenant with Noah after the flood; He covenants with Abraham, promising that He will be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s descendants, and that He will bring blessing—that is, salvation—to the whole earth through one of Abraham’s seed, or offspring.
He also enters into a covenant with the children of Israel. He causes Pharaoh to let them go that they may worship the Lord by slaying the firstborn of every household in Egypt, but passing over the houses of the Israelites. He brings them through the Red Sea, utterly destroying their enemies, and brings them to a divine service at Mt. Sinai, where He appears in fire on top of the mountain and speaks the ten commandments to them. Then Moses told them the rest of God’s commandments—the terms of His covenant. The people agreed to obey God as His covenant people. Then, it tells us in Exodus 24, Moses slaughtered and offered oxen as offerings to God. He took the blood in bowls, threw half of it against the altar. Then he read the book of the covenant to the people, and once again they said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient (Ex. 24:7). And Moses took the remaining half of the blood and threw it on the people—about a million of them—and said, “Behold, the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex. 24: 8)
Then, the book of Exodus tells us, that Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons went up on Mt. Sinai, where God was, along with 70 elders of Israel, the leaders of the people. And they saw the God of Israel. There was under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And He did not lay His hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank (Ex. 24:10-11).
Do you see how this works?
God takes the people out of slavery with great power. He proposes to enter a relationship with them where He will be their God, and they will obey Him and keep His commandments. Then blood is shed and first splashed on the altar, which signifies that God is in. Then, when the people agree to the covenant, the blood is splashed on them. They are in.
The blood means God and the people of Israel are bound together. They are one blood. But if one party breaks the covenant, the blood signifies that they should die like the oxen whose blood was shed.
Think of how amazing it is that God would enter this kind of relationship with His creatures! To make Himself a party in an agreement like this, as though it were possible for Him to lie and be punished for breaking His covenant!
Inside of this covenant there is peace between God and sinful human beings. The leaders of Israel see God and eat and drink in His presence, like you eat at the table of a relative or a friend.
However, this peace didn’t last long, because what Israel vowed to do, it did not do. When Moses went up on the mountain for 40 days to speak with God and then return and tell the people of Israel what God said, the Israelites became anxious and lost patience. Since the prophet of God didn’t return, they decided they needed new gods to lead them to a land where they could settle down.
That was the problem with the Old Covenant made at Sinai. There was really nothing wrong with the covenant. There was something wrong with the people of Israel. At the heart of the covenant God made was the ten commandments, and at the heart of the ten commandments is the first commandment: You shall have no other gods. The people of Israel couldn’t even keep this covenanant in an external way for a month. As soon as they became afraid, or desired other things, they started setting up festivals to other gods. They did not “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
Israel wasn’t unique. All the pagan nations of the earth—our ancestors—worshipped false gods.
What they did in a formal way, we do in our hearts. We are anxious and afraid of other people and what they will say and do more than we fear God; we desire other things, we love other things more than we love God. And we trust what we can see, what we can feel, not the Lord and His Word.
Because Israel was like this, God promised a “new covenant.”
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 1 Cor. 11: 25
God is faithful to His covenant, even when Israel is unfaithful. He goes beyond the covenant in faithfulness.
Remember how Moses threw half of the blood on the altar and half on the people, and how it meant that whoever broke the covenant would die? That is the way it works with God’s Law. “The soul that sins shall die”—Ez. 18. But God is never unfaithful—we are.
Yet Jesus here makes a new covenant. Lutherans prefer to use the term testament. That is because the greek word used here usually refers to a “last will and testament”. But also because a testament simply gives—it does not ask the person it gives to do something in return.
Jesus says, This cup is the New Testament in My Blood. My blood. Not your blood. In the covenant between Israel and YHWH, all the transgressions were on the part of unfaithful Israel. They were the ones who should have had their blood shed.
Yet Jesus says His blood—God’s blood—was being shed. Yes, because God was taking on the transgressions of His covenant committed by His people. So that they might be in His presence and eat and drink eternally, and the Lord would be at peace with them and be their God.
That is what follows tonight. When we see the altar stripped bare and naked and the chancel become desolate, we see a picture of what should happen to us sinners. Instead, it happened to Jesus for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. That is why He is stripped, beaten, mocked, nailed to the cross, forsaken by God. To “forgive your iniquity”, so that your “sin will be remembered no more.”
