St. Peter Lutheran Church
May 28, 2014
God looks into the depths.
Omari, your class verse is one of the easiest verses in the Bible to find.
But it isn’t one of the easiest to comprehend. It’s deep. Deep enough to make you feel your smallness.
In the beginning, it says. When time began. We weren’t there, but God was. He was there before that, too. He is from everlasting to everlasting.
In the beginning, God. Who doesn’t feel small before God? Only foolish people. He has all power, wisdom, knowledge. He doesn’t need anything from us. He gives us life, breath, and everything.
- He did what no one else can do. He made what did not exist come into being. He made something out of nothing.
The heavens. He made the hosts of angels in all their different kinds, each one mightier and wiser than us.
And the earth. And He made everything that is visible, everything we can sense and measure.
The Sun and the moon.
The stars, comets, distant galaxies.
The oceans with their billions of fish and sea creatures and microscopic animals. Whales, starfish, seashells, reefs. The birds of the air: crows and seagulls, eagles and sparrows, cranes, storks, flamingoes. The land. Millions of species of plants and trees. The beasts of the field. Insects, creeping things, cattle. Snow and mist, ice and hail, frost and fog, storms and breezes, mountains and canyons.
And people. 6 billion of them now, all of them from one man, all of them breathing, feeling, thinking, living, dying.
God knows everything about all these things and He knows things we have never imagined.
All of this should make us feel small, like a drop in the ocean.
If tonight we were at Harvard instead of St. Peter Lutheran Church and School, we might forget that sense of being a small drop in a huge ocean. The person they get to speak at Harvard’s commencement is someone important, and Harvard graduates are going to go on to be the leaders of the world.
But it would be an illusion if we stopped feeling small because we were at Harvard. Even the commencement speaker and Harvard graduates are less than impressive to the God who created the heavens and the earth. They are mist that is here for a little while and then vanishes, like all of us. The Lord knows the number of their days, and all of them are written in His book before one of them comes to be.
But if the future leaders of the world are less than nothing in the eyes of God, what are we at this commencement?
We are small. The world would go on without us.
You’re not supposed to say stuff like this at a commencement address, I think.
But then again, you’re not usually supposed to sing “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee” at a commencement either, are you?
But I think it’s oddly appropriate. The man who wrote that hymn also once preached a sermon where he said that God does not look at the people who are great and high in this world. He looks into the depths, into the lowest places. And in the same sermon he said that we constantly step out of God’s sight because we don’t want Him to see us in the depths.
And it’s true. We don’t want to see ourselves for what we are, much less let God see us for what we are.
Because we are small. We have nothing to offer Him because He already has everything. He gives us everything.
And if that were not enough already, we are still lower. Because even the great ones in the world are not only small and weak in the sight of God but also offensive to Him.
What are we? Not only people who have nothing to bring Him that could earn His admiration and love, but people who constantly bring their sin before Him and provoke His wrath. That’s as true as the great ones as of the small. Whatever we accomplish or don’t accomplish in this world, we have not loved and honored God as God.
That is the depth of woe that we find ourselves in at this commencement and every day of our lives.
But God looks into these depths. He looks in compassion and love on those He sees there. Yes, God even honors and praises those He sees in the depths, which He does not do for the wise and mighty and proud in the world.
The great God who created the earth and the heavens in the beginning sent His Son into the depths of shame, weakness, guilt, and woe to rescue those who were in the depths.
That is the reason this commencement matters and it is why you, Omari, tonight have the praise and honor of the Most High, the creator of what is visible and invisible. It is the reason why St. Peter school’s work is not in vain, even if it is very small and lightly-esteemed among men.
You and your graduation, this school, even this commencement address are highly esteemed by God.
Because of Jesus. Because the Son of God, for whom and by whom all things were made, descended into the depths of sin and shame and death to ransom those who were there. That is the wisdom of God, a secret not understood by the wise, learned, and powerful. It is hidden wisdom that is made public by the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Word.
