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The Preparation of God’s Sons. Good Friday, Chief Service. 2016

grunewald crucifixion isenheim altarpieceGood 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”

Iesu Iuva

 

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

Perfected. Good Friday, Tenebrae. 2016

tissot-i-thirst-vinegar-given-to-jesus-547x741Good 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

“Perfected”

Iesu Iuva

 

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

Fear Not, Your King is Coming. Palm Sunday 2016

palm sunday medievalPalm Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 12:12-19

March 20, 2016

“Don’t Fear: Your King is Coming”

Iesu Iuva

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

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

When it All Falls Apart. Good Friday, Tenebrae 2015

grunewald crucifixion isenheim altarpieceGood Friday—Tenebrae

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Lamentations 1

April 3, 2015

“When it all falls apart.”

Iesu iuva

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.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

A Kingdom in the Midst of Death. Good Friday, Chief Service 2015

jesus man of sorrows durerGood Friday—Chief Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 18:36-37

April 3, 2015

“A Kingdom in the Midst of Death”

Iesu Iuva

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.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jesus Serves Us Because He Loves Us. Maundy Thursday 2015

el greco the-last-supperMaundy Thursday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 13:1-15

April 2, 2015

“Jesus Serves us Because He Loves Us”

Iesu Iuva

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

Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord. Palm Sunday 2015

palm sunday medievalPalm Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 21:1-11

March 29, 2015

“Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord”

Iesu Iuva

“And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Matthew 21:7

What are the crowds shouting as they swirl around Jesus on Palm Sunday?

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

What does that mean?

The one who comes in the name of the Lord is the person who comes with the Lord’s authority to bring about the Lord’s will on earth. The one who comes in the name of the Lord comes to accomplish the will of the Lord.

So when Moses trembled before God’s presence at the burning bush, Moses asked, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I tell them? God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am.’ And He said, ‘Say this to the people: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:13-14

Did you hear that? Moses went to the people in the Name of the Lord, in the Name of I AM.

The Lord told Moses His name and sent him by the authority of His name to claim Israel for the Lord as His people and to make them free.

So, to come in the name of the Lord is to come in the Lord’s authority to accomplish His will.

And now the people of Israel are saying it about Jesus—“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” They are saying, “Blessed is the one who comes to accomplish God’ will on earth.”

What the people who shout this to Jesus don’t realize is that they don’t really know what the will of God is. They think Jesus has come to do something like Moses did—deliver the people of Israel from slavery.

They don’t realize that what Moses had done was only a dim foreshadowing of what Jesus would do.

Moses didn’t really bring about the will of God on earth. He came and led the people out of slavery to Pharaoh. But it was only a temporary freedom. The Israelites only remained free as long as they kept God’s commands.

They didn’t remain free long. The history of Israel is a history of being attacked and oppressed by invaders because they were unable to remain faithful to the Lord.

The real slavery that they had was slavery to sin. Moses didn’t free them from that.

But the Lord promised them that he would send another prophet like Moses who would bring them lasting freedom and peace.

He would reign as king over the whole earth and keep God’s people from being enslaved anymore. He would truly accomplish the will of God on earth.

He would make it so that God’s people were not merely God’s people externally, who worshipped God with ceremonies and outward actions, but were His people in Spirit and truth, worshipping Him by the Spirit.

He would make it so that God’s people were freed from their real slave masters—not Egypt or Rome but from sin and the devil.

This is what Jesus has come to do. The people are right to praise Him—Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. But they don’t really understand what they are saying.

They thought Jesus was going to put them in a position to gain the whole world. They had seen His miracles, most recently the raising of Lazarus from the dead. If He was the head of their nation, just imagine the kind of glory they could expect! He would finally make the people of Israel the head and not the tail, the rulers of the world instead of slaves.

We also misunderstand what it means that Jesus has come in the name of the Lord. He comes into our midst in the Lord’s name to give us freedom and victory. We keep thinking that means He will give Christians glory and honor in this world, or that He will deliver us from suffering and humiliation. We think that Jesus has come in the Name of the Lord to do our will. He has not. He has come to accomplish the will of God. The will of God is not to deliver us from all suffering or that His church have this world’s glory and praise. The will of God is that we be set free from slavery to sin.

Moses didn’t do that. Moses came in the Lord’s name and through him the Lord delivered Israel from slavery to Egypt. But the Israelites did not go free from sin.

Jesus comes to do greater works than Moses. He not only comes in the Lord’s name and by His authority. He comes wearing the name of the Lord, bearing the name of the Lord. He is the Lord. In last’s week Gospel He said it—“before Abraham was born, I AM.”

Jesus has come to do what only the Lord Himself can do—make us free from slavery to sin and death. Only the Lord can do this because sin is against the Lord. Only He can forgive it.

And only the Lord has power to take away sins. There is no mere man on earth who can offer a sufficient payment that sins should be forgiven. Only the Lord can make a payment sufficient to remove the offense of sin from human beings.

That is what Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey to do. He is praised, but He has not come to do a work that the world esteems. He has come in the Lord’s name to accomplish His will.

He has come to fulfill God’s commandments. He has come to establish righteousness. This He did by fulfilling the whole law by His spotless obedience to God. Now He comes on Palm Sunday to offer His spotless life up to God as the payment for our sins.

It is not a merely human life that He comes to offer but the life of God the Son. He offers it up to God in exchange for us. He pays for our sin with His blood. With His suffering He pays for God to regard us as righteous and free from sin.

And now, just as He once rode into Jerusalem to shed His blood for our justification, He rides into our midst to bestow His body and blood on us so that we might believe that we have been set free from slavery to sin.

We are not free from sin in that we no longer sin. We are free from sin in that they are paid for by the blood of Jesus and are no longer counted. They are no longer regarded as our sins because they became Jesus’ sins on the cross.

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” It is the Lord’s will that His law be fulfilled. It was also the Lord’s will that we be saved from sin and eternal death.

Jesus truly comes in the Lord’s name and accomplishes His will. He fulfilled the law. He comes to Jerusalem not to free us from pain or to win us earthly glory, but to save us from our sins. And He truly comes to us in the church in His body and blood not to exalt us in the eyes of the world but to bestow freedom from sin.

That’s why it’s right that we praise Him on Palm Sunday with the crowds and the great company of saints and angels in heaven. He is a victorious King, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is not this because people praise Him. He has not come to win us earthly splendor and victory.

But as a mighty king He comes to destroy the yoke of sin and death and make us free people of God. He frees us from sin by the shedding of His blood. As it poured out on the cross, we were released from our sins.

That’s why it is right that we sing, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” He has accomplished the will of God by the shedding of His blood. Now He gives us the Lord’s accomplished will by giving us to eat and drink the body and blood sacrificed on Calvary.

Take, eat, this is my body. It is as if Jesus is saying, “The Lord’s will is done; you have fulfilled the law. You are free.”

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

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