That is why it is a New Testament. It is not like the old, which we broke and could not keep in the flesh. It is new. The requirements of this testament are all met by Jesus. You simply receive it.
But how do I receive it? How do I know it applies to me? How do I know God forgives me? He declares it to you in preaching; He throws the blood of the covenant on You, making You one blood with Him. He douses you in it in Baptism.
But how do I know it still applies to me, when I have sinned and turned away from Jesus after I was baptized? He absolves you at the altar tonight, by name.
Then He gives you this bread to eat, and this cup to drink; His body, which is for you, given to agony, pain, and death on the cross.
His blood, the blood of the New Testament, that seals this new relationship with God. Jesus doesn’t say, This cup symbolizes the New Testament in my blood; He says, This cup is the new Testament in my blood.
It is the blood that brings about this new relationship with God where He forgives our sins and remembers our iniquity no more. No more! Never! He never remembers it. He remembers instead the suffering of His Son for you, who bore your guilt.
He writes His law on your heart from within instead of banging it on you from without, so that you keep it willingly. He makes you know Him. The Israelites ran away from Him at Sinai, but through the blood of Jesus’ testament you know Him and want to know Him.
As often as we eat and drink this body and blood of Jesus, we proclaim His death for us.
It is a serious thing to receive it unworthily—results in death and condemnation.
What is worthiness? Not to do…since we are not capable of doing what merits communion with God. To receive. That is, to eat and drink, believing Christ’s Words: “My body, given for you. My blood shed for you.” This is what Jesus left us in the night He was betrayed– a remembrance of His own death for the ungodly. The very blood of the testament, that makes peace with God for us, given with the wine to drink.
Reformation: not a partial sacrifice to God. Not our act of remembering—how piously we receive it. It is Jesus’ testament, His pledge before dying. It is the assurance that His sufferings are for us, and they avail before God to bring us peace with Him; He “remembers our sins no more.”
Instead: “He remembers His covenant forever”—the forgiveness of sins won by the suffering of His Son.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 15:21-28
March 12, 2017
“Consider Your Place in Life”
“No one believes how the devil opposes and resists them, and cannot tolerate that anyone should teach or live rightly…It hurts him beyond measure to suffer his lies and abominations to be exposed…and to be driven out of the heart, and to endure such a breach to be made in his kingdom. Therefore he rants and rages as a fierce enemy with all his power and might, and marshals all his subjects [against Christians]…in addition, [he] enlists the world and our own flesh as his allies…Such is all his will, mind, and thought, for which he strives day and night, and never rests a moment…
If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and reckon upon having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies, who will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us.” Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 3rd Petition, 62-65
How did it go this week?
How did what go?
Your fight with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world. Did it go well?
Last week’s Gospel told us about the temptation of Jesus. To save people out of Satan’s Kingdom, Jesus had to be attacked by Satan. On Wednesday, we heard the beginning of Jesus’ final conflict with the evil one, His Passion.
What happened to Jesus also happens to everyone who doesn’t want to remain in Satan’s kingdom. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have God’s name on your forehead. As long as you remain in Jesus’ death and resurrection, in His victory over sin, death, and the devil, you also are in a life-or-death conflict with the old evil foe and his allies the world and your flesh. You could never hope to win this fight. But Jesus has already won. Through faith in Jesus you also conquer Satan, even when you’re weak, even when you stumble. That’s why Satan’s goal is to destroy faith in Christ.
So how did the fight go this week?
The chances are good that you didn’t think much about the fact that you were in the middle of a battle with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world. We get so busy with work, responsibilities, worries, pleasures, that we forget. If you forget you’re in a war, this week’s battles probably didn’t go very well.
Even if you were conscious of the battle you’re in, chances are good that you experienced defeats. In the prayer guide in the bulletin this week the catechism memory work is about confession. “Which are these?” it asks—what sins should we know and feel in our hearts and confess in order to receive absolution? The answer is: Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm? In other words, look at how you carried out the calling God has given you. The sins the catechism mentions are not what we consider great sins. They are sins that most of us struggle with every week in one way or another. Yet to be a Christian is to continue to fight against them, to get up when we fall and try to make progress against them. For forgiveness and strength in this fight we draw near to God, hear His Word of pardon and absolution, and receive the body and blood of Jesus which cleanses us of all sin.
To overcome our sins by faith in Jesus is to fight against the evil one, Satan, and his allies, our flesh and the world.
But if you try to do this week in and week out, you find how hard it is. In fact, you feel overwhelmed. It is a struggle even to keep your mind on it, isn’t it? If we don’t want to be overcome by our sins, we need God’s help. We call out to God to keep us watchful, to give us strength against the devil, to keep us in faith in Christ, to forgive us when we fall. We pray. Prayer is our weapon in the war against the devil—not because our prayers are strong, but because the One who has promised to hear and answer our prayers is mighty and victorious.
In the Gospel reading we have an example of this in the Canaanite woman. She cries out to Jesus for help and deliverance in her distress, and she doesn’t quit, because she believes that Jesus is who He says He is—the promised Son of David, come to bring salvation to her and the whole world from the devil’s power.
But we don’t need prayer only for ourselves. God calls you, when you are baptized, to serve Him in specific ways by serving specific people. He places you in your family and calls you to love and serve your spouse, your children or your parents. He places you in your congregation and calls you to love and serve your congregation and your pastor. He places you in your city or country and calls you to love and serve your government and your fellow citizens. All these things—family, church, state—are God’s institutions. They are there to bring God’s blessings to people. When they falter, people suffer. So they need prayer too. When the devil makes inroads against someone in your family, against your congregation or synod or your pastor, against your city or country or neighborhood, you aren’t supposed to sit still. You are supposed to fight the evil one with the weapons God has given you—prayer and the Word of God.
The Canaanite woman is dealing with an obvious attack of Satan on one she is called to love and serve—her daughter. Her daughter, says the Gospel, is “severely possessed by a demon.” The word literally is “she is demonized.”
People are naturally “demonized”—under the power of demons. If the Kingdom of Jesus is going to free them, there will be a fight.
If people are going to be saved, there will be a fight. We need to pray.
The problem is sometimes Jesus doesn’t seem to listen to our prayers…doesn’t answer her, says “I was sent only to lost sheep of Israel,” says, when she bows down in front of Him, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
She perseveres in faith in Jesus, believing He will help. She says, “Yes, I am a dog, but dogs get the crumbs.” Yes, I’m a sinner, yet you will not refuse forgiveness and blessing even to the chief of sinners. You came to save sinners.
Don’t doubt this. Hold firmly to it. Though great our sins, yet greater still/ Is God’s abundant favor. / His hand of mercy never will/ Abandon us nor waver. / Our shepherd good and true is He/ who will at last His Israel free/ from all their sin and sorrow.
When you see the devil attacking in yourself, your home, your church, your city, call on Jesus for help. This is how His kingdom advances, people are brought to salvation and preserved in it.
Soli Deo Gloria
The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation. Invocabit, The First Sunday in Lent, 2017. St. Matthew 4:1-11
Invocabit, the First Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 4:1-11
March 5, 2017
“The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation”
You have been hearing this year about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, how God revealed to the world again the truly good news of Jesus after it had been buried under teachings of men and demons. Martin Luther was the human instrument through whom God accomplished this.
But what happened with Luther was only one act in the play. Reformation began long before this. The stage was set for it in eternity. The drama began when God spoke this threat to the serpent in the garden: I will put [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15) When Jesus came out of the Jordan River, still wet from being baptized, the table was set, and the drama began.
Jesus came into the world to bring about reformation. He didn’t come to reform a corrupt government, or even to reform a corrupt religious establishment. He came to destroy the root of the world’s corruption—to dethrone the fallen spirit that had set himself up as the world’s god, and to set free the people God made to bear His own image and likeness. Jesus was here to bring about a reformation of the world, make the world into a temple, where people would worship God in every thought, word, and action, with every breath. This worship of God, this obedience of God, comes through faith in the true God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
All the evil we see in the world—cheating and lying, hatred and killing, immorality, dishonoring God—all of it comes from unbelief, non-trust in the true God.
So Jesus entered the world, as God had promised long before, to crush the serpent’s head, make people free from his corruption, and bring about reformation. To bring them to faith in God & release them from worship of Satan, belief in his lies.
He was conceived in the womb of Mary through the Holy Spirit, born in the Bethlehem stall. For the next few decades we hear little about Him, until He appears at the Jordan River to be baptized with the crowds who were confessing their sins that those sins might be washed away.