It is secret wisdom that has been made known to you, Omari, and it is because of this wisdom that this little school and this little graduation has the favor of the Most High God. Because of Jesus Christ crucified for us.
Whether you will be rich and famous or noteworthy in the world’s eyes, Omari, I don’t know. I only know that most people when they are young want to be famous or rich, and most people don’t become those things.
God knows. He planned this evening and arranged it, as He has everything else—your birth, your parents, where you went to school. He knows what you will be, but He hasn’t told us what He has ordained for you specifically.
But I know that tonight He is pleased with you, and also with your teachers, and with me. We haven’t done anything that made us worthy of His good pleasure, any of us. But He freely gave His Son to go down into the depths to win for us His favor.
And now for Christ’s sake the God who created heaven and earth declares that He is pleased with you, Omari. He not only wants you to call Him, “God,” “Almighty,” and “Lord,” but “my Father.” He is pleased with you because He purified you with His Son’s blood from all your sin and made you a son together with Jesus.
No matter how deep your sins are or ever become, they are have not gone deeper than Jesus did to rescue you and honor you in His Father’s house forever.
That is the treasure, the pearl of great price, that the Lord of heaven and earth gave you at this school.
Never let it be taken away from you. Even if you are in the lowest depths and your sins are so far above your head you can’t see light anymore, never let this be taken away from you, that God descended into the depths of hell and woe and rescued you.
Let everything else go, lose everything else, but not this. Because God looks on the ones in the depths. He sees His Son there who descended into the depths to rescue them. And He honors those who are in Christ Jesus in the depths by raising them to sit in the seat of honor at His right hand. He honors us by calling us sons of God, and one day He will make that honor known to the whole creation.
And though it tarry through the night
And till the morning waken
My heart will never doubt His might
Nor count itself forsaken.
O Israel, trust in God your Lord
Born of the Spirit and the Word,
Now wait for His appearing.
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.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
From the Church Postil Ascension Sermon
48. When one understands and believes this text, then the teaching of the other text should follow, namely, that we should also do good works. Yet good works must accompany faith and depend upon faith, which always clings to Christ and pleads before God that he will graciously and for Christ’s sake accept and be pleased with the supplicant’s life and works, and not impute to him that which might be imperfect and sinful in him. Hereupon follows properly the text, Mt 28, 20: ”Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” Fail not to observe the first and essential condition; for if faith is absent, all our good works and upright life count for naught before God. Indeed, it is not possible to do truly good works without faith. Christ says in John 15, 5: ”For apart from me ye can do nothing” etc.
49. Observe, by making this distinction you can rightly understand this passage. Learn how to apply it and to derive from it consolation in the struggle with a conscience, terrified by sin and death. Only in the experience of such agony can one know the power of faith. This truth is apparent even among the papists and all sectarians, for they also preach these words, although in a superficial and indifferent manner as if they were of no importance. They thus show, by their besmirching additions, that they understand nothing about the subject. Alas, exclaim the papists, that you preach nothing but faith, notwithstanding we are neither unbelievers nor Turks. Well, my good man, if it is so easy, then try it once and see how you will fare in the hour when death overtakes you, or when Satan terrifies and disheartens you, and when your reason and all your senses feel nothing but God’s wrath and the anguish of hell.
Luther, Ascension Sermon, Church Postil
37. But you may say: Indeed, you yourself teach that a Christian must do good works; God himself commanded to do them, enjoining the keeping of the Law, and Christ also says: ”If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments,” Mt 19, 17. Now, faith alone does not justify and save. This message must be understood as not excluding good works; but Christ here, in addition and beyond good works, also demands faith, which the Jews and heathen did not exercise. Our papists also hold that good works are not sufficient unto salvation for those who have no faith, but that faith and good works must go together. Nor do they mean by ”works” the observance of the law of Moses, of circumcision and the Jewish temple service, which are now obsolete; but they mean the works demanded by the ten commandments, which teach the obedience all men owe to God. And in order to prove that these words must be thus understood, the papists refer to Mt 28, 19-20: ”Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them,” etc. and ”teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” These last words, they say, also belong to the command Christ here gave to the disciples; therefore, this text must be interpreted to mean that it demands not faith alone, but also good works.
38. We answer: All this, as I have said before, is mere babbling, false and perverted comment of blind sophists who understand nothing of this text and of the glorious doctrine of the Gospel, They know not what they say, concerning either faith or good works, nor do they know how properly to distinguish between the two. We also confess, and have always, better and more forcibly than the papists, taught that good works must be done; that they must follow faith, and that faith is dead if good works be absent. Therefore, this doctrine of faith does not denounce good works; it does not teach that they should not be performed. Nor is it the question here, whether or no good works are requisite. But faith and good works differ, and it must be taught with discrimination what is the value of each for and by itself. Each must be considered in its proper relations that we may understand both what faith accomplishes and receives, and why good works are necessary. This distinction is everywhere taught in the Gospel and was preached by the apostles. It is, therefore, but blindness, if not intentional malice, that these papal sophists, without here making any distinction, in a swine-like manner misconstrue and pervert these passages so that neither of them can be clearly understood.
41. To prove my statements, consider this: Christ says plainly and clearly; ”He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;” as though he would say: If you would know how you can be saved, then this shall be considered the chief and essential condition – to believe and be baptized. The question is not whether or no we must do good works. There is no dispute about that. But there is something more important. The point is not what we are doing ourselves, but where shall we seek with the certainty we shall find that by which we can be saved from sin and death, and can obtain life and salvation? Here Christ clearly explains what shall be the chief doctrine of the Gospel. He bases it entirely on faith and baptism, concluding that we shall be saved for the sole reason that we have Christ by faith and baptism.
42. Believing means: To hold to be true, and with all the heart to depend on, that which the Gospel and all the articles of faith say about Christ; that he has been sent to us by God the Father, that he suffered, died and rose again and ascended into heaven for the sole reason that we may obtain from God the Father forgiveness of sin and life eternal in his name. That our faith may grasp and hold this the more firmly, he gives us holy baptism, by this visible sign to prove that God the Father will accept us and unfailingly give us that which is offered to us in the Gospel.
43. Now, if I am to believe this, then I must not adulterate my faith with belief in my own works. I must not depend upon my own merits, daring to offer them to God, as do the monks and self-righteous Jews. There are two doctrines that will not agree and can never hold combined, namely, the belief that we, for Christ’s sake and without our merits, obtain God’s grace; and the belief that we obtain God’s grace by our own works. For if we could obtain this grace by our own merits, then we should not need Christ in addition. Such confusion and detestable patchwork of the sophists cannot be tolerated – the claiming that Christ, indeed, atoned for original sins and for sins done aforetime and that he opens the door of heaven, but that we ourselves, by our own good works, must now also atone for sins and merit grace in order to fully obtain salvation. This is to rob Christ of his honor; yea, to set him, his death, resurrection and ascension aside, as if his merit were not sufficient for us, and as if his sufferings and blood are not able to atone for sins. But St. John says he is the only propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. 1 Jn 2, 2,
44. And that the passage we are considering and similar ones must be thus understood, St. Paul teaches in his epistles, especially in that to the Romans, where he proves that we are freely justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood Rom 3, 24-25. Here he plainly mentions the word gratis, i. e., freely, without our merits, and not for the sake of our works. Thus, we may have a sure consolation, and not doubt God’s grace and salvation though we are truly unworthy and still have remnants of sin in us. If the people be taught thus: If you desire forgiveness of sins and a merciful God, you must do enough good works and possess sufficient merits to overcome and remove your sins – then faith is already nullified. Christ is then of no efficacy, conscience is robbed of all consolation, and man is driven to despair, because he seeks help by and in himself and dares to attempt to accomplish himself that for which Christ was sent and which only he could do for us. Christ came to fulfil the Law, and to earn for us, by his obedience, grace and life eternal.
45. So, our passage on faith, and others like it, must be understood in this light; not perverted and marred by misleading comments and additions, for the purpose of belittling faith and contradicting Christ’s meaning. Such error will surely result if the teaching of good works is confused with that of faith; if distinction is not made between the chief doctrine of Christ’s Gospel, appropriation by faith alone, and the teaching of the Law concerning good works. As I said above, these two doctrines cannot stand side by side; they are directly contradictory. To believe that for Christ’s sake alone grace and eternal life are granted, and yet at the same time to seek and claim to obtain them by our own merits, is absurd.
from Luther’s Ascension Sermon in the Church Postil
33. We must examine and rightly understand the words, ”He that believeth,” in order not to pervert or mar them by additions and glosses. With such the papists becloud and nullify this sublime and powerful passage, attaching to it their sermons, and, saying that here must be understood ”good works” with the word ”faith,” so that it must read: He that believeth, and also does good works, shall be saved. These are the highly learned masters that take Christ to school, correct his language and teach him how to speak, babbling in their blindness whatever they please, though they know not what and whereof they speak concerning these sublime things. But we shall do Christ the honor to keep his Word pure und undefiled. He well knew how to express these things and what he would have the disciples speak when he commanded them to preach his message to all the world.
34. Christ intentionally made the statement thus plain: ”He that believeth, and is baptized” etc., in order to set right the delusions and pretensions of the Jews and of all the world regarding salvation by man’s own works. On faith and baptism, not on our own but on his works, he bases all. In opposition, the Jews, and the world in general, wish to consider their own pride and glory. They boast of their own holiness, unwilling to be censured and condemned in respect of it. The Jews, because they observe circumcision, the Law and many temple services, these, in their own estimation, sufficient to secure them salvation, will, therefore, not consent that the heathen, who observe none of these, should be considered their equals, be called God’s people and be saved, until they also conform to these practices and become Jews. Just so the false apostles, and many of those who became Christians, with great pretense fought over these things and argued against the teachings of the apostles.
35. What have the heathen, who had not the Word of God nor the true knowledge of him, ever done of themselves, yet they would either hear nor accept the Gospel for the very reason that they did not wish to forsake their idolatry. They claimed that they also served the true God with their offerings and religious rites. They would not listen to condemnation of these things.
36. All who depend on good works, and teach the people salvation through the same, are alike in error. They cannot endure disregard of their works in the matter of salvation. They cannot endorse such a doctrine as Christ here states to be true: ”He that believeth shall be saved” etc. Although they receive the Gospel and wish to be Christians, as do our papists, they will not accept this doctrine in its purity but must defile the same with their additions and glosses, claiming that it must be understood thus: He that believes, and does also good works, shall be saved. Their interpretation means that one obtains salvation, not by faith alone, but also by good works. just so the false apostles and disciples from among the Jews also made additions to this doctrine, pretending that not faith alone secures salvation, but the law of Moses must be kept also. They said: ”Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” Acts 15, 1. Thus they confused the true disciples and Christians, and the apostles at Jerusalem had to reject this statement publicly.
St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, Illinois
May 25, 2014
“The Sign of the Crucified Son”
People commonly believe
That God chooses good people to be His people.
God chooses people while they are still objects of His wrath.
He saves people whom He has just struck down in His wrath.
He chooses people who are on death’s door because of their sins.
When we have been struck by His wrath and are dying,
He lifts up before us
The sign of His crucified Son.
This sign means that all His wrath is taken away from us.
We can see this fact in the Old Testament reading this morning.
The story from the Old Testament is not just the story of the rebellious Israelites. It’s our story too.
This is the story of the Israelites: They’re angry with God.
They’re so angry with Him they reject Him. They cast Him away.
They’re angry with Him because they don’t believe His promises. They’re angry because God isn’t giving them what they expect from a god—wealth, prestige, power.
“The Lord and Moses brought us out here to kill us,” they say. “Look, there’s no food and no water, and we’re sick of this worthless bread.”
“We hate you, God,” they’re saying. “You never loved us. You were always waiting to destroy us.”
So God struck them in His wrath. He sent fiery serpents into their midst, who bit them, and many died.
You ask, How is this our story?
St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet
St. John 16:5-15
May 18, 2014
Conviction and Consolation
Beloved in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Conviction and consolation. Those are two works of the Helper Jesus promises in the Gospel for today.
The Gospel begins with anguish in the hearts of the disciples. Jesus is talking with them after they have left the upper room where they have eaten the Sacrament of Jesus body and blood for the first time.
“Now I am going to the one who sent Me,” Jesus is saying. “But none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’” This is a happy time, Jesus is saying, even though I won’t be with you visibly anymore.
But if I was one of them I’m sure I wouldn’t have felt happy. Even if I could get my head around the thought that Jesus was going to the Father. I get sad just thinking about what it must have been like for the disciples.
And then when one remembers what they had to see later, it’s even worse. After falling asleep when they were supposed to be praying with Him, they wake up to see an armed mob coming to take Him away. Then one of his own disciples, Judas, comes and gives Jesus a kiss and they grab him and drag him off with clubs and weapons to try Him in front of His enemies and put Him to a bloody death.
But besides the grief, there would also be fear.
What are we going to do if Jesus is not with us?
And isn’t that just how we feel in the church now whenever things aren’t going so well? If only we could see Jesus and be assured that He still loves us and is protecting us and that we didn’t forsake Him somewhere back in the journey!
But Jesus says to the 11 who are scared and heavy with grief, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”
I think I have probably met very few Christians who believe very firmly what Jesus says here—that it’s better for us now than if Jesus was visibly present like He was with His disciples. It’s hard for me not to think it would be better to have Jesus’ visible presence than to have what we do have—the Holy Spirit present in the Word and Sacraments, and dwelling within us.
But Jesus says what we have now is better. So the thought that Jesus’ visible presence is better than the Spirit’s presence in Word and Sacrament and in the bodies of believers is not a thought that comes from Jesus. It is not from the Spirit of Truth but the spirit of the world, the spirit of lies.
It is very understandable that we are tempted to believe that having Jesus visible presence would be better—or some other visible proof of His presence, like a big congregation or plenty of money in the bank, or miracles, even, or just “the feeling” that God is at work among us.
It’s understandable that we feel that way, but it is nonetheless the reasoning of our sinful flesh which opposes the wisdom of God. Here we have in plain English Jesus telling us that it is better for us if He goes away and sends the Holy Spirit who comes to us in the word and Sacraments, but we say, “No, Jesus is mistaken. We need some visible proof that He is with us.”
Repent. You don’t know better than Jesus.
“When He comes,” says our Lord, “He will convict the world.” “He will guide you into all the truth.” “He will declare what is to come.”
The Holy Spirit will bring conviction and consolation. He will do what no visible proofs of Jesus’ presence can do—He will bring conviction to the world—summon it to court and declare a verdict on it—through the Church.
And He will console us. He will take from what is Christ’s—all things—and declare it to us, because what is Christ’s is ours. And He will declare what is to come to us. We will not be left blind orphans. The Holy Spirit will comfort us by leading us into all truth.
The disciples didn’t know what Jesus was talking about. “What is this that He’s telling us—‘A little while and you will not behold me, and again a little while and you will see me,” and “because I am going to the Father’? What is this ‘little while’ He keeps talking about? We don’t know what He is saying.”
Jesus had already told them what He was talking about. But they didn’t understand because they hadn’t experienced it yet and they didn’t yet have the Holy Spirit.
In the same way Jesus has already told us what we are going to experience in His Church after His ascension, but we don’t understand apart from the Holy Spirit granting us faith through His Word. Apart from the Spirit, relying on our own experience and reasoning, everything is dark.
What He has told us is that in this world we will experience distress and sorrow, but that our sorrow becomes joy.
And to make this easier for the disciples and us to understand our Lord uses a picture that is very fitting for Mothers’ Day.
A woman when she is giving birth has distress, because her hour has come, but when the child is born she no longer remembers the sorrow because of joy that a human being has been born into the world.
Not that there is no distress and sorrow for mothers after childbirth. Being a mother is full of distresses and sorrows. It’s not only the near-death experience of giving birth. Then it’s waking up in the middle of the night to feed and change diapers and years of caring for a little life that needs constant attention. Then they become teenagers and need attention for other reasons but don’t want it. And these days moms also often have to do most of the work of providing for her child, because Dad isn’t around.
It’s a lot of work that is demanding but not highly regarded, despite all the money that we spend on Mothers’ day. How many people with a smart and talented daughter would be happy to hear her say, “I want to be a mother when I grow up”—if she didn’t also say—“and a doctor, or a CEO, or president…”
But Jesus said, “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) We are impressed when men build cities and name them after themselves, when they build companies or nations, when they make themselves wealthy and famous, when they create art and literature. But God calls it an abomination when one works to make a name for himself and instead of working and living for the honor of God’s name. it’s what the people of the world did after the flood—they tried to build a tower to the heavens and make for themselves a name.
It is supposed to be progress now when women have the freedom to pursue this same kind of idolatry that goes by the name “career”.
Work doesn’t exist to make ourselves a name or make ourselves rich. It is a calling from God, a gift, through which He wants to work through us to give life to others.
That’s why motherhood is highly esteemed by God and despised by the world. Mothers who do what they are called to do trusting in Christ to work through them, who do what they are called to do in obedience to His Word—they are pleasing to God. They do great works and get no praise from men. Changing diapers and spending your attention and energy on little children isn’t building the Eiffel tower. It’s more important. Mothers bear life into the world for God and then nurture that life.
Those kinds of works, done in faith in Christ, are not regarded as great by the world. But God has regard for them. He looks on works that are done not for the praise of men but out of faith in His Son, works that actually help our neighbor—help to give and sustain his life. Things like towers and music and athletic ability can bless people, but mothers do the work that makes it possible to enjoy these other things. They face death to bring a child into the world and they give up their youth and freedom to care for it.
But you don’t hear mothers, usually, describing being a mother with the words “distress” and “anguish.” That’s because the sorrows of motherhood God turns into joy, as He does with the sorrows of all callings He has ordained.
The agony of giving birth and the difficulties of raising a child don’t remain agony and difficulty and distress. They become joy.
The excruciating pain of labor becomes the joy of the mom holding her newborn, and the joy these two experience is greater than most joys ever experienced on earth. Dads can only stand and watch it with amazement and gladness for them.
The hassles of raising kids becomes the joy and pride of seeing them go out into the world as adults to walk with God the way to life. And even when they stray there is joy for a Christian mother, because she can turn to her Father in heaven for comfort and with confidence that He will care for her child just as He cared for her. Jesus says that the experience of His disciples will be like the experience of a mother in labor. They will have anguish, but the anguish itself becomes joy. The sorrows of Christians don’t go away and then joy comes. No, the sorrows and pains themselves become joy. Believing this, Christians begin to rejoice in the sufferings themselves.
The Scriptures say this in many places. Paul says in 2 Cor. 4: So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison…” (2 Cor. 4:16-17)
And Hebrews 12 says: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11)
When the disciples didn’t see Jesus for a little while, all they could do was lock themselves in a house and weep. He was shut up in the tomb; they were shut up in the house. It was unthinkable. They had seen Jesus calm the sea with a word, seen Him cure lepers and paralyzed people and raise the dead with a word. Then He had died in apparent weakness on the cross. Given up His Spirit. Blood and water poured from a spear thrust to His heart. He was dead.
Anguish seized the disciples. How could this have happened? They must have been abandoned by God. And for a person abandoned by God there is nowhere to run.
That very anguish of Jesus’ death and burial did not go away. It was transformed into joy, like the water at Cana didn’t go away but became wine.
So the disciples’ anguish turned into exceedingly great joy when Jesus appeared to them. But He really appeared to them before He came into the room and showed them His hands and side. He appeared to them when the women came and first proclaimed to them the message of the angel: “He is risen!”
That’s also how He appears to us.
He appears to us in the Scriptures, risen from the dead. HE appears to us in the preaching of His resurrection. And in those Scriptures and in that preaching the Holy Spirit is given to us so that we see Him and share the apostles’ joy.
After seeing Jesus risen, do you think the apostles were ever unhappy or scared or in anguish again? You might think they never were. But you would be wrong.
Paul says: We [apostles] are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Cor. 4:8, 10-11
The apostles still had pain, confusion, great suffering even after seeing Jesus raised. In the same way mothers have plenty of distresses after the great distress of childbirth is over. There may be some distresses that equal the pain of childbirth later. But mothers almost never refer to motherhood as “anguish”. Why? Because just as the anguish of labor became joy, so the pains that come after childbirth become joy.
The biggest anguish for us in the Church is over. Christ Jesus suffered, was forsaken by God, died and was raised from the dead.
The pain He suffered became the joy that He has now in justifying us while we are yet sinners.
Because He was laid in the grave not for His own sins but ours. He bore the wrath of God not against His sins, but ours.
Out of the anguish of His soul came the joy for Him of our reconciliation with God. Now nothing stands between us and God, not even for the chief of sinners. His suffering became the joy of clothing us with righteousness in Holy Baptism, of feeding us the righteousness of God in His body and blood given and shed for us.
And out of the anguish of the apostles’ souls came the joy of their message. The three days He was gone from us, they say, meant the reconciliation of the world to God. He atoned for our sins and rose and showed the new life that is ours, which will be ours in fullness when we are raised from the dead.
And it is the same with your sorrows and pains. You see Jesus. Your pain does not disappear.
It becomes joy, just as these bodies of sin and death in which we live will be raised up and transformed into the likeness of His glorious body.
You see Jesus forsaken by God for you and raised from the dead in the Gospel. He comes and preaches it to you. For you I was forsaken by God and for you I am raised, He says, and for you I reign at the right hand of God. For you I will return on the last day.
The anguish we feel over our sins becomes joy, because it is that pain which He uses to keep drawing us to see Him and hear His voice.
He does not change the face He shows us or change His message. He says, “I forgive you all your sins.” Though they be as dark as death and as deep as hell, I endured the darkness for you and I have come from the depths and pronounce your sins forgiven.”
No one can take this joy away from us, because Jesus is present in His church to the end of the world. Whenever His word is read or spoken; whenever someone is baptized in the name of the Trinity, and whenever His body and blood is distributed as He instituted, Jesus is with us. He is the very one in whom all our sins and agonies were transformed into righteousness and joy. Look at Jesus’ head crowned with thorns. Look at His hands pierced, crying, “My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
That is our sin and agony. And it has become righteousness and joy. The same Lord is risen and proclaims the forgiveness of our sins. He bursts their chains—their legacy of guilt, sadness, and death. In place He declares you righteous, free, alive. And with this true liberating word comes joy—even though it may only be a kernel just starting to grow.
Indeed, all our sorrows will become joy. We too are given over to death for Jesus’ sake so that His life may be revealed in these jars of clay.
Joy lightens our face when we look at Jesus—that is to say, when we listen to His Word. When we see Jesus we are seeing the one on whom our guilt and our despair were placed. And He descended into the depths of God’s wrath with that real and heavy weight. But He has risen and proclaims our guilt finished and our pain turned into joy.
The pain of childbirth becomes joy—great joy.
Are you experiencing some great anxiety or pain? Over yourself? Someone you love?
Do things look like they are closing in on you? It’s all too obvious that we feel that way in the church. And many of you have felt that burden for many years.
Jesus promises that just as labor pains become the joy of a child, our labor pains, your labor pains, will not be stillborn. They will become joy, and no one will take your joy from you.
Indeed, Jesus has already turned them into joy. He has borne them and the eternal wrath of God and risen again with the keys of death with which He sets you free.
And today He invites you to sit down and receive the testament that your sorrow has been changed into joy—the sacrament of His body and blood, which pledge that His agony has ransomed us and purchased us for everlasting joy.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.