St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 10:11-16
April 19, 2015
“And They Will Listen to My Voice”
And they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. St. John 10:16
There’s a fact that is kind of unpleasant to most of us that the Gospel reading takes for granted. The fact is that we are sheep. This is an unpleasant fact for most of us. Everything we see on tv and the internet, everything we read in newspapers and magazines, even what we learn in school pretty much tells us another story. The story our society tells us is that we are individuals who choose for ourselves and our choices are really important. You are really important, says your television. Just think. Candidates for president court your vote. Giant corporations spend millions convincing you, the all-important consumer, to buy their product. According to the messages you’re constantly being fed, you and what you want are the most important things in the world. If you are a girl but you feel like you’re a boy, even nature itself has to bow down before your feelings. The universe owes you happiness in whatever form you think your happiness will take.
Jesus says something less flattering in the Gospel. He says you are a sheep. That’s right, a helpless, nearly senseless animal whose entire life depends on listening to the voice of a shepherd and remaining part of a flock. An animal shorn and slain for food. A sacrificial animal.
The best thing a sheep can hope for is to have a good shepherd. If a sheep has a good shepherd it will be guided into rich pasture and have enough to eat and drink. It will be safe and protected from the many predators, like wolves, that seek to prey upon it in its helplessness.
That’s true that that’s the best thing for a sheep—to have a good shepherd. But there are all kinds of voices in the world that call out to sheep like they are shepherds. Many of them tell us, “Look, you’re not a sheep at all! You can roam wherever your heart desires and you’ll find happiness, and we’ll show you how to do it.”
Then there are other voices that call out, “No, you are a sheep, but if you just follow these rules, you’ll be safe. Follow these rules that this shepherd has laid down for us.”
How our sinful flesh loves to hear that we are not really sheep and that we can chart our own course to the green pastures! Why do we love hearing that so much? Because “we all, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way,” as Isaiah says (Is. 53). Ever since the first man listened to a voice that did not belong to his Shepherd that said, “If you eat from the tree that has been forbidden you, you will be as God” (Gen. 3)—ever since then we have been partial to the lie that we are not sheep and do not need a good shepherd.
And so we have listened to the voices of our flesh and the world, voices that are not the voice of the good shepherd. They have told us that in sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman we will find life and pleasure and happiness, and we have believed it. These voices told us that children didn’t need to honor their parents and parents didn’t need to guide and discipline their children, and we listened. These voices told us that our own internal sense of who God is and what is right and wrong is enough for us to know God, and our society listened and stopped coming to church. We heard that we were really not in that much danger fr4om the devil and our sinful nature, and we believed it and started coming to divine service only occasionally. We heard that we don’t really need the rest of the flock, Christ’s Church, that we can have our own relationship with God without having to put up with the rest of the sheep. And we believed it, and our love for the other sheep of Christ dried up.
We listened to voices other than the voice of the Good Shepherd. He does not say, “Be as good as you can.” He says, “You shall be perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5). He did not say, “Do the best you can.” He said, “You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor’s—“ that is, you shall have an innocent, pure heart. He said, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” that is, you shall have a tongue that speaks no bitterness or slander. He said, “You shall have no other gods,” which means, you shall not love or fear anything more than Me. You shall trust Me in all things and follow my voice even when it seems to lead you where you do not want to go.
That is the voice of the Good Shepherd. Repent and hear His voice. Admit that He has called you and would have led you, but you did not want to hear. You wanted to follow a shepherd who would at least let you act like your own shepherd sometimes, not one who required of you nothing less than that you love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.
But the voices of other shepherds lead to death. The voice of the Good Shepherd leads to life.
In this world, we can’t expect much more of a good shepherd than that He protect His sheep and care for them until the time comes for them to be sold. But in the end sheep are used for their wool and milk and their meat. A good shepherd will put himself at risk to protect his flock from the wolves, but he does not want to have to die for his sheep. Ultimately the sheep die for their shepherd, so that the shepherd can eat and provide for his family.
Jesus is a different kind of shepherd. “I am the good shepherd,” He says. “The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Jesus did not come into this world so that we could give ourselves for Him. He needs nothing that we have. He came into this world to lay down His life for us. He came here to die so that the great wolf, Satan, would have no power over us.
Satan comes to scatter Jesus’ flock and to slay individual sheep, to destroy the faith of Christians. He is a bitter foe, filled with nothing but hatred and desire to kill and slay us. He comes into the flock of Christ with lies to seduce us from listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. He tells us we can sin and get away with it and he tells us we can fix our sinfulness on our own. He tells us that we don’t need to be a part of the flock of the good shepherd, that we can listen to His voice without having to be one sheep among many others. Then he turns on us and condemns us in our conscience, sometimes in this life, more often as we are dying. He says, “Look at how you have violated God’s law! Look at how you have not listened to the shepherd! Now you’re mine!”
This is why it is so necessary that we be sheep gathered in the flock of Christ, gathered around His word and sacrament. Because there, among the other helpless, nearly senseless sheep, we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd that saves us. “I have laid down my life for you,” says Jesus’ voice. “I have atoned for your wandering with my blood. Your failures to heed my voice in the law are atoned for. Indeed, the sin in which you were born that inclines your ear to other shepherds who are thieves and robbers, that original sin is also covered by My blood.”
We have a Good Shepherd who does an incredible thing. He lays down His life for the sheep. Earthly shepherds don’t do this. They protect the sheep only so that in the end they can take their lives. Jesus came and laid down His life so that we, His sheep, will live. We have life because He gave up His life for us on the cross. He now feeds us, His sheep, on the rich pastures of eternal life. He douses us in the water of life in Baptism and makes us clean. He feeds us on eternal life as He gives us His body and blood in the Sacrament.
How good it is to be a sheep in the hands of such a shepherd! This is why we should not be afraid to listen to His voice and not the voices of the world and our flesh. The voices of the world and our flesh promise us freedom in seeking ourselves, but they leave us to be torn apart by the wolf when the test comes. The voice of Jesus does not flatter us. It calls us sheep who don’t know their own way. It rebukes us and makes great threats against our wandering hearts. But the voice of Jesus does this only to call us to life. “You can’t find life in your own efforts and striving or in the things of this world,” it calls. “But you have life in Me, for I have laid my life down for you. I have rescued you from Satan the wolf, having atoned for all your sins. And when I lead you along thorny, difficult paths, I do it as the Good Shepherd who died so that His flock might have safety and everything good.”
So let us return to the voice of our Good Shepherd who has laid down His life for us. Let us receive the life He laid down for us, for it is given freely to us today in His Word and His Holy Body and Blood. And let us continue to hear His voice as it calls out the assurance of our sins’ forgiveness.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 20:19-31
April 12, 2015
The Church: Alive from the Dead
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
It was like the apostles were already shut up in a tomb on the evening of that first Easter. They were sitting in a house with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. They were afraid they would be the next ones to die. They still had their lives, but it was like the Church was already dead and closed up in its tomb.
But then Jesus appeared in the midst of them, said, “Peace to you” and showed them His hands and His side. He was not a dream. He was not a ghost. He was the same Jesus who had been nailed to the cross. It was their Jesus. He was alive in blood and flesh, the way you and I are alive right now.
It would be as if your loved one who had died showed up in your living room, and to prove it was really them they showed you the place where the IV had been in their arms. Or they showed you the incisions from the surgery, or the wounds from the car accident. All the pain is gone now. The marks just prove that it was really the same person you saw lying in the hospital. That’s what Jesus was showing His disciples in His hands and side. Yes, it is really Me, the same one you saw crucified, and I am alive and with you in the same body.
Before this it was like the Church was dead. But now that Jesus shows Himself alive, the Church begins to live again. “The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Their fear and grief turned to joy. And not just the joy you would have if a loved one who died came back to you, as great as that joy would be. Their God had come back to them. He was giving them peace, eternal life.
But I have just opened a wound. Many of us have had loved ones die whom we would give almost anything to see again. And that pleasure is not granted to us.
And besides that the Church often seems just like it did that first Easter before Jesus arrived in their midst. It seems already dead. How often we are overcome with gloom and live as if the Church was already in its tomb! We look at our circumstances and see—money problems, people no longer coming to hear the Word, fighting within the Church, hostility to it growing outside. We look and see these things but we don’t see Jesus. We don’t hear Him say, “Peace to you.”
We are tempted to think—If only Jesus would appear to us like He did to the disciples!
But brothers and sisters, Jesus didn’t even do that for them. He did here to show that He was risen. And He showed Himself several more times. But He didn’t stay on earth in a way that people could see—not even for the disciples. He ascended into heaven and a cloud hid Him from their sight. And this certainly was not the last time that the apostles would be afraid and feel alone.
Jesus did not promise that He would be visible to us to the end of the age. But He did promise to be with us, alive in flesh and blood. And when He is with us He shares the peace and the life that are His.
He does not show us His wounds, but He does show us marks that He is with us, sharing His life with us.
The marks that He is with us are the word and the sacraments. Whenever you hear the pure preaching of the good news of Jesus, that is a mark of Jesus, that He is there saying, “Peace to you.” Whenever you see a person baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, that is a mark of Jesus’ presence, as surely as the marks of the nails. Whenever you see the bread and wine distributed in the confession that this is Jesus’ true body and blood, that is a mark of Jesus’ presence. Whenever people are absolved, forgiven of their sins by the pastor in the name of Jesus, you can be sure that the risen Jesus is present, giving His life and peace.
How can we be sure those are the marks of Jesus? Because in this Gospel He commissions the disciples to go in His name and forgive sins. “As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven them. If you withhold forgiveness, it is withheld.”
Think about what that means. Jesus was the representative of the Father on earth. Whoever saw Him saw the Father. Whoever heard Jesus speak heard the Father speak. And now the disciples are representatives of Jesus. Whoever heard them say, “Your sins are forgiven,” heard Jesus say it as well.
That same authority is in the Church today. Jesus did not give the authority to forgive and retain sins only to the twelve. The authority to forgive and retain sins belongs to all who believe in Christ, to all who have the Holy Spirit.
That’s why when this congregation calls a man to be their pastor, it’s not just a human agreement or arrangement. God calls that man through the congregation to carry out the holy ministry of preaching God’s Word, administering the sacraments, and forgiving and retaining sins. The church’s call is the call of God.
And in the same way the church’s absolution through the pastor is Jesus’ forgiveness. Jesus does not appear in our midst and show us His wounds. But He shows His marks among us, marks that He is present in our midst. His voice is present, speaking to us in the sermon and the words of the Scripture. His voice is present, forgiving the sins of the repentant and pronouncing the binding of those who do not repent. And His body is present with us under the bread. Jesus is with us.
And He speaks peace and life to us who would otherwise be locked up in our tomb already. When He tells the story of His life, death, and resurrection. He convinces hearts that He is the Christ, the Son of God, so that believing we may have life in His name—the same life that was in Him and raised His crucified body from the dead.
When He pronounces the forgiveness of our sins, He is giving us His peace as surely as when He stood in the midst of the disciples and showed them His hands and side. He pronounces on us the peace that He made for us with God by those wounds—the forgiveness of our sins.
It is this peace and life of Jesus that we are blind to when we are locked up within the walls of the church as in a tomb, imprisoned by fear and gloom. We look at our earthly circumstances, which are bad, just as the disciples’ circumstances were bad on the first Easter (although not quite so bad). But we are not paying attention to the voice of Jesus as He speaks to us in the absolution, Scriptures, and the sermon. We are forgetting His voice in Holy Baptism as His Word joins with the water and makes it a bath of new birth, a lavish washing away of sin. In those words He is saying, “Peace to you. As the Father has sent me so I am sending you.”
In the world our fortunes may be bad, but we have something the world cannot see. Jesus, risen bodily from the dead, is in our midst. He gives us peace that the world cannot give, forgiving our sins. He tells us His story, the story of the Christ, the Son of God, who has restored us to life by His death and resurrection. We may look like we are in a tomb, but actually we are alive, because the risen Lord feeds us here with His body and blood that have ransomed us from death.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Mark 16:1-8
April 5, 2015
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
It’s about 2000 years since the first Easter. And how are things with Christ’s church?
The church is weak. So it appears to us, anyway. 2000 years is a long time to wait for our Lord to come back. Meanwhile the church in America seems to be—not to put it too delicately—dying. Our district President told us at the Northern Illinois District convention that the data shows that within 30 years 5000 of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s 6000 congregations will be closed. When I heard that I probably felt about like you do hearing it now. Maybe a little worse. But we don’t need to look as far afield as the whole synod to feel weak, powerless, afraid for the future. Most of us here today can go back in our memories and compare the past to the present at St. Peter and feel afraid and depressed about the future. We can remember when the Sunday School had hundreds of kids, and now it has about twenty. We can remember when confirmation classes were 50 strong every year compared to a handful now. We see the church declining, perhaps dying in front of our eyes. But we are weak. Our efforts to change things have not proven fruitful. There seem to be nothing to be done.
Well then, at least to a certain degree we can identify with the disciples and the women on the first Easter morning. They were weak and full of fear too. And if the church is weak now it was far weaker then. Then Jesus had only a dozen disciples plus a handful, and all of them had run away during Jesus’ suffering. One had betrayed Him, another had denied Him. Can you imagine how weak they must have felt just in terms of their numbers? And that was nothing compared to the weakness they must have felt as they watched Jesus suffer. Here was the one they had placed all their hopes on now reduced to absolute powerlessness, suffering, being mocked, nailed to a cross. Then He died. All the hopes of the infant church must have gone up in a puff of smoke. He was hastily buried, not even given proper burial rites. And now all the women could do on that first Easter morning was try to correct that and anoint His body a day later with aromatic spices.
All they could do was try to give Jesus a decent burial. And even that they were not sure about. “Who will roll away for us the stone from the entrance of the tomb?” the two Marys and Salome were asking each other. None of the apostles had come with them to help because they were either too afraid or too depressed.
All this is to paint a picture of the fear and weakness and despair that the disciples felt at Jesus’ death. It seemed that everything was over for them. They didn’t even have God anymore, because the one who revealed God to them was dead and buried. They felt helpless and weak just as we do as we look on at the death of our loved ones, the death of our church, and our own impending death. They are trying to go on despite grief and fear, but they aren’t even sure that they will be able to give Jesus a proper burial.
Then they look up and see something unexpected. The stone, which was very large, had already been rolled away from the tomb. What could they make of that, except to think that someone had broken into the tomb and defiled His grave?