When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice sounded from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17) Jesus’ reformation began in earnest. Jesus had come to the Jordan with no sins to confess. Nevertheless, He was baptized with the sinners. The only-begotten Son of God was baptized as a sinner because He had taken the burden of humanity, its sin and its redemption, upon Himself.
Then in the Gospel for today, Matthew chapter 4, we hear how the Holy Spirit brought Him to the first battle of His work of reforming the world. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt. 4:1) Any reformer of any kind has to fight. If you want to reform a corrupt city government, you will have a fight on your hands from the corrupt politicians who are in power and all the people who benefit from the corruption. When Luther tried to reform the practice of granting indulgences, he was quickly attacked by the powerful bishops, including the Pope, who profited from the sale of indulgences.
Jesus came to reform something much bigger than a city government or even the Church; He came to reform the whole world. He had to have a confrontation with the ruler of this corrupt world—the devil.
But what Jesus experienced as soon as He was baptized happens to everyone who comes after Him. When you brought your little ones to be baptized into Jesus, you were bringing them to be baptized into His fight with Satan. As long as you are a Christian and lay claim to the benefits of your baptism, to peace and union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to the forgiveness of your sins, you can’t avoid a fight with the devil and all who are his. You must suffer his attacks, and you must fight. You must be tempted. When the fight ends, when the temptation ends, so does your salvation.
The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into this fight, and to prepare Him for it, He lets Jesus fast for 40 days. Jesus is weak almost to the point of death when the devil appears to test Him. And the tests the devil brings are all temptations to presumption, to pride. “You are God’s Son,” Satan says. “Since you’re God’s Son, why should you have to starve out here in the desert? 40 days of fasting? How unreasonable your Father is to make things so hard and painful for you! You shouldn’t have to deal with the irritations and humiliations that human beings have because of their sin and unfaithfulness to God when you’re righteous! The angels should carry you around! Why doesn’t Your Father let you show Your glory so that these people give you the honor that is due you?”
Later Jesus would teach His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” The Small Catechism, the handbook of Christian faith and life Luther drew from the Scriptures, explains that part of the Lord’s Prayer in this way, “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we would finally overcome them and win the victory.”
We usually think of temptation as the devil trying to persuade us to commit grave moral lapses. Of course he does that. But the heart of all the devil’s temptations has to do with faith. Despair is when the devil convinces us that we cannot be saved, that we cannot believe that God has forgiven our sins. The other, “false belief”, refers to presumption, false confidence, where our faith rests not on God’s promise but on ourselves—our past good works, our past experiences of being close to God, our feelings.
The devil tries Jesus with presumption and false belief. “You are God’s Son. Why should you have to hunger and be meek and suffer? Shouldn’t your Father honor you and give you glory and rewards instead of this humiliation?”
Then he lets loose a barrage of flaming arrows at Jesus in his third temptation, in a desperate attempt to get Jesus to fall, like all other human beings have before. “I know that you have come to take possession of the world,” Satan says. “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed king. The Scriptures say you are going to rule all the nations. Well, here, have a look at them. You can take possession of them all, right now. They’re yours. I’ll give them up. Just give me my due. Fall down and worship me. No one will ever know. I won’t make you fast for 40 days or suffer humiliation like your Father is doing to you. It will be quick and easy.”
We have to give the devil his due, the saying goes. This is an evil world, and things don’t go so smoothly for us when we don’t play by its rules. Christians often give the devil his due too. We often believe that there is no other way to survive. (Examples)
But Jesus gives Satan—nothing. Nothing except God’s Word from the Scriptures, which silences his lies and expose his fraud. Satan is driven off, beaten. The first man in history has refused his offers and been faithful to God.
Jesus could easily have overwhelmed Satan with His power and glory. He could have done that without coming to earth. But that wouldn’t have helped us. Using His divine, almighty power to destroy Satan would have meant destroying all of Satan’s servants as well.
Instead Jesus came to reform the world and crush Satan not with overwhelming power but with faith in God and the obedience that comes from faith. Jesus trusts His Father and accepts His will, even when that will means being humbled and suffering for our sins. By this humble faith and trusting obedience to His Father, Jesus bruises Satan in this first battle, and finally bruises his head, crushing it in the dust, when He fulfills His work on the cross. By His perfect faith and obedience to His Father, Jesus earns God’s favor, His grace, for all of us. By His righteousness, Jesus earns the forgiveness of our sins before God. God looks at the human race and sees not our rebellion and falling before Satan, but Jesus resisting and overcoming him. He sees Jesus in perfect trust and obedience giving His holy life, shedding His innocent blood to atone for all of our transgressions.
Jesus’ humble trust in the Father, His rock-like holding to God’s Word despite all temptations, all appearances that seem to contradict it, is the example of how our lives are to be lived. The love and humility He showed in willingly bearing this suffering in the wilderness, when He by rights did not have to suffer at all, is our example of how much God wills that we give of ourselves for our neighbor’s good.
But even more, Jesus’ victory over Satan in this first battle, and His final victory in His death and resurrection is our shield and defense in our battles against Satan. When we are tempted to despair of God’s mercy, we claim Jesus’ obedience all the way to the cross as our own. God has promised and pledged that it is ours in our Baptism. We claim it, invoking the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed on us in Baptism.
The work of reformation that He began here is also our defense against false belief. When the devil says, “Avoid suffering. It doesn’t matter. No one will know,” we hold to the Scripture and lay hold of Christ, who suffered this temptation and the agony of the cross for us. We say, “I do not belong to you, but to Him who died and was raised to reform this world and me and make me a new creation, a Son of God.”
Or should Satan press me hard, let me then be on my guard. Saying Christ for me was wounded, that the devil flee confounded. Amen. SDG
Ash Wednesday (7 p.m.)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Joel 2:12-19, 2 Peter 1:2-9, St. Matthew 6:16-21
March 1, 2017
Repentance and Reformation
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
That is the first of the 95 Theses that sparked the Reformation. The first word of the Reformation of God’s Church was about repentance. If your life needs to be reformed, if a family needs to be reformed, if a congregation or the whole Church needs reformation, this is where it begins—with repentance.
But a Christian life not only begins with repentance. The entire life of a Christian is one of repentance—an ongoing, daily “changing of your mind.” A change in how we think, look at the world, what we love and hold dear, what we believe, with the result that we return to God.
This the reason ashes are imposed today. Ashes are a physical way of saying that our way of thinking and living must change. Ashes are what remains to people who have been destroyed.
Look at pictures of a place that has been through a war, like Germany after World War 2, its cities pulverized to dust, rubble, and ashes by the rain of bombs falling from the sky. You see people with wide eyes hiding in blackened, charcoal shells of houses, their faces dirty from the ash that is everywhere. They haven’t just been going through a hard time. Their country has been laid into the dust and destroyed. The ashes of what they once had smeared their faces black.
Do you recognize that that is how you are? A shell of what you were created to be, sitting in the ashes of the glory you once had, not knowing when fire will rain down from the sky to consume what is left of your life?
In ancient times, in the Bible, when people grieved and mourned, they sat in ashes, they sprinkled ashes on their heads. They did this to show that they had been destroyed. Frequently, along with the ashes, they stopped eating food—they fasted. People do that when they are too full of pain to fill their stomachs; they also do it when war or destruction has so ruined their worlds that there is no food to eat. When God had punished people in the Bible, or when it seemed like He was about to punish them, they would sit in ashes, they would fast, and they would cry out to God from their destruction: “You have destroyed us; please bring us back to life.”
They understood correctly who the God of the Scriptures is. He is the God who, out of a handful of dust, made man in His image, and breathed in His nostrils the breath of life. We were created with glory to bear the image of the one God. But when Adam and Eve rejected the Word of God, they lost their form, just like the palm leaves in the fire. The image of God was destroyed. They lived out the remainder of their lives under a curse until their ruined bodies returned to dust. God gives life. God also destroys life that turns away from Him.
But God is able to bring back the life He destroys. He is able to gather the ashes of the palm leaves and make them once again the green branches they once were. He is able to bring back human beings that have been destroyed by sin; to raise to life flesh and bone that have returned to dust, and to restore the lost image of the Creator to human bodies and souls.
But when He does that in a person, or a household, or a church, it always begins with repentance, with a change of mind.
If a person is a burnt wasteland, a bombed-out ruin, he hasn’t started to come back to life yet until he recognizes he has been destroyed. Until our ruins are rebuilt and no sin remains in us, a Christian cannot be comfortable and satisfied. Could a person who has lived through a war be comfortable and content while his country is burning, his home is ashes, and he is sleeping on a cot in a refugee shelter? No! He will not be content until his home is rebuilt, the fields of his nation are sprouting grain, the roads are paved, there are schools for his children. So Christians can’t be content while sin remains in them.
As we seek to renew our life of repentance this Lent, it is important to remember that repentance has two parts. The first is contrition, which is heartfelt sorrow and terror over our sins, the recognition of God’s wrath against sin revealed in the Law, together with the desire to be free from sin and its destruction. Contrition is necessary, but it is not something we can do or make ourselves feel. It is God’s work within us, and there is only one way that God has promised to work it. That is through His Word—in particular, through the preaching of His Law.
If you listen seriously to the sermons that are preached to you instead of sitting in judgment on them, as so many do; if you allow yourself to be taught God’s Word by the pastor God sent you; if you faithfully read the Scripture; and if you take up the Small Catechism, learn the ten commandments with their explanations, and look at the way you live in light of them, God will work contrition within you—not because you have done a good work by listening and reading, but because He desires that all be saved and come to repentance. His Word is the instrument He uses to create repentance within you.
He will give you a contrite and broken heart, which is the sacrifice of God, which He does not despise (Ps. 51). He will not only terrify you with the threat of His wrath, but if you believe in Christ, He will also create in you the sorrow that comes from having offended the God you love.
Ashes a biblical symbol of the destruction sin has brought upon us. But there is another kind of ashes in the Bible—ashes used not to grieve, but to purify.
In Numbers 19, God commanded that a red heifer should be sacrificed and burned and its ashes mixed with water. This water was used to purify those who were made unclean through contact with a dead body. An animal, completely consumed in the fire, reduced to ashes on God’s altar—those ashes, that residue of a destroyed life, when mixed with water, made a person clean from the impurity that came from contact with death.
God has provided another, much greater life to be consumed in the fire of His wrath for your sins—the life of His Son. In Baptism, the ashes of His sacrifice on the cross, the fullness of His death for the sins of the world, are joined to water and poured upon you to cleanse not only your body but your soul from death. Not only His death under the wrath of God, but His resurrection into life free from the condemnation of the Law. In Baptism you become a participant in both. You are joined with Him. On the cross, the burning wrath of God fell on His soul as He carried your sins as His own. You also were brought to an end with Jesus.
But God is able to raise up again and put back together what He has utterly destroyed in His wrath. And He did. He raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. And in raising Jesus, He raised you and all people up, put us all back together again as a new creation, as children of God. He raised up our ruins, brought our ashes together and re-formed them, remade us in the image of the glory of God, so that we will never taste the second death.
This is the second and most important part of repentance—not only sorrow for our sins, but faith that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus. By faith I mean certain confidence and trust that although we cannot free ourselves from spiritual destruction, God has done so. He destroyed our sins in the wrath that He poured out on His Son who bore them. Then He raised up the one who bore our sins, freeing Him from the curse. Instead of ashes He gave us a beautiful headdress, a crown of victory (Is. 61), like the Old Testament priests who wore a crown that said, “Holy to the Lord.” This crown is placed on our heads by God, because Jesus, our head, is alive again. His battle with sin is over and He has emerged in righteousness and victory. He is our crown of righteousness and sanctification. He was poured on our heads in Baptism. By faith we wear His holiness as our crown.
“The entire life of a believer should be one of repentance,” Luther wrote in the first word of the reformation. That means not only a life of sorrow over our sin, but a life of confidence and trust that God has dealt with our sin. A life in which we daily return to God, not only with sorrow over our destruction, but with firm trust that our destruction has been swallowed up by life. Then instead of transforming us to ash from outside, God, who is an unquenchable fire of love, transforms us from within into the image of His Son. He burns away our old self until Christ appears in us.
Repentance begins with the recognition of sin and ends with the certain trust that our sins are forgiven—not because we feel that they are, but because the Gospel of God declares them to be. Where the pure Gospel of God is preached, it will work this change of mind—contrition and faith. And this repentance—true repentance– always brings reformation with it. Wherever an individual, family, or congregation is given this change of mind, and clings steadfastly to the promise that their sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, that individual or family or church will begin to reorder its life according to God’s Word. It will begin to produce fruit that pleases God. May God graciously create and strengthen this repentance in us this Lent.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria