“The Very Flame of the Lord”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (etc)
First we consider the history of our Lord’s glorious resurrection from the dead, and second, the meaning of His resurrection for us.
First of all it is necessary to emphasize that this is the history of the resurrection of Jesus that St. Mark presents to us. It is clear that he understands what he is writing to be fact rather than fiction. He presents us with historical, public figures interwoven into the story, men that people knew and could possibly talk to at the time the Gospel was published. None of these men tried to deny that Jesus was crucified and was buried. People in Jerusalem could show you the place of the skull where he was crucified and knew the place where the guards stood watch.
Why is it important that this is presented to us as history, as the accounts of witnesses? Because the Gospel of Jesus has no meaning if He didn’t really rise from the dead.
Jesus’ resurrection is either a fact that makes claims on everyone who lives in the real world where people die, or it is a lie that would be laughable if it had not had so much influence on the world’s history. It really can’t be something in between.
Too often not only non-believers but also Christians act as if this belief in the resurrection of Jesus is a non-threatening, domesticated belief that can safely be brought around unbelievers and taken for a walk in polite society. Such a Christianity doesn’t make any claims on people. It says, “Jesus lives in my heart” without at the same time insisting that He also lives outside of our hearts at the Father’s right hand.
No, if Jesus rose from the dead, it means nothing in the world can remain the same.
It meant in the days of the early Church that it was wrong to worship Caesar as a god. In fact, it upset the status quo by claiming that all of the old gods worshipped by the Romans and all the other nations of the earth were idols. And the Jews, who had the Scriptures from the true God, had nevertheless not known their God. They had actually called for His crucifixion when He visited them.
The preaching of the resurrection of Jesus was an announcement that all the people of the earth, especially the wise and noble ones, had not known God. And now they were to repent.
Now they were to turn and worship the true God, who was a Galilean who had died the scandalous death of the cross.
To both Jews and Greeks this was blasphemy. To say that God would allow Himself to be spit on, put to shame, torn by whips, cursed and suspended naked from a gallows by nails pounded through his hands and feet was like saying that God was not God at all. That’s why the early Christians who died as martyrs were condemned for being “atheists.” They said everyone else’s gods were not gods. Then they proposed as the one true God a man who had come from a miserable town in Galilee and was crucified.
The Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus is no less earth-shattering today. If Jesus rose from the dead, the idols of our time are exposed for what they are.
Islam is shown to be a false religion that not only brutally oppresses women and adherents of other religions, but also leads people to worship a false god and be damned.
The worship of reason, knowledge, earthly prosperity and pleasure—which is the dominant religion in the West—is shown to be foolish idolatry if Jesus is risen. Because if God was crucified, prosperity and pleasure can’t be the highest good. If this crucified man is God, that means human reason is not the final authority about where human beings came from and where we are going. Human reason would never have looked for the eternal God in a man nailed up to die naked, suspended above a public place of execution.
Jesus rose from the dead. He will return to judge the living and the dead. This message is an attack on politeness and tolerance as our age defines it, claiming that all religions are equal. It means God is calling the world to repent, because the world in all the great things it has done has not known God and has been giving His worship to idols.
The history of Jesus’ passion and resurrection as Mark has written it does not put the disciples of Jesus in a favorable light either, though. It tells us that the three women, as they went to the tomb of Jesus to finish embalming him, were worrying aloud about who would move the stone that sealed the tomb shut. The disciples had abandoned Jesus and weren’t even around to ensure that He got a decent burial after His death, and now they seem to have been too afraid to go out with the women to help them open the door of the tomb.
As the three women walked by the place of Jesus’ execution to the nearby garden where He had been buried, they saw, unexpectedly, that the stone had already been rolled away. And when they came to the tomb, they were startled to find no mangled corpse of a man who had been crucified, but instead a young man in white clothes sitting where Jesus’ body had been.
Imagine the terror you would likely have felt if you were there. What is a young man doing sitting in Jesus’ grave? As though he had been waiting for you to come?
And the young man said, “Don’t be alarmed.
You’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the crucified.
He isn’t here. He is risen.
Behold the place where they laid Him.”
And there the women could look and see—no Jesus. Only the cloths in which He had been buried lying there, unoccupied.
“But go and tell his disciples and Peter that He is going before you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”
And the women fled from the tomb. They were trembling and in a trance-like state. And they were afraid, and said nothing to anyone until later.
The women were expecting what the disciples expected, and what human reason expects today. They were expecting to find the body of Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified, lying cold in the grave.
But Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified, was no longer there. And the young man who met the women said, “He is risen and going ahead of you to Galilee. He is not only alive, but He is ahead of you.”
Now regarding the significance of this for us.
Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified, is no longer in the tomb.
He is now no longer suffering and put to shame, but has been raised from the dead.
He really and truly died. His life in the flesh ended. But He has been given a new life in the flesh. And this life is not the same as the one before, where He was subject to weakness and humiliation, shame, and death. In short, subject to sin.
He is now free from sin and death and all the suffering that comes with them.
Instead He is glorified. He lives forever. The nature and life of God is not hidden any longer but radiates from His body.
And why is this significant for us? Because the life of God that raised Him and that is manifested in His human body is communicated to us. He shares the life and glory in His flesh with our flesh.
When God wanted Moses to hear Him He had Moses see a bush that burned and was not consumed.
That is the nature of God. He is a fire that does not burn out; He burns forever. God is love. The Song of Solomon says, “Love is stronger than death; jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” [Song of Solomon 8:6-7]
God is love. God is the fountain of life. He burns with love and life and never burns out. And He does not consume those who are in His fire.
That fire of the divine nature always burned in Jesus, the man from Nazareth, but it was not clearly visible.
And it was not yet visible to the women, because they did not see Jesus yet. They only heard the report of Him—just as you and I do not yet see the glory of Christ face to face, but only hear the report of Him in preaching and the Scripture.
But because Jesus had truly died for sins that were not His own but ours, now that He is risen, the divine fire that Moses saw now burns in Jesus without being concealed.
And it burns in Him, this immortal life of God, so that every human being might also burn with this fire of God’s life.
This happens not because we choose it but because Christ has done it. He has laid our old nature in the tomb and raised a new man who is united to God and shares His nature.
Moses looked at the fire of God from outside. The resurrection of Jesus means that the fire of divine life that never burns out is inside everyone who hears the word of Jesus’ death and resurrection and believes that his sins are forgiven on account of it.
What does this mean for you? It means you are reborn in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
He lived our life under the law, bearing our sin. He died under the penalty for our sin. And after His life poured out in water and blood from His heart, and He was buried, God raised Him up, not to live the old life under sin, but the new life, in which He lives and reigns forever, true God and true man, the unquenchable fire of the divine nature burning in full glory and strength and brilliance in Him forever.
From His risen body He pours the divine flame into us in the Word of Him—when it flows over us in the water of Baptism, when it enters our ears in preaching, when we eat and drink the word with the bread and wine. You could say we eat fire at the altar—the body and blood of Jesus, and the unquenchable fire that is God’s life and passionate love. Like Isaiah, whose sinful lips were touched with a coal from the heavenly altar when He saw the Lord on His throne and heard the seraphim singing the Sanctus—Holy, Holy, Holy…
That fire does consume our sinful nature. But it does not destroy us. Because when our life in the flesh is over He will raise us up and we will have not just a little gospel light burning in the darkness of our sinful bodies in the great gloom of a sinful and dying world.
We will be flames in the blazing fire of God’s love and life. That fire will illuminate our bodies forever, but not consume them.
What does this mean?
It means if you do not believe that Christ has been raised from the dead you are cut off from the God of life. You bear your own sins, and the fire of God burns against you instead of for you.
But if you do believe that He rose from the dead, you must also know that He was raised for you, for your justification, your being counted righteous, just as He was handed over for your sins.
He is the righteous one with whom God is pleased. He stands before the Father in human flesh not simply for Himself but as your advocate. Because He is before the Father as the righteous one who was crucified for our sins, the Father no longer counts your sins against you.
Yet just as the women were terrified when they heard about Jesus’ resurrection, so it is often with us.
We are afraid. How can it all be finished, without my choosing, or willing, or changing?
Don’t despair because of your doubt and fear and because you feel how your flesh doesn’t believe, how it wants to go on living as though Christ were still in the grave.
He is risen. His new life is ours. His righteousness is counted to us. We will have this life in its fullness in the resurrection.
So as we experience weakness and draw closer to death we are really drawing near to the day when these mortal bodies are consumed completely and we put on bodies that are glorious not with earthly splendor but with the glory of God.
That fire does not burn out. It burns in you now, but then it will burn from within you like the sun.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Lamentations 1:8 + April 18, 2014
“There is no rest except in the death of Jesus”
This sermon begins with the grief of Jerusalem, with her groans and her wailing, because it is really your groaning, your lamentation.
“Do not weep for me, daughters of Jerusalem, but weep for yourselves and for your children, because the days are coming when you will say ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never gave suck. Then they will begin to say to the hills—fall on us!’”
Thus says the Lord Jesus your husband as he bears his cross on his blood-soaked back to die, naked and forsaken, lifted up in agony for all the world to gaze upon His shame. He says:
“Do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves, daughters of Jerusalem.”
And after all it comes much more easily to us to weep over ourselves than over Jesus.
Weep for yourself, then. Because the anguish experienced by Jerusalem, the city of God, is your anguish, St. Peter Lutheran Church of Joliet, Illinois.
It is yours, each one individually.
It is ours as a congregation. Didn’t you hear?
How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she who was great…The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the festival; all her gates are desolate. Her priests groan. Her virgins have been afflicted, and she herself suffers bitterly…The Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions, her children have gone away, captive before the foe…(Lamentations 1)
That’s how it is for our congregation. Where are St. Peter’s children? Captives of the foe, the old evil foe, Satan—except for a little remnant.
Can we say we are innocent? Our hands are clean? None of this sadness has come to our church because of our sins? If nothing else we are guilty of saying nothing while our neighbor went astray; while the leaven of malice and evil worked through the whole lump of dough.
You may not have been here very long or been very involved. But that doesn’t matter. You’re here now. We all share in the fate of this church just as the people of Jerusalem were all bound together in the city’s destiny.
“Sons of the Father”
Pilate stood on the platform and yelled to the crowd, “I find no guilt in Him,” motioning to the man standing silent in chains.
“But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at Pesach.” Pesach is Passover, the Jewish holy day where they remembered how God had set them free from slavery in Egypt. God had visited all the houses in Egypt and taken the firstborn of each family and each animal. But when He came to the Israelite houses, He passed over them. Because on each door they had taken a bunch of hyssop plants, dipped them in the blood of the lamb which they had slain and which they were eating inside their homes. And they had struck the bloody bunch of herbs on the doorposts of their houses so that they dripped the spattered blood.
And when the Lord visited the homes in Egypt to kill the firstborn, He passed over the houses which were marked with the blood of the young lamb that had been slain and now was being eaten indoors.
So the Jews had a custom that their Roman overlords should free one prisoner at Passover.
Pilate shouted, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” gesturing with His arm to the silent man with him on the platform.
Immediately the crowd erupted into a roar. “No! Not this man! Barabbas! Give us Barabbas!”
Barabbas was, depending on who you talked to, a freedom fighter—or a highwayman. Judea was filled with men like this. They might be rebels against the Roman occupation, or they might be gangsters. Or both. You could never be totally sure.
What was known is that Barabbas had blood on his hands. He was in prison because he had murdered someone during a riot or revolt. His name in English means, “Son of the Father.”
So the crowd shouts, “Don’t give us the King of the Jews! Give us the Son of the Father!”
The son of which father?
1 Corinthians 11:23-32 + April 17, 2014 +
“In Remembrance of Me”
In your house you probably have a box of memories. Maybe it has letters and pictures from your spouse when you were first falling in love. Maybe it has pictures from your childhood. Maybe it has fingerpaintings and other art work from your kids when they were little.
These are not treasures that anyone would pay much for. They are valuable to you because you treasure the memory of your first child who made you the picture, because you love the person whose hand wrote the letter, whose image is caught in the photograph. And because of this they are worth more than money.
God also had boxes like that. One was the ark in which He put Noah and the animals. He was sorry He made the world and He got rid of all the people in it. But He wanted to keep Noah. So He put him in the ark, and after the earth had been destroyed, He brought Noah out of the box. And when Noah came out he made a sacrifice, and the Lord smelled the pleasing smell and promised never again to destroy the earth with a flood, even though man was evil from his youth up.
God had another box like this—the ark of the covenant. And there God kept some mementos of when He had taken the people of Israel to be His people. He wanted to keep them for the same reason you keep the baby photos of your first born child stored in an album or in a box in the closet.
That box with your kids’ memorabilia in it has significance. You keep it treasured away because they are in your heart. As long as you have such a box, it’s a fair bet that the firstborn child has a claim on your heart.
Is there any way that could change? Probably not. You’re always going to love that child who made the finger painting.
But what if the kid who made the finger paint landscape and the play-doh sculpture of a rabbit that looks like a warthog—what if that kid breaks faith and turns into someone else?
They come into your house high on drugs and try to use their relationship with you as a way to get money out of you? They try to make a deal?
You’d still probably treasure the fingerpaintings, but you’d be angry at them for trying to use that child’s memory as a claim on you. Because it would be false. They would no longer be your child making beautiful, terrible art because they love you. They would be someone pretending to still be that child in order to con you.
The child made the fingerpainting because they loved you and you loved them. But the child who has broken faith is just using your relationship to get something else they love more than you.
Yep. What red-blooded American family doesn’t want their kitchen, laden with the abundance of the capitalist west, presided over by a poster of a glowering Soviet peasant? Just think how much better they must have eaten on the collective farms.
Besides, haven’t we always been at war with Eastasia?
Jesus is king. He gives an unmistakeable sign that He is king of the Jews when He sends His disciples to fetch the donkey and rides it into Jerusalem. And when the crowds respond to Him as the Christ, the anointed One, the promised King, He does not refuse their praise. He allows them to lay down their cloaks on the road in front of Him with leafy branches of trees as a royal carpet. He doesn’t stop them when they cry out “Hosanna!” Save us! “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” The Lord has appointed you to rule in His Name!
The crowd reads Jesus’ actions as proclaiming that He is the King. And even the people of Jerusalem pay attention, the citizens of the city the Lord chose for His dwelling place, the temple. Living in such a holy place, the people of Jerusalem aren’t easily impressed by people claiming to be prophets. But today, on Palm Sunday, when the crowds of Passover pilgrims raise the festal shout of salvation, they ask, “Who is this?” (21:10) And the answer comes back, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.” (21:11)
Everything seems to be going so well. Jesus makes signs that He is the King, the Messiah. The people greet Him as their King. So what if Jesus has a few enemies? What are they going to do when the people are laying their cloaks on the road in front of Him? God seems to be making Jesus’ way straight before Him straight to the throne of the King of Israel, and from there Lord and King to the very ends of the earth, over all the nations.
The donkey Jesus needs is right where He says it would be, and its owner sends it just as Jesus said he would. Jesus goes into the temple and throws out the money changers, and no one does anything to Him. He comes back on Monday and Tuesday and silences and rebukes the priests and scribes with their false, godless teaching. God seems to be preparing everything.
And then everything changes. Doesn’t it? Was God really making His way straight before Him? Was He really being made King when He was flogged to the point of barely looking human (Isa. 52-53), clothed with a scarlet robe and crowned with a wreath of spiny thorns? Was He really being made king when the soldiers knelt down in front of Him and spit in His bloody face? Had God really prepared His way to the throne when Pilate brought Him out in front of the crowd, dressed up in this royal apparel, and said, “Behold the man,”? Had God made Jesus king then when the crowd roared “Crucify, crucify Him”?
Several decades after Moses had tried to set the Israelites free and failed, he was watching sheep in the wilderness. He was a failure. He went from being a nobleman to one of the most menial jobs. And he grew old in that job.
And then God appeared to him in a bush that was on fire that didn’t burn out. He said, “I have seen the suffering of my people in Egypt; I have heard their cry under their slave drivers. I know their pain, and I have come down to bring them out of slavery into a good land.”
And, He said, Moses, you will go tell Pharaoh to let them go for me.
Moses said, “Who am I that I should do that?” He didn’t want to, but God said He would go with Moses. So Moses said, “If the people of Israel ask me the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who sent me, what am I supposed to tell them? I don’t even know your name.”
God said, “I AM WHO I AM.”
That is the name by which God revealed Himself to His people—I AM. The Jews would not say the name, because who can really say “I AM” except the one who is, and was, and is to come?
The Lord is the only one who exists by Himself. Everyone and everything else depends on Him for their life.
He gives life and being—He gave it at the beginning. He also gives redemption to His people. Moses didn’t do it. Israel became His people because the Lord took the initiative. We exist and continue to exist because He wills it.
We don’t live and continue to have food and clothing and reason because we make it happen but because the Lord—“I AM”—wills it and says it.
A righteous man then looks to Him for everything and gives Him all honor, thanks, and praise. That’s what Jesus says that He does.
But the people of Israel, though they were called by His name, didn’t want to belong to Him.
What about us? Do we seek the glory of His name? Or are we mostly focused on ourselves?
When we suffer or have dishonor, do we try to escape it?
Do we seek to know God’s will and what pleases Him? And when we know, don’t we often find that we don’t want to do it? Besides the times where we choose not to, or convince ourselves that His will isn’t really His will?
Why are we like this?
Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” He is the Father’s beloved Son, who was with the Father in the beginning.
And He is in flesh and blood in the temple. The temple was called by the name of the Lord. It was His dwelling place. But now Jesus says “I AM.” He is the new temple, the new dwelling place of God.
The people came to God at the temple, but now we come to God in the body of Jesus.
Outside of Jesus our flesh is always seeking its own honor, and there is no help for it. We fight against it but it is always grumbling, always starting a new revolt. Only when we escape ourselves and are in Christ are we free from it.
That happens through His Word. “Whoever keeps my word will never see death.” His Word—the Good news, the Gospel. That in His death our old Adam died and in His resurrection is our new life. Our life is hidden in Him at the right hand of God.
I AM has come to us Himself to speak the Word that frees us from death.
Eternal life is honor and praise from God. God gives it to the one who pleases Him—who is righteous, and seeks not his own glory and honor but God’s.
That glory and honor belongs to Jesus, who did the Father’s will. He gives it to us though, to the one who keeps His Word, who holds to what He says—that His obedience frees us from sin and death.
So you may consider yourself a hopeless case. And you are right. In yourself it is impossible to please God and have life.
But the living One whose word brings everything into existence—He says His obedience is yours. His life is yours. His honor is yours.
He says to come to Him with your sin your life long, with your hopelessness. He is the God who is and who creates out of nothing; the God who does the impossible. The God who calls what is not as though it were, as He reckoned Abraham righteous because Abraham believed God.
I AM says He has justified you. He has made you pleasing to God. He has already done this in His death. He has given it to you in your Baptism. He says come with your sin to my table and eat and drink my body and blood which are given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
The living one who died says this to you. The one who sent Moses to Pharaoh to tell him to let God’s people go; He stands in our midst and tells you that you will never see death. He has tasted it for you.
Soli Deo Gloria