But when they came to the tomb they saw no grave robbers, only a young man dressed all in white. And even though he doesn’t look like a grave robber the women are still frightened. But the young man, as if reading their thoughts, says to them, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.”
And what do the women see when they look at the place where Jesus was laid? They see the grave clothes lying there. Perhaps they see the stains of blood from His wounds. But they see no crucified, dead Jesus. He is gone.
The young man continued, “Go and tell His disciples and Peter that He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He said.”
No doubt the women couldn’t make sense of this, theologically or any other way. It’s hard to think straight when you’ve just spoken to an angel, one would guess, especially when He’s just told you that someone has risen from the dead.
But we can reflect a little on what this means on this Easter day, two thousand years later, as we come here with our own fear and weakness this morning. You know that Jesus was and is no mere man. He is the eternal Son of God, through whom the world was made and in whom it holds together. And you know that He did not become a man so that He could die for His own sins. He had no sin; no deceit was found in His mouth. When He was led in chains from Gethsemane, whipped and mocked, and crucified in weakness, it was not His own weakness and sin that He was dying for. It was our weakness, our sin. It was because we were born helpless, enslaved by sin, in bondage to weakness and fear and death, that He allowed Himself to be held in the clutches of death. It was our total helplessness to the power of sin and death that the Son of God bore on the cross. That was what placed Him dead in that tomb hewn out of the rock and sealed Him in behind the stone.
But now He is no longer there where our sin and weakness placed Him. It is true, as Scripture says, “While we were still weak,” or “powerless,” “Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5) While we were still dead in our sins He died for us. He was “given over to death on account of our sins but raised on account of our justification.” (Romans 4:25) He was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God (Corinthians).
All of this means that, even though the women didn’t quite grasp it at the time, and even though we in our weakness and fear often fail to grasp it, when Jesus rose from the dead, all our weakness and sin and death disappeared with Him. In place of death, there was life. In place of our sin, justification. In place of the law, the righteousness of faith. In place of our weakness, God’s mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead. He is the God who gives life to the dead and calls what is not as though it were (Romans 4:17). He calls us righteous, heirs of life, risen with Christ from the dead.
Yes, but, you say. The church is still weak. We are still losing members to death and attrition and not gaining enough new ones. The numbers still show that most of the congregations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are going to be closed in 30 years. And we ourselves are still dying, and we are still sinners. And we are still afraid.
The angel says to you, “Don’t be alarmed,” just like he did to the women at the tomb. “You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has risen. He is not here.” And the women still fled and said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. They were still afraid and still weak in faith, but it didn’t change the fact that the Lord Jesus was risen and that He had destroyed their sin and death—everything they had to be afraid of. We may still be weak in faith and trembling with fear and amazement, but it doesn’t change the reality that our Lord is risen. And with His resurrection He has destroyed our weakness and sin. With His resurrection He has cancelled the power of death, stripped death of its power. With His resurrection He has justified us—reckoned us righteous.
The church was small and weak on the first Easter but it lived because Jesus, its Lord, was risen. And we will live too even though we are weak and struggling with fear, because our Lord is risen.
Because He is risen we will see Him. The angel said, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” That promise was for all the disciples, including Peter who had denied Him. It was not because of their righteousness or the strength of their faith that they got to see their risen Lord Jesus. It was because of His faithfulness and righteousness. He had suffered for their sins and showed Himself alive to them that they might know that their sins were forgiven and might proclaim the forgiveness of sins to others.
We too will see Jesus, just as He has told us all along. We don’t have His promise that He will raise again the earthly fortunes of our church and synod, as painful as that is to us. We do have His promise that whatever our fortunes are in this world, however things may appear to us, we will see Him in His glory and rejoice in His salvation. For He has risen, leaving our sin and weakness and death behind Him with the grave clothes. They are gone. And we will live by His power. He, the living one, is among us, in our midst. He will sustain our lives in this world according to His good pleasure, that we may bear witness to others about His victorious resurrection from the dead.
And then, after we have rested a little while in the grave, He will raise us up to see Him and to share His glory. We will see Him. He is the firstborn from the dead. He has gone ahead of us. But we have gone with Him, for we are members of His body. We have been buried with Him in Baptism and raised from the dead with Him. So we will live by His power in the flesh until He raises up from our graves in the image and likeness of His glorious body.
So let us keep the festival
To which the Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
The sun that warms and lights us.
Now His grace to us imparts
Eternal sunshine to our hearts;
The night of sin is ended.
Alleluia! (LSB 458, st. 6)
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 20:1-18
April 4, 2015
“Your Lord is not Lost”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The disciples don’t understand what has happened. The stone is rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, and the body of Jesus is not there. John and Peter come and gaze into the empty tomb and then go back home. Mary is convinced that someone has stolen the body of Jesus. That would be the first thing you would think in such a situation. And this is just the final straw for her. After watching her Lord suffer and die in weakness, pierced and hanging from the cross, how can it be that now even His body is stolen? How could God allow such a thing if Jesus is His Son?
Even today liberal bible scholars tell us that Mary’s first instinct was right. Someone stole the body of Jesus, or the disciples weren’t clear on where they buried Jesus. Some even say that Jesus wasn’t ever buried in the first place. He was just thrown into a ditch somewhere and eaten by animals.
Such conclusions are no big deal to make for people who don’t believe in Jesus. But for Mary and the disciples and for us, the loss of Jesus would be the end of everything. You can imagine the grief of the disciples when they believed that Jesus was just dead and someone had taken His body. It would be the same as if someone were to convince you that what the liberal bible scholars said was true. Jesus just died on the cross and then His body was taken or somehow destroyed and He didn’t really rise from the dead. What would we do? How would we live? What an empty dark hole of a festival Easter would be!
Sometimes in our lives, though, it is like Jesus really is lost. We may not doubt that He rose from the dead, but for all that we can’t find Him anywhere. We feel like Mary, wandering around Jesus’ tomb weeping. Saying, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him!”
But when Mary is weeping, distracted with sorrow, the voice of God calls softly to her, first through the angels, then through Jesus himself. When we feel as if we have lost Christ, God’s voice calls softly to us too.
“Woman, why are you weeping?” Then again, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Then she says to Jesus, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Finally Jesus calls her by her name: “Mary.”
Before Jesus called her name, the voice of God asked, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”
The answer was, “I am looking for Jesus.” And God’s quiet voice was asking, “Then why are you weeping? You’re looking for Jesus, the Lord, who became what you are to redeem you. He is the Lord, did you forget that? Are you afraid your Lord will get lost? Yes, He is the Lord who slept in the boat during the storm and then awoke and silenced it. You were so afraid then, but did you have anything to fear?”
Yes, it is the same Lord Jesus who created you,
Who brought Noah safely out of the ark,
Who brought Israel through the Red Sea,
Who brought the three men through the fiery furnace,
Who shut the mouth of the lions in the pit.
And now, what are you afraid of? Death? Do you think death is stronger than your Lord? Didn’t He say that He would rise from the dead?
But Mary forgot about all this in her fear. She couldn’t hear the quiet voice of God. So Jesus called to her, “Mary.”
Our Lord Jesus also calls our name to rouse us from our fear.
He called us by name when He baptized us and raised us from sin and death.
He calls our name when He preaches His word. He calls us by name when He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink.
Who are you looking for? You are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. No one has taken Him away, for He is the Master.
He is the one who is from the beginning, who created heaven and earth and human beings in His image.
He brought Noah safely through the flood, Israel through the Red Sea, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego through the fiery furnace.
And He is the Lord and Master of death. He rose from it and He has brought you through it too, for you are baptized into Him.
Your Lord Jesus does not get lost. His word holds true. And He will see that you never get lost. He will call you, His sheep, by name until He calls it at the right hand of the Father and says—“Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
April 3, 2015
“When it all falls apart.”
How lonely sits the city
That was full of people!
How like a widow she has become
She who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
Has become a slave.
The city is a charred ruin, smoking, full of ashes. The walls have been broken down. Dead bodies lie scattered on the streets, cut open by swords, burned with fire, emaciated by hunger. Here and there someone passes by wailing over lost loved ones, covering their nose to escape the stench. And at the top of the hill overlooking the city one fire still burns. The pride and joy of Jerusalem, the temple of the Lord, is on fire. The enemy soldiers have stripped it of all its precious things—its gold and silver, its furnishings. They have marched into the holy place, into the very presence of the Lord, and desecrated the sanctuary. Now they are gone, leaving behind the fire and smoke as the temple of the Lord burns to its foundations.
This is what Jeremiah is writing about in Lamentations. It is hard for us to grasp how terrible a fall the city of Jerusalem endured in the days around 500 B.C. It was one of those things that no one believes will happen until it does, one of those things that we imagine God won’t allow.
Jerusalem was a princess, a queen among cities. She had been honored by the God of the whole earth when He put His temple there. This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it (Psalm 132:14).
What happened? The princess has become a slave, a mourning widow. Her streets are deserted and her glory has departed. Her young men have been massacred and taken away as slaves. The women have been carted off. The city is a smoldering ruin. How did this happen to God’s most-favored city?
The princess among the provinces became a harlot. The queen became a whore. Jerusalem multiplied sin and rebellion against God. She turned aside to false gods and walked in the ways that seemed right in her sight instead of obeying the law of the Lord.
Jerusalem sinned grievously
Therefore she became filthy.
All who honored her despise her
For they have seen her nakedness.
She herself groans
And turns her face away.
Her uncleanness was in her skirts
She took no thought of her future,
Therefore her fall is terrible
She has no comforter.
“O Lord, behold my affliction
For the enemy has triumphed.”
This is what happens when we receive the wages for our sins. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6). Dear Christians, we never get away with our sins. We always reap their bitter harvest. The Lord our God is a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. The Lord in the midst of Jerusalem, in our midst, is a just and righteous God. He does not play favorites. When His own people sin and are unfaithful to Him, He judges them, even if they are called by His name and have His holy things in the midst of them.
The destruction of Jerusalem is a picture of our own personal calamities that come upon us because of our sins. Our lives fall apart. Our plans fail. Our spouse leaves. We are laid at the gates of death. How often do these things happen because we have rebelled against the Lord? Even when they happen with no apparent sin of ours, there are always sins in us which God must chasten.
And what happens in individual lives because of sin often happens among groups of people; churches come under God’s judgment too. Didn’t it strike a little close to home to hear
The roads to Zion mourn
For none come to the festival
All her gates are desolate
Her priests groan…
Doesn’t that sound more than a little familiar? Why are the pews vacant on the festival days of the church year? Why do we not hear the sounds of children in this once burgeoning congregation? Why do we bury so many and baptize so few? Can it be that God’s judgment is not in these things at all?
And when God’s judgment comes, the false gods which we turned to for comfort become useless. They provide no relief from the punishment of God. The friends and helpers we looked to desert us or turn out to be our enemies.
But the visitations of God’s judgment that come upon us in this life are not the greatest things to fear. When we experience judgment from God in this life He is calling us to repentance. Though our fall may be grievous there is still hope, because our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103).
What is to be feared is the final judgment of God that will come upon unbelievers and hypocrites, that is, false believers. Then there will be no more comfort, only weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the fall is irreversible. God will no longer comfort or restore but cast away forever those who did not repent and believe in Christ.
That indeed is the due, proper, and just reward for our sins—not only for our conscious rebellion against God but for the sin in which we were born and which dwells within us. Not simply to have our plans and pleasures taken away for a time, but to be forever cast away and rejected from God’s face. That is truly what we deserve for having served other gods like a harlot. And that is most certainly what we will receive for our sins unless we repent—an eternity of desolation, terror, grief, and pain with no hope of relief.
When the lights are put out at this Tenebrae service, it is a picture of the extinguishing of hope that is the due reward for our sins.
Is it nothing, all you who pass by?
Look and see
If there is any sorrow like my sorrow
Which was brought upon me,
Which the Lord inflicted
On the day of His fierce anger.
What can we say to this?
The Lord is in the right
For I have rebelled against His Word.
But our God does not forsake us in the day of our calamity, in the day of desolation, in the day of judgment, the way that false gods do. When we are soiled and unclean like a harlot, the Lord does not abandon us.
Instead He becomes like we are. Our misery and sorrow becomes His misery and sorrow. He proposes marriage to us in the depths of our destruction, at the bottom of our fall.
Look and see
If there is any sorrow like my sorrow
Which was brought upon me,
Which the Lord inflicted
On the day of His fierce anger.
Jesus has taken those words out of our mouths and put them in His own. The terrible sorrow of being forsaken by God, of being swallowed up by the darkness, is His. He redeems us from the pit of despair and hell by going down into it Himself. He loves us when we are ruined. He takes our ruin upon Himself.
As the lights are put out during the Tenebrae service, we are reminded that it is not we who are brought to nothing and destroyed by our sins. It is our Lord Jesus. We are not forsaken to the darkness of hell. He is, when He cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
He is brought to nothing and destroyed for our sins. He is ruined for us, and then raised from the dead for us.
When it all falls apart, this is what holds us together, or better, what brings us back from the dead.
We are all falling apart. We are dying. The ugliness of sin can’t be hidden forever. Sooner or later it shows itself in all of us—in the lines in our faces, in the aching of our bones. We can’t escape the judgment of God. It catches up to us, and shows us to be what we are—sinners doomed to death.
But in the midst of chastisement for our sins, in the midst of our lives falling apart, in the midst of our dying, the broken, ruined form of Jesus on the cross gives us hope. A living hope that does not perish, spoil, or fade.
The Lord has taken our destruction as His own. His light was put out. Then His invincible life overcame the darkness. His righteousness overcame our sin. He rose from the dead.
Everything is not going to get better in this world. This world is judged, condemned, and this judgment comes over us too.
But life is ours in the midst of this judgment. When everything is falling apart, we belong to the one who has already gone to the lowest depths, the deepest darkness, and risen into eternal brightness and joy.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 18:36-37
April 3, 2015
“A Kingdom in the Midst of Death”
So Pilate had Jesus flogged. The whips opened wound upon wound in His skin. Blow upon blow fell upon Him. He was punished though He had done nothing wrong. Then the soldiers twisted together strands of thorns, plaited them into a crown, pressed it down on His head. Blood trickled down His face. Someone brought out a purple robe, like a king would wear, and put it on Him. And as He sat shivering from His wounds, the soldiers laughed and knelt before Him. “Ave!” they shout. “Hail, King of the Jews!” And then a punch to the face. “Hail, King of the Jews!” And another blow.
Then they lead Him, bloody and swollen-faced, to Pilate. Pilate can be heard on the platform, shouting, “I am bringing Him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” And why should anyone be afraid of this Jesus now, thinks Pilate, now that the soldiers have worked Him over and He is thoroughly beaten? “Behold the man,” Pilate cries, thinking it will all end here. But when the crowd sees Jesus with His crown and robe, half-dead and held up for ridicule, it erupts. There is no pity, only fear and fury. “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” the cry goes up.
Is Jesus a king? Who would think so, seeing His mockery? Yet everyone is afraid of Him, as though nothing besides His death will make them safe from His claims to rule.
Yet Jesus quietly affirms that He is a king. Before His mockery He is led bound before Pilate, and Pilate takes Him inside His quarters and asks Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answers, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Clearly His kingdom is not of the world. Above His head a scrap of parchment reads, “Jesus of Nazareth—the King of the Jews.” Beneath the sign, Jesus hangs naked, His body torn, suspended from the wood by spikes driven through His hands and feet. On either side of Him are two murderers, also crucified. What kind of kingdom can He have as the soldiers divide up His clothes, His only possessions in the world? What kind of a kingdom can He have, when He hangs on a cross instead of sitting on a throne, when He drinks not wine from a goblet but vinegar from a sponge? What kind of Kingdom can He have when He says, “It is finished,” and gives up His Spirit and dies? What kind of a kingdom can it be when His heart is pierced with a spear and flows out in blood and water? Surely Jesus and His disciples made a mistake in thinking He was the King of the Jews. How can you be a king when you are mocked, tortured, and die? When you lose everything, including your own life?
Jesus’ kingdom is a true kingdom. But it is not of this world or from this world. Kingdoms in this world are established and maintained by force and power. Kings in this world take what is good and ensure that no one takes it away with the point of a sword or the barrel of a gun. It was this kind of kingdom that Peter was thinking of when he picked up a sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant.
But Jesus has another kingdom. It is not established by force against others, but by His own suffering and death.
It is a kingdom that goes on, that stands in the midst of pain and loss, in the midst of humiliation, even in the midst of death. The kingdoms of this world and the kingdoms we try to create for ourselves cannot endure pain, humiliation, and death. Suffering and death means the end of the good things of this world. When you suffer and die, as far as this world sees it, it is all over for you. But Jesus is a king who reigns as He is suffering, as He is mocked. He reigns as He is dying and He reigns when He is dead and buried.
His kingdom is not of this world. It isn’t made up of gold and fine clothing and honor. It isn’t enforced by swords and guns and the threat of death. His kingdom is the kingdom of the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is accused and mocked and punished because He is making payment for our sins.
He is accused so that we are declared innocent of our evil deeds and thoughts before God.
He is punished for our disobedience against God.
He is mocked because we have tried to take God’s glory for ourselves.
He dies because the wages of sin is death, and He takes possession of what is ours. He is the King of the Jews and your king. He takes our sin and death and makes it His.
He reigns over the whole world even in His death and humiliation. And He reigns not by giving laws and imposing them at the end of a gun. He reigns by forgiving sins. He reigns by dying for our sins. All who believe in this king have an end to their sins. Their sins come to an end in His death. You are freed from your sins. Your sins no longer belong to you. They have died in this king’s death.
Jesus brings us into His kingdom by proclaiming His death for us and the forgiveness of our sins. We have through faith in Him a kingdom that stands in the midst of suffering, humiliation, even in the midst of death. Pain and humiliation can’t take away the forgiveness of sins from you. Even death cannot take you out of His kingdom of forgiveness.
On the cross Jesus reigns over sin and death. He takes them upon Himself and brings them to an end. His wounds and His mockery were His royal robes in which He reigned over death and your sins and put them under His feet. His cross was the throne of His kingdom, and from it, He issues His royal edict—“It is finished.” That means the forgiveness of all your sins before God. Sin and death are defeated. Satan, guilt, and condemnation no longer reign over you. The King who was mocked and crucified does. He reigns over you by forgiving all your sins.
And where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life, for death is the wages of sin. Where sins are forgiven, death no longer can reign. Even when the spear pierced His side and He was laid in the tomb, Jesus reigned over death. And even in the midst of dying, you reign over death through faith in this king.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 13:1-15
April 2, 2015
“Jesus Serves us Because He Loves Us”
When Jesus came to Peter, Peter said, “Lord, you’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” And Jesus said something pregnant with meaning for us tonight. “What I am doing you do not know now, but you will know afterwards.”
Peter did not understand why Jesus was putting himself in the lowest position at the Passover table, the position of washing feet.
We understand why Jesus was doing it. Or do we? It seems more like we are always learning to understand what Jesus did that night, but never fully comprehending it. Just as Peter must have thought back on that night many times and wept, trying to comprehend it.
What was Jesus doing by washing feet? He was serving. Hospitality dictated at that time when you had a dinner, the guests had to have their feet washed so they could stretch out on cushions, recline at the table without getting dust on everything. And good hospitality required that you didn’t just give guests water to wash their own feet. You had somebody wash their feet for them. But this was not something an honorable man would stoop down to do for his guests. He would have a servant do it.
But Jesus wants to make it very clear that at this meal, the disciples are not servants. They are honored guests. Jesus is the host of the meal but He also takes the role of the servant of His disciples. He does the servant’s tasks. John lingers on the details.
Without telling anyone what He is doing the Lord pours water into a bowl, takes off His outer garment, and wraps a towel around His waist. He is dressing Himself for service. Then, one by one, He waits on His disciples. He takes each one of their dusty feet in His hands, washes them, dries them with the towel. He is the servant, kneeling before His disciples. And when Peter tries to get out of it and refuse to let Jesus be his servant, Jesus stays on His knees and quietly informs Peter that he has no share, no part with Jesus, unless Jesus washes him. Unless Jesus serves him.
Why is Jesus doing this? It is a visual sermon to drive home a point. The point is that Jesus, the Lord our God, must serve us. And that in everything that happens from this point forward in His passion, Jesus is serving us.
Why does Jesus serve us? The simple answer is that He loves us. Love is almost not a strong enough word to describe Jesus’ heart towards you, though. We use the word love for many things, but in the end we almost always mean something that has to do with serving ourselves. Jesus’ love is something else. It is love that is not selfish. And it is not an incomplete, wavering love, but a perfect, absolutely full love. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
How did He love His own? First of all, He washed their feet in preparation for the Passover. It was a very simple, very human, very lowly act of service and love that showed that though He is the Lord and the teacher, at this meal He was the host and the servant and they were the honored guests.
This was very important, because at this Passover they were not only going to remember how the Lord had delivered Israel from slavery long ago. At this Passover Jesus was instituting His last will and testament.
“The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise also the cup after they had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the New Testament in my blood; this do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
The disciples needed to know that they did not prepare themselves to receive this meal. Jesus invited them. Jesus prepared them. Jesus served them the holy food and drink. And He Himself was the meal.
Peter and the others needed to be washed to receive a share or a portion in Jesus. Jesus washed them and then gave them their share of Him as He also gives us a share in Him. He gives the bread which is His body and the cup which is the new testament in His blood, and we participate in Him. We commune in Him. We share in Him, together.
Jesus served the disciples because He loved them. He serves us because He loves us. He took the lowest place and washed their feet. He takes the lowest place and cleanses our filth away by the suffering He is about to undergo. And He gives us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink that we may have a clean conscience and the assurance of the forgiveness of sins.
The washing of the feet is kind of like the knockout punch in Jesus’ overwhelming display of love and service. As if He wasn’t preaching this sermon clearly enough by what would follow, Jesus added to it all that He also washed their feet.
Tonight, liturgically, we remember Jesus’ service to us by the ritual of stripping the altar. AS all the adornments of the altar are carried away—the paraments, the linens, the candelabras, the candlesticks, the banners, Psalm 22 will be sung. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest…” What is being pictured before us then is the costliness of Jesus’ service to us and the depth of His love. In order for us to receive the forgiveness of sins, in order for us to be absolved of our sins as we were earlier, in order for us to receive a share of Jesus’ body and blood for our justification, an exchange had to be made.
Jesus had to be betrayed and led off in chains from the garden of Gethsemane. He had to sweat blood there, pleading with the Father for another solution but receiving no answer. He had to be robbed of His dignity, to be falsely accused, punched and spit on. He had to be beaten until His back was crossed by bloody stripes, had to be crowned with piercing thorns and mocked by the soldiers. He had to be led away under the cross, stripped naked, crucified, hung bare and bloody between heaven and earth. And there in great agony He had to be forsaken by God. Left alone, barren, destitute, and finally dead on the cross, bearing the wrath of God alone.
He, the eternal Son of God, had to suffer this in order that we might be served with the forgiveness of sins.
He, the most High, had to descend into the lowest place, into the pit, to lift us up to be honored guests at His table.
He had to do this because He loved us with a love that we can only begin to comprehend by the power of God the Holy Spirit.
Yes, Jesus really loves you that much. That’s what He tells you, offers to you, every time He offers you His body to eat and His blood to drink.
Yes, you are really cleansed of all your sins and impurity. Jesus washes it all off you by plunging you into His death in Baptism. And when you find your conscience soiled He absolves you, pronounces you clean and free, as though He were sprinkling you with His blood.
Yes, you are really Jesus’ honored guest at His table. He serves you with life so that you may live in His kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
And in showing us this great undeserved love He also sets an example for us to follow. Not something to feel guilty about. He serves us to take away our guilt. But He loves and serves us out of love so that we might walk in the example of our Lord and Teacher and wash one another’s feet. That is, out of love take the lowest place with Jesus and serve one another. Welcome one another in His name, not cast one another out.
And so as you come as Jesus’ honored guest tonight to His table, rejoice in His great love for you, and welcome one another as fellow sharers, participants together in Jesus.
The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria