Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 15:21-28
March 12, 2017
“Consider Your Place in Life”
“No one believes how the devil opposes and resists them, and cannot tolerate that anyone should teach or live rightly…It hurts him beyond measure to suffer his lies and abominations to be exposed…and to be driven out of the heart, and to endure such a breach to be made in his kingdom. Therefore he rants and rages as a fierce enemy with all his power and might, and marshals all his subjects [against Christians]…in addition, [he] enlists the world and our own flesh as his allies…Such is all his will, mind, and thought, for which he strives day and night, and never rests a moment…
If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and reckon upon having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies, who will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us.” Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 3rd Petition, 62-65
How did it go this week?
How did what go?
Your fight with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world. Did it go well?
Last week’s Gospel told us about the temptation of Jesus. To save people out of Satan’s Kingdom, Jesus had to be attacked by Satan. On Wednesday, we heard the beginning of Jesus’ final conflict with the evil one, His Passion.
What happened to Jesus also happens to everyone who doesn’t want to remain in Satan’s kingdom. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have God’s name on your forehead. As long as you remain in Jesus’ death and resurrection, in His victory over sin, death, and the devil, you also are in a life-or-death conflict with the old evil foe and his allies the world and your flesh. You could never hope to win this fight. But Jesus has already won. Through faith in Jesus you also conquer Satan, even when you’re weak, even when you stumble. That’s why Satan’s goal is to destroy faith in Christ.
So how did the fight go this week?
The chances are good that you didn’t think much about the fact that you were in the middle of a battle with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world. We get so busy with work, responsibilities, worries, pleasures, that we forget. If you forget you’re in a war, this week’s battles probably didn’t go very well.
Even if you were conscious of the battle you’re in, chances are good that you experienced defeats. In the prayer guide in the bulletin this week the catechism memory work is about confession. “Which are these?” it asks—what sins should we know and feel in our hearts and confess in order to receive absolution? The answer is: Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm? In other words, look at how you carried out the calling God has given you. The sins the catechism mentions are not what we consider great sins. They are sins that most of us struggle with every week in one way or another. Yet to be a Christian is to continue to fight against them, to get up when we fall and try to make progress against them. For forgiveness and strength in this fight we draw near to God, hear His Word of pardon and absolution, and receive the body and blood of Jesus which cleanses us of all sin.
To overcome our sins by faith in Jesus is to fight against the evil one, Satan, and his allies, our flesh and the world.
But if you try to do this week in and week out, you find how hard it is. In fact, you feel overwhelmed. It is a struggle even to keep your mind on it, isn’t it? If we don’t want to be overcome by our sins, we need God’s help. We call out to God to keep us watchful, to give us strength against the devil, to keep us in faith in Christ, to forgive us when we fall. We pray. Prayer is our weapon in the war against the devil—not because our prayers are strong, but because the One who has promised to hear and answer our prayers is mighty and victorious.
In the Gospel reading we have an example of this in the Canaanite woman. She cries out to Jesus for help and deliverance in her distress, and she doesn’t quit, because she believes that Jesus is who He says He is—the promised Son of David, come to bring salvation to her and the whole world from the devil’s power.
But we don’t need prayer only for ourselves. God calls you, when you are baptized, to serve Him in specific ways by serving specific people. He places you in your family and calls you to love and serve your spouse, your children or your parents. He places you in your congregation and calls you to love and serve your congregation and your pastor. He places you in your city or country and calls you to love and serve your government and your fellow citizens. All these things—family, church, state—are God’s institutions. They are there to bring God’s blessings to people. When they falter, people suffer. So they need prayer too. When the devil makes inroads against someone in your family, against your congregation or synod or your pastor, against your city or country or neighborhood, you aren’t supposed to sit still. You are supposed to fight the evil one with the weapons God has given you—prayer and the Word of God.
The Canaanite woman is dealing with an obvious attack of Satan on one she is called to love and serve—her daughter. Her daughter, says the Gospel, is “severely possessed by a demon.” The word literally is “she is demonized.”
People are naturally “demonized”—under the power of demons. If the Kingdom of Jesus is going to free them, there will be a fight.
If people are going to be saved, there will be a fight. We need to pray.
The problem is sometimes Jesus doesn’t seem to listen to our prayers…doesn’t answer her, says “I was sent only to lost sheep of Israel,” says, when she bows down in front of Him, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
She perseveres in faith in Jesus, believing He will help. She says, “Yes, I am a dog, but dogs get the crumbs.” Yes, I’m a sinner, yet you will not refuse forgiveness and blessing even to the chief of sinners. You came to save sinners.
Don’t doubt this. Hold firmly to it. Though great our sins, yet greater still/ Is God’s abundant favor. / His hand of mercy never will/ Abandon us nor waver. / Our shepherd good and true is He/ who will at last His Israel free/ from all their sin and sorrow.
When you see the devil attacking in yourself, your home, your church, your city, call on Jesus for help. This is how His kingdom advances, people are brought to salvation and preserved in it.
Soli Deo Gloria
The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation. Invocabit, The First Sunday in Lent, 2017. St. Matthew 4:1-11
Invocabit, the First Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 4:1-11
March 5, 2017
“The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation”
You have been hearing this year about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, how God revealed to the world again the truly good news of Jesus after it had been buried under teachings of men and demons. Martin Luther was the human instrument through whom God accomplished this.
But what happened with Luther was only one act in the play. Reformation began long before this. The stage was set for it in eternity. The drama began when God spoke this threat to the serpent in the garden: I will put [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15) When Jesus came out of the Jordan River, still wet from being baptized, the table was set, and the drama began.
Jesus came into the world to bring about reformation. He didn’t come to reform a corrupt government, or even to reform a corrupt religious establishment. He came to destroy the root of the world’s corruption—to dethrone the fallen spirit that had set himself up as the world’s god, and to set free the people God made to bear His own image and likeness. Jesus was here to bring about a reformation of the world, make the world into a temple, where people would worship God in every thought, word, and action, with every breath. This worship of God, this obedience of God, comes through faith in the true God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
All the evil we see in the world—cheating and lying, hatred and killing, immorality, dishonoring God—all of it comes from unbelief, non-trust in the true God.
So Jesus entered the world, as God had promised long before, to crush the serpent’s head, make people free from his corruption, and bring about reformation. To bring them to faith in God & release them from worship of Satan, belief in his lies.
He was conceived in the womb of Mary through the Holy Spirit, born in the Bethlehem stall. For the next few decades we hear little about Him, until He appears at the Jordan River to be baptized with the crowds who were confessing their sins that those sins might be washed away.
When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice sounded from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17) Jesus’ reformation began in earnest. Jesus had come to the Jordan with no sins to confess. Nevertheless, He was baptized with the sinners. The only-begotten Son of God was baptized as a sinner because He had taken the burden of humanity, its sin and its redemption, upon Himself.
Then in the Gospel for today, Matthew chapter 4, we hear how the Holy Spirit brought Him to the first battle of His work of reforming the world. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt. 4:1) Any reformer of any kind has to fight. If you want to reform a corrupt city government, you will have a fight on your hands from the corrupt politicians who are in power and all the people who benefit from the corruption. When Luther tried to reform the practice of granting indulgences, he was quickly attacked by the powerful bishops, including the Pope, who profited from the sale of indulgences.
Jesus came to reform something much bigger than a city government or even the Church; He came to reform the whole world. He had to have a confrontation with the ruler of this corrupt world—the devil.
But what Jesus experienced as soon as He was baptized happens to everyone who comes after Him. When you brought your little ones to be baptized into Jesus, you were bringing them to be baptized into His fight with Satan. As long as you are a Christian and lay claim to the benefits of your baptism, to peace and union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to the forgiveness of your sins, you can’t avoid a fight with the devil and all who are his. You must suffer his attacks, and you must fight. You must be tempted. When the fight ends, when the temptation ends, so does your salvation.
The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into this fight, and to prepare Him for it, He lets Jesus fast for 40 days. Jesus is weak almost to the point of death when the devil appears to test Him. And the tests the devil brings are all temptations to presumption, to pride. “You are God’s Son,” Satan says. “Since you’re God’s Son, why should you have to starve out here in the desert? 40 days of fasting? How unreasonable your Father is to make things so hard and painful for you! You shouldn’t have to deal with the irritations and humiliations that human beings have because of their sin and unfaithfulness to God when you’re righteous! The angels should carry you around! Why doesn’t Your Father let you show Your glory so that these people give you the honor that is due you?”
Later Jesus would teach His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” The Small Catechism, the handbook of Christian faith and life Luther drew from the Scriptures, explains that part of the Lord’s Prayer in this way, “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we would finally overcome them and win the victory.”
We usually think of temptation as the devil trying to persuade us to commit grave moral lapses. Of course he does that. But the heart of all the devil’s temptations has to do with faith. Despair is when the devil convinces us that we cannot be saved, that we cannot believe that God has forgiven our sins. The other, “false belief”, refers to presumption, false confidence, where our faith rests not on God’s promise but on ourselves—our past good works, our past experiences of being close to God, our feelings.
The devil tries Jesus with presumption and false belief. “You are God’s Son. Why should you have to hunger and be meek and suffer? Shouldn’t your Father honor you and give you glory and rewards instead of this humiliation?”
Then he lets loose a barrage of flaming arrows at Jesus in his third temptation, in a desperate attempt to get Jesus to fall, like all other human beings have before. “I know that you have come to take possession of the world,” Satan says. “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed king. The Scriptures say you are going to rule all the nations. Well, here, have a look at them. You can take possession of them all, right now. They’re yours. I’ll give them up. Just give me my due. Fall down and worship me. No one will ever know. I won’t make you fast for 40 days or suffer humiliation like your Father is doing to you. It will be quick and easy.”
We have to give the devil his due, the saying goes. This is an evil world, and things don’t go so smoothly for us when we don’t play by its rules. Christians often give the devil his due too. We often believe that there is no other way to survive. (Examples)
But Jesus gives Satan—nothing. Nothing except God’s Word from the Scriptures, which silences his lies and expose his fraud. Satan is driven off, beaten. The first man in history has refused his offers and been faithful to God.
Jesus could easily have overwhelmed Satan with His power and glory. He could have done that without coming to earth. But that wouldn’t have helped us. Using His divine, almighty power to destroy Satan would have meant destroying all of Satan’s servants as well.
Instead Jesus came to reform the world and crush Satan not with overwhelming power but with faith in God and the obedience that comes from faith. Jesus trusts His Father and accepts His will, even when that will means being humbled and suffering for our sins. By this humble faith and trusting obedience to His Father, Jesus bruises Satan in this first battle, and finally bruises his head, crushing it in the dust, when He fulfills His work on the cross. By His perfect faith and obedience to His Father, Jesus earns God’s favor, His grace, for all of us. By His righteousness, Jesus earns the forgiveness of our sins before God. God looks at the human race and sees not our rebellion and falling before Satan, but Jesus resisting and overcoming him. He sees Jesus in perfect trust and obedience giving His holy life, shedding His innocent blood to atone for all of our transgressions.
Jesus’ humble trust in the Father, His rock-like holding to God’s Word despite all temptations, all appearances that seem to contradict it, is the example of how our lives are to be lived. The love and humility He showed in willingly bearing this suffering in the wilderness, when He by rights did not have to suffer at all, is our example of how much God wills that we give of ourselves for our neighbor’s good.
But even more, Jesus’ victory over Satan in this first battle, and His final victory in His death and resurrection is our shield and defense in our battles against Satan. When we are tempted to despair of God’s mercy, we claim Jesus’ obedience all the way to the cross as our own. God has promised and pledged that it is ours in our Baptism. We claim it, invoking the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed on us in Baptism.
The work of reformation that He began here is also our defense against false belief. When the devil says, “Avoid suffering. It doesn’t matter. No one will know,” we hold to the Scripture and lay hold of Christ, who suffered this temptation and the agony of the cross for us. We say, “I do not belong to you, but to Him who died and was raised to reform this world and me and make me a new creation, a Son of God.”
Or should Satan press me hard, let me then be on my guard. Saying Christ for me was wounded, that the devil flee confounded. Amen. SDG
Ash Wednesday (7 p.m.)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Joel 2:12-19, 2 Peter 1:2-9, St. Matthew 6:16-21
March 1, 2017
Repentance and Reformation
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
That is the first of the 95 Theses that sparked the Reformation. The first word of the Reformation of God’s Church was about repentance. If your life needs to be reformed, if a family needs to be reformed, if a congregation or the whole Church needs reformation, this is where it begins—with repentance.
But a Christian life not only begins with repentance. The entire life of a Christian is one of repentance—an ongoing, daily “changing of your mind.” A change in how we think, look at the world, what we love and hold dear, what we believe, with the result that we return to God.
This the reason ashes are imposed today. Ashes are a physical way of saying that our way of thinking and living must change. Ashes are what remains to people who have been destroyed.
Look at pictures of a place that has been through a war, like Germany after World War 2, its cities pulverized to dust, rubble, and ashes by the rain of bombs falling from the sky. You see people with wide eyes hiding in blackened, charcoal shells of houses, their faces dirty from the ash that is everywhere. They haven’t just been going through a hard time. Their country has been laid into the dust and destroyed. The ashes of what they once had smeared their faces black.
Do you recognize that that is how you are? A shell of what you were created to be, sitting in the ashes of the glory you once had, not knowing when fire will rain down from the sky to consume what is left of your life?
In ancient times, in the Bible, when people grieved and mourned, they sat in ashes, they sprinkled ashes on their heads. They did this to show that they had been destroyed. Frequently, along with the ashes, they stopped eating food—they fasted. People do that when they are too full of pain to fill their stomachs; they also do it when war or destruction has so ruined their worlds that there is no food to eat. When God had punished people in the Bible, or when it seemed like He was about to punish them, they would sit in ashes, they would fast, and they would cry out to God from their destruction: “You have destroyed us; please bring us back to life.”
They understood correctly who the God of the Scriptures is. He is the God who, out of a handful of dust, made man in His image, and breathed in His nostrils the breath of life. We were created with glory to bear the image of the one God. But when Adam and Eve rejected the Word of God, they lost their form, just like the palm leaves in the fire. The image of God was destroyed. They lived out the remainder of their lives under a curse until their ruined bodies returned to dust. God gives life. God also destroys life that turns away from Him.
But God is able to bring back the life He destroys. He is able to gather the ashes of the palm leaves and make them once again the green branches they once were. He is able to bring back human beings that have been destroyed by sin; to raise to life flesh and bone that have returned to dust, and to restore the lost image of the Creator to human bodies and souls.
But when He does that in a person, or a household, or a church, it always begins with repentance, with a change of mind.
If a person is a burnt wasteland, a bombed-out ruin, he hasn’t started to come back to life yet until he recognizes he has been destroyed. Until our ruins are rebuilt and no sin remains in us, a Christian cannot be comfortable and satisfied. Could a person who has lived through a war be comfortable and content while his country is burning, his home is ashes, and he is sleeping on a cot in a refugee shelter? No! He will not be content until his home is rebuilt, the fields of his nation are sprouting grain, the roads are paved, there are schools for his children. So Christians can’t be content while sin remains in them.
As we seek to renew our life of repentance this Lent, it is important to remember that repentance has two parts. The first is contrition, which is heartfelt sorrow and terror over our sins, the recognition of God’s wrath against sin revealed in the Law, together with the desire to be free from sin and its destruction. Contrition is necessary, but it is not something we can do or make ourselves feel. It is God’s work within us, and there is only one way that God has promised to work it. That is through His Word—in particular, through the preaching of His Law.
If you listen seriously to the sermons that are preached to you instead of sitting in judgment on them, as so many do; if you allow yourself to be taught God’s Word by the pastor God sent you; if you faithfully read the Scripture; and if you take up the Small Catechism, learn the ten commandments with their explanations, and look at the way you live in light of them, God will work contrition within you—not because you have done a good work by listening and reading, but because He desires that all be saved and come to repentance. His Word is the instrument He uses to create repentance within you.
He will give you a contrite and broken heart, which is the sacrifice of God, which He does not despise (Ps. 51). He will not only terrify you with the threat of His wrath, but if you believe in Christ, He will also create in you the sorrow that comes from having offended the God you love.
Ashes a biblical symbol of the destruction sin has brought upon us. But there is another kind of ashes in the Bible—ashes used not to grieve, but to purify.
In Numbers 19, God commanded that a red heifer should be sacrificed and burned and its ashes mixed with water. This water was used to purify those who were made unclean through contact with a dead body. An animal, completely consumed in the fire, reduced to ashes on God’s altar—those ashes, that residue of a destroyed life, when mixed with water, made a person clean from the impurity that came from contact with death.
God has provided another, much greater life to be consumed in the fire of His wrath for your sins—the life of His Son. In Baptism, the ashes of His sacrifice on the cross, the fullness of His death for the sins of the world, are joined to water and poured upon you to cleanse not only your body but your soul from death. Not only His death under the wrath of God, but His resurrection into life free from the condemnation of the Law. In Baptism you become a participant in both. You are joined with Him. On the cross, the burning wrath of God fell on His soul as He carried your sins as His own. You also were brought to an end with Jesus.
But God is able to raise up again and put back together what He has utterly destroyed in His wrath. And He did. He raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. And in raising Jesus, He raised you and all people up, put us all back together again as a new creation, as children of God. He raised up our ruins, brought our ashes together and re-formed them, remade us in the image of the glory of God, so that we will never taste the second death.
This is the second and most important part of repentance—not only sorrow for our sins, but faith that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus. By faith I mean certain confidence and trust that although we cannot free ourselves from spiritual destruction, God has done so. He destroyed our sins in the wrath that He poured out on His Son who bore them. Then He raised up the one who bore our sins, freeing Him from the curse. Instead of ashes He gave us a beautiful headdress, a crown of victory (Is. 61), like the Old Testament priests who wore a crown that said, “Holy to the Lord.” This crown is placed on our heads by God, because Jesus, our head, is alive again. His battle with sin is over and He has emerged in righteousness and victory. He is our crown of righteousness and sanctification. He was poured on our heads in Baptism. By faith we wear His holiness as our crown.
“The entire life of a believer should be one of repentance,” Luther wrote in the first word of the reformation. That means not only a life of sorrow over our sin, but a life of confidence and trust that God has dealt with our sin. A life in which we daily return to God, not only with sorrow over our destruction, but with firm trust that our destruction has been swallowed up by life. Then instead of transforming us to ash from outside, God, who is an unquenchable fire of love, transforms us from within into the image of His Son. He burns away our old self until Christ appears in us.
Repentance begins with the recognition of sin and ends with the certain trust that our sins are forgiven—not because we feel that they are, but because the Gospel of God declares them to be. Where the pure Gospel of God is preached, it will work this change of mind—contrition and faith. And this repentance—true repentance– always brings reformation with it. Wherever an individual, family, or congregation is given this change of mind, and clings steadfastly to the promise that their sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, that individual or family or church will begin to reorder its life according to God’s Word. It will begin to produce fruit that pleases God. May God graciously create and strengthen this repentance in us this Lent.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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
Wednesday after Reminiscere (Vespers/Final)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Passion History, Part 2: Gethsemane
February 24, 2016
“Turn Not From His Griefs Away”
It’s easy for us to pass over Jesus’ suffering quickly. To not allow it to sink in.
That is an indicator of the hardness in our hearts. Even if the account of Jesus’ Passion had nothing to do with us, sympathy and love for other people should cause us to feel pity and sadness when we hear about the agonies Jesus suffered without having deserved it in any way. But of course living in the world as it is, we are used to hearing about people suffering, experiencing tragedy, and dying. Every day young men are shot and killed in Chicago, and it doesn’t even get on the news. It’s easy for most of us to be numb to other people’s suffering until it has something to do with us.
But Jesus’ anguish has everything to do with us. Our hard hearts don’t believe this, but it is true.
Because it is true it is important for us to turn our faces toward and not away from Jesus as He suffers in the Garden of Gethsemane. To open our ears and not allow our hearts to remain cold and indifferent as His Passion is read and preached. His pain has everything to do with you, if you could only perceive it.
In the reading, Jesus has His disciples sit down while He goes a little way off to pray. He tells them, “Watch with Me.” He doesn’t ask them to go do some work, to go preach or distribute alms to the poor. They are only to stay awake and watch Him as He prays.
That doesn’t sound like a very exciting thing to watch. But Jesus tells them “watch with Me” for good reason. By staying awake and praying they will fortify themselves against the spiritual attack that is coming, “the hour of the power of darkness” He spoke about.
But by watching as He prays, and not turning away from His agony, from the torment of His soul, they will see what was usually invisible to their hard hearts.
They would see in Jesus’ tears and sobs to God His Father a glimpse of the true nature of sin. And they would begin to perceive in Jesus’ horrible agony a little of His love and the Father’s love toward them.
And for the same reason Jesus speaks these words: “Watch with Me” not only for them, but for us. If we do not turn away from Jesus’ anguish in Gethsemane, we will be strengthened against temptation. We will begin to perceive what it means when we confess “I, a poor, miserable sinner…” And we will also see, as Jesus is crushed by anxiety and torment, something of His love for us.
Go to dark Gethsemane
All who feel the tempter’s pow’r
Your Redeemer’s conflict see
Watch with Him one bitter hour.
Turn not from His griefs away;
Learn from Jesus Christ to pray. (LSB p. 436)
Jesus’ Agony in Gethsemane
Jesus’ agony in the garden may not be obvious from hearing the story read. When we hear of Jesus being flogged by Pilate, crowned with thorns, having His hands and feet pierced by nails, the physical suffering is more readily apparent.
Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane is not so much physical as emotional and spiritual. But in reality, that means that His suffering in Gethsemane was worse than mere physical pain.
Jesus makes this clear when He asks His disciples to watch with Him. “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death,” He says. He doesn’t complain of bodily pain, but suffering in His soul. And the pain is so great that He is brought to the gates of death.
We shouldn’t write off these words of Jesus as an exaggeration. His suffering is so severe an angel comes to strengthen Him, otherwise He would perish there in Gethsemane.
But how can suffering in the soul be so severe that you could die from it?
There is an engraving by the famous artist Albrecht Dürer (Engraved Passion, “The Agony in the Garden”) that seems to capture this torment. In it Jesus is kneeling in the garden. Peter, James, and John are in the foreground asleep. Off to the left of the picture an angel appears in a cloud, holding up a wooden cross before Jesus. Meanwhile, Jesus lifts His hands straight up in the air. His face looks almost angry, and His mouth is open as though He is shouting at the angel or God. Perhaps He is in the midst of a groan. Whatever it is, the woodcut captures the turmoil and agony of a man who looks as if He is being torn apart from inside.
People do experience such suffering of soul that they die. They suffer such inner torment that they take their own lives. Perhaps it is a chemical imbalance in the brain, as they say today; or perhaps, as Luther thought, the devil harasses people with despondency and sorrow until they give way to despair.
Other people experience torment of soul that is explicitly spiritual. They become overwhelmed with the awareness of their sins; they become painfully conscious of God’s wrath against sin. Luther experienced this, and occasionally people still do today. When a person undergoes this they are not merely depressed but are actually experiencing a little of the pains of hell. They experience separation from God and can’t find rest from their spiritual agony. Luther expresses this in his hymn “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (LSB p. 556, st. 3):
My own good works all came to naught,
No grace or merit gaining:
Free will against God’s judgment fought
Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to be my share;
The pangs of hell I suffered.
Luther is not being metaphorical there. Consciousness of sin and God’s wrath against it are the pangs of hell itself.
But even the greatest saints only experience a small taste of those agonies. What Jesus experienced in the garden was far beyond that. He was experiencing the undiluted anger and judgmetn of God in His soul. As He looked to what was to come, He saw that He was going to be forsaken by God on the cross. He was bearing the full force of God’s anger. The grief and anguish this caused Jesus was enough to kill Him without whips, nails, and the Roman spear. Had the angel not come to Him and God not supported Him He would have died in God’s anger. All alone in the night He wrestled with God.
And so Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Jesus was fulfilled: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…” (Isaiah 53:3-4) He was sorrowful to the point of death because He was not bearing His own sorrows but ours, and those of the whole world.
The grief and regret that sinners in hell experience for eternity for their sins was on Him. In hell the damned will be gnawed forever by a worm that does not die—their conscience accusing them, “You brought this on yourself by rejecting God! Why did you do that?” They long to be able to go back and repent but they can’t. There is no hope. That is also what we have merited by every one of our numberless sins. That is the bitter cup that Jesus drinks on the Mount of Olives—alone.
The most terrible part of Jesus’ torment is that, as He anticipates what is coming, He is not merely facing human enemies in Jerusalem. He isn’t merely facing Satan and the unclean spirits. But it is God His Father whose hand is coming down on Him. Jesus makes that clear to the disciples when they first enter the garden. He says, “You will all fall away from Me this night, because it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (Matthew 26:31, Zechariah 13:5) Jesus is the Good Shepherd; His disciples are the sheep. And the prophecy Jesus quotes makes it clear that the One who strikes down the Good Shepherd is God Himself. God Himself strikes down His Son because He is carrying on Himself the guilt of the world’s sins. So it is God who judges Jesus, God who condemns Him, God who is angry with Him.
It’s no wonder that Jesus prays in great agony and grief. He casts Himself down on His face and begs His Abba, His dear Father, to take this cup away. And as His prayers are answered with “No” from His Father, He becomes more anguished. He has known since before the world was created that this is what must be, yet He asks His Father to let ther ebe another way. And as He prays His sweat becomes like great drops of blood streaming from His body. He waters the garden with bloody sweat. And the Father looks at His beloved Son in agony, falling apart, writhing like a worm, and says, “No, You must drink this cup.” That is what we see when we watch with Jesus—the Father, who has said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”—will not spare His beloved Son the anguish of His wrath. He does not spare His Son because nothing less will atone for our sins. In Jesus’ torment we see what sin is and what it does. It brings torment and agony to Christ. And what will it do to those who don’t repent?
That’s why Jesus tells the disciples and us to watch. But they don’t. They fall asleep. It’s too much for them to bear. So, in addition to all the other sufferings, Jesus also bears this—that He is utterly alone in His anguish, abandoned by God and all men, even His friends.
Who can bear to watch Jesus suffer?
Why would we want to look at Jesus like this? Who can bear to see the Son of God, our Lord, laid in the dust like this, being destroyed like this?
But Jesus calls us to do it. “Watch with Me.” He knows we need to see Him like this because we are weak. We fall into sin so easily.
Jesus has told the apostles, “You will all fall away tonight.” The version we read said, “You will all be offended,” but it means “fall away”—that is, leave Jesus, fall from grace, lose faith and the Holy Spirit. Many evangelical preachers teach that this is impossible—true Christians can never fall away. That isn’t true. When a Christian gives into temptation and lets sin master him, he falls from faith. When the disciples abandoned and denied Christ, they fell away from Him. And when we fall into unrepentant sin we also fall away from Christ. We forfeit eternal life until we are again brough to contrition and repentance. This is a present danger for us. That’s why Jeuss warns the apostles and us to “watch and pray,” so that we may not fall into temptation.
However, we often believe that this can never happen to us. Peter said, “I will never deny You, even if I have to die with You.” Peter had too much confidence in his own spiritual strength. And so do we. That’s why Jesus wants us to watch with Him.
Watchin with Him means being alert to the devil’s temptation and calling on God for help. This is spiritual warfare. But the disciples fell asleep. Jesus pointed out this inconsistency to Peter. “Couldn’t you even watch one hour?” How are you going to die with me if you can’t even stay awake and pray for an hour?
The question applies to us as well. Why is it that we think we are so strong when we can’t even overcome small temptations? Why is it that we think we’re so strong that we can afford to do without His Word, prayer, and gathering with other Christians?
Peter wanted to die rather than deny Jesus. That was a good intention. It came from the Holy Spirit. But Peter’s flesh was weak. Jesus knew, as the One who had done combat with Satan and successfully resisted his assaults, how weak our flesh is. Unlike Jesus we are born corrupted by sin; He knew that our flesh is so great a liability that it makes us unable to resist Satan’s temptation apart from the help of God which we invoke through prayer.
“I know that in my flesh dwells no good thing,” St. Paul says in Romans chapter seven. Elsewhere he says, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:8) And He tells us that our flesh always fights agains the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5).
In other words, we should not trust ourselves in the slightest, not even to overcome the smallest temptations, but only in God’s help and grace.
But as we watch and pray with Christ, we receive armor against Satan’s attacks, and we call in heavenly reinforcments. Through Jesus’ agonies, the lust of our flesh is checked. Through prayer Satan is driven off and we receive heavenly aid.
But Peter and the others neglect these armor and weapons. Finally Jesus asks them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?” They are napping and indulging the desires of their flesh at precisely the wrong time. And the result is catastrophic.
First they try to attack the men that come to arrest Jesus. They don’t realize that by doing this they are opposing God’s will. They take up an earthly sword, which is useless agains the spiritual enemies they are really fighting, the “powers and principalities” (Ephesians 6).
And when Jesus rebukes them for this, and they see that they are not going to prevent being arrested and killed themselves if they stay with Jesus, they abandon Him.
This is what we do by nature? Do you recognize yourself in the story? All of it is a result of not watching with Jesus.
We put confidence in our flesh. We turn away from Jesus’ agonies, not wanting to see His bloody sweat, tears and groans, not realizing that Jesus’ suffering is the only way our flesh is overcome and put to death. We indulge our flesh instead, seeking what pleases it instead of denying it, taking our cross, and seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness.
In the end we also fall and forsake Jesus in trying to hold on to our lives.
This is the reason for Jesus’ agony.
It is because His disciples, then and now, are like this, that Jesus experiences this agony.
He is suffering because we have loved the flesh more than we loved God, because we trusted in ourselves instead of the Lord. He is in agony because of our willfulness because we have done what pleased us instead of seeking to accomplish God’s will for us, as Jesus did when He prayed, “Your will, not mine, be done.”
He is in agony because even when we watch and pray, when we are faithful, the sinful flesh clings to us and leaves its stain even on the good works we do at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Were it not for Jesus’ suffering that makes us clean in God’s sight even our good works could not please God.
Because of these things Jesus faces God’s wrath in Gethsemane.
But here in Jesus’ agony, we see not only our sins and God’s wrath, but the unquenchable fire of God’s love.
Because Jesus goes to this suffering willingly. And the Father gives His Son to this torment willingly.
Jesus says when His disciples try to prevent His arrest, “Do you think I cannot pray to My Father…and He will send me 12 legions of angels” instead of 12 poorly-armed fishermen? As Jesus is being led away in chains to trial, even then He could ask the Father to spare Him the torment of the cross and abandonment by God. He could pray that and the Father would give Him what He asked.
Jesus doesn’t pray for that. He goes out ot meet the armed mob that is going to take Him in chains to the chief priest. He goes, knowing all that would happen, having concluded His prayer to His Father: “Your will be done.”
So we see the Father’s will in Gethsemane: to give His Son to suffer for our sins, that they should be atoned for and covered. And the Son is of one will with the Father. He also goes willing to His suffering for our sakes.
From watching Jesus’ agony, you can see the mystery of God’s love for sinners. He goes willingly to this torment out of love for His selfish, self-indulgent disciples. Peter. You. Me.
What kind of love must it be that would embrace the pains of hell for someone else?
That is the love of God the Father and God the Son for you.
A lamb goes uncomplaining forth
The guilt of sinners bearing.
And laden with the sins of earth
None else the burden sharing.
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer.
He bears the stripes, the wounds, the lies
The mockery, and yet replies:
All this I gladly suffer. (LSB p. 438 st. 1)
The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
February 10, 2016
“Return To Me With All Your Heart”
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Joel 2:12
“Return to Me,” God says at the beginning of Lent.
And possibly, you are thinking, “Return? But I’ve never left you, Lord. I believe in Jesus. I’m not aware of any grave sins in my life, only the normal struggles with sin that none of us can avoid.”
When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, they were too busy to stop and consider what had happened, what they had done. First they realized they were naked and set about to cover themselves up with fig leaves. Then they heard the sound of the Lord God and they were busy with trying to hide among the trees of the garden. They were busy trying to deal with their sin themselves, and that occupied their minds so that they did not have time to stop and think about what they had done.
Until God called, “Adam, where are you?”
Then they started to realize where they were. They were separated from the God who made them. They were far away from Him—not physically, but spiritually. They had taken leave of Him in their hearts.
Then He called, and they had to come out and face Him, look into His eyes and see their guilt reflected back at them, face the punishment they had brought upon themselves.
When God says “Return to Me,” He is calling to us just like He did to Adam and Eve. He calls us to stop and consider where we are, something we often don’t do because we are busy—busy, in the end, running from God. You may not have committed any conscious, willful sins against God. You may not be living in any sin you consider great. Or you may be.
Regardless, God calls you to return to Him. All our sins of thought, word, and deed alienate us from the Triune God, the giver of life. And we are always turning from God. Turning from Him to make an idol of our work or our pleasure, drawn away from loving God above all other things. Even when it is as common a thing as neglecting to pray, we are withdrawing from the living God.
God calls us, even commands us in His Law, to be wholly and completely His people. We are not supposed to be partially God’s, but wholly His own—heart, soul, and body. “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession…” (Titus 2:13-14) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” We were created to love God and to be wholly His. And after we fell, we were re-created in Baptism in order to be God’s own.
And yet no matter who you are, how holy you are, you have not been wholly the Lord’s. You have not been faithful to your God.
“Return to Me with all your heart.” During the season of Lent we are invited to take to heart just how serious a thing it is to depart from God.
The ashes we put on our heads are not decorations. They remind us of the consequences of departing from God. “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” God told Adam (Genesis 3:17). “The wages of sin is death,” says Paul in the 6th chapter of Romans. By the sin in which we were conceived, the sins we have committed unintentionally and those we have committed willfully, we have brought death on ourselves. Each one of us must one day experience the pain and agony of death because of our sins, and along with it (unless God grants us grace), we will also experience the fear and sorrow of knowing that it is the just punishment for our sin. The things we love and enjoy in this world—friends, children, loved ones, along with food and drink and every other lawful pleasure—we will have to leave to come before God. We will return to Him to be judged when we die, whether or not we willingly return to Him in this life.
The ashes also symbolize something worse than death. They symbolize the wrath of God. Just as Sodom and Gomorrah was burnt to ashes by fire that fell from heaven because of God’s wrath and indignation, so we deserve to be burnt in the eternal fire of hell for departing from the Lord.
Even more, during Lent we see our sins reflected in the suffering of Jesus. See how Jesus sweat blood in Gethsemane for fear of God’s wrath. How he was condemned and suffered the physical agony and shame of the flogging, the mockery, and the crucifixion. See above all how He cried out on the cross that He was forsaken by God.
Jesus never departed from the Lord. He always obeyed, always loved God, never turned away from God to give the love, faith, and worship of His heart to something or someone else. And if this innocent Son of God suffered so bitterly for sins that were not His own, what kind of torment will come to people who do not return to the Lord in repentance?
So what does it mean to return to the Lord with all your heart? How is it done?
It is not something we can do by our own free will. When we return to the Lord, it is because the Spirit of God turns us. Through His Word He makes us see where we are, how we have left behind the God of life and tried to find life elsewhere. And through His Word He reveals what restores us to Him—the suffering of Jesus.
To return to the Lord is first of all to listen to the Word of God, His voice calling to us “Where are you?” Like Adam, we hear God’s voice while we are hiding. To return to the Lord means to listen to that voice as it exposes our sins. We stop running and examine ourselves in the light of the ten commandments. By that light we see how we have departed from God. We learn to know ourselves; we recognize that we are not able to return to God by keeping His Law, because our sinful nature prevents us from fulfilling it.
Second, to return to the Lord means to confess our helplessness to God and seek His grace.
Third, and most importantly, we believe the Gospel that God proclaims to us. In the face of our sins, we cling to the good news that God does not count our sins to us. He has given them to His Son, who made atonement for them with His blood. By Jesus’ suffering and death God receives us as if we had never departed from Him. He has made peace with God for us so that our sins are not counted to us. Believing in Him, we return to God.
Finally, having returned to God through faith in Christ live in Christ. We devote ourselves to His Word and draw near to Him daily in prayer, asking for His help to put away our old nature and to put on the image of Christ. We devote ourselves to good works, not merely turning away from sin but practicing the good works God would have us do. We give ourselves to neighbors by serving them in the positions to which God has called us; we forgive those who sin against us; we show mercy to the poor and to those who have not heard the Gospel. We pray for and mourn over our neighbors, seeking their salvation.
But you will notice that the reading from Joel does mentions other things besides repentance and faith. “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments.” (Joel 2:12-13) “With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” What does fasting, weeping, and mourning have to do with returning to the Lord?
“Fasting, weeping, and mourning” are outward signs of the sorrow we should feel because of sin. But fasting also has another purpose. It helps to discipline the flesh, to put it to death so that we are able to give our attention to the Word of God and prayer. It is also a way of humbling the flesh. Fasting helps us to hear and to pray by disciplining our bodies so that we can give our attention to His Word and prayer.
Fasting need not be difficult. It is simply a matter of limiting or abstaining from food for a certain period of time, and then using that time to engage in self-examination, confession, meditation on the Word and prayer. A simple way to fast would be to skip one meal on Wednesdays during Lent, and then to attend Matins or Vespers to hear the Word and pray. A more difficult fast would be to abstain from food until after sundown one or two days a week
Finally, in the reading from Joel God gives promises and encouragements to those who would return to Him with all their hearts.
“Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?” (Joel 2:13-14)
Again, God says through Joel: “Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. The Lord answered and said to his people, ‘Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.” (Joel 2:18-19)
Today it is largely forgotten that God not only punishes sin eternally in hell for those who do not return to Him; He also sends earthly chastisements and punishments for sins to bring us to repentance.
Most of us have many crosses and difficulties in our personal lives. Besides this our congregation experiences many difficulties with declining attendance and an increasing budget deficit. On top of this there are the troubles we see afflicting our synod, our nation, and the Church throughout the world.
We don’t always know the reason that God allows these difficulties to come to us. But we know that He does send “temporal punishments” and chastisements for sin, and we know that we have plenty of sins for which He could rightly punish us. But in this reading from Joel God says that He is gracious and merciful and often “relents from disaster,” turning away the temporal punishments we have brought on ourselves when we return to Him with all our heart. How many of the difficulties experienced in our homes, our church, and our nation might be averted if we returned to the Lord with “fasting, mourning, and weeping”?
God encourages us about this, but does not promise that He will turn away all suffering. But though we are not promised that all our earthly suffering will be averted by returning to Him with all our hearts, we are promised that He will receive all who repent and turn to Him in grace. He will graciously forgive them their sins, turn His face toward them, and give them eternal life.
When Adam heard God call, “Where are you?” and Adam returned to God, He must have been full of grief and terror. He must have feared the punishment He deserved and grieved over the way He had squandered the honor God had given Him.
But when He returned to the Lord He did not find destruction or shame. Instead the Lord promised that He would send a man who would destroy the power of the serpent who had deceived him. Adam was promised that in the future a man would destroy the power of death. And though Adam deserved shame and had to live under a curse, God promised him that he would be relieved of his disgrace. An offspring of the woman would bear Adam’s shame, suffering death and condemnation for his sin. He would silence the devil’s accusations against Adam and his offspring by bearing their offenses.
In the same way when we return to the Lord, facing the bitterness of our sins, He shows us grace instead of punishing us. We return to the Lord in sorrow for our sins and hold fast to His promise that Christ bore them. And in Christ’s wounds God’s wrath passes over us. He receives as though we had never departed from Him. He replaces our shame with honor.
May the Lord aid us this Lent to return to Him with our whole hearts, that we may learn to know His grace, mercy, patience, and steadfast love.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 21:1-11
March 29, 2015
“Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord”
“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