Good Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 18-19 (in particular: John 19:13-16)
March 25, 2016
“The Preparation of God’s Sons”
It is amazing, in a way, that you came to church today.
It was bold. We show boldness in being here. Hopefully it isn’t a boldness born of arrogance or foolishness.
Look around. The church is bare and naked of decoration. The only thing we see is the cross. It is because Jesus, the Son of God, was stripped of glory and dignity on Good Friday that the church looks like a desert, all its ornaments taken away. Yes, God’s Son was stripped naked and nailed hand and foot to the tree; raised up to hang as a spectacle before the world for a few hours, and then to die.
Yet we are bold enough to come and commemorate what happened to Jesus. But don’t we know? Don’t we understand? Jesus suffered because of us. He was put to death because of us.
“When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of the Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he delivered Him over to them to be crucified.” (St. John 19:13-16)
Pontius sits down in the judgment seat to give a verdict concerning Jesus. And John makes sure to tell us right after Pilate assuming his role as judge that it was “the day of Preparation of the Passover.” People disagree about what this means. Jesus had already celebrated the Passover the night before. But one thing is sure—Jesus was being prepared to die as the true Passover lamb. Pilate was moments away from issuing the sentence that Jesus should be crucified. But who was preparing Jesus, setting Him apart, for sacrifice? It appears to be the crowd of the Jews, acting through Pilate as their instrument. But it couldn’t have been them. They weren’t strong enough to tie Jesus up and set Him apart as a sacrificial victim, nor to slaughter God’s Son like a lamb. It is God the Father who is preparing Jesus for sacrifice; God the Father is preparing to slaughter His Son.
Long before, God put a picture of this day in front of the Israelites. It is written in Genesis 22: “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’” (Gen. 22:1-2)
Then we are told in the rest of the story how Abraham set about to obey this commandment from God to slay his only son. Abraham doesn’t delay. He gets up early in the morning, cuts the wood on which he will burn the body of his son as a sacrifice. Then he journeys for three days to get to the place of the sacrifice, allowing plenty of time to reconsider whether he really wants to go through with this, whether he really thinks God is worthy of such a sacrifice. But Abraham, amazingly, doesn’t waver. He gets to the land of Moriah and loads the wood on Isaac his son, and leads the young man up the mountain. Finally, Abraham builds the altar. He arranges the wood on it. He binds Isaac and stretches him out on top of the wood. Finally, he takes the knife in his hand to kill his son. Only at the last moment the angel of the Lord interrupts the sacrifice.
Many people who have heard this story and taken it seriously have been revolted by it, said it paints an ugly picture of the God of the Bible. Even though God stopped Abraham from killing his son, what kind of God, they say, would ask that of a person, and then allow the person almost to go through with it? Abraham didn’t bring the knife down on Isaac. But in order to get as far as he did, Abraham would have had to have already made up his mind to spill the blood of his only son.
Thinking of killing your son—whether for God or for anyone else—is too much for us. Most people would be angry and spit at God if He demanded such a thing. Others, who might admit that God, as God, has a right to demand such a thing, would still find themselves too weak to do it, too weak even to go about the preparations for it, as Abraham did. They would find themselves unable to cut the wood, to journey to the mountain, to build the altar, prepare the wood, certainly to bind their son. Even talking about it or spending any time thinking about it makes you realize that God is nothing like the sentimental picture most people paint of Him. How many people who say they love God would vigorously hate Him if He spoke to them and commanded this? Even if we wanted to, most of us would not get through the preparations. Before our eyes the whole time would be our son’s pain and cries. We would visualize his bright red blood streaming at our hands and we would be undone.
But what God did not allow Abraham to do—to slay his son out of love and obedience to God—God did out of love and compassion for the world. For an unworthy world that hated Him. He foresaw His Son’s anguish, He foresaw His Son’s pouring blood, His cries and His tears.
And still He prepared His Son to be sacrificed. He tied Him up by the hands of the Jews. He condemned Him to die on a tree under His curse and wrath, through Pontius Pilate. He drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet and stretched Him out over the rough wood of the tree through the hands of the soldiers. And He lifted Him up to be cursed; to receive not merely bodily torment and physical death, but also the spiritual anguish that sinners deserve to suffer throughout eternity.
[We will sing the words of Paul Gerhardt in a few minutes, words which we have sung many times before, and yet likely not taken to heart—words that Gerhardt puts into the mouth of the Father:
“Go forth, My Son,” the Father said,
“And free my children from their dread
Of guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear
But by Your Passion they will share
The fruit of Your salvation.” LSB 438, st. 2
Yes, imagine telling your son, “Go forth and be flogged and crucified to help people who despise and hate us”! ]
This is what God the Father was doing on Good Friday. And why? Not because Jesus ever displeased Him. No, the Father loves His Son far more than we evil men love our sons. And Jesus loved His Father and never did anything against Him. The Father was preparing His Son to die for your sins.
That’s why it is bold for us to show up here today. The Father offers up His Son; and we, for whom the Son of God was offered come to commemorate His dying. Do we dare?
Aren’t we the same people who have repeatedly chosen to do evil, to “turn, every one, to his own way”? (Is. 53) Haven’t we often freely chosen to do what called God’s anger down upon us? But God poured this anger on His Son. And we come, with little sense of what it cost the Father to do this, with little awareness of what Jesus endured, and quite often, with little desire to know. We come for an hour or so today to pay our respects, and then return to live as if we were rightful masters of our own lives?
And aren’t we the same people who, when backed into a corner, repeatedly excuse our sins and the sins of other people?
Perhaps we are those who think, “Why should God be so angry about sin? What kind of cruel God is this, to demand an eternal repayment for sin in hell?
Or perhaps we believe that God will punish sins in hell, but certainly not the sins we commit in weakness—our evil thoughts, impurity, our anger, our difficulty forgiving people. Why should God demand an eternal accounting for things like this, which no one can avoid?
And aren’t we also the same people who have often denied that our sin—or those of people we love—was actually sin? Aren’t we the same people who have called evil good?
So God says, “You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God.” But we say, surely it’s not such a big deal when a church teaches errors in God’s name, when they do it because they don’t know better. Surely God doesn’t take it so seriously if the church down the street doesn’t believe and doesn’t teach that the Lord’s Supper is really Jesus’ body and blood.
Or God says, “Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy.” But we say, surely God doesn’t care that much about the fact that I get busy and don’t come to church.
Or we say, “Surely God doesn’t really get so angry about who I sleep with, or who my kids sleep with—not so angry that He would punish them for it forever.”
We say these things, and then we want to come and remember Jesus’ death, and the Father preparing His Son to be sacrificed? When we try to excuse the very things for which the Father allowed His Son’s blood to pour?
That is the same as the Jews choosing Barabbas over Jesus. They chose a lawless man, a violent man who had participated in a rebellion and shed blood, over Jesus. They asked for Barabbas to be freed, and for Jesus to be crucified.
Why did they do this? Because they were more comfortable with a lawless man, even if he was violent and dangerous, than with Jesus, the righteous and just One.
We have done the same as the crowd. In excusing our sins, and minimizing them, we are trying to shout Jesus down. We demand that the Righteous One be silent; we demand Him to be taken away from our sight so that His innocence no longer stands before us as a rebuke to our lawlessness. [And the more Jesus suffers unjustly, the louder the mob screams for Him to die, so that they may no longer have His witness to the truth and see Him reflecting back, in His body, the image of our sin.]
But even if we don’t excuse our sins, and our mouths are silent, it remains the case that we are the reason the Father set apart His innocent Son to die.
So how can we be so bold as to come near to the Father on the day in which His Son was slain?
We come because God the Father has given us the right to approach Him with boldness and confidence.
He slew His obedient Son for our disobedience because He wanted to give us the right to become children of God (John 1:12).
When the Father prepared Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins, He was carrying out what His wisdom and love toward us had planned before the creation of the world. Before the world began God saw Adam’s sin and also yours. None of it was hidden from Him. But instead of never creating You, or planning your death in His anger, He planned an unthinkable thing—to have His beloved Son take your place as an enemy of God, and to give you Jesus’ place as a well-beloved Son in eternity.
Why would God do such a thing? It is incomprehensible that He should show such love to us.
But that is, beyond any doubt, what God has done. In the death of Jesus, His Son, the Father has given you the right to approach Him without fear, without any stain of sin, as a pure, holy, well-pleasing, beloved child. As a lawful heir of God and all His eternal glory.
And not only did the Father will this grace for you, but also the Son. The Son and the Father are one (John 10); they will one will. The Father and the Son together willed our justification.
Because the Son willed this, He willingly came and put on our image.
He is mocked for us, who deserve mockery for our pretensions to be God, to be equal to God, the eternal King.
He is beaten and flogged; chastised, as Isaiah said, for our disobedience to God. Upon Him was the chastisement (or punishment) that brought us peace, and by His stripes we are healed. (Is. 53)
He puts on Adam’s curse as His crown. Blood streams from His sacred head down His face, drawn by the thorns that began to come out of the earth because Adam turned aside from God. Now Adam’s curse sits on the head of the Son of God.
He is condemned to die among wicked men. The innocent Christ is crucified between two robbers, men whom even an evil world rejects as too evil for it.
He is stripped naked to bear the shame we have been trying to hide since Adam and Eve clothed themselves with leaves and hid among the trees. Jesus is stripped of all coverings and lifted up before the whole world.
He is nailed to a cross, which the Romans view as so shameful that it is forbidden to apply it to citizens. And He is lifted up on a tree to die, which according to the Law means that Jesus is cursed by God, because it says “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Leviticus ?, Galatians 3). Dying under God’s curse, Jesus removes His curse and damnation from us.
Though He is God, He comes in the appearance of a man like us, like one who is subject to death and enslaved by sin. He comes in our fashion to free us from slavery. He removes sin’s bondage from us by suffering for it and cancelling it out with His blood. Thus we are freed from slavery to sin and its condemnation. We are liberated from the devil, who held us in thrall through His blackmail and accusation. We are sprung from our chains into the glorious liberty of the children of God, to live before God forever free from condemnation.
Today the altar is bare; no paraments, no lights, no banners. That barrenness is really our image; we are barren of the glory God created us to have—His image. We lost it through sin. When we see Jesus crucified, covered with wounds, His face streaked with blood, forsaken by God we see Him bearing our image, so that we might bear the image of His glory in eternity.
And when Jesus has accomplished this and been emptied—when He has become sin for us, become a slave for us, received God’s wrath for us, He says “It is finished,” and dies.
It is finished. It is done. Everything is accomplished for us to be received as sons of God. Nothing remains outstanding. Every sin is punished and blotted out of God’s book. In its place Jesus gives us the seamless, undivided robe of His righteousness.
No one takes away Jesus’ life. He freely gives it up. When His life ends, ours begins—our new life as God’s Sons.
By His death, Jesus gives us the right to approach God with confidence as if we were Him, as dear, innocent, beloved sons of God. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24)—so said our Lord to His disciples before He suffered. By His death Jesus bore the fruit of many sons of God. Before He died our sins blocked the way to God; when He died, those sins were removed.
So we dare to come before God with boldness on the day of His Son’s death, without fear. For Jesus who died for us has baptized us into His body, so that we are members of Him, of His flesh and of His bone. Trusting in Jesus and in the Father who prepared Him as the sacrifice for us, we come to the Father as His true sons. And in thanksgiving for all He has done we offer to Him our bodies as “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12).
In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
Good Friday—Tenebrae (7 pm)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 19:28-30 (Lamentations 2:13-15; Hebrews 10:1-2. 10-18)
March 25, 2016
No one ever thinks destruction is going to come until it does. Till the end people keep believing that the good times will go on forever; at least the days of terror will pass them by. We all secretly believe we’re special.
Nevertheless, God warns us with clear and certain words that destruction is coming to the world because of sin. He tells us clearly and unmistakably—He never, never, never will overlook sin or let sinners go unpunished.
“He will render to each one according to his works…for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil…” God says in Romans chapter 2 (v. 6-9).
And as the children have learned from the catechism, God says regarding the ten commandments: I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the 3rd and 4th generation of those who hate Me…”
Which means if you want to disobey God’s commandments, if you want to excuse your disobedience to God—not matter what that disobedience is, no matter how minor you think it is—you can’t tell yourself that God will forgive you anyway. You’re only kidding yourself.
The two sets of readings we heard are examples of this. In the first we saw Jesus, the Son of God, stretched out on the cross, giving up His spirit. Destruction comes upon Him as God visits our iniquities upon Him.
The first set, from Lamentations, are the prophet Jeremiah’s words as he weeps over the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, about 500 years before Christ. God told the people of Israel before they entered the promised land that if they did not keep His commandments, God would not only not be their God and abandon them to their enemies. He would actively turn against them Himself and set Himself against them. As He had once looked on them to bless them and do them good, He would set His eyes on them to punish them. And after the Israelites came into the good land that God promised them, they forgot His warning. They turned aside to worship idols. God sent them many prophets to warn them of the destruction that was coming, and to cease from their rebellion against Him.
But they didn’t listen. And so in Lamentations, Jeremiah wanders through the ruined city that had once exulted in God’s favor and bragged of His presence. He mourns over the city’s destruction. “The Lord determined to lay in ruins the wall of the daughter of Zion; He stretched out the measuring line…” (Lamentations 2:9). God was calculating and measuring with precision not to build Jerusalem up but to destroy it. Jeremiah watches children die in the arms of their mothers, because after the invading armies have ransacked the city, there is no food.
Destruction came upon Jerusalem because of the sin of the people. They should have known that this was the inevitable result of their sin. But they chose to believe false prophets who told them that the day of destruction would not come. “Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading.” (Lamentations 2:14)
What happened in Jerusalem is coming for everyone who transgresses the commandments of God. Destruction is coming on the world because of sin.
And not only because of the sins we know and willingly do, but also because of those we don’t know, and those which we can’t help. The sin we were born in, that we inherited from Adam, is going to be rewarded with destruction. The sins of our hearts that we try to suppress—unbelieving thoughts, evil desires, hatred and desire for vengeance, pleasure in our neighbor’s downfall—are going to be visited with eternal punishment.
In other words, things cannot go on like this! Our sins must be removed, otherwise all we have in front of us is the fearful and certain destruction that God will bring on all the ungodly. The emptiness of the altar and chancel tonight—its desolation—is a faint reflection of the eternal desolation that is to come on the world and all who commit iniquity.
But let us turn our attention again to the second set of readings, from St. John. There Jesus, as we said before, is experiencing desolation. He is experiencing the judgment of God on sin.
As He hangs on the cursed tree of the cross, He cries out, “I thirst.”
Of course, Jesus is thirsty. Dying people often experience great thirst. And besides the fact that He is dying, Jesus has other reasons for His thirst. He has been up all night and all morning laboring for our salvation. He prayed and wept in Gethsemane, and sweat like great drops of blood fell from His body. He was arrested and marched to the house of the high priest, some miles away, enduring blows and curses. Then all night He was accused by false witnesses, by the assembled elders of His people, and by the chief priests, until at last they declared Him to be worthy of death. He then was handed over to Pilate and accused and interrogated before Him. He stood in front of a crowd that screamed for Him to be crucified. He was mocked by the entire troop of Roman soldiers. He was torn open with whips and crowned with thorns. Finally they forced Him to carry the heavy cross to the Place of a Skull. There His hands and feet were nailed to the wood and they lifted Him up to hang from those nails. It is no surprise that Jesus is thirsty after that ordeal, no surprise that as His blood pours out He is seized with thirst.
But of course Jesus’ thirst is not merely a physical thirst. It is a spiritual thirst, the thirst of one being consumed in the heat of the wrath of God. In Luke 16 we are told the story of the rich man and Lazarus; Lazarus lived covered with sores and racked with hunger, but when he died, the angels carried him to the bosom of Abraham. But the rich man in Jesus’ parable died and went to hell. And there in the flames, he cried out for Lazarus to come to him and touch his tongue with a drop of water, so severe was his thirst and agony in the flames of hell.
Jesus, God’s Son, also experiences this thirst on the cross. Though He was innocent and had done nothing to deserve God’s wrath, He was experiencing the torments of the damned. God’s eternal destruction was upon Him.
Destruction had come upon Jesus because He was offering Himself there for our transgressions.
Jesus has another thirst parching Him on the cross. It is the thirst caused by His love for us. He loves us, and because He loves us He thirsts for our salvation. He thirsts that we might be saved from the destruction coming on the world because of sin.
In Jesus’ heart burns an unquenchable fire that causes this thirst. It is the fire of divine love; the fire that burned the bush on Sinai but did not consume it; the fire that later set the mountain ablaze. That fire does not burn against us but for us; it burns in Jesus’ heart, and it causes Him to thirst for our salvation. And this thirst will not be quenched until He has rescued us from destruction.
This fire that is burning in Jesus’ heart is described in the Song of Solomon: “Love is as strong as 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. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised.” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7) Solomon is not talking about the love of a man for his wife. He is talking about the love of the heavenly bridegroom, Jesus Christ, for His bride, the Church. The very flame of God burns in Jesus’ heart and drives His thirst for our salvation.
“You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride,” says the Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon to His beloved. Jesus, the bridegroom of the Church, has had His heart wounded and stolen by those who have deserved destruction. He will not be satisfied until He has freed His beloved bride from destruction. It is for this that He thirsts.
And so it is not the drink of sour wine that Jesus receives that quenches this thirst. His thirst is quenched when destruction is removed from His bride, the elect. And that happens when, after receiving the drink from the sponge, He says “It is finished,” and gives up His spirit in death.
There His thirst is quenched. What He thirsted for—our salvation—is finished, completed.
But how can that be true? Just as Jesus experienced the fire of divine love burning in His heart, we experience the fire of evil desire still strongly glowing in ours. How can our salvation be accomplished and our destruction be averted when sin seems so often to still hold us captive?
In the readings still ahead of us, from the tenth chapter of Hebrews, the author tells us about the futility and weakness of the sacrifices offered in the temple in the Old Testament. “The Law…can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?” (Hebrews 10:1-2)
Each year on the day of atonement, the high priest would bring blood behind the veil, into the most holy place, and put it on the atonement cover, or mercy seat, of the ark of the covenant. That mercy seat was the place of God’s dwelling on earth. And yet the sacrifice was repeated yearly. The blood continued to be put on the mercy seat because each year the people of Israel had new sins to atone for. And the writer of Hebrews tells us, there was no way for these sacrifices to make the people perfect or complete or “finished.” They were never completely through with their sins. Their sins were never finally gone.
In the end, this was because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). An animal’s life, an animal’s soul, is not sufficient to remove the sins of a human being and save him from destruction.
And so the yearly sacrifice of atonement didn’t give people a clean conscience.
But on the cross Jesus is offering a better sacrifice, one that really is sufficient to cancel our sins. When Jesus suffers and dies on the cross, it is not merely a human being suffering agony and then dying. God is hanging on the cross; God suffers anguish; God dies. When Jesus’ blood is poured out and His life is given, a greater price has been paid than all the debt of your sins—a greater price than the cost of the sins of the whole world. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); the due reward for your sin is eternal death. But Jesus has paid more than enough to ransom and release you from eternal death; more than enough to ransom the whole world. His death and the shedding of His blood have removed sin.
Not as though sin no longer lives and works in you. But it is no longer counted before God, because it has been paid for by the death of Jesus.
That is the reason why those who believe in Jesus are no longer burdened with the consciousness of sin so that we need new sacrifices to be offered for us. It’s not that we don’t experience our sinful desires or see how we stumble and fall into sin. It’s that we believe that the blood Jesus shed and the death He died cancels and covers all our sin—the sin of our past, the sin that lives in us now, and the all the sin that we will commit before we, too, give up our spirits in death.
On Sunday morning, in Bible class, I have often asked the class whether they have experienced what it is to have a disturbed conscience, a conscience that is uncertain because it is aware of sin and God’s wrath against it. It seems that almost everyone there not only has experienced it, but many continue to experience it often.
Through the death of Jesus God wants to give us a restful, peaceful conscience; not a conscience that thinks that it no longer sins, but a conscience that is at rest because it believes and is confident that by His one offering Jesus has put our sins away from God’s sight forever.
That is what Jesus said before He died: It is finished. There is no more price to be paid for sins. There is nothing left to be done to save us from destruction. All is accomplished when Jesus gives up His spirit.
And the tenth chapter of Hebrews echoes these words of Jesus. It says that although God commanded the sacrifices of the Old Testament, they were never really His will, His lasting will. Jesus came to accomplish God’s will; not to sacrifice many animals, but to make one sacrifice—to offer up His own body and blood to God. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10)—we have been made holy and set apart for God by the one sacrifice of Jesus.
And again: For by a single offering Jesus has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:14). Jesus has perfected us, completed us. He has finished us by a single offering, the offering of Himself. No, we think, how are we perfected? How are we finished? It is finished, Jesus said, and then died. The turning away of the Father’s wrath, the reconciliation of God with us, the covering of our sin, our being counted righteous, or justified—all finished, completed, perfected, when Jesus is delivered over to death.
Finally: “The Holy Spirit also bears witness to us, for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ then He adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10: 15-18)
The reason there is no longer any offering for sin is not because Christians no longer sin. It is because, as the LORD promised through the prophet Jeremiah, He “remembers our sins and lawless deeds no more.” The Lord is not forgetful. He does not remember them because they have been paid for by Jesus. The Lord indeed puts His laws on our hearts and writes them in our minds, and yet, nonetheless, that doesn’t enable us to keep His laws without sin. But as the writer of Hebrews points out, the inscription of the Law on our hearts is not the whole of the New Testament. He writes His laws in our hearts and minds and begins to sanctify us in this life. But our justification, the blotting out of our sins from before God’s eyes, is not simply begun now. It is completed. It is finished. And as a result, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Destruction is still coming on the world because of sin. The day is far spent and evening is at hand. The world has grown old, and as it ages it is not becoming better but more wicked. Judgment looms. It appears to glower over us too. The end of our lives is before us. And when it comes, it will look and feel the same as it does for the rest of the world—not like a happy day, but a day of mourning. It will not look like the day of our salvation, but the day of our destruction. It will not appear to be light but darkness.
In the Tenebrae service tonight the candles are halfway out. When we have sung the Benedictus they will all be extinguished except the one in the center. Then that one too will be taken from its stand. The Church will become totally dark, just as everything became dark for Jesus’ disciples when His body was taken down from the cross, wrapped in the cloth with spices, placed in the tomb, and sealed in with a heavy stone.
Likely when we die that is what our eyes will see and our senses will experience at the ending of our lives—darkness.
But as the lights go out and the darkness descends, Jesus’ words from the cross will sustain us: It is finished. With those words, like Moses, we will enter the thick darkness where God is (Exodus 20: 21), and in the darkness the light will dawn on us (Luke 1: 79), because by one sacrifice Christ has perfected us before His Father.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 12:12-19
March 20, 2016
“Don’t Fear: Your King is Coming”
A large crowd that has come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast goes out to meet Jesus. The crowd chants for Jesus. Maybe it’s like the chants we hear in this year’s political rallies. But they aren’t chanting for a president with a four-year term. They are chanting for a king. Kings have a lifetime term. And they are chanting for this king to “save” them. “Hosanna,” the crowd chants, meaning, “Save us, we pray.” They chant, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” Which means that they see in Jesus not just a qualified man; they see Him as the one God has sent to be their King and to save them.
The chanting crowd, for once, is right. Jesus is the King sent by God. He doesn’t stop them from cheering Him and begging Him for salvation. He accepts their praises and rides the donkey’s colt to the gates of Jerusalem.
Jesus is King. He is King of Israel, King of the Jews. He is also the King of the Church, which is why we sing to Him, each week, the same words as the crowd, as He comes to us in His Body and Blood: “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord!”
And Jesus is not only King of the Jews and King of the Church. He is King and Lord over the whole earth, as we heard in the epistle to the Philippians: “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10-11)
Only there is a problem, a great and grievous problem. Jesus is the King sent by God over the whole world. Yet the world rejects God’s King. There is a worldwide rebellion against Him.
The Jews and the world rejected Jesus as King because He did not seem like a King to them at all. In our world kings are known by their majesty and power. They inspire submission by their majesty, and they have power and might to suppress and destroy rebels.
But Jesus seemed to have neither. He had no splendor except the splendor of righteousness and innocence. And Jesus never used force. Where people rejected and resisted His Word He did not force them to accept Him, nor did He take vengeance on those who rebelled against His reign.
Since He was without majesty and did not use the sword, first the Jews rejected Him and crucified Him. The world followed, and so did much of what is called the Christian Church, in despising Jesus and rebelling against Him.
The same contempt and rejection of Jesus as King dwells in our flesh. Christians mourn over it, but it is there still, daily looking for opportunities to deny that Jesus is King, saying, “What will Jesus do anyway? He won’t punish me if I reject Him and serve myself. He never does.”
Of course, what it whispers to us is completely wrong. As King, Jesus will one day take vengeance on those who despise and reject Him. “…If that wicked servant says to Himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him…and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites,’” Jesus warned His disciples not long before His death. “’In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 24:48-50)
Remember who Jesus is. He is the highborn, only Son of the Father. He is the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15). He is from eternity. Yet He was willing to live among us as a brother, in flesh and blood, to teach us the way of salvation, and to do miracles in our presence, testifying that He was the King who came in the name of the Lord. But He was rejected by the Jews, scorned by the world, mocked by much of what is called His Church. Even our flesh remains rebellious against this King whom God has anointed.
They can only happen because Jesus doesn’t take up His power and punish the rebellious. Isn’t it past time for Him to do so, to silence their lying mouths and bow their haughty necks? Shouldn’t He come to Jerusalem and destroy them rather than go meekly to the cross? Isn’t it time for Him to put a stop to the world’s mocking of Him, and silence the lies that are spoken in His name in the churches?
One day, Jesus the King will do these things. He will judge the rebellious. And if He did it today He would not be cruel, but just.
And yet, He doesn’t come to Jerusalem that way, in righteous anger and vengeance. “Fear not, daughter of Zion,” says the prophecy, “Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” Instead of saying, “Your King is coming to give you what you deserve for your rebellion,” it says, “Fear not, Daughter of Zion.”
Jesus the King isn’t coming to make war on the people who have rebelled against Him. If He did, who would stand? Even His disciples were days away from abandoning Him; Peter was going to deny Him as his Lord and King.
Instead Jesus the King comes in peace. That is the significance of His riding on a donkey instead of a warhorse. He is coming in peace toward the chief priests and Pharisees, toward the crowds that chose Barabbas; in peace toward His disciples, in peace toward this crowd chanting “Hosanna”. He also comes in peace toward you and me, though we have also rebelled against Him.
He doesn’t come so that we can continue to rebel, make no mistake. But He comes to forgive our rebellion by shedding His blood.
That’s why He doesn’t reject the praises of this crowd. When they call Him their King He accepts it with joy. He doesn’t cast away His people.
They have all rebelled and failed Him in the past and all of them will prove disloyal again in a few days. Yet He lets them praise Him as their King, just as He accepts it when we call Him King and Lord and praise Him. He doesn’t hold against us our past rejection and treachery. When we turn in repentance, wanting to sin no more, believing that this King will be gracious to us, He receives us as His people. He forgives our rebellion and remembers it no more.
He does this because He is what the crowd calls Him. He is the blessed, salvation-bringing King who comes in the Name of the Lord. Jesus comes in His Father’s name to do His Father’s will. He has not come to make a name for Himself, but to do the will of God. And the Father’s will is not that Jesus destroy us rebels, but that He bear our sins.
Matthew’s Passion story makes this clear. In Gethsemane, Jesus prays, “My Father, if this cannot pass from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Matt. 26:42) The cup Jesus had to drink is the cup of God’s wrath against our sin. And when He was later arrested, and one of the disciples tried to save Him, Jesus told him that the Scriptures required that His suffering on the cross “must be so” (Matt. 26:54).
Jesus is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord, the King who comes to do God’s will. And the will of God is that His Son bear His wrath against us.
Jesus accomplishes this will of the Lord. Hanging on a cross under the inscription, “The King of the Jews”, Jesus cries out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” That is the kind of King Jesus is. He doesn’t come to administer God’s damnation, to wreak vengeance on us, as we deserve. He is coming so that the Father’s vengeance may fall upon Him for our sakes.
That’s why the crowd waves palm branches before Him and He does not reject it. Palm branches mean joy and victory. Jesus comes to bring His people joy through His grief and agony. He comes to bring the people of His Kingdom victory through His loss. The joy He brings is the joy of being justified before God. He gives this joy when, after being cursed for our sins, He rises for our justification (Rom. 4:25). And the victory He wins is over death and Satan. He strips them of their power by once and for all paying the ransom and debt that releases us from their ownership.
This is why John cries out: “Fear not, Your King is coming.” Our King is not someone that terrified sinners should dread. We should go out to meet Him shouting “Save us,” and rejoicing that He is the King who comes in the Lord’s Name. He comes to do the will of God, and God’s will is to save us from our sins. That is why He came to Jerusalem.
He comes for the same reason now: to absolve us of rebellion and treachery; to speak to us the words of Spirit and life; to give us His holy Body and Blood, which cleanses us from sin and delivers us from death.
And when our King comes again in His glory and majesty to judge, we will also not be afraid of Him then. He is the King who loved us and gave Himself for us, even to the death of the cross!
Lord, when Your glory I shall see,
And taste Your kingdom’s pleasure,
Your blood my royal robe shall be,
My joy beyond all measure.
When I appear before your throne,
Your righteousness shall be my crown
With these I need not hide me.
And there in garments richly wrought,
As your own bride shall we be brought
To stand in joy beside You.
LSB 438 st. 4
Soli Deo Gloria
Wednesday after Oculi
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Passion History III: Palace of the High Priest
March 2, 2016
“No Condemnation in Christ Jesus”
Jesus is led from the Mount of Olives bound with ropes or chains. The soldiers lead Him back to Jerusalem to stand trial before the high priest and the council of the elders, called the Sanhedrin. We can imagine the kind of abuse He had to endure on that long, torch-lit walk to the city: insults, curses, mockery, punches and kicks.
The Law of God commanded that the priests and elders were to decide legal cases in Israel, according to Deut. 17 and 19. And in the Law God gave to Israel, the punishment for false teaching and blasphemy—that is, to curse or misuse the name of God—is death by stoning (Leviticus 24). The chief priests and elders have been plotting Jesus’ death for some time, but they don’t want to just assassinate him in a corner somewhere. They want His death to look like it was done legally, both so that they can satisfy their own conscience that they have not transgressed God’s law, and so that it will look to the public like Jesus was put to death as a false prophet. In that way they intend to snuff out the people’s faith that Jesus is the Christ.
So they lead Jesus first to the father-in-law of the high priest, named Annas, for questioning. Then they take Him to the high priest’s palace, where the priests and the council have gathered for Jesus’ trial. First the high priest questions Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. Next they bring forward false witnesses, who accuse Jesus of threatening to destroy the temple, God’s dwelling place. But the testimony of these witnesses is contradictory. As Jesus is slandered and defamed by these false witnesses, Jesus remains silent. He says nothing in His own defense. Finally, the high priest puts Jesus under oath and commands Him in God’s name to answer this question: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus replies, “I am. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power of God and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest shouts out that Jesus has just committed blasphemy in the council’s presence; they have heard it from His own lips. He asks for a verdict from the council, and the council unanimously votes that Jesus is worthy of death. Then, because it was late, the council disbanded for the night, in order to reconvene in the morning, when they would send Jesus to the Roman governor and ask him to carry out their sentence of death.
While the priests and elders went home and slept, Jesus was kept under guard. His guards spit in His face. They beat Him and mocked Him, putting a blindfold over His head and then slapping Him in the face, saying, “Prophesy, Christ! Who hit you?” That was how Jesus spent the night before His execution.
Early the next morning, the priests and council gathered again and asked Jesus once more if He was the Christ. And when Jesus confessed that He was, even though He knew they had no intention of listening to Him or letting Him go, they took His confession as proof of His guilt. And they made plans to hand Him over to Pontius Pilate, so that Pilate would carry out their sentence, not by stoning, as the Law mandated, but by crucifixion, which was the Roman manner of executing non-citizens.
Now we must ask ourselves why this happened, that Jesus, who was innocent, was put on trial by the God-appointed religious authorities and condemned to die as one who had cursed God. Jesus really would have been a blasphemer if He had claimed to be God’s Son and was only a man. But Jesus was innocent; He was who He claimed to be. So how could it happen that these men, the leaders of the people of God, who were supposed to be servants of God, could condemn God’s own Son as the worst kind of offender, as one who cursed God? And how could it happen that God would allow His beloved Son to be accused, tried, and condemned, and to be spit on, slapped and put to shame, by wicked hypocrites?
It was not just a tragic miscarriage of justice, not just another example of evil men getting the upper hand in the Church and using its authority to persecute the righteous.
It happened by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, as the Apostle Peter later preached after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:23). God used the wicked priests and elders of the Jews to put Jesus on trial and bring His charges against His Son. The priests and council falsely accused and condemned the Lord. But through their trial, which was unjust, God was conducting His own trial of Jesus, which was just. He was trying Jesus as the one who was accused of committing all the sins of the world.
Of course Jesus Himself had committed no sin and spoken no blasphemy. “No deceit was found in His mouth (1 Peter 2:22),” nothing untrue ever passed His lips. Yet He stood before God on trial for all the blasphemies and sins ever committed by human beings. And God found Him guilty. Through the mouth of the priests He condemned Jesus to death. God handed Jesus over to be mocked and disgraced, while even Jesus’ own disciple Peter denied ever knowing Him. Jesus was cast away by both God and man as a sinner and was handed over to the civil authority to be put to death for His crime.
Does it seem right or just or loving for God to do this? It does not. Why should Jesus be tried and found guilty by God for misusing His name? Jesus never misused God’s name or treated God’s name with disrespect.
We are the ones who have done this. We have used God’s name lightly, using it to express boredom, or irritation. We’ve sworn by His name in trivial matters, as though God’s name was not holy and worth more than everything in heaven and earth combined, and as if God didn’t care how His name was used. We’ve used it to curse people and to condemn them to hell. Some of us have even cursed God Himself, whether out loud in words or in the thoughts of our hearts. Some of us have used His name as a joke. We have tolerated, believed, or even spread false teaching in God’s name, acting as if it did not matter if God’s Word was falsified. At many times and in various ways we have denied Christ, like Peter, when we were afraid that we would be hated or laughed at if we acknowledged that we belong to Him. And in addition to the ways we have abused God’s name, we have also neglected to use it rightly. God wants us to call on His name. He wants us to ask Him for what we need, and then to praise and thank Him for His gifts and His help. But we have neglected prayer, as though we didn’t need God’s help and His gifts, and we have neglected to give thanks and praise, as though we had not received everything we have from Him.
For this misuse of God’s Name, along with all our other sins, we deserve to be brought to trial and accused. And we often feel ourselves accused.
Our consciences accuse us. They remind us of our past and all the ways we have rejected God as our God. They speak to us about the present state of our hearts, reminding us that they are not pure, but instead full of disbelief, pride, vengefulness, lust, covetousness. Our consciences put us on trial and accuse us. They call out our sins and remind us that we do not deserve to be acquitted by God, but deserve His punishment.
Sometimes our consciences fail, though. Sometimes they don’t accuse us even though we are guilty. Other times they accuse us of sins when there is no sin. However, there is another voice that accuses us which is never wrong. It is the voice of the Law of God. When the Ten Commandments accuse us of sin, their accusation is true, because those commandments don’t come from the darkened mind or heart of man, but from God. And the Ten Commandments show us to be sinners who have rebelled against God by thought and word and deed.
Then we have another accuser who shows us no mercy. This accuser would bring our secret sins not only before our own eyes but also drag them before the throne of God and the company of the holy angels and lay our shame and guilt before their holy eyes, crying out for our damnation. His name is Satan, which means “the Accuser.” He is not willing that your sin should ever be forgotten—not by you, not by God.
And yet it is Jesus and not us who stands accused by God for all your sins. And God finds Him guilty and condemns Him. How can God, who is just and righteous, pass this sentence on His Son?
Because Jesus willingly offered Himself to bear your sin and its accusation, and indeed the sins of the whole world. Jesus offered Himself to be your mediator, to make the Father pleased with you, a sinner. He offered Himself to stand in your place. The Father isn’t committing an injustice against His Son. The Son willingly offers Himself up, to pour out His blood to save you from being accused, tried, and condemned for your sins. When the Father condemns and punishes His Son for your sins, and then forgives you, God is doing justice. “If we confess our sins,” says the apostle, “God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) He isn’t just letting us off the hook and letting our sin go unpunished. But because our sins have already been accused, tried, and condemned in Jesus, God does justly when He forgives us and cleanses us.
That is why Jesus is accused, put on trial, and condemned—to spare you from God’s accusation and condemnation. But because Jesus has already been tried for our sins and condemned, God no longer enters into judgment with you. This is what Scripture teaches again and again. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Paul says in Romans 8:1. Those who are baptized into Christ are not condemned by God, even though their consciences, the Law, and Satan accuse them. In fact, God does not even accuse or enter into judicial proceedings with those who believe in Christ. Jesus says in John 5, Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (5:24).
Because Jesus is accused for your sins here, God does not accuse you of them. Because Jesus was condemned for your sins by God, there is no condemnation for you. The accusations levelled against Jesus are your good testimony before God. His condemnation is your acquittal. He is the one who stands before God in your defense if anyone would bring any charges against you: If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)
That’s why Jesus stands there silent when His accusers rail against Him. He does not want to escape their accusations. He wants to bear them all, along with all their punishment. He wants to let all the charges levelled against Him stick to Him, so that none may stick to you. He lets them slap His face, make fun of Him, spit on Him, so that the shame of our sins will be on Him and not on us.
When you are accused and brought to trial by your conscience, when Satan wants to expose all your sins to the eyes of God and call for your condemnation, and when even God seems to have rendered His verdict on you in the Ten Commandments—“He is worthy of death!”—remember Jesus’ trial in Caiaphas’ house. Here God accused Jesus of the sins of the whole world. He tried Him and found Him guilty, who willingly offered Himself to bear your sins. He sentenced Jesus to death. And therefore God does not enter into judgment with you. He does not accuse you or condemn you for the sins that Jesus bore.
In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria