Good Friday Tenebrae (7 pm)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Psalm 88:8-14 (John 19:38-42)
April 14, 2017
“Died and was Buried”
You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of
But I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
Around this time on that Friday almost two thousand years ago, Jesus was buried. Imagine. Someone had to climb up on the ladder and remove the nails from Jesus’ hands or wrists. As that man did so, He would have had to look into Jesus’ face. It would have been covered with blood from His wounds, covered with bruises.
After the nails were removed, Nicodemus and Joseph would have carried Jesus. Maybe they washed His body before they wrapped it in the linen sheet with the seventy-five pounds spices, myrrh and aloes.
They buried Jesus quickly and rolled a large stone in front of the door to the tomb.
And just like at our funerals, it seemed like it was all over. All that was left was loss.
We know that death is the way of this world. That doesn’t help it become easier when your mother dies, when your child dies. It doesn’t help that everyone dies when you are lying in the ICU in pain, dying, or sitting in the nursing home, wondering when death will come. If you have been sick and in pain for a long time, you may accept death simply because life has been too painful. But otherwise, we don’t want to die. We think of what else we wanted to do in this world.
When death comes we feel attacked, blindsided. We are right about being attacked, at least partly. Death doesn’t just happen, the way rust happens. Death comes from God. It is—judgment.
Many of the readings and Psalms tonight express this thought of being attacked by God. King Hezekiah, suddenly dying, says of God, Like a lion He breaks all my bones; from day to night you bring me to an end (Is. 38:13). Jeremiah mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem, which has happened because God is punishing them for rejecting Him as their God. God is using the foreign enemies as His rod. Our pursuers are at our necks, says Jeremiah; we are weary and given no rest (v. 5). And the Psalm I quoted, Psalm 88, which we will sing in a moment, says, O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? (Ps. 88:14)
Those words remind us that the subject of the Scriptures, both old and New, is Jesus Christ. In them we can hear the echo of Jesus’ fourth word from the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?
Jeremiah’s people were forsaken by God because of their unfaithfulness; they were cast away because they cast God away. And the same thing could be said of everyone whom God casts away, everyone He attacks, everyone He slays. Hezekiah was one of the good kings, and there weren’t many. The writer of Psalm 88 was Heman the Ezrahite, who was a grandson of Samuel the prophet, and was a prophet himself. Yet Hezekiah was a sinner; so was Heman the prophet, and so was Samuel, his father. Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you, says another Psalmist to God (143:2).
Yet God does enter into judgment with us, or so it seems. He casts us down and puts our mouths in the dust. We are struck with illness and the sentence of death. Our congregation becomes like Jeremiah’s Jerusalem: How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed! The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street…the tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst (Lam. 4:1, 4)…Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners (Lam. 5:1-2). The families that once were members of this congregation are now the parishioners of congregations where the body and blood of Christ is not confessed, churches where infants are not baptized, or members of no churches at all. And those that are left no longer grow up in the house of God or are taught the Word. The day is drawing near, it appears, when there will no longer be Good Friday services here in this Church.
When we think about this, how do we not feel that God is striking us, attacking us because He is displeased with us? And like Hezekiah, Heman, or Jerusalem, are we righteous before Him that He should not judge us?
Let God be true and every man a liar, as St. Paul says. Or with the thief on the cross, let us say: We are getting the due reward of our deeds.
Then let us look away from our suffering, like the thief did, to Jesus. This man has done nothing wrong. There was no deceit in His mouth. He never displeased His Father. He never spoke lies. He is the man Psalm 24 speaks about:
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up His soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of His salvation. (Ps 24:3-5)
Jesus’ hands are clean and so are His lips. His heart is pure. Even crucified, in great agony, as He is attacked by the Father and His soul is cast away, He says, “My God!” He trusts God not to forsake Him. He commits His soul, dying, into His Father’s hands.
Jesus is forsaken by God, attacked in His wrath, humiliated before His foes, brought about before bloodied, spit upon, dressed like a king. The Father gives Him into their hands, and allows them to have their way with Him, to crucify Him, to make Him die on a tree, of which the Law says, Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. He does not intervene to save His Son from receiving a portion with all sinners in death.
We come around again to Joseph and Nicodemus burying Jesus, and sealing the tomb.
You know why Jesus is ambushed and attacked by God. It is for you, to win God’s favor and grace for you. Even while God casts Him away like an unclean thing, Jesus goes on trusting His Father. He breathes out His soul in death and His last words are “Into your hands I commit my Spirit.” How thoroughly He trusts His Father with all that He is, even when His Father seems to hate Him, seems to not know Him! Makes Him suffer!
How pleased the Father is with His Son’s trust and obedience! How much He loves it!
He loves it so much that He is pleased with you and all who believe in His Son, believes that through His Son’s obedience He will be gracious to them!
We deserve suffering and death because of our sins. But God doesn’t give it to us because He hates us in His wrath and we are getting what we deserve. The Father no longer recognizes the sins of anyone who believes in Jesus Christ. The Father is not stupid or kidding Himself. He knows our sins, but He also knows the ransom His Son paid to release us from God’s wrath against our sins. He will not lie or go back on His Word. It is, as the readings from Hebrews will soon say, Jesus’ last will and testament. It can’t be altered, and God is not a liar. He will not impute sin, count sin, to anyone who believes that Jesus has made payment for his sins. That means you, even with your weak faith.
Instead, He imputes His Son’s pure heart, His perfect, unfaltering trust, His holy obedience even to death, to all who believe in Jesus. That is His unfailing promise in your baptism, and in the Holy supper of His body and blood.
When we die and are attacked by God (so it seems), we are not being brought into judgment, dealing with a God who is going to destroy us in His wrath and never build us up again.
We are dealing with a God who counts us to have clean hands and a pure heart, who says of us, He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of our salvation.
We are dealing with the God who desires to build us up, to raise us again; that is why Hezekiah sang O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit…behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness, but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.
Today He cast our sins behind our back. Jesus said, It is finished.
Psalm 88 asks: Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Is Your steadfast love declared in the grave, or Your faithfulness in Abaddon (that is, destruction?)
The answer is: yes. For today God’s beloved Son joins us in the tomb, among the dead, making it holy, a place of rest. When we lie down as Christians, we go with Jesus, who remains the eternal God, whose battle has ended, whose righteousness and victory will be revealed in us.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Deuteronomy 8:1-10 (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
November 24, 2016
“Thanksgiving for the Lord’s Discipline”
Setting apart a day to give thanks to God has a long history in America. The Pilgrims didn’t invent it. The French and Spanish explorers are said to have had their own “thanksgivings” to give thanks to God for allowing them to arrive safely in the new world. A group of English settlers in Virginia wrote a constitution for their colony in 1619 that said “that the day of our ships arrival … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” Both Catholics and Protestants set aside days of Thanksgiving because they recognized, or wanted people to recognize, that they didn’t get to America safely or accomplish anything here on their own. God enabled them and allowed them. Without His favor they would have died on the voyage, and without His favor they would not be able to succeed in anything once they arrived. So together, as a society, they gave thanks to God, recognizing His hand in the events of their lives, and thanking Him for the good He allowed them to receive in spite of their many sins against Him.
We aren’t like this anymore in America. We don’t recognize God’s hand in the things that happen to us as a nation. And imagine the President or Congress announcing a national day of thanksgiving, or a national day of supplication and prayer, in response to some great blessing received or tragedy experienced by the nation, announcing that schools and businesses and the stock exchange would be closed so that the nation might turn to God for a day!
Things are not much better in the Church among Christians. If we announced a special service of thanksgiving in response to a special blessing of God on a day that people are not accustomed to coming to church, I know very well what would happen. Even, say, if someone wrote a check to St. Peter for several hundred thousand dollars, covering the whole cost of our roof repairs. This is an indication that for many people worship is not the spontaneous, living response of their hearts to God’s love and gifts; for many people it is a formality, doing what they think is required and no more. Worship is on Sunday, period.
But God does not stop being our God at noon on Sundays. He doesn’t stop giving us gifts then or providing for our needs of body and soul. Every day He lets His sun shine on the just and the wicked alike. I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them [or preserves them] Luther’s Catechism teaches us to say. And it goes on to remind us of all the gifts He gives us, day in and day out, whether we please Him or not: He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
Yes, as we sing in the communion liturgy each week, “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Everlasting God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It’s only right that we should recognize that God has given us our life and existence, and that He constantly provides for our lives to be sustained, whether we do good or evil. And recognizing this, it’s right that we should give thanks from our hearts to Him at all times. And when He shows us special kindness as a church or as a nation, it is right that we should publicly thank Him in the Church with a special service of thanksgiving.
This has immediate practical importance for your lives as individuals, this issue of recognizing God’s hand in your life and thanking Him. Because if we do not recognize God as the giver of the good things in our lives and give Him thanks—the things that we need and the people and things we love—we will not be able to recognize Him as the giver of the things that seem evil to us. When we get sick and when we suffer in various ways, we will feel ourselves abandoned or cursed by God, because we have not learned to recognize Him and His hand in all that we experience in life.
Consider the reading from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy chapter 8. You would think that the people of Israel would have no difficulty understanding that God was intimately involved with what happened to them. He had, after all, sent ten plagues on the Egyptians to make Pharaoh let them go; led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in the wilderness; parted the Red Sea to bring Israel through in safety and then drowned Pharaoh and his mighty army. He had fed them with bread from heaven in the desert. He had come down on Mt. Sinai in fire and spoke the Ten Commandments to them. He had entered into a covenant with them there that they would be His people and He would be there God.
And yet they did not recognize that God was among them and leading them. At the beginning of their exodus, right after coming through the Red Sea, they went a few days without water and began to say, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex. 17:7) Then Moses struck a rock with his staff, and water came out for the whole congregation of 3 million. But after 40 years in the wilderness they had still not learned to recognize God’s presence among them and how He was providing for them and teaching Him the whole way. So Moses explains to them, not long before his death: You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord…Know then, that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Deut. 8:2-3, 5
The Israelites did not understand the reason why they experienced the things they did, why after God gloriously led them out of Egypt, He allowed them to wander in circles in the desert for 40 years. Maybe many of them began to think that God’s promise that He loved them and had chosen them to be His own people out of all the nations on the earth was just religious talk that doesn’t actually have any significance in real life, because they seemed like they were going nowhere, and the promised land seemed a long way away.
But Moses explained that no, God did have a reason for their wandering in circles. As a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. A man disciplines his son because he loves his son. Kids with strict parents look at other kids whose parents let them do whatever they want and think those kids have it better. But as adults we understand that parents who let their kids do whatever they want on the internet without paying attention, who let their kids run around as teenagers without paying attention to what they’re doing are parents who don’t love their kids very much. Parents who love their kids allow their kids freedom when their kids have proven that they can handle the freedom without ruining themselves. They “test” their kids “to know what is in [their] hearts.”
This is why God led the Israelites in circles in the desert forty years, why He humbled them so that they had to rely on God to drop bread down from heaven if they were going to eat. He didn’t allow them much freedom at all, did He? It was to discipline them so that they worshipped Him—that is, so that they believed in Him, so that they trusted Him, so that they learned faith in Him. Then when they entered the promised land and suddenly had houses that other people built, and rich farmland that other people cultivated, they would not turn away from Him and think they had gotten all this for themselves, or worship the idols of the people who lived there before them. They would remember the Lord who brought them out of slavery and give Him thanks for the good land that He had given them.
Another amazing thing is hidden in that sentence: Know then in your heart, that, as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. It’s easy to focus on the word “discipline” and think of a dad in the old days taking his son behind the woodshed with a switch or something. But that is not the key word: the key word is “son.” I don’t think anywhere before the exodus of the people of Israel did God call any human being his “son,” not even Abraham or Noah or Enoch, who walked with God. But here Moses tells the people of Israel that God has been treating them like His Son. A man disciplines his son not only because he loves him but because the son is going to inherit everything that belongs to his father, and he needs to learn to be wise so that he will be capable of managing his inheritance instead of destroying it and himself. God is dealing with Israel, rebellious Israel, idol-worshipping Israel, as His own son, whom he is preparing to inherit everything that is His.
This would have little meaning for us as Gentiles, as non-Israelites. Our ancestors worshipped idols, and God did not discipline them and deal with them as His sons. But long ago someone came to them and taught them about Jesus and proclaimed Him as the Son of God. And our believing ancestors taught their children about Him until it came down to us.
We learned that Jesus, the Son of God from eternity, through whom God the Father created and preserves the world, became the son of Adam, one of us. He lived among us so that we might see in Him the exact image of God the Father. And being our brother, He died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and ascended with our human nature to the throne of God. Through His suffering the wrath of God for our sins, He caused human beings to be adopted by God as sons; and He received the inheritance of eternal glory in human flesh as a pledge of what is to come for all who believe in Him.
Because of Him, you have a certain pledge from God about what His heart is toward you and what He is doing in the events of your life.
They are not random, meaningless events, like the Israelites were tempted to think. God is dealing with you as sons. He is dealing with you like a father who loves his son and who wants to prepare him to inherit all that is his.
A father loves his son, so he provides for him; he gives him food, shelter, clothes, and defends him from danger. At the same time, because he loves his son, he also tests him and disciplines him. He humbles him so that he learns to be faithful and obedient when he is not entrusted with much freedom. He schools him so that when he grows to be a man and inherits his father’s house, he will not squander it and ruin himself.
Many of you are dealing with personal suffering that is hard to see as God’s love. You are sick or have constant pain. It may be that the doctor has told you you have a limited amount of time left on earth. Others are suffering from seeing their children or relatives in conflict or unforgiveness, or having abandoned God.
We grieve over what our nation has become, many of us, since many of our people have forgotten right and wrong, forgotten what is decent and good. Most have also forgotten God and seem to be past repentance.
And then for many of us there is the grief at the state of the church—especially our own congregation, but also the Christian church more generally in our country….
How can we give thanks?
God has not stopped being kind, gracious, and merciful. See how freely Jesus heals the lepers of their diseases, even though 9 out of 10 are unthankful. He continues to provide us with wealth, peace, safety.
But when we suffer He is dealing with us as sons. See how His only begotten Son was chastened with the lash for your sins, how He hung on the cross, suspended by nails in His hands and feet, crowned with a curse, abandoned by God. Did the Father love Jesus? He did. Yet Jesus, though He was a son, was made perfect through suffering.
God is dealing with you as sons, preparing you to inherit glory with Jesus.
Do not lose heart. Go against your heart and praise Him “at all times and in all places.” Recognize His love not only in your daily bread, in the turkey on the table and the family gathered around it, but also in your afflictions.
But such strength is quite rare in the world. For how many are they now, who so take up the subject, that they be certain of their faith and life in their hearts, that they can firmly hold to them and despise all other things? Yes, the whole world does not come to this point that they intend to have God’s Word and to live according to it. It is desired nowhere, rather despised in the highest degree. The majority live according to their insolence toward God’s Word and strengthen themselves only in their wickedness and devilish ways…But we talk now of those which would gladly be Christians and who are serious about the Word, which have trouble and labor with it and must defend themselves with all might so that they do not also get into such ways, that they do not regard the word or faithfully wait upon their calling.
As the devil cannot let faith go unattacked, so that he may tear us away from the Word, so also can he not leave our life in peace either, and he has no rest until he makes you falter. He drives such thoughts into the heart that you should find your station tedious, not desire it, and become impatient with it. Whoever now here is not armed so that he can stand fast, nor knows how to defend himself with the Word, the devil soon overcomes, as he did the others, which he totally rules with lack of desire and boredom in their stations. He lets no one find pleasure in his station and work. Even the heathen lament this, because they saw and felt it everywhere, what a noxious plague it is, that no one lets himself be satisfied with his office and station, but instead always gapes after another and holds it to be better. As they say, an ox would gladly be a horse, and again the horse an ox; a farmer or townsman would gladly be a nobleman, the nobleman a prince, the prince emperor, etc. Out of displeasure with one’s calling follows unfaithfulness, that no one his commanded office and work diligently waits upon, but instead despises it and either undertakes another, or cheats his neighbor in it and does him wrong.
6. What “Be Strong in the Lord” Means
This is so much as to say, be so minded that you hold fast and remain with that which you have received, and each carry out his faith and his office well, and not follow or give in to the devil’s promptings or his own flesh and the world’s enticements. Guard yourself, that you do not allow yourself to be hindered, nor to be made tired and faint, that you let up from your faith and office, or become lazy and sluggish. It is necessary to be strong and fight, because we have such a foe (as we will hear) who everywhere attacks and harries us with all his might and powers, and without ceasing [attacks?] with evil thoughts and poisonous, destructive tongues, and [bruises?] both the ears and the heart, in order that we should not regard the word, nor with seriousness carry it out. [He works] that in our station or office we become careless, inattentive, depleted, and impatient, until he brings it about that you no longer stand firm, but instead, loose and unstable, stagger here and there, and fall from one thing to another, both in doctrine and life. To be strong in the Lord means to stand firm and fixedly, and to hold to the doctrine which you have received from the Lord, which teaches us how we should believe in Christ. And thereafter we should so live, that each one serve his neighbor in his station and calling, and faithfully and diligently wait upon [our office.]
The Gospel is spoken to those only who acknowledge their sins, and their sins they acknowledge when they repent of them. But this Gospel is of no use to the Pharisees, for they do not acknowledge their sins. To those, however, who do acknowledge them, and are about to despair, the Gospel must be brought…
Therefore, when you feel your sins gnawing at you, and feel your heart trembling and agitated, place yourself beside the publicans where they are standing. These are the very ones who shall receive the Gospel. Do so joyously, and say: “Oh God! It is thy word that says there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance, and that all the righteous and angels are to interpose and cover up sins. Now, Oh, God! I have come to this that I feel my sins. I am already judged. I need but the one Shepherd who seeketh me; and I will therefore freely venture on thy Gospel.”
It is thus that you come to God. You are already the sheep placed upon his shoulders. You have found the Shepherd. You are the piece of silver in the hand. You are the one over whom is joy in heaven in the presence of all the angels. We are not to worry, if we do not experience or feel this at once. Sin will daily decrease, and its sting will drive you to seek God. You must struggle against this feeling by faith, and say: “Oh God! I know thou hast said this, and I lean upon thy Word. I am the sheep and the piece of silver; thou the shepherd and the woman.”
You might say: Yes, this I will gladly do; but I cannot atone for my sins. I can render no satisfaction for them. Consider then the publicans and sinners. What good have they done? None. They came to God, heard his Word and believed it. Do the same.
It is exceedingly difficult for the human heart to expect with certainty everything good of God and to appreciate all grace and mercy. Indeed, it is altogether impossible except through Christ the mediator. Coarse and impious hearts may be very strong and haughty at this point, bearing themselves hard in much conceit, and thinking that what they do is all very precious in the sight of God. Yes, they may do this until they come upon the peril and terror of death, brought about through the clear revelation of the Law; then there are upon all the earth no people more dejected and despairing. When their hour has come, they go down suddenly and no one can raise them up again.
36. Much better and safer and more comforting, therefore, is the state of those who are constantly striving and struggling with terror and fear of God’s wrath, and who are so afraid that when they hear the name of God mentioned the world becomes too strait for them. Just for these has this comfort been uttered; yes, for their sakes God has at all times declared the promise of his grace and of the forgivness of sins, and to that end has given his Son and all the good in the whole world, overwhelming it with blessings, in order that they, by all means, may learn to know his grace and goodness which, as Psalms 52 and 36 say, endureth continually, and reacheth unto the skies. The fact that a Christian lives and that he possesses a sound member is due solely to the visible grace and help of God. For the devil, in whose kingdom the Christians are, here upon earth, is such a wicked, malicious spirit that he aims at nothing else, day and night, than to murder and destroy them.
37. But however great, both in word and deed, God’s promise of grace is toward those that fear him, yet they cannot lift up their hearts and joyfully look upon God. They are still constantly harassed with anxiety and fear lest God may be angry with them on account of their unworthiness and the weakness which is theirs. If they hear an angry word from God, or recall or learn of some fearful example of God’s wrath and punishment, then they tremble and fear lest it strike them. The other class, on the contrary, who indeed should tremble before God, stiffly and proudly despise these things in their security, and comfort themselves with the carnal notion that God cannot be angry with them. Very difficult is it for the human heart to so balance itself that it will not become secure in success and prosperity, but remain humble, and again, in times of fear and misfortune, enjoy comfort and confidence toward God.
Martin Luther, Sermon on the Gospel for Pentecost, Church Postil